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Suppressing community voices, selective comment picking off, window dressing.

What is going on with you, Stack Exchange Community Managers?

5,769 voters were eligible, 1,146 visited the site during the election, 823 visited the election page, and 305 voted. But this is all you are giving 305 ELL voters?

First, let us let the policies straight. The policies are in place to protect regular users, and the point is "building a community where all people feel welcome and can participate." (CoC) And now I ask you: how do you expect community members to participate when the entire election process saw multiple instances where you ignored and disregarded mod requests and the workload reality. How do you expect the average user, especially new users and those who are not in those inner circles to feel motivated to participate again when, after being kept in the dark for days, what you now are telling them omits crucial facts. And those facts are not about any one user, but simply about you, yes you. How do you expect people to feel welcome when you are actively and arbitrarily silencing dissident and critical voices?

You have been arbitrarily and unilaterally censoring protesting voices and making like you have triumphantly resolved a difficult situation caused by our ELL mod team, when in reality it is the opposite. As the moderator responsible for requesting an election in the past year as well as the chief point of contact in many account-related cases in the past year, I am proud to say that the moderation team did a great job. In fact, I think we did everything we could, taking into account being constantly short-staffed and overworked.

  1. Please do not do any more suppression of critical voices. This post is specifically about how you, some members of the CM team, handled the 2021 ELL election. If you have a problem with criticism from us moderators and users, point to a policy that says, "No criticism of any staff is allowed." Until then, when it comes to community decisions and CM (mis)conduct, transparency is the best policy.

  2. For obvious reasons of conflict of interest, CMs whose behaviors are questioned in this post should refrain from willfully removing this post and other dissenting voices, in order to avoid further erosion of community trust. I am naming Cesar and Catija who can be seen here giving speeches after removing disagreeing voices. Direct responses addressing things brought up in this post are welcome, but censorship should not happen again.

  3. You removed comments and suppressed voices that are directly addressed to you and about your violation of the trust of ELL moderation team and your community trust, rather than about any other specific user. A lot of the comments you removed are neither about any specific user nor about individual suspension cases. If you disagree, we shall look at those comments you removed one by one, and I expect you should be able to point to a relevant policy for each removal and give a convincing reason.

  4. You have given yourself the license to freely tell dissident voices that those opinions are "wholly incorrect" or "neither truth nor kindness". Based on the little information I have been allowed to peek at, the statement you are putting out and telling the community to believe is neither accurate, nor truthful, nor in any way an indication of responsibility.

So, for what is worth, this is a statement about the recent election from me as a moderator and the sole moderator that has been closely working on the election. Or I tried to at least.

  1. I requested a new election of a CM back in January 2021 because some of our ELL moderators had been inactive and the workload had been obviously getting too much for the active ones. My requests were ignored. Yes, just like that. Ignored. In fact, since January, I have only had the privilege of getting two responses from that CM, both highly reproachful in tone. CM support? What is that?

  2. In the following months, several other attempts at scheduling an election had been made, but the scheduled time came and went, the election got forgotten or pushed back, three times (or was it four?) We were promised summer, promised the 4th of October, and other promises I don't remember.

  3. When there were signs of the election finally happening, we, ELL moderators, requested 2 positions, but again, we didn't get any responses. The election was set in motion without consulting our perceived workload.

  4. During the nomination period, when concerns arose about the election, and I tried to get help from said CM, I was again ignored. I don't know whether that was intentional or not, but I was very anxious for the fairness of this election. Requests continuously ignored, Glorfindel and I tried working together but there wasn't anything we could do, so as Glorfindel suggested, we waited. And days later, at long last I finally got word from a CM, her response can only be described as stern, reproachful, and disrespectful. But maybe I should've been happy because that was the first time I successfully got her attention in... 9 months. When you treat someone equally and respectfully, and you fail to see their messages, and it is an honest mistake, shouldn't your first response be "Oh sorry, I dropped the ball there"? Instead you chose to double down on the harsh tone, and what was the goal?

  5. With all the things I have mentioned, we have reasons to consider it is possible that this mess that we ended up with could have been avoided, this whole snafu of electing a moderator and then having to retract a previous announcement and doing it all over again. Again this is about the election, and this is about community trust and transparency.

  6. The moderation team has not been told any specifics regarding causes of the eventfulness of this election. We are in the dark just like y'all. We don't know what happened. So user accounts and related investigations should never be made public, but I am not aware that moderators are also excluded. I thought those things were the reason you need moderators. Or is the real question who gets excluded?

  7. Community Managers owe the community and the moderation team an apology.

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    I don't know why we'd ask for an apology now in the wake of an election. (If we were still waiting for an election, that might be a different matter.) I'll apologize for being less active than I could be, but I don't think the CM team should come here and apologize to ELL.
    – J.R. Mod
    Nov 9 '21 at 15:45
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    @J.R. I think a simple answer to that might be rhetorical: why don't we demand a reasonable degree of responsibility, fairness, and transparency? Let me ask you this: in your experience, how fast do you get a response that is not a reprimand? When was the last time the CM team ignored you for months? I don't even know what I needed to beg for an apology. Do you?
    – Eddie Kal
    Nov 9 '21 at 16:58
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    I agree 1000%. An election was essentially overturned (yes, Void withdrew willingly, so there's that) on the basis of secret insider information which wasn't at all apparent to people outside of the mod circle. Not cool. It also bodes ill for future elections. Nov 9 '21 at 18:46
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    @FeliniusRex As it's all confidential we've no way of knowing whether he withdrew willingly and whether he was, for example, given the impression that he would be removed from the post anyway if he declined to go willingly. We don't know how old the charges against him were, but the impression is that they date to his early time on the site, predating the election considerably. If they hadn't been dealt with at the time and hadn't been dealt with before the election, I wonder if justice is really served by dealing with it retrospectively just because a democratic election drew attention to it.
    – rjpond
    Nov 9 '21 at 19:07
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    @rjpond Good point. I guess we can't really know just how willing his withdrawal was. I feel like this was the epitome of a "late hit". It serves someone's purpose, I suppose, but I don't think it did right by ELL. Nov 9 '21 at 19:15
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    @rjpond I can say that we gave no such ultimatum to Void, the decision to step down was his. We really don't do that to moderators, if we're going to remove someone, we do it. That said, we have a very specific process by which we will remove a moderator, removing Void would require he had a prior official warning for this, or classifying it as emergency removal. Neither happened here.
    – Cesar M StaffMod
    Nov 9 '21 at 21:54
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    @CesarM Thank you for your response.
    – rjpond
    Nov 9 '21 at 21:55
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    @J.R. You know I have a lot of respect for you. I wish you were here a couple months ago when I brought up some issues; perhaps things would have been different, perhaps not. I know you've been less active since your When the Chips Are Down post, and so I have to ask you, did you look into all the things that happened before coming to the conclusion that the CM team shouldn't apologize? I honestly don't get why you'd take their side. They clearly messed up, and personally, caused me a lot of distress.
    – AIQ
    Nov 10 '21 at 4:45
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    @AIQ - I never said they shouldn't apologize, I just don't see the point of demanding an apology, especially at this juncture.
    – J.R. Mod
    Nov 10 '21 at 11:16
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    @J.R. You said "but I don't think the CM team should come here and apologize to ELL", and correct me if I am wrong, but sounds like what I just said in my earlier comment. Anyways, the point of demanding the apology now is to have the involved parties admit they made mistakes - big ones, to try and help repair relationships, get involved parties talking again, and ensure that something like this doesn't happen again. At least that's what I think the point is, EddieKal may think differently.
    – AIQ
    Nov 11 '21 at 2:01
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    @AIQ - Perhaps an apology is warranted, but I would have rather seen that come unsolicited from the CM team. I'm not saying mistakes weren't made; I'm saying I don't like the tone of this post. Demanded apologies are seldom sincere. Besides, any apology issued now would ring about two years too late.
    – J.R. Mod
    Nov 12 '21 at 10:37
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    It's hard to believe that Void was not coaxed into stepping down. Nov 16 '21 at 20:39
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    @nick012000 They were accused of unfairly inflating their reputation by using multiple accounts to vote on their own content. The accusations were first made 10 months prior to the election. That said, Void wasn’t disqualified. They chose to step down.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 22 '21 at 11:59
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    @Mari-LouA Because they were publicly bullied into admitting they did something wrong and they felt guilty about what they did. The problem is that what they did was not a big deal for plenty of other users who did similar things and ended up well-respected members of the community. We could have worked through the problem without disqualifying them as moderator. It would have been better if the issue had been worked out before the election so people could have decided for themselves if it was disqualifying.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 22 '21 at 13:23
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    @ColleenV If we use the reading you suggest then multiple accounts are never allowed. Because if you have two accounts you always have the possibility to sidestep limitations on a single account. Having two accounts allows you to vote twice on the same posts. Having two accounts allows you to use more flags than just one. Having two accounts allows you to do many things twice that a single account doesn't. Therefore, are you saying that multiple accounts are absolutely forbidden? Because you leave no room for case-by-case basis with what you suggest here.
    – VLAZ
    Nov 25 '21 at 12:34
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For those who may not have met me, I’m Philippe - I’m the Vice-President of Community for Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange Network. I’ve been asked to comment here and share what I can of my team’s thinking, and to speak to the accusations that are being made. Obviously, there are a lot of strongly held feelings here. And while I would hope that we can get to a place where everyone is comfortable that they’ve been heard and their opinion has been considered, that may not happen. But as a step toward that, I will commit to reading everything posted here, personally. I want you to know that I’ve looked into all claims made here, and I took them seriously. I’m here to tell you what I found.

I feel the need to set some expectations for this conversation, and I also want to say clearly that I’m not interested in getting into a back-and-forth war of words. I want to reiterate that we will protect the privacy of other users in this conversation. This means that I’m probably not going to respond to a lot here, because there isn’t much more I can say without violating long-held guidelines that we don’t discuss suspensions publicly.

There have been a lot of allegations made, and I’d like to respond to them.The first thing I’d like to get out of the way is: CMs are not trying to assign blame and say the moderators did badly here. We don’t think they were wrong to investigate, nor were they wrong to escalate the concerns they had. When considering what happened here, there are a couple of facts that are important to know:

  • We received an escalation back in January from the moderators and looked into it, and on request from the moderators we looked into it again back in October - I cannot, and will not, divulge the results of said escalations because those contain privileged information we don’t talk about publicly.
  • While it is true that comments were deleted here, they were deleted because they were singling out and talking about one specific user and their disciplinary history on the site. We don’t do that.
  • We will continue to remove posts that are attacks against other users and will continue to enforce respecting their privacy - please, stop. This isn’t about prohibiting criticism on CM work, this is about protecting peoples’ right to not be defamed publicly on meta.
  • We will also not talk about privileged information, such as investigation results, publicly. One particular comment that was deleted was an accusation that we cannot engage with because doing so would require us to disclose private information, so we deleted that one too.
  • For extremely important issues, or for areas that require an answer, we request that mods go through their own CM escalations form or use the “contact us” form. This allows us to ticket and prioritize work for tracking purposes, in a way that the (purposely ephemeral) chat pings do not. This is the same guidance we give all moderators (mod-only link). Any time a mod needs to ensure that CMs review and respond to something, raising an escalation is the best thing to do. This is not a new process, nor is it a process that is unfamiliar to this mod team.

On the issue of the election and ignoring for months - we never intentionally ignore moderators. While we did receive a request to have an election in ELL and took a long while to act on it, please know that this team has organized and completed more than 70 elections this year alone across the network. Working through this backlog has not been easy and demanded triaging, as well as hiring, to get through it. This wasn’t a case of ignoring ELL requests or simply not caring about them, but rather an ongoing effort to move through a big backlog.

We’re being accused of withholding pertinent information from the moderators of this community. The one thing we’ve kept confidential is a chat CMs held with one user directly, and we will keep that one private. Moderators were informed that this chat was going to happen before it took place. Other than that, the mods on the site have access to all actions the CM team takes on users' profiles, including mod messages sent and deletion logs showing all actions that were taken (they were taken with usual moderation tools, so they inherently leave access to moderators). It is wildly inaccurate to say that there were actions taken that left mods in the dark.

As I said, I'll read through everything posted here, but I don't expect that there will be a great deal more information that I can share, simply because there isn't much more to give. I'd like to conclude with one further thought: much of the criticism leveled at my team (publicly and privately) has been beyond what I would consider the limits of polite discourse. If you want to criticize actions that the CMs may or may not have taken, that's fair. My email is public and linked from my profile. But I don't think it's asking too much when I ask that it be done courteously.

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    The announcement of the newly elected moderator was public. The removal of their diamond was public. The reason for their suspension is also public, all you have to do is visit their profile. When the user self nominated themself why was nothing done in those fourteen days leading up to the election? Why was action finally undertaken when the person had won the election fairly?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 9 '21 at 22:21
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    Two questions. (1) Have any lessons been learnt from this, or did everything work as well as it should have, except for the delay in processing the backlog of requests for elections? (2) It is obviously very concerning that the relationship between one of our moderators (the OP) and the CMs appears to have broken down. Is there anything you can do to facilitate a repair?
    – rjpond
    Nov 9 '21 at 22:35
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    Having been involved a bit before things were cleaned up, I think it would have been appropriate to let Void explain (in as much or as little detail as they were comfortable with) that they were stepping down before they were suspended, then lock the post. I think a lot of this could have been mitigated with better communication, and I really appreciate your post here. I hope that we can find a way to do a better job of helping people feel like they’re being heard before things get heated.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 9 '21 at 22:47
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    This is a helpful answer, and I'm glad you posted it. One follow-on question, if I may: I understand that you had an immense backlog of elections to work through. but, when inquiries were made, was that information passed on? If not, perhaps the lesson learned here is that, while you may be too busy to set up an election, you're never too busy to let someone know when they can expect it to happen, and thank them for their patience. (On the other hand, if that was communicated, then let me apologize for this demand for an apology.)
    – J.R. Mod
    Nov 10 '21 at 1:28
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    @ColleenV +1. Optimistically, perhaps Void will make an announcement on meta after his suspension ends. It doesn't need to go into gory detail, it could be as simple as "I saw that my election was acting as a lightning rod for controversy and felt it would be better for the site if I stepped down" or "I realised that some past events made it inappropriate for me to continue as moderator" or something more detailed, whatever he feels comfortable sharing. Perhaps the community would feel happier after hearing from all involved parties. Nov 10 '21 at 8:35
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    @J.R.- I suspect, but do not yet know, that the answer to your question is "yes, that was communicated." However, I want to be confident - with a relatively high degree of confidence - that this is true before I state it (equivocally or non-equivocally). Watch for details soon, I hope.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Nov 10 '21 at 12:48
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    I've been trying to disengage from this, but I have questions that I can't let go of. There's a lot of insistence that numerous credible red flags were raised. I believe that no evidence was found to support the accusation, but couldn't mods contact a user to express that concerns had been raised and to remind them of the rules? Were the problems with their candidacy all past behavior or were the accusations about ongoing behavior? I fully support keeping details private, but I'm having a hard time understanding why this was so difficult to resolve before the election.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 12 '21 at 18:12
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    I know of active moderators that have been on the receiving end of suspensions for behavior similar to what the candidate was accused of, and they are probably better moderators than they would have been without that experience, so I would like to understand if the candidate was bullied into withdrawing by the accusations or if their behavior really was harmful to the site.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 12 '21 at 18:18
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    @Mari-LouA You probably didn’t get a chance to read the first nasty accusation post that was made on meta months ago before it was removed because it violated the CoC. This was bullying. When I look at Void’s contributions to the site instead of judging them by a lapse of judgement that plenty of other now upstanding users have had on this site, I am actually angry that somehow we couldn’t resolve it before it came to this. Void could have been a fine mod. I don’t want to blame people or demand that they take responsibility. I just don’t want it ever to happen again.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 14 '21 at 11:55
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    Users don’t get to demand that other users be punished based on their suspicions or publicly harass them until they confess. That’s not how we do things around here. There’s a good reason why the community doesn’t get to know all the details of moderator actions. Maybe keeping enforcement behind closed doors contributed a bit to this situation getting blown out of proportion, but it’s still the right thing to do. There are very few unforgivable sins on the network, and frankly I think the behavior of the accuser in this case was far more damaging to the site than the behavior of the accused.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 14 '21 at 12:11
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    @Mari-LouA Well that’s my main concern about this entire situation. Why can’t we communicate without accusing? If we have concerns, surely we can voice those without attacking anyone. I’ve found giving people the opportunity to come clean works more often than you might expect, but not if your goal is to punish them. Why not just ask “Have you ever done X and if you did, why doesn’t that impact your ability to be a good moderator?” That way the community can make their own decision about whether that affects their vote.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 15 '21 at 12:45
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    @ColleenV - I agree with you. We have major deficiencies in tooling, both on the moderator and CM level. This is a high priority item for me for 2022.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Nov 16 '21 at 17:38
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    Were we ever able to get a definitive answer to @J.R.'s question? Was there a communication breakdown that left ELL's mod team in the dark about the reasons for the delay of scheduling the election? Could a better job have been done explaining why only one position was opened instead of the requested two positions? When I was a mod, I expressed concerns about being pushed to use chat to communicate with the CM team, (mostly by other veteran mods). I think it leads to all sorts of problems and it sounds like it was a factor here.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 18 '21 at 16:07
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    @ColleenV- I'm still tracking it down. I don't yet have an answer for you, but this has been an extremely busy week. I do know that we published about the delay in elections in multiple places several times over the year, but I can not yet say if we directly said it to this mod team.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Nov 19 '21 at 12:35
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    So does the community get to know if one of our moderators stepped down or if they were removed? I know Nov through Dec is the worst possible time for a company to have to deal with drama, but now we're back to the same number of mods we had when the team said we were two short.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 30 '21 at 21:24

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