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What are this community's standards concerning the following behavior?

  • I posted a question asking what would be a good journal to which to submit a paper arguing in favor or a certain proposition. I didn't try to argue for that proposition in the question; that would be off topic and would take far to long.
  • Next time I posted a question on a different topic, a person who disagreed with the opinion that had been mentioned but not defended in my earlier question posted several comments in which he called the proposed, and in fact not yet written, paper a "rant", and "ranting". This about a paper he has not read, since it has not yet been written.

As far as I could tell, he made these comments only because he objected to something about an earlier question on a different topic. I told him I would not "stalk and harass" him like that. I did not report his behavior to the moderators at that time.

Then I got a message from the moderators saying someone, whom they did not identify, had complained that I was "stalking and harassing" him, using my words, not quite verbatim. Naturally this gave rise to a suspicion about who it was. The moderators suspended me for seven days. One lesson is the person more inclined to report things to the moderators does so first, and whoever does so first wins. It's all about timing. The moderators are anonymous and it is not possible to contact them except by flagging a posting (and you can't flag comments) and they cut you off from being able to reply to them when they inform you of their decision.

When the suspension ended I did flag a posting from the person who stalked and harassed me, explaining that my concern was not about that particular posting but about the behavior of the poster. After two days I've heard nothing. So it seems it is about who goes to the moderators first.

Are the behaviors described in the bullet points above considered appropriate by the participants in academia.stackexchange.com or by its moderators?

PS: I am told in an answer below that I omitted many relevant details. But I still don't know the nature of the complaint about me, and I am left to guess. I was explicitly told that the nature of the complaint and the identity of the complainant would be kept from me.

migrated from meta.stackexchange.com Jun 3 '15 at 21:06

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for meta-discussion of the Stack Exchange family of Q&A websites.

  • 2
    Small quibble, Stack Exchange sites are not forums, they are question and answer sites – user34619 Jun 3 '15 at 21:27
  • @santiago : I can't say it had occurred to me that question-and-answer sites are not forums. – Michael Hardy Jun 3 '15 at 21:33
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    From the tour: This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat. – user34619 Jun 3 '15 at 21:38
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    @santiago : Having about four years of experience posting daily to math.stackexchange.com, I am well aware that it is about getting answers and is not a discussion forum. What I meant was that it had not occurred to me that the word "forum" would be construed as excluding such sites. – Michael Hardy Jun 3 '15 at 21:40
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    like I said "small quibble" – user34619 Jun 3 '15 at 21:41
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    What I do not understand is are you asking (1) why you were suspended (2) why another user was not suspended, or (3) something else entirely? – StrongBad Jun 4 '15 at 10:43
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    @MichaelHardy For anyone familiar with them, internet forums are commonly understood to be a very specific type of site. Stackexchange sites are not like them at all, and have very different traditions, etiquette, and expectations. – Roger Fan Jun 4 '15 at 18:47
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    Just a comment: you can flag comments. Mouse over the left of comments, where votes appear - you'll be able to click a little flag with the mouseover text "Flag this comment for serious problems or moderator attention." – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Jun 4 '15 at 20:37
  • @RogerFan : Maybe so, but at the time I used that word it hadn't occurred to me that anyone would construe "forum" as excluding question-and-answer sites. – Michael Hardy Jun 4 '15 at 20:39
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    @MichaelHardy I'm just explaining the disconnect. santiago was using a definition of the word that you were apparently unaware of, but which is how it is usually understood in this context. That definition, which implies a certain form of threaded message board, certainly does not match stackexchange sites. – Roger Fan Jun 4 '15 at 20:52
  • Ok so you picked up a stalker who strongly disagreed with your earlier question. It would have helped to have linked to both posts. The first one was Where to submit an article exposing widespread fraud in academia?. And also in academia.stackexchange.com/questions/12638/… . 'Academic fraud' has a precise- well-defined meaning and not just 'bad didatics/pedagogy/spoonfeeding algorithms to students'. ... – smci Jun 23 '15 at 19:42
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    ... It's not whatever you want it to mean. I'm not condoning whatever the other person did in retaliation, but if you try to unilaterally redefine universally-understood terms and resist all objections to that, then that will cause annoyance. Certainly they should not have followed you around posting obnoxious comments, and you can and should flag each such comment, promptly (don't mention the downvotes though). But part of this goes back to your earlier posts on 'exposing widespread academic fraud [in teaching calculus]'. You really need to tone those accusations down bigtime. – smci Jun 23 '15 at 19:47
  • Looking back at the discussion on those two posts, I suggest you rephrase in terms of e.g. 'How specifically can we improve student engagement/ tap into students' curiosity/creativity to go beyond just getting a grade, in teaching calculus?' That's a lot more engaging for SO users to constructively address, not an accusation and not a rant. – smci Jun 23 '15 at 19:52
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    Really, you have to stop posting repeated rants on the exact same theme. That only attracts stalkers/griefers/flamers. – smci Jun 23 '15 at 21:50
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    Michael: you know the adage "How to disagree without being disagreeable?" It's especially important in academia, a land of fragile egos and big-fish-in-small-pond. Right now you're not persuading anyone to your point of view, just getting frustrated. This is sad because you're obviously conscientious and passionate about teaching. But you're alienating almost everyone with the way you're expressing yourself. I tried to look into your exchanges and be helpful, but to use your phrase, I am offended by your response. What rational incentive do I have to continue discussing? – smci Jun 23 '15 at 23:33
9

Your post is leaving out many, many relevant details of the actual story as it occurred, so much so that the case you state is a purely hypothetical situation.

As such, in response to the hypothetical question, no, that would not be an appropriate moderator action. Suspension is a fairly severe punishment, only used after a written warning (or rarely when the initial offense is particularly severe). Also, there's no such thing as a "who reported something first" concept; I'm not sure how that would ever actually play out in practice, but each flag is judged on it's own merit.

Additionally, you stated above that "moderators are anonymous and unable to be contacted." To address those two points:

  • We are not anonymous; we're right here. Regarding who performed a particular action, we try as much as possible to discuss amongst ourselves when issues come up, and actions taken by one are fully backed by the rest of the group. You don't need to worry that what one person did cannot be defended or addressed by another. Even more so, in many cases, we frequently do respond to specific instances of moderator action (see here and here for two examples).
  • We are very easily able to be contacted; you just did so! Posting to Meta is the correct venue, and as you can see by simply browsing questions, we post here a lot.

Edit to add:

  • After I posted I remembered... almost every mod message ends with the name of the moderator who originated it. I just checked, and this case was no exception. You were aware of who contacted you, as it was stated explicitly on the email you received.
  • How do you know there's no such thing as "who reported something first"? You'd have to know how you would have reacted had the situation played out differently, when you don't know what the differences would have been. What if I had contacted the moderators first, and said.... what? You don't know. But you are indeed anonymous, or, if you prefer, pseudonymous. After you blocked me from contacting you through the usual channels, I looked at the very list of moderators to which you direct me, and found no way to find out their names, except yours, and you've thoroughly hidden your...... – Michael Hardy Jun 4 '15 at 1:48
  • .... contact information from Google. You say I left out many many relevant details, but how would I know which details might be relevant when you deliberately avoided specificity about the nature of the complaint and said nothing at all about the identity of the complainant? It was in fact not until several days after our last communication that I even guessed who it was, and as of this writing it's still only a guess. – Michael Hardy Jun 4 '15 at 1:50
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    @MichaelHardy - Not sure what you're talking about. My profile page lists my email address, my linkedin profile, and my personal homepage/blog. Googling eykanal brings up (way too much) information about me. Regarding the "first reporting" issue, I can't think of anything else to say past what's written above. – eykanal Jun 4 '15 at 2:52
  • OK, there are many details you consider relevant that I did not include because you kept them secret from me. If you were to tell me what they are, I could consider them. But the facts I report in my two bullet points are facts. – Michael Hardy Jun 4 '15 at 3:08
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    An additional point: all the "actors" in this situation—not just yourself—were told to drop the matter and leave each other alone. You were not "singled out" in that respect. – aeismail Jun 4 '15 at 7:17
  • @eykanal Judging by some things that I've seen, if I were a mod I would do everything in my power to keep my personal contact information hidden. Just because you moderate a site like this doesn't mean that you have to open yourself up to harassment outside of the site. – Roger Fan Jun 4 '15 at 18:53
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    @RogerFan - Your sentiment is entirely appreciated, but that's why the good Lord created the "delete" key. Thus far, the majority of interactions I've had as a result of that info being public have been positive. – eykanal Jun 4 '15 at 18:54
  • @RogerFan : You neglect the fact that SE does not generally provide a way to contact moderators through SE. Sometimes it is allowed and sometimes it is not. If we are to believe the pseudonymous moderators called "StrongBad", the moderators don't even know that sometimes it is not allowed. I had thought that this was simply cowardice and dishonesty on the part of the moderators, but it appears that SE has kept them in the dark about it. Also, one of the moderators has said that SE employees do not forward things to moderators, but in fact SE employees had already told me.... – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:52
  • ....that they do forward such things, and they encouraged me to send them things to be forwarded when during times when the moderators shut down my ability to contact them directly. – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:53
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    @MichaelHardy SE provides many, many ways of contacting the moderators (flags, chat, meta, comments, etc.). Maybe putting some limits on contacting them is how SE protects their mods from harassment from confrontational users. Maybe they do forward things, but they filter the messages and don't forward ones that aren't worth forwarding. – Roger Fan Jun 5 '15 at 14:13
8

There is a lot going on in this question and I will attempt to tackle it, but if I miss something, let me know.

Then I got a message from the moderators saying someone, whom they did not identify, had complained that I was "stalking and harassing" him, using my words, not quite verbatim. Naturally this gave rise to a suspicion about who it was. The moderators suspended me for seven days.

To be fair you got a message saying that there were complaints about users harassing each other. You were told that we were contacting everyone involved and telling everyone to stop it and that we were not taking any further action. You then took what the mods decided was a combative and harassing response, and it was at that point we suspended you for 7 days.

The moderators are anonymous and it is not possible to contact them except by flagging a posting (and you can't flag comments) and they cut you off from being able to reply to them when they inform you of their decision.

I am not sure what you mean by anonymous. We are listed here https://academia.stackexchange.com/users?tab=moderators, but obviously I am not the real Strongbad. We watch meta and chat, so there are ways to contact us publicly. We also have a tool to contact users privately, and once contacted, you can reply privately. The ability to reply may expire at some point, I do not know. I am pretty sure you can flag comments.

When the suspension ended I did flag a posting from the person who stalked and harassed me, explaining that my concern was not about that particular posting but about the behavior of the poster. After two days I've heard nothing. So it seems it is about who goes to the moderators first.

We saw the flag, discussed it amongst ourselves and the SE employees. We decided that it would be best if an SE employee handled the issue. I believe when the flag was cleared, you received a message saying essentially "give us some time". The SE employees are busy, but I am sure they will get to the issue.

Are the behaviors described in the bullet points above considered appropriate by the participants in academia.stackexchange.com or by its moderators?

We are left to guess which question and comments you are referring to. You did raise a couple of flags saying you felt bullied, but they did not point out specific comments and did refer to the multiple down votes you received. Looking more carefully at the comments, some of them are less than nice and probably should be deleted. That said, no one specifically flagged the comments as rude. I am leaving them for now to aid the conversation, but if you flag them in a few days as rude, I will delete them. That said, the comments that I see are not over the top and while we discourage that type of behaviour, I do not think it is bad enough to require moderator intervention.

  • "You then took what the mods decided was a combative and harassing response" Did I? I asked for specificity about the complaints and I was told that was "combative". "We also have a tool to contact users privately, and once contacted, you can reply privately." That last statement, "you can reply privately" is absolutely false. The truth is, I can reply privately if the moderators have decided in advance to allow it, but not if they haven't. Check the facts! "I am not sure what you mean by anonymous. We are listed here" Here is the fact of the matter: Only pseudonyms are listed. – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:23
  • "I believe when the flag was cleared, you received a message saying essentially 'give us some time'." I received no such message. When and how was it sent, and to what address? – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:24
  • @MichaelHardy regarding the flag, can you see this. academia.stackexchange.com/users/flag-summary/7229? The response to your flag was "helpful - The SE team doesn't forward private contact to moderators, please give them a day or so to respond." I assume they will respond to your email on file, or possibly the account you contacted them from. – StrongBad Jun 5 '15 at 7:33
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    @MichaelHardy as for replying privately, I am not sure what you mean. You have been replying to our mod messages. – StrongBad Jun 5 '15 at 7:37
  • This is the first I've seen of that item. You say the SE team doesn't forward private contact to moderators. But the SE team explicitly told me that they do forward such things. – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:38
  • I have replied when I was allowed to reply. There was at least one occasion when I was not allowed to reply, and I am surprised to find that you are not aware of that. – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:39
  • @MichaelHardy I was elected a mod based on my pseudonym. I am not sure why knowing who I am in the real world matters. My preferred way of being contacted for SE related stuff is meta, chat, comments, and flags. Is that not enough? – StrongBad Jun 5 '15 at 7:39
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    Correction: there were at least two occasions when I was not allowed to reply. – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:39
  • @MichaelHardy can we do this in chat? – StrongBad Jun 5 '15 at 7:40
  • It is not enough on those occasions when I am not allowed to use those methods to contact you. – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:40
  • You wrote "The SE team doesn't forward private contact to moderators" after the SE team told me they do forward such items. Should I conclude that they never forwarded it to you, after they told me that they would? – Michael Hardy Jun 5 '15 at 7:41
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    You do realize, I hope, that you are ... now ... exhibiting a combative and harassing behavior? – CGCampbell Jun 5 '15 at 17:36
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    "It is not enough on those occasions when I am not allowed to use those methods to contact you." This one almost made me lose it. – xLeitix Jun 9 '15 at 10:30
8

I see a Stack Exchange participant who perceives unfair treatment, and is wondering if things are working differently in practice from how things are supposed to work. Also, this participant is confused about some moderator actions.

I have a suggestion for you, @MichaelHardy. If you haven't yet tried this, hit the "contact us" button in the footer. Write as calm a letter as you can (mainly so you don't upset yourself further), and include links and quotes so that someone who is just coming into the story can follow what you're saying. You can include specific questions about things you haven't understood, and you can include specific complaints and suggestions.

I am a pretty recent arrival at SE, so I can't guarantee that this will be helpful, but I do think it's worth a try.

By the way, please do experiment with flagging comments. Here is a page that talks about comment flags: How does comment voting and flagging work? I am a little confused about what that page says about downvoting comments. Maybe that part is obsolete. But what it says about flagging comments matches my experience.

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    I think this is excellent advice. That said, the SE team is pretty active and watches out for these types of issues involving users with high rep at different sties. Myself and the other mods also try and make sure we keep the SE team informed about issues. – StrongBad Jun 18 '15 at 9:01

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