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For the upcoming and future elections, could you please describe what it is like being a moderator on Academia Stack Exchange?

In particular:

  • What are your most time-consuming or challenging duties?
  • What are the specificities of this site?

Acknowledgement

Idea blatantly stolen from Graphics Design Stack Exchange.

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    10k+ users with moderator privileges - please post answers as well! This is a great question and shouldn't be limited to diamond answers. – eykanal Sep 9 at 15:33
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    @StrongBad Considering the answers so far, I do not understand why there are moderator elections right now. Apparently moderator is a permanent position. So why are new elections needed? – Anonymous Physicist Sep 10 at 6:05
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    @AnonymousPhysicist because we need more help. We had a private conversation amongst ourselves about our availability going forward and the amount of work/time moderating requires and decided that having two more people would make things better. – StrongBad Sep 10 at 11:41
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    I agree that five mods for the size of this site puts a lot of burden on each. I compare this with a beta site I frequent that has three. And occasionally one or more of the diamonds might have external responsibilities (or even vacations) that take them away. – Buffy Sep 11 at 12:27
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    I've been a bit over 10k rep for a year or so and have never used any of the "moderator tools". They don't seem very useful to me. I edit a few tags, I guess. – Buffy Sep 12 at 19:58
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    Can any current mods give an indication of roughly how many hours a month they spend on it? – Flyto Sep 20 at 17:37
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    Are there any concerns that we have no candidates yet with only 2 days to go? Is that normal? – Buffy Sep 21 at 12:07
  • Hmmm. Was it the above comment that kicked you over the line? – Buffy Sep 21 at 19:23
  • @Buffy I was kicked by various stimuli :-) But we still lack of enough candidates :-( – Massimo Ortolano Sep 22 at 19:16
  • I think you would be a good choice, but there are others who, I think, would not be. I wrote a new meta to raise the issue of too few candidates. – Buffy Sep 22 at 19:44
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Nice question! Here's my two cents, with the caveat that this is only me; different mods moderate differently.

  • Time-consuming – This is a fairly laid-back site to moderate. Sure, flags pop up and comments need to be migrated and occasional bad actors pop up, but the community is pretty mature by now. The number of bad actors is quite low. The most time consuming part is just dealing with mundane flags. Pretty straightforward.

  • Challenging – Moderators need to be willing to make people unhappy. In almost all cases, the person you are making unhappy is making a lot of other people unhappy, hence the moderation. That said, the fact that your job involves unilaterally silencing/removing/disciplining bad actors does take a certain personality. Don't sign up for this job expecting everyone to like you.

    On a similar note, you're going to make mistakes, and they'll be pretty public (cough), and you'll have to own up to it, or at least bear your frustration in silence. That can be challenging.

  • Specifics to Academia.SE – There are a few of these, and my expectation is that if you're considering running for moderator, you should be familiar with general site mores. We tend to leave chat discussions running for longer than some other sites. We tend to treat off-topic questions somewhat strictly. In my opinion, we are a good deal slower/less inclined to close questions as duplicates than I think we should be. There are probably a bunch of other nuances, hopefully the regulars can help with this list.


Edit to add: @Buffy, touché. It's worth mentioning that this comment thing is a completely typical moderator brouhaha. You do something that (you think) is what the community wants based on history/old meta posts/community mores/"its what we always do"/whatever, and then 20+ people publicly disagree with/pile on you, and any reply you make will probably be used against you in some way. If you're the kind of person who would get really bothered by this, you may not want to be a moderator.

To be fair, this has been the most kind public disagreement I've seen in a while, so props to the whole community for not being meanieheads on this one.

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    I've noticed that comment threads are often very long. – Buffy Sep 11 at 12:29
  • @Buffy - amended answer :) – eykanal Sep 11 at 14:41
  • Hmmm, actually it wasn't a criticism of you or the practice. Just a comment. I'm active at CSEducators where a comment stream of 5 is getting to be too long. Someone on this site complained that moving comments to chat removes the possibility of deleting their own comments. I try to delete my own obsolete comments when I notice them. But the longer comment streams was one of the first things I noticed when I started to get active here. – Buffy Sep 11 at 16:35
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    @Buffy I think that many questions here need comments because frequently the askers or the answerers do not give enough context or present a very limited point of view and the academic world is really diverse. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 11 at 16:57
  • @Buffy - Ah, I thought you were referring to a recent set of comments I deleted that caused a minor kerfluffle. Generally, yes, comment threads here are long, which is why we migrate a lot of comment threads to chat. – eykanal Sep 11 at 19:13
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Blatantly stealing from my own answer on Graphic Design SE, but accounting for Academia’s peculiarities:

First of all, the following are “duties” for the moderators as a team. An individual moderator can always decline a specific task. Also, a moderator can always take a break when they see fit.

I would group the main moderator activities into three categories:

Flag handling

This can be all sorts of things from rudeness over migration requests to too many comments on a post. You can find some statistics on flag handling here, but it doesn’t tell you what kind of flags we get.

Most importantly, the amount of time consumed by different flags varies wildly. For example, a clear case of a question posted as an answer with an existing constructive comment can be handled in five seconds. However, a too-many-comments flag usually requires you to read the question, answer, and all the comments and then make a decision which should be left where they are, completely deleted, or moved to a chatroom.

The most prominent kind of flags in times of consumed handling time are certainly too-many-comments and individual comment flags. Since Academia by nature attracts a lot of comments, it also generates a lot of these flags.

Investigating and addressing problematic behaviour

This can be users who are frequently rude, commit vote fraud, perform consistently bad reviews, post subtle spam, vandalise their own posts, etc. Moderators have the tools to investigate this and react accordingly, which usually involves at least a moderator message and often a suspension.

Such cases are more time-consuming than the average flag, but they happen less often. In 2018, we sent 48 mod messages, and this probably counts multiple messages, when there was some back and forth between the user and the moderators. The challenge here is to gather the relevant information (with tools), read and assess it, decide how to react, and finally to communicate the result to the user in a constructive manner.

I second StrongBad’s answer that one of the perks of Academia SE is there are very few users in the grey zone where you don’t know whether to do nothing, to warn, or to suspend. On the other hand, since we deal with life-changing decisions, sensitive information, and ideologically charged topics quite frequently, things occasionally get serious. Typical manifestations are suicidal users, users wanting to purge all their content from the site, and users calling you a nazi because you deny them their constitutional right to be an arsehole.

Governance

Moderators can change some parts of the site’s interface and mechanics such as certain parts of the help centre, close reasons, tag synonyms, etc. In most cases, these are initiated by a community consensus. Moderators also act as an interface between the community and Stack Exchange (the company).

In my opinion, moderators also need to incite discussions on meta and propose community rules if there is a pressing need. Sometimes, only moderators can notice such problems since they have access to more information and see the community from a different angle. However, on Academia often the community takes the initiative here, and there are few such issues nowadays, since – at least as I see it – our policies have converged to something that works well and finds broad agreement within the community.

These activities can consume some time, but if they do, they are fortunately not very urgent.

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I am happy to add more if people ask specifics ...

To give you an idea of workload, as a team we handle about 150 flags and delete 500 posts a month. Most of the flags are related to obsolete comments and easy to handle and the vast majority of the deleted posts are comments, many of which are moved to chat. We contact users privately about rule violations and suspensions a couple of times a month.

Before becoming a mod on AC.SE, I was a moderator on a smaller beta site. This means I had knowledge about the tools and thought I understood what the job would be like. I assumed the worst part would be dealing with problematic users (the ones we have to contact by private message), but I was wrong. Our problematic users tend to either need to simply be told/reminded what the rules are or their behavior is so obviously problematic that all we have to do as moderators is go deleted (and I get to say it in my Strongbad voice). We really don't have many instances where we labor on a decision about what to do and when these cases do happen, a short discussion with the other moderators (both here and across the network) generally leads to a reasonable solution. I actually find it rewarding when my actions steer a user into becoming a valued contributor and when I can clean up obvious junk.

The thing that I find most difficult as a moderator is dealing with long chains of comments. Deciding when they should be moved to chat and which ones to leave behind takes a lot of time and thought. No matter the decision, people get upset. These comment conversations happen frequently enough such that after being alerted by flags, we act unilaterally (we if we screw up we can always un-delete the comments). Again, in terms of scope, while we don't track how many comment threads we move to chat, with only 500 deleted posts a month, we maybe move 15-20 threads in a month as a team.

  • "Deciding when they should be moved to chat and which ones to leave behind takes a lot of time and thought." You know, ignoring them is perfectly fine. I ignore quite a lot of the comments that are not deleted. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 10 at 6:09
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    @AnonymousPhysicist but that is not what the community wants and being a mod means sometimes having to do what the community wants. I will also point out, that in most cases, once the comment chain gets long, they tend to devolve and lead to bad behavior. – StrongBad Sep 10 at 12:05

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