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In connection with the moderator elections, we are holding a Q&A thread for the candidates. Questions collected from an earlier thread have been compiled into this one, which shall now serve as the space for the candidates to provide their answers.

Not every question was compiled - as noted, we only selected the top 8 questions as submitted by the community, plus 2 pre-set questions from us.

As a candidate, your job is simple - post an answer to this question, citing each of the questions and then post your answer to each question given in that same answer. For your convenience, I will include all of the questions in quote format with a break in between each, suitable for you to insert your answers. Just copy the whole thing after the first set of three dashes.Please consider putting your name at the top of your post so that readers will know who you are before they finish reading everything you have written, and also including a link to your answer on your nomination post.

Once all the answers have been compiled, this will serve as a transcript for voters to view the thoughts of their candidates, and will be appropriately linked in the Election page.

Good luck to all of the candidates!

Oh, and when you've completed your answer, please provide a link to it after this blurb here, before that set of three dashes. Please leave the list of links in the order of submission.

To save scrolling here are links to the submissions from each candidate (in order of submission):

Massimo Ortolano

cag51

M'vy


  1. What is your time zone? What is the time period you are available for moderating our site everyday? Please specify the answer in UTC format.

  2. New users and posters tend to struggle more than experienced users. What would you do as a moderator to improve the onboarding and also improve the welcome felt by new posters to Academia SE?

  3. Do you have any previous experience as a moderator, either on Stack Exchange or on other kind of communities (e.g. newsgroups, forums etc.)?

  4. What question or answer of yours on meta best exemplifies your philosophy on moderation? Why do you feel this is the best example?

  5. In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

  6. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

  7. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

  8. What do you think the moderators' role should be with respect to Hot Network Questions list questions, given their potential for controversy and "passerby" users from the network? How do you think presence on the HNQ list should affect moderation decisions, given its frequency?

  9. Comments can be tricky to deal with, and are often flagged as obsolete/no longer needed. Under what circumstances will you delete comments?

  10. What is your stance about the current scope of Academia Stack Exchange and how this is enforced? Should we close any question that does not strictly comply with the current scope? Should we be lenient and keep open questions that can potentially generate good answers even if borderline off-topic? Should we narrow or broaden the scope?

9

Massimo Ortolano’s answers

Here are my answers to the questionnaire. Some of the questions were already asked during the 2018 election: my opinion on these has not significantly changed during the last year and half and I've thus reported a few of the old answers.

  1. What is your time zone? What is the time period you are available for moderating our site everyday? Please specify the answer in UTC format.

My time zone is that of Central European Time, UTC+1 (UTC+2 during summer time). I'm usually intermittently available throughout all day, but I cannot specify a fixed time period because my availability depends on my work schedule, in particular lectures, meetings and experiments. Overall, I may be available for from 30 min a day, to about 1 hour, depending on the days.

  1. New users and posters tend to struggle more than experienced users. What would you do as a moderator to improve the onboarding and also improve the welcome felt by new posters to Academia SE?

This is an age-old problem that affects most if not all of the online communities, not only those from Stack Exchange. The components of this problem are the expectations of the newcomers, those of the community, the size of the community (one can guide just that much what thousands of people tell to each other), the composition of the community (yielding, for instance, an acceptance bias toward certain questions with respect to others), the limitations of the platform (discoverability of the help center, visibility and form of guiding messages etc.) and — indeed — personality of the moderators.

Honestly, I don't have a definitive solution, and probably no one has (see also the attempts from the Stack Exchange staff). What I did so far is to use comments, our Meta and chat to explain the source of the issues, to help to better understand the culture of the site, or to convice the community that certain questions can be on topic (I'm not claiming that I've been successful in any way). This is also commonly done by our moderators. I think that a few meta questions and answers exemplifying my approach to this problem can be the following:

https://academia.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4044/20058

https://academia.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4371/20058

https://academia.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4111/20058

https://academia.meta.stackexchange.com/a/4258/20058

Could we please reopen these questions about salary and treat all salary questions in a uniform way?

Double degree: why was this question closed as duplicate?

To sum up, I'd continue along these lines, maybe in a more systematic way.

  1. Do you have any previous experience as a moderator, either on Stack Exchange or on other kind of communities (e.g. newsgroups, forums etc.)?

Yes, I've been an administrator and moderator of an Italian forum about circuit theory, electronics, physics and mathematics.

  1. What question or answer of yours on meta best exemplifies your philosophy on moderation? Why do you feel this is the best example?

This one:

https://academia.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2027/20058

Even though at first glance it might not seem directly related to moderation, I choose this answer because I think it exemplifies well my understanding of people's way of voting, and the way in which complains about up or downvotes should be handled.

  1. In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

Well, really, the tools that are at disposal of 10k or 20k users are really not so effective. In practice, as a standard user, one can only bring to the attention of the community and the moderators a possible issue. Then, a few actions are triggered by the collective action of the community (e.g. enough spam flags can trigger the automatic deletion of a post), but most of the other actions should be taken by the moderators.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I wouldn't deal alone: I'm convinced that problematic cases like this one should be discussed among all the moderators. I'd first propose to have a private chat with the user to convince them to avoid this kind of disruptive behaviour. I'd consider suspension as a last resort.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

I think that for borderline cases we should leave the decision to the community. Therefore, I wouldn't reopen or undelete the question unilaterally, but I'd propose to the other moderator to agree on publishing a meta question to see what the community thinks about the closure/deletion/etc.

  1. What do you think the moderators' role should be with respect to Hot Network Questions list questions, given their potential for controversy and "passerby" users from the network? How do you think presence on the HNQ list should affect moderation decisions, given its frequency?

This is a tricky point. In this meta question I proposed that we introduce a post notice for controversial questions but, at the same time, I suggested in this answer that we shouldn't remove questions from the HNQ list. The most upvoted answers in that Q&A suggest that we should remove from the HNQ list questions related to "suicide or severe psychic health problems" and when "the asker is a victim of sexual discrimination or misconduct": this is certainly a sensible thing to do, but I think that more should be done to prevent people in particularly difficult situations to give easily recognizable details when asking questions, because removing a question from the HNQ list is just too slow of an action to be really effective if someone has malicious intentions. Here, the Stack Exchange staff should provide more mechanisms to help this prevention (for example, with dedicated tag warnings, with improved visibility).

  1. Comments can be tricky to deal with, and are often flagged as obsolete/no longer needed. Under what circumstances will you delete comments?

Comments are really another tricky point for at least two reasons. First, there is a clear discrepancy between the intended usage of comments from the Stack Exchange staff and the intended usage from many users. Second, it appears that moderators have limited tools to deal with comments. For instance, at present, comments can be moved to chat only once (there are suggestions to improve these tools, but we don't know if and when they will be implemented).

In principle, I think that comments should be deleted only when they are rude or offensive, or when they become obsolete. A long list of comments can be moved to chat, but I'd avoid deletion. However, for answers, I think that comments that point out significant technical, regulatory or legal flaws should stay attached to the answers and not moved to chat or deleted. Of course, this principles might not be fully applicable because of the limitations of the moderation tools.

  1. What is your stance about the current scope of Academia Stack Exchange and how this is enforced? Should we close any question that does not strictly comply with the current scope? Should we be lenient and keep open questions that can potentially generate good answers even if borderline off-topic? Should we narrow or broaden the scope?

It's clear that we receive many questions that are off-topic according to the current policy, but it's also clear that there are several users who are willing to answers these questions because, well, it's useful. And we have many examples of borderline off-topic questions which generated wonderful answers (this one from JeffE is probably the archetype of such an excellent answer to a very personal question). So, in general, I'm inclined to be lenient, but I'd also suggest to those who think that answering certain types of now off-topic questions could be useful to a general audience to bring it up on our Meta to propose to broaden the scope. The important thing is to reach sufficient consesus to have a uniform treatment of certain questions. I'll be therefore happy to broaden the scope in case of well-conceived proposals.

  • When you say "but I think it should be done more to prevent people in particularly difficult situations from asking questions", are you meaning "more should be done to prevent ...", or actually suggesting different reasoning? – Michael Homer Sep 30 at 20:49
  • @MichaelHomer Ah, yes, the way in which I formulated that sentence was ambiguous. I've edited it: my point indeed is not that of preventing people from asking questions, but to give easily recognizable details when asking questions about delicate situations. Let me know if it's clearer now. – Massimo Ortolano Sep 30 at 20:58
6

Cag51’s answers

  1. What is your time zone? What is the time period you are available for moderating our site everyday? Please specify the answer in UTC format.

Eastern Time (UTC-5). I tend to check the site several times throughout the day, but would make my most sustained investments late in the night (e.g., 0400 or 0600 UTC).

  1. New users and posters tend to struggle more than experienced users. What would you do as a moderator to improve the onboarding and also improve the welcome felt by new posters to Academia SE?

Encourage personalized responses. I feel vicariously sad when I see someone provide a detailed, specific, well-written question and they get downvoted and their question is closed as a duplicate of a super-vague question like “how do graduate admissions work?”. True, our scope excludes overly individualized questions – but a kind note explaining this, perhaps with an encouraging word, could bridge the gap.

  1. Do you have any previous experience as a moderator, either on Stack Exchange or on other kind of communities (e.g. newsgroups, forums etc.)?

Not on SE or similar. Certainly I hold professional leadership positions, but nothing like this.

  1. What question or answer of yours on meta best exemplifies your philosophy on moderation? Why do you feel this is the best example?

This one. For one thing, I have rather few to pick from (see below). But more generally, I think it’s important to remember that questions that seem obvious or uninteresting to experienced researchers can be exceptionally important, and not at all obvious, for new users. Given this, I dislike it when people make condescending remarks in the comments (whether toward new or established users).

  1. In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

I view them as fundamentally different roles. As a high-rep user, I focus on answering questions, voting, and editing questions. As a diamond moderator, my answers and comments will be much more forceful, and thus I will have to use them much more sparingly. On the other hand, being a diamond moderator allows me to help the community in a different way – namely, providing timely review of flags, and being much more active on meta.

  1. How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I would apply my judgment based on the nature of arguments or flags. If it is just a matter of poor word choice or over-enthusiasm, I would post a comment to try to defuse the situation. If I think the user is really stepping over the line, I might try a friendly modmail, in coordination with the other mods. If there is really egregious conduct, then I would coordinate with the other mods about more decisive action.

  1. How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Very carefully. The most common case is probably that the other moderator thought the question was unsalvageable, whereas I can take the time to (try to) salvage it. In this case, I would try to salvage the question (perhaps with a note to the other moderator to avoid misunderstanding). The community can always vote to close if they disagree with me. For more systematic cases, I would discuss with the other mod and/or open a discussion on meta.

  1. What do you think the moderators' role should be with respect to Hot Network Questions list questions, given their potential for controversy and "passerby" users from the network? How do you think presence on the HNQ list should affect moderation decisions, given its frequency?

For the most part, I would treat these questions as any other question. Many users find us from HNQs, so I’m reluctant to cull questions from the HNQ list. Certain cases, though, are either so personal (e.g., mental health issues) or so subtle (e.g., nuances of particular academic sub-cultures) that we should discourage answers from non-academicians. This is generally in line with what the community has already decided.

  1. Comments can be tricky to deal with, and are often flagged as obsolete/no longer needed. Under what circumstances will you delete comments?

Sparingly. Deleting comments is a drastic action. Still, I will consider (case-by-case) deleting:

  • obsolete comments (e.g., suggesting an improvement that has been adopted)
  • insults (e.g., beyond reasonable discussion or disagreement)
  • clear-cut answers in the comments – after asking the author to post it as an actual answer. Of course, there are a lot of caveats here – I wouldn’t usually delete partial answers, or answers on closed questions that might be useful to the OP.
  • Comments that disregard direct instructions, such as on controversial posts where users have been told that “comments may request clarification ONLY”.
  1. What is your stance about the current scope of Academia Stack Exchange and how this is enforced? Should we close any question that does not strictly comply with the current scope? Should we be lenient and keep open questions that can potentially generate good answers even if borderline off-topic? Should we narrow or broaden the scope?

I would not take drastic, unilateral action, but I do discourage closing interesting questions. It seems like most popular questions get closed and then reopened, in some cases more than once. While moderators shouldn’t, for the most part, open or close questions single-handedly, my personal “stance” is to accept interesting questions even if there is grounds for closing them.

3

M'vy’s answers

What is your time zone? What is the time period you are available for moderating our site everyday? Please specify the answer in UTC format.

I am currently living in the UK. I am usually off-work from 18:00 UTC and up until 0:00 UTC. Week-ends are usually a time where I do have more availability. Also, I am somehow available during work hours (i.e. 8:00 UTC - 18:00 UTC)., though in a more restricted fashion of course, but this should be enough to handle urgent matters.

New users and posters tend to struggle more than experienced users. What would you do as a moderator to improve the onboarding and also improve the welcome felt by new posters to Academia SE?

Being that it is impossible to pre-educate newcomers, it is necessary to work with the already established experienced users. It is easy to get caught in the pitfall of group identity and exclude anyone who does not conform (I have been guilty of this before), and everyone at some point needs to be reminded of it. We need to raise attention when people behave incorrectly, and are discouraging newcomers to participate instead of giving them proper pointers to get better.

As to how to make newcomers get better, I think the best approach is to have them in the chat room, it's really easier to explain things there than in comments. Obviously all newcomers aren't necessarily keen on been thrown into a room full of people, so this is not a silver bullet. And sometimes a simple address in the comments will be enough. Moderators have a unique position that can allow mediation between the two parties.

Do you have any previous experience as a moderator, either on Stack Exchange or on other kind of communities (e.g. newsgroups, forums etc.)?

I have moderated a lot of different places, from private forums to 5000+ members Facebook Groups. I also used to have mods privileges (reputation based) on some Stacks in beta.

What question or answer of yours on meta best exemplifies your philosophy on moderation? Why do you feel this is the best example?

Unfortunately, I do not have much example to give from the AC meta. However, I have been quite active on other stacks in the past, most notably Security, Arqade and French Language& Usage, and used to be active on Meta as well

I would summarise my moderation philosophy here on slack as this: moderators should be as invisible as possible. The majority of moderation should come from the community itself. There are only a few things that requires a fully-fledged moderator, and even if some cases requires a swift and decisive action, it is in the end the community that defines how the community itself grows and where it's headed.

If I had to chose some meta topic to illustrate this it would be this one or this one

In what way do you feel that being a moderator will make you more effective as opposed to simply reaching 10k or 20k rep?

These tools are really designed for different things. The 10k/20k moderators tools brings the most experienced user in the community some way to shape it in a collaborative fashion. Also, unless there are many active high-reputation users, it is unlikely that action will be swift, and when it has to be that's when moderators have to come into play.

How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?

I think that the best thing is to inform the user about it, communicate before taking any harsh action. Chat, message are here for this. In the last resort (if no improvements come out of this), I suggest to discuss it with the other mods and/or with the community to find the best answer to it.

I'm gonna use a quote from Rory Alsop here, because I think it clearly states the goal here: "We need to encourage the good behaviours and be robust with the bad".

How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?

Get in touch, communicate, get to know why and see if it was a 'close call', or if there is real hard reasons why this shouldn't be here. If it's arguable, try to find a suitable course of action by including the necessary people. We are all humans with different perspectives and not everything is a black and white situation.

What do you think the moderators' role should be with respect to Hot Network Questions list questions, given their potential for controversy and "passerby" users from the network? How do you think presence on the HNQ list should affect moderation decisions, given its frequency?

There is a clear need to monitor these questions more closely. It's more than probable that this kind of question will require protection. In the general case, I think HNQ are a good thing, as it increases the visibility of the community. There could be some cases where this kind of visibility would be detrimental or hurtful to people. In which case removing them from HNQ would be advised.

Comments can be tricky to deal with, and are often flagged as obsolete/no longer needed. Under what circumstances will you delete comments?

Comments that do not comply with the accepted etiquette of public forum should be deleted without question. As for other types of comments, the question is often to see if the comment is detrimental to the question/answer. Sometimes an obsolete comment can help someone get an up-to-date source. Sometimes it would give a bad advice. It's mostly a case by case situation.

What is your stance about the current scope of Academia Stack Exchange and how this is enforced? Should we close any question that does not strictly comply with the current scope? Should we be lenient and keep open questions that can potentially generate good answers even if borderline off-topic? Should we narrow or broaden the scope?

Scope is a complicated matter on StackExchange for various reasons. Overlapping scopes with other stacks, controversial topics and opinion based questions, to name a few. There are questions that clearly would not be good on any stacks, these clearly should be dealt with in a strict manner. For the rest, it is not just a matter for moderators, but also the community. If the people do not feel like the question should be closed, it can be an opportunity to see if it brings value to the site. If it does not, it will always be time to close it, and learn for next time. If it does, raising awareness of it on meta would be a good thing to do, so that the community can become aware of it, and have a say on whether they think it wants to see more of these questions or not in the future.

  • You seem like a great candidate! – User Sep 24 at 7:00
  • Well thank you @Matthias, that's very kind of you. – M'vy Sep 24 at 8:05

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