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I've been somewhat confused by how the moderation on our controversial questions is conducted. That's not to say that the mods need to be superhuman, but I really do think things are frequently handled inconsistently.

In January, we had this question go through: Examples of successful push-backs against DEI (diversity, etc.) initiatives in academia?

This was obviously a controversial post, and the moderation philosophy was aggressively focused on deleting comments (even those that weren't consulted) and on keeping the post open. I'm not really happy about how it was handled, but at least that is one policy.

Today, we've had the controversial post Was it appropriate to discuss the reply-all? come through, where the response was to issue a 24 hour lock because a moderator was unhappy with the original poster's edit strategy.

Is there something I'm missing that differentiates these questions substantially enough that they require such different strategies? I feel like we could have just let a regular close vote of one sort or another execute on the second question and that would've been closer to the spirit of how the first was handled.

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    And the lock has now been removed. May 30, 2022 at 22:20

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Different issues need different responses.

I’ve locked today’s post not because it is controversial, but because in a few hours it was edited twenty times in a way that completely changed the core question and context, thus invalidating existing answers and making it impossible for users to answer.

The lock lasts for one day, and it does not correspond to the closure of the question: it is meant to prevent further rushed changes (closing a question does not prevent this), but it can be removed by us moderators any time the author reaches a final decision on the content (as it happened shortly after I wrote this). It also (again temporarily) prevents further answers because such answers would be at risk of being invalidated by new edits.

The January’s question didn’t have this issue: it was edited just six times and none of the edits changed the core question.

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  • I appreciate the response (and Cag's) and understand the contrast between the questions regarding the edit pattern. I'll think it over. It does feel to me somewhat philosophically distinct to how the January question was approached, though, and I think they do have some similarities (the pace of comment generation is a big one). In the January case I felt like the moderation was very deferential to the asker and towards letting the non-mod procedures execute, whereas the intervention here was a quick lock.
    – user137975
    May 30, 2022 at 22:21
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    @AnonymousM Generally, when two things are handled differently, I would focus on the ways they are different rather than the ways they are similar. If you focus on the similarities you're certainly going to find unexplained inconsistencies.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    May 31, 2022 at 14:18
  • @BryanKrause I've appreciated the thoughts on this question including this one. But wrapping back to this particular comment: I personally think consistency is a worthwhile thing to strive for in moderation and this comment comes across to me as "Consistency isn't something the mods strive for."
    – user137975
    Jun 11, 2022 at 15:42
  • @AnonymousM We moderators try to be consistent as possible when all things are equal, but here things were different, and we also look at the different responses of the community and of the poster. Moreover, mod tools allow us to take certain actions only, and this might be suboptimal in certain cases. Jun 11, 2022 at 16:30
  • @AnonymousM That isn't the meaning of my comment at all. What I am saying is that if you have two situations that are handled differently, it will always appear like there is inconsistency if you choose to focus on the similarities in the situations and ignore the differences. If you want insight into the reasons for differences in action, you have to look to the differences in situation. We certainly should not strive to react to different situations consistently.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 15, 2022 at 15:19
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To the title question: The only difference in policy between a "controversial" question and a regular question is that the former have a post notice reminding people of the rules. Specifically, this notice reminds people (especially new users or hot-network-question users) that this is not a discussion site, and we do not welcome arguments, debates, or opinions, only authoritative answers backed by personal expertise in academia and/or references.

With respect to your first example, you say:

"the moderation philosophy was aggressively focused on deleting comments (even those that weren't consulted)."

I'm not sure what "consulted" means in this context. But as you know, the purpose of comments is to suggest improvements or request clarification. Comments that do not do either of those things may be deleted without notice. In many cases, we do give grace periods or move comments to chat rather than just deleting; we do not want to be obnoxious with deleting comments that are just a hair over the line. But when the controversial post notice has already reminded people about the acceptable uses of comments, we are less likely to give the benefit of the doubt.

"and on keeping the post open"

I'm not sure what you mean by this; the mods did not take any special action to keep this post open. I suppose we could have unilaterally closed it, but we normally leave such decisions to the community.

the response was to issue a 24 hour lock because a moderator was unhappy with the original poster's edit strategy

Locking a question is pretty unusual; I don't think this is a routine "strategy." But I also don't think it's exactly a mystery why a moderator took this action -- this post has been through 20 revisions, many of which substantially change the question being asked, which will lead to a bunch of answers that address different questions. As the moderator said in the comments, this lock will be lifted as soon as OP tells us that the question has stabilized.

I feel like we could have just let a regular close vote of one sort or another execute on the second question

For this specific problem -- a constantly-changing question -- I doubt it. Getting five close votes takes some time, which will lead to confusion and delay. Further, closing the question is not really appropriate if the question itself is on-topic. This is the sort of "exceptional case" that moderators were designed for -- and indeed, a user correctly flagged this post so that we could intervene.

Anyway: thanks for asking, it is good to be able to explain our actions and get feedback. But I'm pretty comfortable with how our team handled these two cases.

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  • Re the January question: I had multiple comments (as did others) moved to chat that were well within the scope of the "Controversial Post" rules, as they were suggesting specific improvements to the question. This is one approach, but seems fairly different compared to today's post.
    – user137975
    May 30, 2022 at 21:58
  • I see. As noted above, we do not generally delete comments that are within the acceptable uses of comments, even on controversial questions. Of course, things do slip through -- please feel free to raise a flag next time.
    – cag51 Mod
    May 30, 2022 at 22:09
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    Looking at it now: it looks to me like your comments were moved to chat, not deleted, and a moderator even said that your comments were "constructive" and he hoped the discussion would continue in the chat. By this point, the OP had already declined to make the change you suggested, so there did not seem to be a "realistic chance that the post would be edited." But these things are always judgment calls, and things do slip through, so we're usually happy to discuss/reconsider -- please don't be shy about sending a note in future if it seems like we've deleted valid comments.
    – cag51 Mod
    May 30, 2022 at 22:10
  • @AnonymousM I have observed that moderators moving comments to chat/deleting them is more the default than the exception around here. academia.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5091/… May 31, 2022 at 22:59
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There is no relationship between the two questions.

I requested moderator intervention in Was it appropriate to discuss the reply-all? because there were an unreasonable number of edits to the question, making it impractical to tell what had been changed. This seems like abuse to me.

I do not think the question should have been closed as "opinion based" because the several answers and most voters were in general agreement.

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  • This seems like an understandable reason to request the particular intervention that ended up happening, but the intervention itself was very strong and it didn't take long after unlocking for a close vote to be approved (As an aside: I don't have the rep for those so didn't contribute to it at all). In the other question, the asker was also somewhat out of line in that they aggressively tried to turn every comment into a discussion prompting many moves to chat. But that question was left largely alone to remain on HNQ for a long while and moderation moved comments disagreeing with the asker.
    – user137975
    Jun 11, 2022 at 16:07

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