25

Two hours after a recent question was closed by five users (four high-rep), the OP (also a moderator) voted to reopen his own question, which is, of course, an instantaneous and binding vote. This situation came up previously with the same mod. It seems a mod should realize that his re-open vote is binding and overrides the usual reopening process.

Questions are closed for a number of reasons, including general reference. If the OP/mod frequently voted to reopen closed questions, this could be understood as merely another such vote, however as a user, he rarely voted to reopen, making this much less likely (from available information his reopen votes were in all probability only for his own closed questions). That two binding votes were cast on his own questions makes me uncomfortable that the moderator in question might be using his position to inappropriately bypass the community's decisions to close his questions.

I request that the mods undertake to address this issue. What, if anything, should be done? Does a mod respect the community and let it reopen closed questions on their own merit? Mods surely should use their own judgement to reopen a question which may have been unfairly or mistakenly closed. What I don't know is if this is accepted behavior on the part of a mod pertaining to his own questions. In that case it could reasonably be asked why regular users can't reopen their own closed questions with one vote.

Edited to add: I'm not out for anybody's blood here. My experiences with the mod team have been very beneficial overall. I think it does a great job. It's not a transparent process, however; whether it should be is part of the implications of this question.

Edit #2: FumbleFingers wants to pretend there is but one data point here making this question close-worthy. I have a revision history for both times. I can provide them if necessary to prove its existence.

(If people are wondering why I don't just ignore this, I refer them to this explanation. Basically I think things go more smoothly in situations where the "rules" are known to all - or at least the majority - and adhered to by all - or at least the majority - with the spirit of the law superseding the letter of the law. I don't see this at work here in this situation. I'm certainly not privy to how mods are supposed to behave regarding their own closed questions. Which is the reason for my post.)

  • 4
    I didn't realize the facts. Are you saying the OP reopened their own question, where voting did not come in? That seems terribly corrupt. There are many instances where the system does not allow one to do things to ones own things (you can't vote on ones own questions or answers). This seems like something that should be enforced by the system (that mods can't do things to their own stuff also). – Mitch Nov 3 '14 at 2:52
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    For this particular case it looks like an abuse of power. – curiousdannii Nov 3 '14 at 3:09
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it should be asked on Stack Exchange meta, and should avoid highlighting one specific incident or individual. – FumbleFingers Nov 4 '14 at 14:14
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    @FumbleFingers yes, it should be bumped up to meta, but for people to judge for themselves, they might like to see an example. – Mitch Nov 4 '14 at 14:21
  • @Mitch: If they must, they must. But I don't think the meta.meta question should publicise a link to this one. We don't need to be washing our dirty linen in public in order to have a debate on the merits of washing in general. – FumbleFingers Nov 4 '14 at 14:26
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    I deleted many of the comments discussing the moderator's actions, but did not change the content of any post. Most of what I deleted was speculation or response to speculation. I don't think it is necessary to pretend that we're not talking about a specific incident, neither do I think unfounded speculation about the situation is helpful. On the other hand, it is not our policy to disclose particulars about moderator actions. If Oishi-san wishes to provide you with that information, he is at liberty to do so. – Kit Z. Fox Nov 5 '14 at 4:00
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    It seems apparent from the mod-in-question's own answer that this was an accident which highlights a flaw in the reopen system. I have no reason to disbelieve him. Therefore I support @FumbleFingers in suggesting that this be re-asked on meta generically in the hopes of changing the system. Mistakes happen, no biggie, but it seems inappropriate for the code to let a mod unilaterally reopen their own question - accidentally or intentionally. – Lynn Nov 6 '14 at 10:57
  • @Lynn: When I posted my first answer, I was sticking to the apparent remit of the question (incident-, mod-, or site-specific, take your pick). Since I can't endorse the idea of ELU needing its own special provisions for curbing "errant" mod activity I felt I had to post an opposing position. But the votes clearly show most users are not happy with what's happened, and they feel something needs to be done. I don't care one way or the other if it's a matter of SE-wide constrains (or publicised "best practice") - I just don't fancy the "local problem = local solution" approach. – FumbleFingers Nov 6 '14 at 15:17
12

Using mod privilege to re-open one's own closed question is a conflict of interest. We have a natural tendency to believe our questions are on-topic, otherwise we wouldn't have posted them. Normally, moderators do not act on flags pertaining to their own posts and do not engage in privileged activity involving their own posts (with the exception of editing). If they feel action is required, they ask another mod or mods to review the situation. In fact, most of the activity that would be considered in a gray area is handled after two or more mods discuss it first, whether it involves another moderator's content or not.

In certain cases, the community may decide to honor a venerated user by choosing him for moderatorship, regardless of his lack of familiarity with chat, Meta, or the review tools that are provided high-rep users. In these cases, moderator privilege is viewed as a gift bestowed to a beloved, long-standing member of the community, a token of thanks for his contributions here. And in these cases, where his exercise of privilege is extremely limited in scope—and communication is hampered by technical savvy, timezone differences, and culture—we are inclined to overlook the occasional conflict of interest.

That is not to say that we are pleased by it, nor that we are not keeping an eye on it. Please feel free to continue letting us in on your observations.

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    Thank you, KitFox. I appreciate the moderator viewpoint. – anongoodnurse Nov 4 '14 at 23:07
35

I’ d like to answer to this question as the principal, or the accused who voted “Reopen” to his own question. I have no intention to excuse. Let’s me simply recount what’s happened.

I found my question asking the meaning of “meth, methhead, and do meth” was closed for reason of being off-topic, and I think there was one Reopen vote, but not very sure. I thought meth is a commonsense to native English speakers, but not to ESL speakers, so the question is worth for staying on board for non-native English speakers, and pushed “reopen” button to add one Reopen vote just as a user, not a moderator. The question reopened instantly. Because it reopened instantly, the memory of the same experience that I argued with the OP once before flashed back. I thought this could be taken as the abuse of moderator privilege by other users.

So I pushed “Cancel (or it could be Close) button" offhand. It was rejected by the warning to the effect “You cannot cancel your vote.” I think the message was followed by something like “because it will affect the validity of existing votes." I gave up to make corrective actions. I thought somebody will bring up the case in chat or meta, and I will explain then what I did, and what happened.

This happened twice. I admit it’s “unseemly” bungle. I learnt, and am fully aware of that the moderator’s single vote is worth 5 votes of users at the previous event. But I have no intention to reopen my own post by abusing moderator’s privilege. I’ve posted more than 800 questions and answers. I have no need to rescue only one or two questions by abusing moderator’s advantage. Moreover, I don’t want to stick around the moderator’s title, if you call me a willful power abuser.

I raised hand for candidacy for ELU moderator this year, because I desired to prove to non-native English speaking peers that even a non-native speaker who had never lived or studied in English speaking countries can be an ELU moderator, and is able to have a say in an international English language study circle as one of its members, and it’s not for self-display, or wielding power, if it exists any.

It was a mistake. I tried to recover it by canceling my reopen vote. I couldn’t do it mechanically, or electronically. That’s the fact.

Regarding inclination of my posts to mostly questions, it’s simply because I think as a non-native English speaker, I’m less learned and qualified to answer most of subtle nuance of English language questions than native, genuine English speakers are, and it's more suitable for me to stay on the asker’s side and to contribute to the site by doing so.

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    Thank you. This is just what I imagined had occurred. Your honor and humanity are humbling. Seeing your question at 4 close-votes, I kept waiting for it to be close so that I could cast my reopen vote, but it had reopened before I had the chance to engage it in the normal way. – tchrist Nov 6 '14 at 4:14
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    Thank you for answering/explaining. This makes more sense now. Please know that a question asking about site policy/position regarding moderator reopening of one's own question is very different than a desire to have you resign. No one, myself included, wants that drastic solution even if this was not a mistake. KitFox's answer was accepted and your explanation completely clears up any misgivings I may have had. – anongoodnurse Nov 6 '14 at 17:41
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    We all make mistakes. – A E Nov 21 '14 at 8:59
20

A moderator re-opening their own question, closed by the community, is clearly a conflict of interest. Moderators are supposed to know the rules and closing reasons, so they typically wouldn't post things that are closeable, so this particular conflict does not seem like a common case.

That said, moderators can still have posts that were wrongfully closed, and are trusted to act accordingly. The StackExchange position is that moderators act, they do not vote. I feel that they should be allowed to vote, especially for circumstances like this one, but that isn't the problem at hand.

In my opinion one question was closed properly (disclaimer: I voted to close it). The question's answer was easily found as the top Google result for the query and Google also provides an easy definition to answer the question. Not only that, but there was an upvoted answer also providing this dictionary definition, so there is no reason for this General Reference question to remain open.

On the basis that the question was, in my opinion, closed correctly, the moderator's action in reopening it does not seem appropriate. In the big picture it doesn't seem like a big deal, but I feel this scenario should not become any more common than it has.

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    You make some very helpful observations that I had not considered (e.g. The StackExchange position is that moderators act, they do not vote.) Good points. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Nov 3 '14 at 20:50
5

I think this is a rather unique situation, and some extenuating factors that ought to be considered.

I'm under the impression that moderators typically answer far more questions than they ask. (To confirm my hunch, I just visited several other SE communities and gathered data from the profiles of their moderators. I analyzed 15 moderators at random: the average number of questions answered by each moderator was about 420, while the average number of questions asked by these moderators was 25. Only 4 of the 14 moderators had a questions-to-answers ratio of more than 10%, the highest being 42%, from a moderator who had asked 104 questions and answered 247.)

So, the mod is a bit of an anomaly, in that they have asked a large number of questions, and answered only 23, pretty much an inversion of the typical moderator. Most moderators wouldn't find themselves in this situation, because most moderators don't ask nearly as many questions.

With that in mind, I would answer your question in the negative: I don't think this constitutes an "abuse of powers." If this moderator reopened almost every one of his own questions that got closed, that might be another issue. If this moderator never opened any other user's question that might have been similarly unfairly closed, that might be another issue. But I'm only aware of one data point, and I don't regard that as an abuse of power.

If the mod feels like one of his questions was closed too hastily because of "group think," it's within their rights to reopen the question. So long as they would do the same for other users in the same situation, I have no problem with that.

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    I would say that nobody, here or elsewhere, questions this mods integrity or ability, which is why this question can be asked without personalities intruding. If even he can lay himself open to the perception of unfairness, maybe the system needs review. – TimLymington Nov 3 '14 at 22:39
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    To clarify: Yes, I think it's okay, so long as it's done in moderate doses. When it appears that a moderator may have acted in self-interest, I think it's usually safe to give the benefit of doubt to the moderator, and assume there was a reason the mod used (not abused) moderator privileges, and deemed that the action was in the best interest of the community at large. Done frequently over the course of time, though, I might be inclined to raise an eyebrow. – J.R. Nov 4 '14 at 10:02
2

Ideally, a moderator should ask another moderator to re-open one's closed posts. That way, there will be no question of conflict of interest.

If the request is meritorious, then the second moderator will usually have enough respect for the first one to reopen it. If you can find no moderator willing to re-open the closed post, maybe the request is not so meritorious.

1

(This is my closevote justification, which is too long for a comment)


I'm closevoting as Off Topic. The OP here has repeatedly said she doesn't want to "personalise" this issue, but the reality is we only have a single example of potentially questionable behaviour here on ELU. This makes it very difficult to discuss points of principle without referring to that example.

Assuming we all accept that the purpose of this question is not to demand an "apology" from one particular mod (which imho would be extremely unseemly, to say the least), there's no good reason to reference any specific example, or limit the discussion to ELU in particular.

Therefore I propose that this question be closed. A new one (equivalent in all ways except it wouldn't identify any specific incidents or individuals) should be posted on Stack Exchange meta, where all SE users can contribute to a debate on whether there should be software changes preventing mods reopening their own questions (or a statement of site-wide "best practice").

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    Setting aside the quibbling about whether this has happened once or twice, I think Fumble has a point here. The initial question was, "Is reopening your own question an abuse of power?" but the natural follow-on is, "If so, should the system be designed to prevent it?" That follow-on is more of an SE design issue than an ELU issue. (As a side note, Yoichi still has over two dozen questions that remain closed, so, whether this has happened once or twice, I still don't see a wholesale abuse of power – at least not yet.) – J.R. Nov 4 '14 at 21:05
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    Whether medica should have identified the moderator in question or not, this is pretty clearly the right forum for discussing this matter. medica posted a link to a chat transcript regarding a previous incident involving this moderator, in which she was specifically directed by multiple users to take the matter to Meta. You can't have it both ways--unless the lesson we are to take from this is that moderators' actions should never be questioned anywhere, in which case I would very much like that rule to be made clear to me, so I don't inadvertently commit any crimes myself. – phenry Nov 5 '14 at 1:17
  • @phenry: Well, I think I've made my position clear. And the whole point of posting meta questions like this is to gauge the opinions of the users. Since it's obvious most people here disagree with me (as opposed to not understanding why I'm unhappy with the situation), I don't really have anything to add. I'll keep tabs on this question to see how/if things get resolved, but I can't see any point in me being remaining involved in any ongoing discussions. That's democracy for you, I guess. – FumbleFingers Nov 5 '14 at 18:00
-2

I feel that some basic information needed for arriving at a conclusion regarding the moderator’s action is lacking:

1) Is there actually a rule that prohibits moderators from reopening their own questions?

2) If yes, is it a blanket ban, or is there some leeway for different situations?

3) If there is no such rule, should one be instituted?

4) If there is a rule, and a moderator breaks it, what consequence should follow?

Though I can see that on the face of it, the moderator’s action opens him to the perception of a conflict of interest, this event seems to me to be better treated as opening a discussion about the general questions I enumerated above rather than as a disciplinary issue. After all, nobody died; nobody lost any money; and I can’t see that anyone was even inconvenienced.

At this point, the chief damage seems to be the credibility of the rules governing what actions are permitted in relation to a moderator’s own questions, subject to clarification of points 1) and 2) above. Let’s just establish what those rules are (or ought to be), adjust them as necessary, and move on. I think everyone involved is smart enough to learn lessons from this which they will apply in the future: let’s not turn a molehill into a mountain.

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    Please note that in neither version of my question have I asked for the mod to be disciplined. If you see this in my question, you've read far to much into it. – anongoodnurse Nov 3 '14 at 6:47
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    It's not your question I'm thinking of, but some comments from other users which imply that possibility, saying things like "That seems terribly corrupt" and "...looks like an abuse of power" — both of which I consider to be quite over the top. – Erik Kowal Nov 3 '14 at 8:22
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    Erik, I haven't seen anyone ask for discipline of any kind, neither @medica nor anyone who has commented to date. In terms of "chief damage", it is precisely the perception of corruption and consequently people's faith in the system and the actions of its moderators that is at risk here (hence medica's linked statement). If a cop lets his buddies jaywalk sometimes, but arrests anyone else who tries it (because it's against the law), well, who's hurt in that scenario? – Dan Bron Nov 3 '14 at 11:37
-2

I was one of the closevoters on an earlier question from the mod who subsequently overruled the usual means of re-opening by reopening their own closed question (not entirely unilaterally, in that I know another user had already voted to reopen).

At the time it seemed blatantly Off Topic, but now I've just considered it more carefully I disown my closevote.

In the final analysis though, the issue here is simply whether we the user base are happy that mods can unilaterally reopen their own questions.

Personally, I've no objections at all to mods being able to do such things. We elect as mods those people who are willing to put their names forward, and whose judgement we have reason to trust. The fact that they might sometimes make mistakes (by which I don't mean to implicate the "meth" question, on which I currently have no opinion) doesn't mean we need to restrict their powers.

In the unlikely event that a specific mod repeatedly makes bad calls, I suppose there might be a problem. But that doesn't seem to be the case, so I see no reason to call for any rule changes.

  • This raises another question. Are users with close vote privileges allowed to vote on their own questions? – starsplusplus Nov 23 '14 at 17:26
  • @starsplusplus: Short of granting themselves eternal life, I believe mods can do just about anything. "Ordinary" high-rep users can't up/downvote their own posts, but I thought even new users with no rep could delete their own questions (and answers, though I'm less sure of that). I think it's a bit silly that someone voted to delete this answer though - even if people don't agree with my perspective, it should stand here on Meta to show that disagreement to all future visitors. – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '14 at 17:39
  • I wasn't asking about (diamond) mods, I was asking about (non-moderator) users with close vote privileges. – starsplusplus Nov 24 '14 at 16:30
  • @starsplusplus: Non-mods definitely can't vote on their own questions or answers. Most likely even the mods can't either (why on earth would the site software be set up to allow it?), but I can't swear to that. – FumbleFingers Nov 24 '14 at 17:15
  • Rereading, I wasn't clear. Just to clarify (further, ha) - I meant close voting and reopen voting not up/down voting. Is that what you were answering? – starsplusplus Nov 24 '14 at 23:15
  • @starsplusplus: oic. I've just cast a closevote on one of my own questions (and subsequently retracted it!) to establish that I can actually do this. But I honestly have no idea what would have happened if the question I used for my test had been tagged "single-word-requests", and I'd CV'd as a duplicate. I'm one of a handful of ELU users with a gold badge for that tag (just one duplicate CV from me immediately closes a question thus tagged). – FumbleFingers Nov 25 '14 at 13:03

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