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I have just noted two much admired contributors have "disappeared". One has the sense of operating in an Orwellian/dystopian environment when people suddenly disappear. One is said to have been "temporarily suspended" - it seems for one year. Where has the other gone? Do we have the right to know, or even to ask?

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  • Who are the two contributors? Sep 20 '16 at 10:10
  • @Araucaria Mari-Lou has apparently been banned for a year. And I cannot find any information on Little Eva at all.
    – WS2
    Sep 20 '16 at 10:37
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    @WS2 Little Eva has been gone for a good while. And all her posts are signed "userXXXXX" now, meaning her account was deleted. Most frequently, that's by request. The only time accounts are deleted for bad behavior are sockpuppetry or spam or other really egregious violations. So, bottom line, she left of her own accord months ago. Mari-Lou in the other hand, I don't know. Now that you point it out, she has been very quiet. I can't imagine her doing anything serious enough to warrant a year-long ban! If that's true, it's a serious loss.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 20 '16 at 11:07
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    The mods never discuss suspensions. Maybe someone saw what precipitated it, but this isn't a good place to rehash that. It might be acceptable to ask on chat. Sep 20 '16 at 11:08
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    @curiousdannii I just checked her account and it's true, she's suspended for "rule violations" for an entire year. That really sucks, and for me personally it comes at a time when I can already feel my participation in the site waning. Fortunately she's still active on ELL, but unfortunately (again, for me personally) I don't find the material on that site very interesting. Except for when one of their experts post a really detailed grammatical analysis.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 20 '16 at 11:16
  • @Araucaria None of us do, but it's worth mentioning that another high-rep contributor was also recently suspended for a similar period of time, one who is a man or who I've always assumed was a man. I don't think there's any sexism going on (and I'd hope if there were, then Kit, being both a mod and a woman, would put a stop to it). Speaking of women, I haven't seen medica around in a while either. This place is getting quiet.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 20 '16 at 12:20
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    @Araucaria I was thinking of the former, I thought the notice on his page said a year. I just learned of both of their suspensions today, actually, and I'm disappointed. What's a site without regulars? We've been eviscerated. But of course I do not have all the data and am in no position to judge anyway. In general I trust the mod team, as much as this all just sucks.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 20 '16 at 12:26
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    @DanBron A year seems very extreme to me ... Did she shoot somebody perhaps? Sep 20 '16 at 12:31
  • 4
    @DanBron Josh suspended for a year? What in the world did he do? He has made a huge contribution to the site over time - and I always found him to be the most courteous individual. And Mari-Lou? Her bilingual capabilities in Italian and English were immensely valuable - particularly with Latinate forms.
    – WS2
    Sep 20 '16 at 12:54
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    @WS2 I only learned of all these suspensions today, as a consequence of your asking this question (so thanks for that! I had felt the site was less lively lately but I'd written it off to more active [and to me, welcome] enforcement of our general reference policy in the wake of the recent mod election, but I guess it turns out to be more than that). Anyway after a quick check I thought Josh had been banned for a year too, but I was mistaken, as Araucaria points out. It's only a short suspension. I agree with you the loss of these voices is a terrible blow. But again I'm no mod; I trust them.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 20 '16 at 13:03
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    @KitZ.Fox Glad to hear medica is still around, though I wish we'd get to see her more here, too.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 20 '16 at 13:04
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    @ab2 She used a wheelchair, but that was a permanent condition for her and outside of it I don't think he health was poor or declining (so far as I know).
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 21 '16 at 11:17
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    @DanBron I have similar recollections. I also wonder about Barrie England (who must be regarded as the father of EL & U) but hasn't contributed for nearly two years. Meanwhile he continues to accumulate badges and reputation points by the score from his prolific career on the site.
    – WS2
    Sep 21 '16 at 18:45
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    @DanBron Mari-Lou's post on MSE gives some background.
    – Laurel
    Sep 25 '16 at 22:06
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    Almost a month into these suspensions, I have to say that I really miss the regular contributions of Josh61 and Mari-Lou A to EL&U. I hope that both of them understand that whatever mistakes they made don't diminish the tremendous positive impact they have had on the questions and answers posted on this site. Thanks, you two.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 28 '16 at 17:21
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You are allowed to ask and it's expected that community members will be curious if they discover that other members are suspended or deleted.

However, we don't disclose specifics about suspensions or deletions for a few reasons:

  1. Suspensions are not intended to be a shaming punishment. They are given to allow a member time to calm down, take a break, get a clear head, and reflect on what community expectations of behavior are. It's hard to calm down when you feel like everyone is looking at you, which is why we don't announce suspensions.

  2. The member who has been suspended cannot chat or post, so they are not able to present their point of view to the community. Additionally, hashing it out publicly tends to draw out the corrective process both by keeping emotions high and by giving the community the illusion that decisions about suspension are debatable. The moderation team has the authority to enact suspensions. The community does not. That said, if you feel a suspension (either your own or someone else's) is unwarranted or unjust, you may contact the community moderation (CM) team (who are paid employees of StackExchange) and they will investigate. They are the ones who watch the watchers. You can reach them at team@stackexchange.com.

  3. The moderation team has access to a variety of tools and information that help us do our job. If we post the details and evidence of how we know when the rules are being broken, then we make those tools less useful. In short, if we must prove publicly that suspension is warranted, our jobs become much harder. I know that requires a lot of trust from the community and that is one reason why I will reiterate that if you feel there is something hinky going on with the moderation team, please contact the CMs at team@stackexchange.com.

What I can tell you about suspensions is:

  • there aren't a lot of reasons to suspend an account
  • suspensions follow a prescribed progression: 0-day (warning), 7-day, 30-day, 365-day
  • we sometimes vary the length if the rule violations are different, but it will never be less than the previous suspension

With regard to Little Eva, as Dan Bron mentioned, you can tell that the account is deleted because it reverts to the generic username (user#####) and the name is greyed out. That means that user does not or no longer has an account on EL&U. We don't usually give out details about account deletions either, although there are also very few reasons to delete an account (by request, sockpuppet, spammer). I will go out on a limb and tell you that she requested to delete her account. I think it is OK for me to say so. I don't have any further information about why.

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  • In the link to the 'reasons to suspend' there were quite a few reasons and none really 'recognized'. Is there something more definitive than "Don't be a jerk" (which should of course suffice.
    – Mitch
    Sep 20 '16 at 12:43
  • @Mitch I didn't think there were many: spamming, sock-puppeting, abusive to others, pranking, abusing privileges, posting lots of crap without improvement. But that is why we give a warning first.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Sep 20 '16 at 12:52
  • Spamming and sock-puppeting I thought were reasons for deleting. The rest for suspension. Is that right?
    – Mitch
    Sep 20 '16 at 12:56
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    @KitZ.Fox "we sometimes vary the length if the rule violations are different, but it will never be less than the previous suspension" <== Is the slate never wiped clean after a long period of 'good conduct'? Sep 20 '16 at 12:58
  • @Mitch Spammers can be suspended rather than deleted if we think the user wants to participate. This is not really spamming so much as "self-promotion". Sock-puppets are deleted, yes, but the puppet master is suspended for creating them.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Sep 20 '16 at 12:58
  • @Araucaria The length of time of good behavior is always taken into account, yes.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Sep 20 '16 at 12:59
  • @KitZ.Fox So the period of suspension might be less than the previous one if there has been a long period of good behaviour in between? Sep 20 '16 at 13:00
  • @Araucaria No, but it might be the same as the previous.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Sep 20 '16 at 13:00
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    If the misdemeanours are different, it's not recidivism. If they are the same, then the user should have remembered their previous experience and not misdemeaned again. However, because every suspension is a manual process, and moderators do actually consult each other (and the team, when that becomes necessary), we do try and take all factors into account. Suspensions are recorded, but previous suspensions only become material if a user's recent behaviour means suspension needs to be considered.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Sep 20 '16 at 13:31
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    @Kit Z. Fox: I realize that these are delicate matters, and ideally one wouldn't wish to focus on specific individuals (or more particularly, exactly what they did). But from the outside at least, a 12-month suspension seems quite extreme for a long-established user who's made many useful contributions to the site over several years. I've noticed that M-L has been rather "tetchy" of late, but I have certainly valued her input, and will miss her if the ban really lasts that long or she never returns. Do you ever allow for a "review"? (I mean later, not now.) Sep 20 '16 at 14:20
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    @Fumble I'll restate the pertinent points: if you get suspended for doing something and you continue doing that thing and you are suspended again and then you still do it, you'll be suspended again. That's how the system works. This is not about what the moderators have done to someone. This is about the consequences of a member's own actions. Let's not rob the member of their own agency.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Sep 20 '16 at 14:40
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    @Kit Z. Fox: Ah. Are you specifically saying that suspensions always follow that 4-level "prescribed progression", so by implication anyone suspended for a whole year must have been persistently transgressing over at least 7 days plus 30 days (plus at least either a warning or a 1-day suspension)? Even so, if a "year-suspended" user genuinely recognized the error of their ways some time later (perhaps due to temporary circumstances disrupting their judgement), is there no hope of being granted "early remission"? (Especially if they "behave" on other SO sites where they're not banned.) Sep 20 '16 at 14:54
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    @Kit Z. Fox: I take it that means you don't allow for "early remission", because you do only impose a 12-month ban in cases where the person has had at least a week to "cool off", after which they overstepped the mark again and then had another whole month to settle down (and still didn't fall into line). I also take your point that "actions have consequences", so I'm not in any way trying to question any recent judgments (I assume you mods do actually discuss such cases in sufficient depth that hasty or overly harsh reactions are unlikely). It is sad, though. Sep 20 '16 at 17:43
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    @Fumble I'm purposefully being vague. I don't want to say 'no' because bans have been lifted before but I also don't want to say 'yes' because either way, you will want me to explain things that I'm not at liberty to explain. If you need a straightforward answer, it's "no, it would be exceedingly rare and unusual to lift a year-long ban and if we did, good behavior elsewhere is likely only one contributing factor to the decision do so". Also yes, this is because we always discuss (30+ day) suspensions before we take action.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Sep 20 '16 at 17:55
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    @Kit Z. Fox: Okay - I get the message. Thanks - I'll shut up now! Sep 20 '16 at 17:57
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Another way of looking at the second question:

Do we have the right to know, or even to ask?

The person involved can tell you anything. And if they are willing to be contacted, they can include contact information on their profile page, such as an email address. For privacy reasons, the site does not provide another way to send unsolicited messages to a person.

Volunteer moderators and Stack Exchange employees are not free to tell you anything. Volunteer moderators must accept the Moderator Agreement. Here is my synopsis:

The Moderator Agreement protects user privacy. Moderators sometimes see information about a user that is not public. Moderators agree never to disclose such information, and to use it only in their capacity as moderator.

I have not seen the agreement that Stack Exchange employees accept as a condition of their employment. Presumably it is the same.

This gloss treats all non-public information about a user as potentially personal, and therefore subject to the Moderator Agreement, for two reasons.

  1. It is a clear standard.

  2. That is how we are told to understand the agreement.

The alternative would be for moderators to make judgment calls about what is potentially personal. That’s broader and less clearly defined than personal. And dismissal is the likely outcome of violating the Moderator Agreement. For these reasons, it is unlikely in practice that moderators would feel comfortable disclosing any non-public information. The end result would be the same. That is my impression as the “new guy”, anyway.

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  • That doesn't sound like an accurate synopsis of the agreement to me. Details regarding a rule violation is not "personally identifying information" (race, name, address, phone number, sex, I.P. and other such things that could be used to possibly identify people that the privacy policy protects). Even if the summary is accurate, I doubt your N.D.A. directly affects our rights, although it could be made policy to implement and enforce a rule of just not asking. That'd be odd though, since mods. disclosing the reasons for reprimand is standard practice elsewhere.
    – Tonepoet
    Sep 20 '16 at 19:01
  • @Tonepoet Good feedback. I have expanded my answer. Note that I do not go into what might be done elsewhere because it's the agreement we made here that we must honor.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 20 '16 at 20:30
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In her answer, Kit Z. Fox notes the following:

suspensions follow a prescribed progression: 0-day (warning), 7-day, 30-day, 365-day

So (presumably) the progressive series of suspension durations applies to all Stack Exchange sites, and (also presumably) introducing a different-duration suspension is not within the power of our citizen moderators at English Language & Usage.

I think that this lack of flexibility is extremely unfortunate—especially when we are talking about valuable contributors to this community. I understand that it is dangerous for moderators to ignore rule violations on grounds that the violator's contributions justify special leniency. But on the other hand, having no alternative in the face of a repeat violation by someone who is on or who in the past has received a 30-day suspension but to increase the suspension to a full year forces mods to be harsher in a particular case than they might wish to be.

In my view, Stack Exchange would be better off if moderators had the discretionary power to double or triple or sextuple a suspension when a previously or currently suspended person committed a further breach of the rules, instead of their having to impose a twelvefold increase in the suspension. In most settings, doubling or tripling the duration of a suspension wouldn't seem to be especially lenient—and it certainly wouldn't qualify as ignoring the subsequent violation. If moderators had the option to impose an intermediate punishment—without thereby establishing that every violator had to be stepped through the additional suspension periods—they would be in a better position to determine a penalty truly appropriate for a particular repeat violation, and the community might benefit from the earlier return of the chastened contributor.

I am talking here about the general rule governing progressive suspensions—not about any specific instance of suspension in actual operation. To me, the jump from a one-month suspension after two previous incidents to a one-year suspension after three seems draconian—especially as a one-size-fits-all approach to repeated site rule violations. In effect, it's the Stack Exchange equivalent to mandatory sentencing. And denying moderators the power to take a more nuanced approach if they considered it appropriate puts them (I think) in an uncomfortable and very unenviable position.

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    We do have discretion in assigning duration for suspension although custom lengths are uncommon.
    – Kit Z. Fox Mod
    Sep 20 '16 at 21:55

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