Sometimes someone complains of a specific moderator action in meta (action known, mod unknown), and the responsible party does not reply. For the sake of transparency, teaching, and trust-building, should they? Or would it cause unwanted/unneeded animus?

I understand that moderation is a team activity, guided by an accepted and well-spelled-out philosophy, is often done by consensus and by precedent. Any moderator can answer most any meta question, and indeed, two or three mods, especially @Andrew Leach, are very good about answers. But they may not be the mods who actually performed the action the OP has posted about.

Some here know I'm a mod elsewhere on this network. My philosophy is to try to answer any questions about the reasoning behind my behavior. (By the same token, when someone asks, "Why was my question closed?", if I was one of the close voters I usually try to answer the question.)

I do it for the reasons listed above: I want my moderation to be transparent; I want users to know I'm doing things according to established SE policy; I want to assuage people who take things personally that this was done without bias, etc. Sometimes it's done so other mods aren't blamed for my actions (if it was done without consulting the others.)

I believe it makes me a better mod (I may be wrong, of course, and I still make mistakes.) at times, it has caused me to reevaluate my position on something (for example, one particularly contentious post changed my approach to handling of comment threads.) Personally, I believe in taking responsibility for my actions, and wonder why some don't.

But the site where I mod is slow, while this one is not, and we only need three mods whereas this site requires a good deal more.

But the question remains: is it a reasonable expectation that when someone complains of a particular moderator action, that mod should reply? Mind you, I'm not interested in having any mod raked over the coals, and I'm aware that meta is about issues, not individuals. But moderation is critical to the culture of a site.

I'm most definitely not interested in violating anyone's privacy (no explanation needed about suspensions, etc.) I'm thinking more of why iffy questions were closed by one moderator, etc. .

Disclaimer: I have no issue currently with any of the moderation on the site.

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    What would the possible benefit be for the community if the course of action you are suggesting were adopted by mods here?
    – user66974
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 19:51
  • I think an answer to your question entirely depends on what kind of action you are referring to. Is it (1) deleting a legitimate on-topic comment? (2) deleting/undeleting other posts? (3) Shortening a suspension period for a user who doesn't seem to deserve it? (4) Not shortening a suspension period for other users which is absolutely not fair? There are many actions that are done anonymously by moderators because they are not obligated to tell us why and how a particular action was taken. I think you should include some examples.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 20:13
  • @JOSH - I outlined some above. There are more. It eliminates to a greater degree "the idea of the evil mod cabal" that exists for many users. Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 21:35
  • @medica - evil mod cabal? You appear to refer to possible disagreements that may arise among mods about difficult decisions.
    – user66974
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 21:44
  • @JOSH - If you don't understand my terminology, please don't misinterpret it. "Evil mod cabal" is a term not infrequently used by some users about moderation on a site where they disagree with moderator actions. Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 21:50
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    @medica -sorry I never heard of "evil mod cabal" before. Is it a topic here on ELU Meta?
    – user66974
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 7:19
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    I understand the point of your question: if a moderator makes a decision that affects some question, answer, or comment that I posted, and it bothers me enough to ask the reason for it, I am more interested in hearing from the responsible mod about his or her thinking than reading more or less informed speculation/insight about what happened from another moderator. My sense is that mods not directly involved often speak up out of a sense of mod solidarity when a user complains, perhaps to spare the responsible mod a confrontation with an unhappy constituent. But I prefer your approach.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 7:59
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    The question fails to recognise that very often, moderation is a team effort. While it's only possible for one person to actually push the button on any issue, where that's likely to be contentious it will have been discussed beforehand. It may be quicker for a different member of the team to answer a Meta post about it than wait for the "relevant" timezone. It should also assuage any accusation of bias in an individual. The question is so broad, with so many issues in play here, that it's difficult to know where to start (although this comment is a start, obviously).
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 21:24
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    If a small faction of users does think there is an evil mod cabal, identifying the individuals responsible for actions will only add fuel to their flames. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 1:59
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    @curiousdanni - no, the cabal means that they are all plotting secretly together. Transparency and accountability do the opposite; they buildd trust, not generally suspicion. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 2:46
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    Transparency helps in most cases, I just don't think it will help anyone who thinks there's an evil cabal. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 2:52
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    The question seems schizophrenic--if you'll forgive the same amount of hyperbole from me that went into "evil mod cabal" from you. If, indeed, the community moderates (as claimed) the site, questions on Meta that encourage thinking of the labeled 'moderators' as something other than the personification of the community's will equally encourage the "us vs. them" perception of 'moderators' by community members.
    – JEL
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 8:38
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    Can you clarify the context: as a mod in another room do you see transparency there, but as a non-mod on ELU you see much less transparency? Or is it something else?
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 15:09
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    @medica What does "transparency" have to do with a mod's not explaining his own action when requested? Do you mean it's not transparent if tchrist explains about what MetaEd did as a mod? I've just asked one question about why my comment was deleted and I don't expect explanation from the mod who deleted the comment. I just want to know why it was deleted.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 19:08
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    @Rathony - It's not a contest, and "logic"is a word you use all to often extremely illogically. My question allowed that there was a big difference. Why the hostility? This is about transparency, trust and community support of moderation, not anything else. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 19:12

2 Answers 2


I don't like the idea that individual moderators should be required to appear in the dock (be placed in the stocks?) here on meta. If a mod wants to publicly explain and defend their own specific actions, I wouldn't argue against that, but it shouldn't be the default / expected response.

Moderation is supposed to be a collectively coherent process, both in that each mod stands for the whole team and that the team represents the whole user community. If mods disagree among themselves, and can't resolve things internally, I would expect them to raise the matter here on meta (focusing on the issue, not the individuals) and give a lot of weight to the opinions and votes of the user base.

TL;DR: The idea of "naming and shaming" individual moderators is a "divide and conquer" tactic that would only encourage the idea there's some kind of ongoing "war" between we the users and our (elected) moderator team. It would only promote discord; let's not go down that path.

  • I upvoted your answer because it answers the question. But I doubt using the phrase collectively coherent would be appropriate because there are some mods who are very aggressive in deleting comments and closing questions and some who don't participate at all in discussing Meta topics and moderation activities. I don't want to name them, but if mods don't want to participate in moderation activities, they should resign.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 18:25
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    I'm sorry that you think my motive is to name and shame; far from it. It's about building trust. Not infrequently here in meta, words like "capricious" and much worse are thrown around when describing mod actions. I thought this might help. If you look at my recent answers and comments, I defend the moderation here quite a bit. Too bad you jumped on the more sensational (but incorrect) motive. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 19:10
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    @medica: I certainly didn't jump to any conclusions about your motivation - in fact, I can honestly say I gave no thought whatsoever to that aspect of the question. But since you yourself refer in your question title to moderators being called to task on meta, I don't see that my choice of expressions here represents any kind of escalation in "sensationalism". We obviously just see things differently. You think meta is where "users" remonstrate with "mods", but I think it's where the entire community engages in review / self-appraisal, as a dispassionate exercise. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 22:15
  • Right. That's what I think, as evidenced by all the questions, answers and comments I post here, where I make forcefully reproachful protests against mods and encourage others to do so as well. As to sensationalizing, you write about stocks, docks, and remonstration, none of which I evoke. Yes, we obviously see things differently. – medica 1 min ago edit delete Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 23:08
  • @medica: Let's just leave it to others to vote on the question and answers as they see fit. You and I know perfectly well we're not likely to agree on anything once we've established a difference of opinion, so these comments aren't particularly helpful. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 23:18

You say

I understand that moderation is a team activity, guided by an accepted and well-spelled-out philosophy,

It's true that there's a "well-spelled-out" philosophy for moderation

For everyone's amusement, let me quote a few provisions:

  • But what do community moderators do? The short answer is, as little as possible!
  • Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen....
  • Whenever possible, [moderators should] try to leave frequent comments on posts where [they]'ve taken (or considered taking) a moderator action, explaining the reasoning.
  • The ideal moderator does as little as possible.

But where on earth do you get the idea that the ELU moderation team is guided by this policy? Moderation is constant, obtrusive, arbitrary, and mostly without explanation.

But moderation is critical to the culture of a site.

It certainly is. Circumspice.

Now, I don't think moderators form an "evil cabal". As I've noted elsewhere, what we see is the inevitable result of self-nomination for positions of small power -- the petty tyranny of hall-monitorism. (I think for Brits, the term would be head-boyism.) The fix for this cannot be accountability by review, not least because of people like me who love he sound of their own voice having the last word.

But I am certainly in favor of transparency, and I mean radical transparency, for everything. That includes actions and threats of action on disciplinary matters. Yes, that would dispense with the absurd idea of the local right to privacy. Every user can be anonymous, and in effect, just about everyone is anyway

@FumbleFingers has here expressed the opinion that in theory

each mod stands for the whole team and that the team represents the whole user community

but in practice what happens is that each mod hides behind the anonymous collective, and no one can tell whether mod actions represent the community. The more light the better, and if that means some see figurative docks and stocks, then so be it. Perhaps that would concentrate some minds and change some attitudes.

Here now follows today's reading from my biography. Recently, I was taken to task by a mod (in a private chat room, of course) for an alleged violation of the Orwellian command to "Be Nice". Since I had no idea what my offense was, I took exception. (The words "absolutely reject" were employed.) My posting concerned some pejoratives that other posters had employed (on meta) about their colleague's comments. It turns out that this mod had mistaken my citations of others' words as epithets. In other words, as characterizations of the posters.

I explained the situation and asked whether I should edit my answer to make it clearer that I wasn't calling anyone names. Do you suppose an apology was forthcoming for a ‡false accusation? Lacking that, do you think that there was an "Oops! I misunderstood"? Do you imagine there was even an answer to my question?

Eight days later, the chat room was frozen for lack of moderator activity. If you'd like to know the mod, his or her name is Legion. And don't think I consider myself singled out. I have no doubt my experience is typical.

Would complete transparency help or considering the law of unintended effects, would it hurt? I don't know, but I'd like to find out.

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    You are one of the folks I was thinking of when I posted the question. I don't agree with all you say, but I understand, and have experienced some of it firsthand as well (but mostly some time ago.) But as a mod myself now, I understand moderation better and have more tolerance for the foibles in it. Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 23:02
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    I don't see the relevance of the autobiographical part of your answer. That seems to be an example of a time you had a problem with a specific mod. However, you knew precisely which mod it was so it has no bearing on the question at hand. By the way, the freezing of such a room is automatic and has nothing to do with mods. The message mentions mods because a mod's posting in the room would stop the freezing, but no mod decided to freeze it. I respectfully suggest that you might want to remove the irrelevant paragraphs.
    – terdon
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 11:22
  • @terdon Really? Well, as I told the mod in question, it's always best to check the transmitter before blaming the receiver. So let me connect the dots. I'm not complaining about a specific mod; I'm giving a specific example of the kind of ‡rude, ‡hectoring, ‡intrusive, and ‡dismissive behavior that characterizes moderation on ELU in general, behavior that in my opinion contradicts the explicit policy I quote. This problem goes beyond @-medica's question of mods responding on meta. Clear now? Your suggestion has been noted.
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 19:01
  • @terdon By the way, did you really think that I failed to understand that chat-room freezing is automatic or that my complaint was about that mechanism? Do you now understand that my ‡objection is to waiting for over a week to receive no reply when decorum would suggest an expeditious response?
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 19:07

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