I've been asked to explain my policy for suspending user accounts. The thought is that perhaps the policy is too forgiving and should be more severe: and so I'm posting it here for discussion and for feedback from the you, the site's community.
I'd appreciate it if you'd help to clarify -- by posting your opinion as an answer here, or by voting on an existing answer -- whether you think this existing policy is about right, or whether we and I had better change it.
There are few kinds of problem; and the most difficult problem seems to be "hostile comments"?
Someone posts spam -- i.e. an advertisement for a commercial service unrelated to Buddhism -- or perhaps pornography
A moderator will delete the post and destroy the user account immediately.
Someone posts an off-topic question or an off-topic answer -- i.e. one which is unrelated to Buddhism
A moderator will delete the post but not take action against the account.
Someone posts a "bad" answer -- i.e. one which is misleading or incorrect.
This is not a job for moderators to handle (moderators aren't expected to be expert authorities/judges). Instead it's for the community of users -- i.e. it's for you to vote on (possibly downvote) the question, or to post a polite comment to question what was posted or to suggest an improvement.
Someone posts a "hostile" question -- i.e. one which invites criticism of a school of Buddhism
A moderator will close the question but take no action against the account (unless you do it persistently).
The same is true for a few other types of question which the community has voted to be unwelcome -- e.g. preaching disguised as a question, and so on, listed here.
Someone posts a "hostile" answer -- i.e. one which criticises a school of Buddhism, or explicitly criticises or quotes the answer posted by another user
A moderator may edit the answer to delete the little "hostile" bit from it, or delete the whole answer if the hostile bit was all there is.
You can of course post an answer which is different than or happens to contradict another answer, but this isn't a site for debate (e.g. "my answer is right and user X's answer is wrong"). Instead this is a site where users may post independent answers, which reply to the OP's question (don't reply to other answers).
Someone posts a "hostile" comment
Most users don't comment at all, or they comment in a polite and helpful way that seems unobjectionable and helpful, which is not a problem and is welcome. A few users comment in a way that other users may find rude, unfortunately -- and this is (in my opinion) the most troublesome (labour-intensive) aspect of having to try to moderate this site.
Soon after it was created the founders of SE defined "disruptive behaviour" as follows:
- Other users tend to react poorly to this user’s contributions, posting negative responses in kind and generally causing a commotion.
- There is a broad sense of community resentment over this user’s behavior, and they are frequently cited in discussion about the community.
- There is a dark storm cloud of moderator flags that seems to follow this user around wherever they go.
- The moderators get email complaints about this user’s behavior.
- This user makes overtly snide, rude, or hostile comments to their fellow users.
… these problem behaviors have to be dealt with. When they aren’t, it takes up excessive moderator time that could be used for something more productive — and, even worse, these behaviors begin to actively turn people away from our community, stunting its growth and harming everyone.
So starting tonight, there will be consequences for patterns of problem behavior.
If we think you are reachable, and the behavior is one that we feel can change, we will try to warn you via email first when there are behavior problems — so that we can address them before they become deeper problems. But I make no guarantees; the community moderators are very, very busy and there are a lot of things that need their attention. The odds of moderators contacting you with a warning first will be in direct proportion to how much evidence you’ve given us that you are, in fact, a potentially valuable and contributing member of the community.
Depending on the severity of the problem behavior — and at the complete discretion of the moderator — your account will be placed in timed suspension for anywhere from 1 to 365 days. That means:
- Your account will be locked at 1 reputation.
- Your user page will have a visual indication that you are in timed suspension, and for how long.
- You will be unable to vote, ask, answer, or comment.
At the end of this timed suspension period, your reputation will be recalculated, and your account will resume as normal. We don’t hold grudges. The point of all this is to address the behavior. If the behavior improves, you are welcome back.
(This should probably go without saying, but if the problem behaviors do continue beyond the timed suspension, your account is very likely to be permanently deleted.)
SE recommends the following suspension periods by the way:
- 7 days for first serious issue
- 30 days for second serious issue
- 365 days for third serious issue
Here's the question -- the current policy for suspending high-reputation accounts is more or less as follows -- is this OK, or should it be stricter involving longer suspension periods?
There are at least two user accounts on this site, with a high reputation (several 1000), which have been suspended half a dozen times or more.
Some users -- and moderators of other SE sites who I've chatted with -- suggest that this shouldn't be possible, because the third suspension should have been for a year, after which a permanent ban.
So these user accounts still exist (and the users are still active on the site) because I and other moderators (e.g. Lanka) have been suspending for shorter than the recommended period.
Here is are my reasons for that:
The suspensions in question are for posting comments which are critical and impolite.
That needs to be stopped when it's contrary to the Code of Conduct -- which says "kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect" and "unfriendly language".
But I'm mindful of the Robustness principle ...
Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others (often reworded as "Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept").
... so I'm inclined to try to be tolerant of what other people post and of how they word it.
Or in a Buddhist context you might perhaps "not accept" it (i.e. not participate).
What I don't know exactly is how tolerant you all are -- perhaps you agree, or perhaps you'd like me to be less tolerant.
The fact that these are high-reputation accounts implies that they post answers which help the OP.
I think that's the most important thing, so I'm reluctant to prevent that (by suspending the account for a year, or banning it permanently).
If someone were abusive again a few days after their previous suspension ends, then I'd suspend again for an increased or greatly increased suspension period.
But if it has been like half a year or more since the last time they "stepped over the line" then I'm inclined to suspend for a 'normal' period, like for just another month again rather than a whole year this time.
This is a small site which I have been able to watch closely/frequently. If someone posts something hostile, and if I then quickly see that and delete it and suspend their account for a month, then I think that's quite effective at keeping the site mostly clean.
I hope you see that as an occasional and minor inconvenience, not as a permanent annoyance.
I try to read everything but please also flag something that you think a moderator ought to look at.
If someone's natural style of dialog is uninhibited then some of it might be rude and some polite, it's a range. Bits of it which "cross the line" are likely to be deleted (by a moderator) and maybe cause a suspension.
The result of that may be that, instead of their dialog ranging from polite to rude, it will range from polite to "borderline". So eventually many of their comments might be "borderline" -- not quite rude enough to get them suspended but just rude enough to annoy some users.
That's a problem, but I don't know what I can do about that (suggestions welcome).
Some of you may know some other users from other non-SE sites on the internet, and have formed some opinion of them based on what they posted there. I am inclined to ignore that -- it says "we don't hold grudges" -- and if a user is more polite on this site than they are on other sites, that's alright by me.
I figure that maybe moderating users is more of a nuisance for me than it is for anyone else -- suspending a user gives me a break and some free time from having to moderate them and the user dialogs and controversies they stir up -- so perhaps, as long as I am willing to keep moderating these users, other members of the community will tolerate it also.
Also I'm not sure I should ban an account (or suspend it for a year) just because I personally lose patience.
But I'm here to help to implement the site you want, so, let me know what moderation policy you prefer.