Generally speaking in most societies we don't scale the severity of punishment for violating the law with the experience/status/importance/reputation of the person committing the law breaking. In other words, in theory at least, the punishment of President of the United States for breaking the law should be equal to the punishment of a no-name person. So called equal administration of the law. In practice however, often what ends up happening is that the punishment is inversely proportional to the reputation/status/importance etc. Nobodies get dealt with much more harshly than those with a high reputation/status.

In some respects, I think this gets things exactly backwards. I suggest that on this site punishment for infractions - breaking the rules of the site - should scale with reputation/experience and repetition.

For instance, being a long time user of the site I should have known better than to create pseudo-seeding questions that were motivated out of my own curiosity to see what others on the site I respect (Ruben, Andriy and ChrisW and a few others), think. I now regret those questions I recently made and suggest I possibly served a very unfortunate example to newer users.


We should consider the severity of an infraction not just by the infraction itself, but by the reputation/experience of those who commit it in much the same way we scale it by repetition and decide on consequences accordingly.

2 Answers 2


Thank you. I felt some of those questions were conducive to arguments but couldn't put my finger on why. Now that I think about it, I guess I'm not a big fan of questions that serve to continue a conversation started on a previous answer, in my experience these get messy more often than not.

As far as your misdemeanor/reputation ideas, I think there's such thing as a user's overall contribution to this web community, made up of their both positive and negative activity, and I suppose we tend to appraise it together, not one individual act at a time. That said, there are certainly both severe violations and ongoing less severe negativity that may get an otherwise strong contributor suspended.

In general, I appreciate critical self-reflection. Sometimes what we see as our strongest most positive trait is actually the most annoying to others without us realizing, so self-reflection is a great way to see our own shadow.


We should consider the severity of an infraction not just by the infraction itself, but by the reputation/experience of those who commit it in much the same way we scale it by repetition and decide on consequences accordingly.

The Stack Exchange guidelines suggest:

  • 7 days for a first offense
  • 30 days for a second
  • 365 days for a third

I think that's already escalating fast enough and there's no need to increase on that for higher-reputation offender.

But for good or ill, perhaps ill in your opinion, on this site we moderators haven't followed stack exchange guidelines, telling ourselves something like, "this was a relatively minor 'offense' and we don't want to 'pull the trigger' and suspend the user for a whole year".

The (e.g. American) "3 strikes" laws -- "life imprisonment for the third offense", maybe also known as "sudden death" or a "hanging offense" -- isn't what we (or I at least) would like to be doing. Fortunately almost all users of this site are moderate already and don't need to be "moderated" in this way, thank you for that.

Some users attract more an unusual amount of criticism and have had an unusual number of suspensions.

Content can be edited and not everything is an "offense"

In my opinion, if a post needs editing or deleting, it can be edited or deleted (if you flag it).

In this way any "offensive" posts, or posts which seem to be against this site's community guidelines, are edited away and don't remain.

When I can deal with a problem by editing content instead of by deleting the user account, I'd prefer that.

On Stack Overflow for example a "wrong" answer will be down-voted, something like a factually-wrong answer not a matter for suspending the user.

So what is an 'offense'?

There are a few situations where I will or must suspend a user:

  • When they flood the site with 'offensive' posts, faster than I can moderate it

    In the past I'd read most posts within hours and if necessary correct or delete them, hopefully before they offend anyone else.

    This isn't always possible now, I'm doing other things too. But if you notice something wrong, flag it and we'll hopefully address it within a week. Sometimes that (week) is needed for the moderators to discuss how to handle it.

  • When they don't take correction

    In this scenario ...

    • Someone posts an answer which e.g. seems to disparage Mahayana
    • I delete it and say why
    • They post a revised answer which doesn't disparage (or doesn't mention) Mahayana

    ... then that's "sorted" as far an I'm concerned, i.e. may be disinclined to suspend the user. If they do it again the next day they I may be "on a shorter fuse" but if they don't, then ok; or if they do it again a month later, that unfortunate but perhaps "tolerable" i.e. I correct the post again.

  • When it's very offensive

    Behaviour contrary to the Stack Exchange Code of Conduct is rare. If it happens then it may be dealt with in the orthodox way i.e. with suspension.

    But many of the misbehaviours are to do with site-specific policies which this community invented -- e.g. to avoid disparaging 'other' schools -- and where possible I'm more likely to treat those as disputes about content and what's on-topic (i.e. to be edited), rather than as an "offense" even if you feel offended by it, which you may, and which is why (i.e. to forbid that kind of content) we have that kind of content policy.

Low-reputation accounts are treated more harshly

If a new account posts spam or other nonsense then I delete it. The spam in question is invariably the only thing they ever posted. I view this type of account as being, not a 'real' user of this site at all.

Stack Exchange guidelines on this subject

Suspending accounts was introduced in the blog post: A Day in the Penalty Box

A couple of quotes from it.

  • Our general strategy is to discourage specific problem behaviors, not individual users.

    So I try not to "hold a grudge", and say "this user is bad", if I can handle the behaviour in another way i.e. by "enforcing" (editing or deleting) what's posted.

  • 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

    This squares with what I wrote, about suspending a user if they exceed my capacity or bandwidth. Because this is a small site with few misbehaving users, your moderators have more time, to handle content without blowing a fuse.

    The moderators are also "senior" users -- and editing content is the function of senior users on the site. Perhaps we might wish there were more (not only the moderators).

  • the community moderators are very, very busy and there are a lot of things that need their attention

    See that's partly true but less so on this site, so we have other options

  • 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.

    This is what you're arguing against. You're saying that a high-reputation user should be "dealt with" more harshly. I don't know that I want to do that.

    I have suspended the user in question for a year, in the past, for Code of Conduct offense. In my opinion they've been making some effort to follow the moderator guidelines and so I'm disinclined to "kill" them (in the "horse-trainer sutta" sense) even if a post does "cross the line" sometimes.

Tyrannical moderators

On some sites you might get cliques of moderators or individual moderators who do too much, suspending users and so on. I (probably "we") may have been erring on the side of doing too little.

But it's not that we do nothing, and it's not even that we allow "bad" content to remain on the site (if you flag it).


I guess they haven't been bothering me very much/often, recently; less than they used to.

If it's any consolation, and it probably isn't, you're not the first person to take exception.

I don't know, maybe we should change the moderators or something. But the last we asked, there were no other volunteers. And so we continue, to muddle along.

You must log in to answer this question.