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While moderator positions are voluntary, I've always understood them to be full-time in the sense that there is no time a moderator is temporarily just a regular user.

As I've seen it, with great power comes great responsibility™. Once a person becomes a moderator, all actions they take - whether closing a question or just making a suggestion in a comment - is done as a moderator, meaning that all actions are subject to higher scrutiny, and held to a higher standard.

Community Manager, Grace Note mentions the same idea in the election questions.

A diamond will be attached to everything you say and have said in the past, including questions, answers and comments. Everything you will do will be seen under a different light. How do you feel about that?


Recently, a moderator has mentioned the notion of "taking off their mod hat" when taking action and making comments as just any other user on the site. Of course, the comment in question was still tagged with the moderator's username and diamond status, making it indistinguishable from any of the moderator's comments made with their moderator hat still on.


Is this an acceptable practice for mods? If so, how can/should mods clearly identify which actions are being taken with their hats on or off?

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Effectively, no.

I'm also a mod on other SE sites.

Once you're a mod, that diamond is attached - as the example question says - to everything you do and say. Like it or not, that gives your words and actions greater weight and authority than that of a normal user.

There are degrees of that, of course - as Glen_b says, if I answer a question, the diamond doesn't affect that action by much (though there's still a small amount of "that's a mod, they must know what they're talking about") - but if I answer a meta discussion, suddenly that becomes much more pronounced. That also has the nasty side effect of shutting down good meta-discussion if a mod weighs in.

There are also ways of alleviating - slightly - that effect. Especially in meta-discussions, adding a disclaimer to the top of your post of the form

This is my personal opinion as a user. I am not speaking as a moderator, nor do I in any way intend to imply that this is official policy.

can help people to understand that you're not dictating from on high - but even then, you're still a mod, which means you're knowledgeable about the site and policies, and people tend to trust you.

There's also a reduced effect on other Stack Exchange sites. Look at this answer. I've told you I'm a moderator on other SE sites; suddenly, you're trusting that this answer is an accurate depiction of the situation - because I'm a moderator. The effect isn't anywhere near as strong as actually having the diamond next to your name, but if people recognise you as a mod from another site, or if you state it explicitly, there's a slightly higher degree of weight put on your posts.

So the effective answer is no. You can't take off your diamond without stepping down.

  • I'll add that I think in the vast majority of cases people really don't care if you're a mod on another site as long as you're participating in the Q&A appropriately. Although as you mention, for some it may lend more credence to statements made but it also has the flip side of further scrutiny and/or increased expectations in participation. – Jon Clements Sep 5 '16 at 13:16
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    "that's a mod, they must know what they're talking about" - ahem, have you seen me answering Star Wars questions? :-P – Rand al'Thor Sep 6 '16 at 13:36
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    @Randal'Thor I agree entirely with what you have just said because you have a ♦ next to your name. – wizzwizz4 Sep 6 '16 at 15:40
  • Is it just me who finds it amusing that all four of these comments so far are by diamonds, if not here then elsewhere? – ArtOfCode Sep 6 '16 at 16:14
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    Isn't something like "Allow me to take off my mod hat for a moment." just a type of disclaimer? – Z. Cochrane Sep 6 '16 at 18:20
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I'm a mod on another SE site.

There are definitely times when - diamond after their name or not - a moderator is really just an ordinary user. If I answer a question for example, my diamond is irrelevant. It doesn't impact the quality of the answer in any way, nor how it should be treated.

However, there are particular times when I think there's a risk of people giving too much weight to what a moderator says in a situation where they're really acting as an ordinary user.

When giving an opinion - particularly relating to how things should work such as in discussions on meta - on the site where I do sometimes specifically state when I am speaking as an ordinary user rather than as a moderator, in the hopes that people will not accord more weight than deserved to an ordinary opinion.

There's a risk some people might take an opinion from someone with a diamond as if it were actually setting a policy (effectively taking it as "discussion is over" -- and so in turn perhaps resulting in resentment for seeming to be throwing moderatorly-weight-around). On the other hand moderators shouldn't be shut out from discussion of policy (you shouldn't lose your right to an opinion about such things just by being elected moderator). Moderators tend to be experienced users and can have valuable insights.

I don't know if it's exactly taking off a mod-hat (as much as I think the system should allow us to do it explicitly), but in any case it is an attempt to make it more clear when a moderator really is just acting in their capacity as a user.

While it shouldn't be necessary (in those situations it should be taken as read), there are times when I think it's important to be clear about it, for fear people might misconstrue the intent (as they sometimes do, often without saying).

  • While I'd agree that actions like actions may generally carry less weight as a mod, I'd argue that answering a question whose scope may be in contention would seemingly carry more weight. Example (off the top of my head, not an actual example only because I'm tired and can't remember one to cite): spy-fi is a contentious subject here. If a mod answers a question about James Bond, they give weight to it being officially on-topic. – phantom42 Sep 5 '16 at 14:02
  • If we allow that mods should be able to participate as "regular users" in instances that they feel appropriate, how should they mark those posts? It's fairly easy in a question or answer, less so in random comments that they leave through the site. – phantom42 Sep 5 '16 at 14:03
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    @phantom something like "speaking as an ordinary user ..." or "just a personal opinion..." isn't too onerous but other than on meta I don't think it would come up in comments much. – Glen_b Sep 5 '16 at 14:07
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    @phantom42 - Spy-fi isn't contentious. The only person who thinks it's contentious is you :-) – Valorum Sep 5 '16 at 19:47
  • i think spy-fi is contentious as well! – Himarm Oct 31 '16 at 2:35
8

So I'm not a SFF mod, nor have I modded for any of the stacks, but, as I've mentioned before (bear with me), I did mod for a very large Harry Potter site for five years. It was a forum-based site that required correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation (SPaG), and if a post had more than three SPaG errors, either the poster or the mod would make the necessary correction(s); if a post was rife with SPaG errors, the post was deleted. I'm sure you can imagine 1) how tedious this was, and 2) how quickly this engendered mass dislike of the site's mods.

Can a mod take of his/her hat? Well, in my experience, no, not really. Maybe I should say mods can't take their hats off very easily. It's hard to explain, but it's just difficult to make things work when a mod has one foot in the moderator pool, and one foot in the user base. If a mod becomes overly friendly with, say, three to five users, there's the risk that the mod might start treating that group of users with more leniency than other users, and that can't happen if the site is to maintain its integrity. I think that most mods are hyper-aware of this potential problem and strive to avoid it; sometimes this can translate into users perceiving mods as standoffish or unapproachable.

As a mod, if you take off your hat and let just one person slide on the site's rules or expectations, you will instantly open yourself up to a potential queue of additional users who might want to be afforded the same leniency. If you grant their request, you're not modding correctly. If you refuse, you, again, engender dislike.

I could list many more examples like the ones I've already given, but I think you probably get the gist. Perhaps the one place a mod can kind of hang up his/her hat is chat, which is a casual environment by default. Some mods feel comfortable just chatting along with the general flow; others only like to come into chat to discuss a site matter with a user or users. Otherwise, in my experience, once you put on a mod hat, a large site like SE or SFF changes from recreational to occupational. It just does.

Specifically, though, you asked, Is it okay for diamond mods to "take off their mod hats"? Yes, it's okay. But it can still be met with suspicion. Mods have opinions like any other user. The thing is, though, once a mod becomes a mod they are seen through a different lens; it is very difficult for many users to unsee that diamond, no matter what caveats a mod may give before expressing a personal opinion. If a mod is going to take off his/her hat for something that may be construed as controversial, the mod should definitely alert the community that they are speaking for themselves, as just a regular user of the site, and that they are not speaking on behalf of the site. This is a pretty typical thing for mods to do, and they should, but I question the efficacy of this practice, to be honest. I don't mean this disrespectfully toward any mod who does this -- I did it many times as a mod. But there always seemed to be a separation between mods and regular users.

ETA: Now that two (as if this writing) SE moderators have weighed in with answers, one effectively also saying "No, you can't take off your mod hat once it's on", although I have not modded at SE but at another large site, the community might find more credence in my answer. This is not a call for upvotes; I like comments just as well, and if I've provided any food for thought, I'd be glad. :)

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    This covers the issue of favouritism, which should obviously be avoided by an authority figure such as a mod. You're absolutely right in everything you say here, but there are other issues not covered by this answer, such as whether it's possible for a mod to express an opinion without it being taken as a decree. Can a mod say they personally dislike HP and the Cursed Child, or the Star Wars films, without being interpreted as trying to shape the site's scope? Can a mod say they personally think a particular question should or shouldn't be closed, without using their hammer? – Rand al'Thor Sep 5 '16 at 11:08
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    @Randal'Thor -- I had a really hard time writing this answer for the reason you cite -- it's impossible to cover all issues mods face. I'm glad you added some very apt examples, and by all means keep them coming if you want to. Perhaps my answer isn't perfect or all encompassing, but I did note that I could add examples, but was just choosing not to for the sake of brevity. Hopefully this makes sense. :) – Slytherincess Sep 5 '16 at 12:22

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