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Workplace currently have a meta on going which asks a few questions to the moderators, it was also asked back in 2014. Whilst these have been posted alongside elections to give moderator candidates a small insight into what they are nominating themselves for I think the questions and their answers are valuable not just to nominees but to regular users. It would give us a nice insight into what you do and how you see the position.

Current moderators (and ex-moderators, if we have any around), could you please answer the following questions?

What do you love about the moderator job on Science Fiction & Fantasy?

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

Is there anything you're hoping the new moderators will do or change that you never quite got around to? What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?

How do you balance your "moderator time" with "regular user time"? Do you still feel like participating as a regular user after performing your moderator tasks?

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    Making plans, are we? ;) – Mithical Feb 18 '19 at 10:52
  • Related over on Puzzling, may be of interest: A few words about moderation – Mithical Feb 18 '19 at 10:54
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    Several of our mods haven't participated "as regular users" for quite some time – Valorum Feb 18 '19 at 13:41
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What do you love about the moderator job on Science Fiction & Fantasy?

I've always enjoyed the work of maintaining the site by reviewing posts, editing, voting to close/reopen, etc. because I like to see the site in a clean and orderly state. As a moderator I am even more effective at keeping the site clean and orderly, so that's my favorite part of the job.

I also like to participate in Stack Overflow Gives Back. While not the same as making a donation with my own money to the charity of my choice, I like being able to direct some of Stack Overflow's money to the charity the company has chosen which I think is most deserving of it.

How do you spend your moderation time? Which tasks take the largest amounts of time? And roughly speaking, how much time do you spend on moderation tasks (not counting your "just plain user" time like asking and answering questions)?

On a typical day I'll spend about 15-30 minutes handling flags. Most flags are for comments or low quality posts. I also look at all the new SFF meta posts, and I often log into the Teacher's Lounge (the chat room for all moderators on the SE network) to see if anything noteworthy is going on. I spend some time in the review queues, but not nearly as much as I did before I became a moderator (many first and low quality posts show up in the moderator queue, I'm less likely to vote to close or reopen a question because my vote is binding and I need to be absolutely sure, etc.).

The tasks which take the largest amounts of time are (a) cleaning up plagiarism, (b) investigating users for abuses of their privileges, and (c) participating in meta discussions.

Plagiarism is usually time-consuming because plagiarists often do it dozens of times before they're caught, so we have to check each of their posts to see which ones were plagiarized. This can easily take 4 or more hours, even with multiple moderators working in coordination (Rand and I often tackle plagiarists together).

It is also time-consuming to investigate users for abuses of their privileges. Even a fairly straightforward offense (e.g. a rude/abusive post) takes some investigation to make sure there aren't any less obvious abuses by the same user and to determine the appropriate course of action (e.g. suspension or not, and how long of a suspension if so).

Most meta discussions aren't too time-consuming, but occasionally they can be if a discussion is particularly controversial and/or if the question is a request for explanation why a flag was declined.

I would estimate that I have to deal with a time-consuming task about once per month, on average.

What have been your biggest challenges as a moderator? Without revealing privileged information, can you talk about how you (personally and collectively) have addressed them?

Chat moderation. The old Mos Eisley could be unruly and has a terrible reputation with moderators around the SE network. Issues in Mos Eisley would often spill out to SFF meta, and there was (and probably still is) a mods vs. SFF users mentality which was often exacerbated by non-SFF moderators taking action in Mos Eisley. Chat moderation is difficult enough as it is, since it happens much more in "real-time" and a problem can occur at any hour of the day.

Chat moderation can never be perfect but some of the things we do to address problems include:

  • ping other SFF moderators for help monitoring the room if a problem seems to be looming
  • try to change the subject in the chat room
  • pin a message to the room's board advising users not to discuss something that could lead to a problem
  • review any actions taken by non-SFF moderators and discuss those actions in the Teacher's Lounge
  • participate in any meta discussions resulting from chat problems

What's on your "moderator wish list", and why is it important?

A moderator should have been actively maintaining the site (editing, reviewing, voting to close/re-open questions, flagging, participating on meta, etc.) in his capacity as a regular user. Some reputation is necessary, but beyond the reputation required to unlock privileges it is not very important.

A moderator should be knowledgeable, regarding both the Stack Exchange model in general (e.g. how to use the various tools on the site, etc.) and the rules specific to the site(s) that person is moderating. Users will acquire most of the knowledge they need if they are actively maintaining the site.

A moderator should be willing to learn. There is a learning curve to the moderator tools and there is a lot of documentation on how to use them correctly. Documentation sources include the site itself (e.g. the site's help center), main meta (e.g. moderator cheat sheet and a guide to moderating chat), the Teacher's Lounge, and the Stack Moderators Team. I spent about 2 days when I was first elected reading all this documentation to make sure I was doing things correctly. Also, a moderator never really stops learning because he'll need to learn how to use new or rarely-used tools from time to time.

For dealing with disputes between users and users who need to be admonished and/or suspended, a moderator must be dispassionate and objective, even if he is involved somehow in the problem at hand. This may mean that the moderator needs to step away from the computer for a bit or ask another moderator for help, but very good moderators are able to resolve problems even if they have strong feelings about the issue. This is a very rare skill but is one of the most important. Unfortunately, I have seen various moderators across the network fail to be dispassionate and objective from time to time, and it is something I struggle with as well. Because of this, I generally avoid getting involved in a contentious debate so that I can more easily maintain my objectivity (e.g. I typically do not discuss religion or politics in chat so that I'm not invested in one side if things start to get out of hand).

A moderator should be irreproachable by holding himself to the highest standard of conduct. This doesn't mean that the moderator must have a completely clean record since the day he joined the network (users can and do change their behavior for the better) but the moderator should have a clean record since he became a moderator. It's a lot easier for a moderator to enforce rules when he abides by them himself.

Finally, a moderator must be willing to admit fault. No one is perfect and a moderator will eventually make a mistake. Best to own up to it and move on, and hopefully the community will do so as well.

What advice do you have for somebody considering this job? What are the questions people should be asking but aren't?

Recognize that you can't please everyone all the time. No matter what you do, at some point you are inevitably going to upset someone. For example, if the community is divided into two factions then at some point the moderators will probably have to take a side (e.g. to enforce a rule that not everyone agrees with)... which means you're going to upset the minority faction. Users will get upset even in the face of a clearly defined rule (especially new users who are well-meaning but just don't understand why the community has defined a particular rule) but as a moderator you must enforce that rule. Users involved in a personal dispute with each other may both get upset with a moderator who tries to find a compromise solution.

Since you can't please everyone all the time, it follows that you need some thick skin for this job.

How do you balance your "moderator time" with "regular user time"? Do you still feel like participating as a regular user after performing your moderator tasks?

Moderator tasks take first priority since there are a lot more regular users than moderators. I still enjoy asking and answering questions (or just browsing the site) on most days, though not if I've just spent several hours working on a moderator issue.

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  • What? Mos Eisley doesn't exist anymore!? I still remember when some people tried to change the name, then lost, and Mos Eisley remained. It was a day of joy! Guess I should have stayed vigilant... :( – Andres F. Feb 18 '19 at 21:14
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    @AndresF. scifi.meta.stackexchange.com/a/10922/31936 – Null Feb 18 '19 at 21:21
  • Thanks for the responses here! On a side note to the answers here when I copied the questions over I interpreted the “wish list” one as “what would you still like to do as a moderator?” But you appear to have interpreted it as “what should a moderator be?” Might be worth adding a different question to disambiguate it if you’d still feel like answering it? – TheLethalCarrot Feb 19 '19 at 7:43
  • @TheLethalCarrot I'm not sure what the answer to “what would you still like to do as a moderator?” would be. Just about anything that is in my power to do I would have done already, which leaves things that I wish would change but which I cannot do (e.g. because the community has decided something against my wishes) or which requires SE to do it (e.g. I'd like SE to stop telling users to flag for a moderator to get their question re-opened). Can you provide examples of things I might wish for which I could actually do as a moderator? – Null Feb 19 '19 at 15:54
  • @Null Thanks! It turns out my memory sucks, I actually upvoted the reasons for closing it :P I remembered a prior discussion about renaming the chat room, not freezing it. Anyway, I never had much use for chatrooms (of any name) and the small cliques that tend to form in them :) – Andres F. Feb 19 '19 at 16:13
  • @Null To be honest I didn't really think through all the questions when I copied it over, I suppose that one probably makes more sense in the context of on boarding new moderators. That said I see no reason why you wanting SE to stop telling users that can't be an answer to it. On the Workplace one a mod answered with wanting tags to be fixed up, and a previous mod answered it with wanting to be more active as a regular user again. I suppose there's a lot of room for interpretation in that question actually. – TheLethalCarrot Feb 19 '19 at 16:15
  • @TheLethalCarrot Funnily enough, I interpreted that question as being along the lines of this question that often comes up in mod elections: if you could hypothetically change anything about the site, what would it be? – Rand al'Thor Feb 19 '19 at 16:20
  • @Randal'Thor That's sort of how I interpreted it but with less restrictions as I thought of it as with all the current restrictions in place. – TheLethalCarrot Feb 19 '19 at 16:21
  • @Randal'Thor I thought I will see your answer too while I clicked on it ;) – Alec Lightwood Feb 25 '19 at 7:33
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Null - What a great answer on what it's like to moderate at SFF! I somehow missed it when you originally wrote it - so even though it's been a while, I have a couple comments.

Mos Eisley. Sigh. Seeing as I was one of Mos Eisley's room owners, and I spent a lot of time chatting there, reading what you wrote about Mos was poignant. Coincidentally, just a few days ago I decided I wanted to say something about the Mos debacle to Shog9 in the SE Meta post thanking him for his service.

I thought we had a nice exchange (Scroll down to the last four comments) - I'm really glad I reached out to him because even our brief discussion was enough to melt away the residual feelings of anger I had on the subject; I was really angry and devastated when Shog9 nuked Mos Eisley. For me, it was a community - I had chatted in Mos for many years, starting in 2011, and I personally found good conversation, people with the same interests as me, humor, discussion, movie nights, and some really good people. So, yeah, losing Mos was a real blow.

However, as a former Mos Eisley room owner, after reading everything I could find on why Mos was deleted, I have to say I feel terrible about several things and feel responsible for not always keeping Mos on track.

I didn't know so many people were uncomfortable with the conversations in Mos. I'm sorry Mos had such a bad reputation and was known as an unsafe environment - I did not realize Mos's reputation was as toxic as it apparently was. Sure, of course I knew we had some problematic and/or aggressive users, but I looked at them individually, rather than as a group that was slowly taking over Mos. This was clearly the wrong approach, because those disruptive users' bad behavior snowballed, and overtook the chatroom.

Also, I've always subscribed to the school of thought that adults engaged in a disagreement do best when they work out their differences themselves; I would keep an eye on arguments, but typically not intervene. However, it's clear that certain arguments and escalations in Mos needed a third party to help settle things down, and that I didn't always do that. So I apologize to those who needed my help, but didn't get it, whether they actually reached out to me or not. Now I did follow up on flags when they came up, and I did intervene in some controversial conversations, but I realize some users may feel I didn't take action often enough. I did a lot of pinning of messages to the sidebar: "Please do not discuss politics in Mos Eisley", "Please, no profanity!", "Take arguments to a private room." Etc.

As I think back over the time when Mos Eisley was kind of falling apart and we had a lot of negative users in chat, I don't recall constant negative conversations while I was in chat (although people are often less likely to troll or engage in controversial conversations when the room owners or mods are in chat). A lot of the negativity did happen when Wad Cheber and I weren't in the room - for example, after we had gone to bed for the night. I should have read the transcripts the next day, but I wasn't in the habit of doing that; typically I would read them only if another user pointed me to them and said, "Hey, you ought to take a look at this . . ."

Another issue we had toward the end of Mos Eisley was that our chatroom was rather suddenly inundated with mods from other stacks. This was really difficult. We had multiple moderators doling out different levels of discipline, and it became a confusing mess.

Anyhow, I just wanted to extend an apology to those who felt unwelcome in Mos Eisley. I hope the new chatroom - The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - is fun and enjoyable for you. :)

PS - Null and Rand al'Thor - you guys are great mods! Thank you.

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    @JNat - Any insight you can give regarding inactive mods would be welcome :) – Slytherincess May 5 at 15:25
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    @Shog9 - You may or may or may not be interested in this post. :) – Slytherincess May 5 at 15:26
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    I don't think that works if those people haven't commented or edited this same answer. ;-) – TARS May 5 at 18:18

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