My name is Mike Edenfield and this is my obligatory joke about approving this message.
- How will your moderator practices be shaped by the person in question? Will you change the way you moderate for another moderator, high reputation user, or newbie?
The answer to this question would depend on exactly which moderation task I was performing, because I think it makes a difference.
On the one had, moderators act as the "police" for the community. Our job is to enforce the rules in a way that other community members cannot. In that role, it's very important to be fair, even-handed, and impartial. Users need to know that everyone who openly abuses the site or breaks the rules will be dealt with in a consistent manner, or they lose trust in the moderation team to do their job.
On the other hand, moderators are not machines that mechanically apply policies. If that were true, we wouldn't need humans to do it; SE has some really smart programmers working for it that could make that happen. Instead, we elect moderators from within the community precisely because they're expected to take each situation in context, and apply their own judgement to it. And I do think there are cases where different classes of users would need to be handled differently.
As an example, take a user asking an off-topic question. If it were an established user, I would expect them to understand the site's policies: how closing works, why arguing in comments is bad practice, how to use meta to resolve disputes, etc. Closing the question with a short explanation why should suffice, and I would hope and expect them not to "pick a fight" in the subsequent comments. On the other hand, a new user who has never asked a question, let alone had it closed on them, may be unprepared for what that means, and need to be guided. In the end, I think it's important that we show users that we want to work with them, not against them, to help them produce the best quality content possible.
- How will you handle highly visible, controversial incidents? The last year has seen suspensions of high rep users, freezing of our main chat room, and a moderator being asked to resign. I do not want to rehash those incidents, but one thing that stood out to me was the decision by both the community managers and the moderators to keep as silent as possible, asking us to do the same — most notably to not discuss it in the chat room. How will you handle incidents like the suspension of a high rep user or a chat regular? How will you balance the need for privacy, the need to prevent escalation, and the need of the community for information?
In the past, I was one of those users that was very vocal in calling for more transparency in this process, especially in high profile events. As a regular user, I think it's very important for us to speak up when we see something at the moderator level that we disagree with. It's also very important that users see the moderation actions as justified, and always with the goal of the long-term stability of the site.
As a moderator, it's going to continue to be important to me that my actions be as open and transparent as I am allowed to make them. However, with the extra authority also comes extra responsibilities, and one of those is to abide by the standing policies of the site I'm being elected to moderate. It's not within my authority to unilaterally change the decisions made by those who own and operate Stack Exchange -- as important as it is that the users of the site trust me to be fair, it's also important that the "higher ups" trust that I can do my job within the boundaries they laid out.
However, I do think this is an important aspect of the process that, at least from the outside, does not always seem to be handled as well as it could. I think there have been several options mentioned that could potentially make it better. It would surprise me to find out that those things had not already been discussed among the moderators and CMs, but it can never hurt to bring a fresh perspective to those discussions. I would make an effort to work with the rest of the moderation team, and the CMs, to see if there was anything we could do to improve those policies without compromising the important concerns (privacy, de-escalation, etc) that led to their implementation in the first place.
- According to A Theory of Moderation, a moderator should be a "human exception handler", one who steps in when the system needs occasional intervention. How will you best separate your own opinions and your responsibilities for being an ambassador for the site?
I think it's hard to answer a question like this other than to just point out that it's something I feel I do well anyway. I always find it helpful to recognize and understand opposing viewpoints. I am also fully away that those opposing viewpoints may be just as valid or correct as mine. This is a skill I've developed not only for interacting online, but as part of my real-life career working in small teams, where everyone needs to contribute their perspective on decisions. And, as a developer, I have learned the painful lesson that, when things are working properly , the worst action you can take is try to "improve" them just because you can.
Even on topics where I feel very strongly, I recognize that it's ultimately most important to do what's right for the site and the community, even if I think it's wrong. If things are working the way the community believes they should, assuming they are not violating some core Stack Exchange rule, I don't see any need to involve myself any further.
- What do you do now to build the community, rather than your own prestige in the community?
As many of you are likely aware, I have spent a lot of time over the past year working on issues that relate to how we, as a community, want the site to operate, and trying to bring clarity to those local site policies that are confusing to everyone. Often times, I focus on these kinds of activities even more than answering questions (which means a slower gain in reputation).
On the other hand, I'm not sure you really need to separate "building the community" from "gaining prestige in the community". I like to think that the prestige I have built up on the site is due to my efforts in building the community. It's an important goal that I work for, because as a user I want the site to succeed and grow, but if I also gain prestige in the process, I think that's just an added bonus.
- One of the complaints we see often is that many users are not aware of current meta policies. Additionally, some of the policy decisions conflict with each other. What do you suggest we do to make these policies more definitive and more accessible to the average user?
I think solving this problem is going to be difficult -- I have legitimately been thinking about it for a long time, and am reminded of it every time we have a new, important meta discussion.
On one hand, we have some limited help here from the tools themselves: we can "feature" meta posts to make them show up in the side-bar, in order to encourage participation. Beyond that, and the usual process of encouraging discussion in comments and chat, I don't have a good answer to how we get people to participate.
As far as making them more accessible, I think there we have some more options. From what I understand, there are some parts of our help center that we can customize (though not all of it), where we can do a better job of pinning down our scope and what/how to ask certain questions. In addition, the custom close reasons could include hyperlinks to the relevant meta answers, once they've reached consensus.
In the end, though, I think a big part of this is just going to be keeping up the effort to refine and clarify these policies, and not giving up when it turns out to be hard. As much as we all hate long, drawn-out meta debates, the end result of those debates is usually good for the community.
- Will you be able to separate yourself from relationships made in chat in order to fulfill your role as a moderator dealing with people you are chat friendly with on the main site?
I like to think so (I would not have nominated myself otherwise).
I try to remain as impartial as I can, even now when I have no real authority, because I think it's healthier for the community overall if everyone acts that way. There are certainly people with whom I get along better, or interact with more frequently, but I think I will be able to draw a line between those "informal / unofficial" interactions, and any duties I have as a moderator.
Mostly, I would hope that anyone I was friendly with in chat would have enough respect for me, and my position and impartiality, that they wouldn't take offense if I needed to take some action against them. This is the kind of attitude I have towards our current moderation team, who do a good job of being part of the community without letting it interfere with their jobs. I would try to follow their example in drawing that line, and hope that my actions were fair and impartial enough that none of my "chat friends" would find any reason to criticize them.
- Have you ever been suspended (from any Stack Exchange main site or chat), and if so for what? Are you willing to release existing moderators from the moderator agreement to confirm or rectify your answer?
I have been subjected to two 30-minute chat bans, last August 8 and August 11. Both were for comments that were flagged as inappropriate. One of was intended to be poking gentle fun at a rival SE site, but wasn't taken as such. The other generally accused everyone in the chat room of being a "clowns" (again, intended as harmless humor) but wasn't taken as such.
Like many others of the chat room regulars, I have since learned to be more careful with the kind of humor I display in such a diverse and public forum.
I have no problem with any moderators verifying this information.
- How often, and for how long, are you willing to be on the site each day/week? Our current mods are fantastic, but it is sometimes difficult to find one when you need one. What are your normal usage patterns here?
As a moderator, I don't foresee my usage of the sight changing significantly.
On weekdays I am typically online sporadically during the work day (Monday through Friday, approximately noon through 4am UTC), based on my other work commitments. On weekends I am online during the same time period, but more consistently.
- How would you deal with a user who produced a steady stream of valuable answers, but tends to generate a large number of arguments/flags from comments?
I assume we are talking about "mild to moderate" arguments, and not anything outright abusive or offensive. While valuable contributions are key to the success of the site, the short-term benefit of a good answer doesn't justify the long-term problems of an abusive user. A user that is repeatedly violating the "be nice" policy, and refused to stop, would need to be suspended.
However, its also important to keep in mind that comments are "disposable", while questions and answers are the heart of a Q&A site. Some users are simply more defensive about their contributions than others. Ideally, I would try to find some way to guide this user into more productive ways to express his/her disagreements, but in the end, those kind of comments (again -- assuming they were merely argumentative, not offensive) can just be deleted.
- How would you handle a situation where another mod closed/deleted/etc a question that you feel shouldn't have been?
One thing I think is very important for any site like this is to have a well-defined and consistently-applied set of policies. It is particularly important that the moderation team at least give off the appearance that we are all on the same page (even though, as individuals, that's not always going to be true.)
If I ran into a situation where another moderator took an action I disagreed with, my first action would be to try to understand exactly where s/he and I differed on our interpretation of our policies, with the goal of arriving at some consensus. Once we had the immediate issue resolved, it would also be important to figure out if one or the other of us had simply made a mistake, or if there was genuine ambiguity in the policy, and try to make it more clear.