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Typically certain user actions may result in a temporary suspension of your account:

  • A trend of low quality questions and answers after the user has been shown how to write a question or answer

Other activities can also land a suspension or ban:

  • Repeated infractions against the rules of the site

  • A serious infraction Eg. Obvious spamming, threats, sock puppetting, etc...

Clearly for the latter two we should have zero tolerance, but there is no clear rule about when a suspension is warranted for repeatedly bad content. Sometimes we suspend after only two consecutive closed negative score questions depending on if they seemed to acknowledge our feedback.

I feel three such instances of clearly poor content, with no improvement in quality and negative votes is more fair.

Does the community agree or should we continue to take it on a case by case basis?

  • what is the (average) frequency of the issues with this kind users? – gnat Jun 8 '12 at 15:00
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    @gnat Its hard to say, but I may personally suspend or message 3 or 4 users a month so certainly the other mods are handling such cases as well. – maple_shaft Jun 8 '12 at 15:04
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    From the answers, it seems the purpose of this is to deter suspension abuse from moderators: I have to ask, is that actually a problem happening on Programmers now? It hasn't been a problem anywhere else on the network in the past: if it is a problem here such that these rules are necessary, I think a three-strike rule should be the least of the site's concerns. – user8 Jun 11 '12 at 19:10
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As a general soft guideline this is sort of okay, but this is the sort of thing I would never want to write in stone, as a mod on other sites.

As soon as you have a three strike rule, if you suspend someone you're likely to get endless arguments to the effect of "what were my three strikes". This either leads to constant affirming of "this is strike X" which is either humiliating in public or excessive (usually) as private mod messages.

In the end it creates more work, either through more "paper trail" accountability or through more explaining your every action as a moderator. IMO both of those are a good enough reason to avoid this.

  • Fair point... on one hand I feel that mod actions should be transparent and that we should be accountable. On the other I know that our job would get even harder because it makes it easier for trouble makers to make our lives extremely difficult. – maple_shaft Jun 8 '12 at 14:51
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    @maple_shaft Mod messages (warnings/suspensions) are private communications between a moderator and a user. There isn't an issue of transparency here, but one of privacy, we (the mods) can not discuss those issues in public unless the user involved brings them up in chat or Meta. If that happens, I'm all for full transparency. – yannis Jun 8 '12 at 15:38
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Sometimes we suspend after only two consecutive closed negative score questions depending on if they seemed to acknowledge our feedback.

Hm, no we don't, unless I missed a memo or something. Mod messages may carry a suspension or be just warnings, and that's no immediately clear from, let's say, the list of recent mod messages. We typically go with a warning first, and suspend only if the behaviour is repeating.

The typical dance is:

  1. A mod message warning for first offenders,
  2. Suspension for a week for second time offenders,
  3. Suspension for a month for third time offenders,
  4. Suspension for a year or more for the absolutely nefarious ones.

Of course that may vary a bit per offence, and you're right, our "policy" is mostly a mixup of instinct, looking at past mod messages, TL chats. Generally I go for:

  • Consistently low quality questions over time

    The most common abusive pattern, and the one where we've gone with the typical warning/suspension dance almost every time. I don't think there's need for a change in policy here, warn first, suspend if the behaviour persists.

  • Question repetition

    This is mostly a noob mistake, and I don't think it's worth a mod message, it's easily resolved with a comment (or two). I'd go for a suspension only if the user blatantly ignores the comments.

  • Sockpuppet upvoting

    Although I haven't had to deal with this one yet, I'd say it makes sense to skip the warning and suspend all participants.

  • Abusive to others

    Per case, and I'd prefer if there was some mod discussion before a warning or a suspension, this one almost always demands a second set of eyes.

  • Revenge downvoting

    The last time I mod messaged someone for revenge downvoting, I went for just a warning, and regretted it a week later when he did something else, equally suspension worthy (this time, I pulled the trigger). I wouldn't mind if we skip the warning for revenge downvoting in general and suspend on first offence, but I also wouldn't object to warn first timers.

  • Self-destruction of own content

    Also a common noob mistake, that's rarely repeated. Warn, and only suspend if (s)he does it again.

  • Using signatures or taglines

    I'm only mentioning this one because there's a template for it. The time to edit out the signature or tagline is less than mod messaging the user...

  • Excessive self-promotion

    • If the only contributions from the user is spam, destroy the account.
    • If there are non spam contributions, delete the spam ones and warn or suspend.
  • Excessive discussion in comments

    My favourite one. Warning the first time, and possibly the second time, not necessarily via a mod message, a comment on the post the discussion is going on or a superping in chat would be enough (imho). For people who keep pestering others with borderline rude comments, a suspension should be considered even for first time offenders and especially if they've already ignored a comment by a mod asking them to calm down and be nice (which is what all of us go for at first).

  • Something else...

    Strictly per case, obviously.

If an issue can be discussed publicly, a comment or a superping in chat is preferable and if not, there's always the option of a private chat, a completely tedious and cumbersome process that doesn't however leave a permanent black mark1 on the user's record, the way mod messages do.

1 Worth noting that SE takes the black mark thingy seriously, I got in trouble for suspending a fellow SE mod and a user who volunteered while testing a rather obnoxious bug. Apparently for science isn't a good reason for a suspension, even for a day.


To clarify for non mods:

If a few of your questions get closed / down voted, an automatic mod only flag is raised. The first time that happens, you may get a mod warning (or not), but a suspension is unwarranted (imho), unless of course the questions are of the "how is babby formed" variety.

The second time the flag is raised you will be suspended for a short time (week or less) or you may get by with a warning, if we forget to send it the first time.

  • Hm, no we don't. Regardless if we do or not then we still get pinged to a user after only two consecutive closed questions. I understand that is to give the user warning, but nothing is stopping us from suspending them right there, all the mod actions are laid out before us. – maple_shaft Jun 8 '12 at 15:21
  • @maple_shaft Get pinged? Are you talking about the automated flag? – yannis Jun 8 '12 at 15:23
  • @maple_shaft I hope you haven't been outright suspending people because they raised an auto flag :( – yannis Jun 8 '12 at 15:24
  • No of course not! But I have suspended at least one or two users for posting a few seriously BAD questions in the past. I don't do this as a habit. – maple_shaft Jun 8 '12 at 15:47
  • @maple_shaft Ok then your question really doesn't make sense. If we don't suspend, what's your problem? That we can suspend? We can do that at any time, not only when an auto flag is raised. – yannis Jun 8 '12 at 15:49
  • I am just a guy who likes hard and fast rules. Things always tend to devolve and get messy when you leave things open to interpretation ;-) – maple_shaft Jun 8 '12 at 17:54
  • @maple_shaft Still your question doesn't make sense. Are you asking "hey, community, what should our suspension policy be", and if yes, then wtf does Sometimes we suspend after only two consecutive closed negative score questions depending on if they seemed to acknowledge our feedback. mean? It has only happened once, today, and it's unrelated to the auto flag (I'm assuming that's what we still get pinged means), because it takes three consecutive closed questions to raise the flag. – yannis Jun 8 '12 at 17:58
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    @maple_shaft There are no hard and fast rules with moderation. – Josh K Jun 9 '12 at 18:25
  • What does "Self-destruction of own content" mean? Bad edits? Deleting your responses? – jmq Jun 13 '12 at 22:28
  • @jmq It means defacing your own posts and/or deleting your posts en masse. – yannis Jun 13 '12 at 22:32
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I tend to look at time as a factor as well. It seems silly to suspend if a person asks two questions close in time to each other that both get closed (as an example). There needs to be some time involved for the person to realize they broke some guidelines and try to fix their actions. Otherwise, I think it would just scare off the users.

Additionally, it might be a good idea to look at the types of closures. This is not only the reason for closure, but who closed it (5 community members or a moderator action) and how bad the questions/answers are (with respect to votes, usually). If there are some potentially borderline questions, it might not be a good idea to suspend (but perhaps send a moderator notice without a suspension). If all of the questions are pretty bad, then three is a good number.

Generally, it's case-by-case, but I think that three is a good number to start looking and determine a course of action, whether it's suspension or a mod message or nothing at all.

  • You don't think we should even send a private message to users after two such infractions? If they are very new to the site, they may not understand how to know when somebody replies to their question or answer. – maple_shaft Jun 8 '12 at 14:34
  • @maple_shaft No, mod messages are a permanent black mark. Writing my answer now... – yannis Jun 8 '12 at 14:36
  • @ThomasOwens Good point! – maple_shaft Jun 8 '12 at 14:38
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    Types of closures is a good point, I've dismissed the auto flags for NC closures quite a few times. NARQ or blatantly OT is a different matter, but NC doesn't warrant a mod message most of the times imho. – yannis Jun 8 '12 at 15:52
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I strongly recommend handling these on a case-by-case basis. There are many gray areas here and establishing a black & white policy seems difficult at best. If a mod ever makes a mistake, another mod (or even themselves) can always undo the suspension and there's no harm done.

In addition to that, we (the community team) will notice if there are suddenly too many suspensions for frivolous reasons coming in from a site. Rest assured we'll come knocking on your door if that happens here. :)

  • Are you saying I should stop suspending users that look at me funny? Or rather, looking at my gravatar funny? – Ben Brocka Jun 14 '12 at 16:30
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As a participant, I would encourage sticking with a case-by-case basis. Based upon the other answers / comments, the moderators are more or less of the same light-handed approach to moderation. (I think Ben Brocka has an excellent soliloquy on the matter, but I'm too lazy to look up the link, sorry.)

Yes, there is the risk that an otherwise average user will unnecessarily earn / receive a banning from a mod on a bad day. I would rather risk that potential abuse than see recurring delinquency caused by someone deserving an immediate ban.

Presumably, other mods can see when a user is banned so there is a degree of transparency within the mod group. IMO, the mod group can still be accountable and fair by being transparent within itself but not necessarily to the user base as a whole. Goma is evidence that some folk have nothing better to do than cause problems for P.SE.

  • Mod messages are CCed to all mods and the SE community team. (And Goma has been silent lately, don't jinx it ;) – yannis Jun 11 '12 at 23:18

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