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A question can be popular with multiple answers, and an accepted answer, and a moderator alone can cast a close vote and put the question on hold; and then do the same thing for multiple questions by the same person, none of which have the required number of votes from the community (as this is a community driven site) to put on hold otherwise; and the reason for being put on hold are not for reasons of explicit moderation.

This appears to give too much weight to the subjective view of the mods, such that if the mod happens to be personally adverse to the subject of the question they can place it on hold for reasons other than stated. While they should still be allowed to express their desire to place on hold the question unless the question actually requires moderator action then I don't see the rationale for having the mod vote be the sole arbiter for doing so.

Is there any reason why creating a way for mods to vote to close but not as a moderator action could be done? What is the rationale for the system as currently set up?

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    $\begingroup$ Related: meta.stackexchange.com/q/41062/162102 $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 26 '15 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ I did search for it first; oh, that is meta for everything. $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 26 '15 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ Right, that's the SE-wide meta. There's no problem with you asking this question here; just pointing out the related discussion there. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 26 '15 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ I would also add that at some point (I forget what the timeline is) we get to elect moderators and you can take your feelings on this subject into account when voting. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 26 '15 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @James 6 to 8 weeks. Always 6 to 8 weeks. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Mar 26 '15 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ I for one am please by our Magrathean overlords :-) The fact that they are never the ones raising lots of questions about changing things in meta for some reason improves my confidence in their ability to moderate. $\endgroup$ – Mourdos Mar 27 '15 at 10:06
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As Tim B explained, there are many good reasons for moderators to have the power to take immediate action, sometimes even in the face of community disagreement. This is not just limited to putting questions on hold; it also includes deleting posts, marking as spam, and at the extreme end even destroying entire user accounts and feeding them into the spam-fighting systems, or request destruction of user accounts along with all contributions made from that user account.

This power is sometimes necessary in order to efficiently moderate the site, and it is a power that I dare say that all moderators use with care.

Most of the time when moderators step in, the situation can broadly be classified into one of three major categories:

  • when the community cannot handle the situation on its own for some reason
  • where there is community disagreement as to the proper course of action and a decision needs to be made as to the correct action to take
  • when a post needs to be handled and is an utterly obvious case (for example, blatant spam or totally off-topic)

You also have the possibility of the community largely having stepped in already, and the moderator only adding a final or near-final (say, in the case of putting questions on hold which requires five votes, vote number four or five) vote, thereby effectively participating as one of the larger community. Another possibility is to simply leave a comment or bring the issue up in chat, but leave the voting to the community; a moderator's opinion tends to have some weight even without a binding vote. For uncertain cases where the moderator wants to take some action, one of these is often preferred over a binding vote.

Appointed or elected moderators are held to an even higher standard than the rest of the community. In the words of A Theory of Moderation, which guides moderation on the Stack Exchange network, emphasis original:

  1. As a moderator, your actions now represent the community, so you will be held to a higher standard of behavior. You are an ambassador of trust, with the same sorts of rights that the official development team and community coordinators have.

  2. Your goal is to guide the community with gentle — but firm — intervention. Respect your fellow community members at all times; demonstrate fairness and impartiality in your actions.

None of the moderators on a site operate in a vacuum; moderators normally regularly cross-check each others' actions, and discuss actions that are under consideration, not just with each other but also with other moderators in the Stack Exchange network, as well as the Stack Exchange (the company) community managers if it becomes necessary to escalate an issue that far. Every moderator has access to the full log of moderation actions taken by all other moderators on their site; this includes everything from the mundane to the extreme. All moderators (both elected and appointed) on the network have access to a special chat room where issues can be discussed with other moderators on other sites in order to benefit from the experience of moderators who have faced similar situations before. Most, if not actually all, sites on the network also have a site-specific moderators-only chat room for discussing issues local to the site; Worldbuilding does have such a chat room which is frequented by the moderators.

In many cases, particularly in cases such as putting questions on hold, the community can actually in a manner of speaking override a moderator's decision. A moderator can put a question on hold with a single vote, but it takes only any five community members with the cast reopen votes privilege to reopen the question; and on our site, this happens quite regularly when a question is put on hold, fixed and reopened. A moderator can lock a question, which prevents the community from reopening it (or doing just about anything to it), but there is a special list of locked questions in the moderator dashboard so doing so inappropriately is highly likely to draw the attention of the other moderators. A question that repeatedly gets closed and reopened is going to draw some degree of attention. A locked question can still be flagged for moderator attention, drawing the attention of the other moderators on the site. Or a moderator can be pinged in our general chat room.

If a dispute cannot be settled simply by discussing the matter among the moderators (which it most often can be, if there even is a dispute in the first place; see above about utterly obvious cases), then any moderator can escalate the issue to a community manager. The CMs are spread around the world and a situation can often be resolved within hours or less at any time of the day or week in urgent cases (and, not uncommonly, also in non-urgent cases).

Users always have the option of bringing things up either in chat, or on the site's respective Meta site, if they disagree with the actions of any moderator. It is also a well-established practice that moderators do not handle flags that relate to themselves, either leaving them unhandled or specifically requesting that another moderator look at them. If multiple moderators are involved, this may also involve escalating an issue to a community manager.

In extreme cases, and hopefully only ever as a very last resort, any user can use the "contact" link at the bottom of every page to contact Stack Exchange directly, completely bypassing the moderators. This choice exists, for example, for users who feel like they have been approached inappropriately by one or more moderators and the normal courses of action available to users do not result in corrective action.

And of course, moderator powers are always subject to the continued approval of Stack Exchange staff. This applies to both appointed and elected moderators. There have been cases where moderators have been stripped of their diamond powers for taking what was considered inappropriate action.

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Moderators have moderator powers for a reason - to moderate.

As part of that process we do not vote on subjective cases, we vote on cases where we are sure that it is the right thing to do. You can find several places on this site where we were not sure and so we waited and only voted once 3 or 4 votes had already been made or in fact didn't vote at all and let the community handle it.

For example, see here: Reopening portal question

Yes, we're only human. We can and no doubt will make mistakes. When we do then there are meta discussions and the standard re-open process available to correct them.

Generally we prefer to sit back and let the community handle it and as a result you will see most questions closed and re-opened by community votes. In cases where questions need work (usually Too Broad or Idea Generation) then we will step in even if the community vote has not yet caught up with the question.

This is particularly important if the question is getting a lot of views or activity as otherwise there tend to be a lot of list based or subjective answers posted before the voting system catches up and a lot of the time the people viewing or answering do not have the reputation needed to close the question themselves or may not even be aware of the guidelines by which we do so.

Closing a question is not final. It's not a "black mark" or a punishment, or anything else. It's just putting the question on hold (and in fact you see it is called [On Hold] in the list) while problems with the question get corrected.

Once they have been corrected the question can then be opened again and the result will be much higher quality answers that are far more useful to both the original asker and anyone else interested than had the question been left alone.

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This is one of the most popular feature requests on Meta SE, and it has been declined for (I presume) the following reason:

If a moderator is certain that a question should be closed, then he should just close it. A moderator who would cast one vote when he could cast 5 shouldn't vote at all.

from a comment by Shog9. It's probably also worth reading more of the discussion in the comments on those posts.

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    $\begingroup$ Having the ability to close a question on one vote is different from having to close the question on one vote; in many non-SE forums moderators have both abilities $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 26 '15 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ " Questions should not be closed only by moderators, aside from cases when it's obvious and potentially harmful for the site to keep it open" - from the comments $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 26 '15 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ @John_H you might consider posting those comments on the original question I linked. It's more likely that they'll be seen by someone with the power to do something about it there than here. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 26 '15 at 18:55
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The whole point of being a moderator is that you have these abilities to close, delete and generally clean up the site without having to bother anyone else. We are more like janitors than anything else. On very large and very small sites it's generally not a problem. In either case there's too much for the regular users who have the necessary permissions to control. In the large site case there's too many poor quality posts etc, in the small site case there are simply too few users with the necessary permissions.

The case where this might be an issue is in the mid-range site. The volume of posts is low enough for the number of users to cope with so, for the most part, moderators aren't needed to cast their unilateral votes. In these cases, you don't have to vote, just leave it to the regular users.

If a moderator isn't confident enough that their vote is the correct thing to do then they shouldn't vote. There are other avenues open to them (as indeed there are for regular users):

  1. Leave a comment explaining their concerns. Other users will read this and vote with this new information at their disposal.
  2. Talk to other users (including other moderators) in chat. Sometimes this will be on the site's own chat room, but in other cases they may need to chat in moderator only rooms - but that's OK the chat is visible to SE staff and can be reviewed if necessary.
  3. Moderators can still raise some flags without their vote being binding. If the other moderators are on a different time schedule this can be a useful way of leaving a note for someone else to take a look. These flags will even push the post into the review queues where other, regular, users can take a look too.
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  • $\begingroup$ Your answer amounts to if they aren't subjectively certain ("I am always certain" - Buzz Lightyear) that their subjective opinion is correct they shouldn't close a question; when the question asked is about still allowing community participation so that they are more than just janitors but also able to be members of the community otherwise. $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 27 '15 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ @John_H - That's the point. They aren't regular members of the community. If they want to be regular users then they shouldn't be moderators. You can't pick and choose what abilities you exercise on a case by case basis, $\endgroup$ – ChrisF Mar 27 '15 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ In most non-SE communities Mods are part of the regular community and access mod functions on an as needed basis having the ability to pick and choose what abilities to exercise on a case by case basis. $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 27 '15 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @John_H - To be honest, that strike me as being a little "underhand". Your actions will be more influential as you are who you are. You are a moderator, you have been appointed or elected to moderate, not be a regular user. $\endgroup$ – ChrisF Mar 27 '15 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ You appear to be coming at things as though moderator is a full time position and not something that happens on an as needed basis. $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 27 '15 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @John_H But then your problem is with how the Stack exchanges work, not with this particular site. You should discuss this matter elsewhere. There is a place for that but I don't know how it's called. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Mar 27 '15 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent I wasn't aware that it was Stackexchange wide until I created this thread. $\endgroup$ – John_H Mar 27 '15 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @John_H - what, you mean it's not a full time position? I wasn't told ;) $\endgroup$ – ChrisF Mar 27 '15 at 15:12

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