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What can an SE participant do when s/he feels personally attacked by a specific moderator?

I am posing this question, and will be answering it myself, based on my own experience, in the hopes that it will benefit others who might at some point experience what I described. (Hint: there's a happy ending coming.)

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    Can I ask a favour? You've provided 99 answers. You've only provided 46 votes. Please could you vote more? Obviously, feel free to ignore this. – DanBeale May 31 '15 at 6:58
  • @DanBeale is that a form of overparticipating, i.e. yakking too much? - - - Also, do you know if there's any official guidance about what is a good balance? I'm still learning. Thanks. – aparente001 May 31 '15 at 12:57
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    @DanBeale while I always appreciate encouragement of voting, I don't see that it's particularly topical here :) – Acire Jun 1 '15 at 2:06
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    @aparente001 it's not an official thing! But SE works better if people vote frequently. As a rule of thumb: If a question is good enough to get an answer it's probably good enough to get an up/down vote. – DanBeale Jun 1 '15 at 7:07
  • @DanBeale thank you for explaining your point of view. What I'm taking away from your comment is that a good SE citizen should pull his weight in keeping the system functioning smoothly, and upvoting and downvoting are part of that. Did I get that about right? – aparente001 Jun 6 '15 at 4:08
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I'm going to quote from your answer:

Ready for the happy ending? The SE Team member, as a neutral third party, was able to look at the situation objectively, recognize my good intentions and my willingness to continue to learn and improve my effectiveness as a SE participant, and have a respectfully critical talk with the moderator I was in so much conflict with.

I'm glad you see this as a happy ending and I certainly don't want to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But I feel compelled to offer a slightly different view of what happened since I was the person who responded to your team@ messages. Your good intentions, which are certainly commendable, really didn't have anything to do with how this situation was resolved. You can read the the thoughts of two of our moderators as answers to Was this edit handled appropriately?

The very specific thing I talked with the moderators about was why the answer had been locked. After talking it over, we agreed the answer no longer needed to be locked. Our conversations centered on what was best for the site. Once the discussion of the post had been brought up on meta and was no longer in an active rollback war, it was safe to unlock. And so it was.

Here's a portion of what I wrote to you:

I'm glad you are willing to learn and I hope you will continue to be an asset to the site. One of the best things you could do is take the time to understand the perspective of other users and consider how your vision for the site could work with theirs. Working together as a community often requires many people to accommodate the needs of others.

I feel like you haven't really understood this message yet. Just reading what you've written in your answer, it seems that you consider getting your way to be the definition of a happy ending. I could be wrong, but that's the impression I get. My definition would be that the community as a whole (including yourself) worked together to find a solution. Looking at the revision history of your answer, I don't think we have arrived at that joyous state. Rather, I think we've delayed an inevitable future conflict.

On a more positive note, a third-party mediator can indeed be helpful when someone feels personally attacked by someone else. It doesn't have to be a Community Manager, however. Most conflicts on a site are best resolved on right here on Meta because it ensures that all interested parties have a voice. Carefully and honestly explaining your position on meta maximizes the odds that other people will consider your point of view.

  • Hello, nice to meet you! - - Look, there's been a lot of water under the bridge. Let's just let it flow out to sea. - - The email I received from you helped me feel better. I finally felt heard. For me, that's the main thing. Hopefully we all learned something. I know I did. – aparente001 Jun 5 '15 at 4:21
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    @aparente001 - feeling heard is very important, and I'm glad Jon Ericson accomplished that where we parenting.se mods failed in our many communications with you. But please note that he's not sure you heard us (and I agree with him based on your answers since you came back.) Hearing each other is the goal here, not just being heard. – anongoodnurse Jun 5 '15 at 21:26
  • @anongoodnurse, if you just cool it with the judgmentalism, I'll probably have an easier time learning as I go. – aparente001 Jun 6 '15 at 3:18
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    @aparente001 - This response is not encouraging, and supports Jon's impression that what matters most to you is getting your way. In this case, it would be keeping the moderators "off your back", I take it (whereas the mods see it as helping a user to adjust to site expectations, e.g. make sure you answer the OP's question, don't answer a question that hasn't been asked, keep personal anecdotes relevant, etc.) How will we work together? Just telling us to leave you alone to do your thing is not "working with us." – anongoodnurse Jun 6 '15 at 3:44
  • @anongoodnurse let it go.... You don't have to see eye to eye with every single participant on this site. It's okay to have some disagreements. Let the other person speak for himself if he so chooses. Are you a moderator or a missionary? – aparente001 Jun 6 '15 at 4:03
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There is a StackExchange Meta post about this: What recourse do I have if I believe a moderator has abused his/her privileges?

There are a variety of possible approaches that depend on the situation. I'd recommend going in this order:

  1. Ask about it on meta, e.g. Why was my question closed? or I don't understand what was wrong with my answer.

    Not only does this notify the other moderators that there's a potential issue, but the rest of the user community can weigh in as well. StackExchange encourages community moderation (closing, editing, voting, commenting).

  2. If you don't want to talk about it in public, mention a moderator in the Parenting chat room and they can help set up a private chat room to discuss the problem.

I encourage those two methods. It's faster to get an answer from other moderators, who are regularly visiting the site, than from the StackExchange team, who have dozens of sites to support. It also provides an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings, provide meta or help topics that might better describe the problem, and so on.

If that doesn't feel feasible or comfortable, then:

  1. Contact the community managers through the Contact Us link on the bottom of any page.
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    While this is undoubtedly the officially proscribed approach, in personal experience and observation, asking on Meta runs a high risk of making one a target of other moderators (and with all due respect, I've observed very few cases on my SE career when one moderator honestly and publicly acknowledged that another moderator was wrong. Usually the mode is to circle the wagons, as was exemplary demonstrated on this very site recently, where someone was attacked by a moderator for daring to question another moderator's action's correctness). – user3143 Jun 1 '15 at 1:44
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    @user3143 Your comment seems to assume that there is "targeting" in the first place (which is rare), as opposed to a misunderstanding or different interpretations about site policies (which is quite common on many SE sites). – Acire Jun 1 '15 at 1:53
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    re: example here, i have linked you to the comment I was referring to in a prior comment thread. It was very explicitly targeting a user who brought up on Meta an issue related to a moderator's action (the exact thing your answer here recommends doing). But it's a pattern I observed before on other sites. – user3143 Jun 1 '15 at 1:55
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    Like I said, if meta isn't feasible or comfortable -- if a user feels targeted and abused? Then by all means involve a CM. That's one of the reasons they're there. But I'd rarely encourage that as the first step. I'll also re-emphasize the community moderation aspect of StackExchange; posting on Meta allows other users to say "my goodness, that doesn't seem right" or "no, sorry, that happened because of SE practice blahdeblah". It shouldn't be perceived as just a Mods vs. Users struggle. – Acire Jun 1 '15 at 2:22
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    that's precisely my point. If that's your first step, you make yourself a target. I mean, yes, what you are saying is what should be happening in theory. It just happens that observed practice is the opposite – user3143 Jun 1 '15 at 2:24
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    @user3143 Please feel free to compose your own answer with alternatives suggestions for the order in which to seek resolution. I'm not defending this simply because it's "officially proscribed", but I also feel that it's the most reasonable approach for all parties. – Acire Jun 1 '15 at 2:28
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    I upvoted aparente001's answer since I didn't have a better one :) At this point my best asnwer is "shut up, let the moderators win, and don't borrow more trouble". BTW, that's not just this site - on another side I'm on, of the 3 people who had recent disagreements with moderators, 2 are under long term suspensions (one was undeserved), and one just up and quit the site specifically due to feeling like they were not safe on the site anymore. – user3143 Jun 1 '15 at 2:32
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    @user3143 I debated including "leave" as the fourth possible choice in my Answer (StackExchange isn't an ideal environment for everybody) but I felt it to be unwelcoming and I don't want to encourage it. Sadly, sometimes that's how things shake out. – Acire Jun 1 '15 at 2:46
  • just for color: the user in question (who was forced to leave another site) was in top 10 users on the site by rep # and acknowledged top 3 expert on a specific topic central to the site; and avid and experienced SE user across the network. "SE isn't ideal for everybody" is rarely the case in such situations in my experience. Admittely, there's a fair share of "I wanna post subjective discussion crap, and accuse moderators of persecuting me for not following SE rules" happening as well - seen tons of that. – user3143 Jun 1 '15 at 2:49
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    User3143 - just so you are aware, mods don't "circle the wagons" - and in fact with the transparency in everything we do to other mods, CM's and other SE staff the thing that actually happens much more often is that there is more to the story that we and CM's are aware of that we aren't able to share with general users. We ask each other to critically challenge our decisions if we are in any doubt, or when the community asks us to. – Rory Alsop Jun 1 '15 at 22:04
  • @user3143 I agree that raising a question on meta can just extend the argument from the Q to meta, with the same points being made in both places. This doubles the number of downvotes to the asker and doubles the amount of negative feedback. – DanBeale Jun 2 '15 at 9:39
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I would suggest a looking at things rather differently. If what I am doing is not appreciated by the people charged with running some kind of activity, I try to look at my own behavior objectively and see what it is that is aggravating the situation. Maybe I don't understand the expectations of this particular environment; maybe it's just not really the right place for me.

The moderators for StackExchange sites are selected for: a) knowledge of the stack exchange environment, b) knowledge of the specific topic area they are going to be moderating, and c) ability to work amiably and productively with users from a wide variety of backgrounds and personalities. This does not make them infallible, but it does suggest that they probably understand how things are supposed to work around here better than I do. A disagreement with a moderator is unlikely to be caused by personal animus.

Moreover, I doubt that individual moderators make significant decisions unilaterally. I know from experience helping to run other groups and interactive Web sites that decisions, particularly ones involving well-meaning people who nevertheless aren't quite fitting into the environment, are typically taken in concert. If I had concerns about how I was being treated, it would make the most sense to contact one or two of the other moderators for the same StackExchange site. These people will likely already be familiar with the goings-on involved, and if there is a serious problem, they are in the best position to deal with it promptly.

Of course, it hurts nothing to contact people higher up. However, I would not expect them to give a moderator a stern lecture. If you feel that doing this helped your situation, I can't argue with that, but bringing in more senior people is not always going to get things resolved with a "win" for the complainant.

  • Fortunately, @Buzz, judging from the kind email I received, the moderator didn't get a stern lecture. I know I didn't -- from the Team, I mean. - - - I'm happy to say that the team member found a gentle, respectful way of helping both parties learn from the experience and move on. - - - Thanks for the suggestion of involving another moderator in the same site. Actually, that was one of the other things I tried that didn't work. I've edited my answer to include that, and I put the new text in bold. – aparente001 May 31 '15 at 13:30
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I tried a lot of things that didn't work. Flagging, defending myself, patiently explaining my point of view ad nauseum, request that the other moderators in the same SE site take a look at the contentious exchanges, bringing up problems in Meta, going to Chat, rolling back to my own answer text when I felt over-edited, showing my respect and appreciation for certain aspects of the person's work, requesting that the site moderators bump the disagreement up to a higher power. None of those things helped in the slightest.

Here's what did help: I hit the "contact us" link at the bottom of the page, and laid out my point of view in a respectful tone, but with honesty.

Apparently, what this accomplished was to get a problem escalated -- which I had not succeeded in accomplishing by any other means.

The first response from the SE Team showed pretty clearly that the team member hadn't looked at the situation very closely. But the system allowed me to write back. I provided a couple of specific links that I thought illustrated my points clearly.

Ready for the happy ending? The SE Team member, as a neutral third party, was able to look at the situation objectively, recognize my good intentions and my willingness to continue to learn and improve my effectiveness as a SE participant, and have a respectfully critical talk with the moderator I was in so much conflict with.

Sometimes two people push each other's buttons. It doesn't mean either of them is a bad person, or that they'll never be able to get along. But it can be helpful for someone completely unconnected with either party to take an objective look at the situation.

I am writing this not with the view of further embarrassing myself, and certainly not with the goal of embarrassing anyone else, but to document an approach that works.

I only wish I had figured out this approach earlier, before things got so polarized.

This site has a lot to offer, and hopefully there is room for lots of different parenting styles, writing styles, and human being styles.

  • @aparente001...this is a broken record it seems. Same story, different day. The issues you experience with a certain couple moderators are neither unique nor uncommon. – dwoz Nov 18 '15 at 22:24

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