Anecdotally, I've been seeing a pattern since the community moderator elections that's bugging me.

Basically, it's that the new group of moderators (@Deusovi, @GentlePurpleRain, @Emrakul...since I'm talking about you specifically might as well name you) are very hands-on, despite the fact that the SE Theory of Moderation states—in the very first paragraph—that moderators should do "as little as possible".

Let's get some data on why I think this is the case.

Exhibit 1: Closing Questions

One of the ways I feel that the new mods are overstepping is in the closing of questions. I used to see that questions had been closed (for whatever reason) by the community. But in the past month or so, it seems that more and more questions have been closed directly by a mod, without the chance for us in the community to have our say. That's just talk, so let's look at the numbers.

To see if my intuition was right, I ran a query to find questions than were closed between May 20 and July 20 (approximately the two months before the mod elections) and from Aug 1 to the present (since the mod elections). In each case, I counted the number of questions that were "Mod Closed" (i.e. moderator powers closed the question before 5 VTCs were cast) versus Community Closed (5 votes from the community to close, or else the user themselves realized closing the Q was warranted).

Here's a GoogleSheet.

Here are the numbers before the elections:

May 20 to July 20

Questions closed: 109
Moderator closed: 10
Community closed: 99

Percentage mod closed: 9.2%
Percentage community closed: 90.8%

And after the elections:

August 1 to present

Questions closed: 80 (not counting new sandbox)
Moderator closed: 54
Community closed: 26

Percentage mod closed: 67.5%
Percentage community closed: 32.5%

I think the evidence backs up my claim. Whereas before the elections less than a tenth of closed questions were closed via moderator powers, since the new moderator elections over 2/3 of all closed questions were closed by mods. I think the mods should understand that they have special powers, and that their VTC is different than an average user's, and should only use such a vote when truly necessary.

New Addition

Since Emrakul asserted my numbers were way off, let me clarify that in the above numbers I defined "Mod Closed" as any time a moderator's vote was decisive in closing a question. Meaning: it came before 4 other community members had cast VTCs. (This does include cases where 3 other people had cast a VTC, because in essence the moderator's vote counts as two people there. It does not include cases where 4 other people had voted to close because there the mod could've been any user.)

Even so, we can just look at Qs closed by a single moderator vote with 0 other VTC from the community. Here are those numbers:

May 20 to July 20

Questions closed: 109
Closed by a moderator with no other VTC: 3
All other questions closed: 106

Percentage mod closed: 2.8%
Percentage community closed: 97.2%

And after the elections:

August 1 to present

Questions closed: 80 (not counting new sandbox)
Closed by a moderator with no other VTC: 23
Community closed: 57

Percentage mod closed: 28.75%
Percentage community closed: 71.25%

Still quite a large increase in mod-only action.

And as a specific example, whether this question is too broad seems to me to be up to us, the community, not up to the mods. I would've liked to have weighed in.

And N.B.: these numbers do not include the new riddle sandbox at all. Which brings me to...

Exhibit 2: The Riddle Sandbox

From what I can tell, this was suggested on Puzzling Meta at:

Aug 21 at 17:15

And yes, at first there were lots of upvotes and no downvotes. But the mods should know that such a serious change to site policy should've been given time to be discussed/debated by the larger community. (Moreover, nowhere in the original post did it state that an upvote on that post was actually a vote to implement this policy as stated even though the mods have sort of quoted it as such.) Instead, a new site-wide policy and VTC reason was implemented at:

Aug 22 at 17:48

So we're talking just over 24 hours for a significant change to the site to be not just discussed but actually implemented. This seems ridiculous. And personally, I check Meta fairly frequently, but taking one day off led to me seeing all of this at once. I wasn't the only one.

And while the talk of unanimity is great, since the initial +27/-0 period, the "proposal" has received "+8/-9" votes and now stands at +35/-9. The Riddle Sandbox itself is at +28/-13. 13 downvotes! In addition, now the top-voted answer to the original proposal is against the idea.

I appreciate that the mods are interested in site quality, but change should have support of the active community, not be top-down dictated. And this query would seem to indicate that in the past 3 months there are 216 Puzzling users who have had at least 5 Qs AND As with positive scores. Seems like those are active, participating members of the community. Fewer than 30 upvotes does not thus represent the active community at large.

And just to be clear, I'm no friend to poor-quality posts and do care about site quality. I just have reservations about how this was handled.

In general I feel like while this was an honest attempt to make the site better, it was done without serious consideration of potential unintended consequences and without substantial discussion. Now there are protest questions and at least one user who was at one point considered exceptional has decided to leave the site based on these new rules.

Exhibit 3? Gamow's Suspension

Yes, of course, suspensions are a private matter between mods and users. And PuzzlingSE has had its leading-rep user suspended before. But this only satisfies us (the community) if we truly trust the moderators. And right now, I don't find comments like this very reassuring, because of the reasons above.

Gamow is not only the all-time leading rep user on the site, but is also the all-time leading reviewer—by a wide margin—in every single category. See: here, here, here, here, here, and here.

And looking at Gamow's activity history, it seems that he/she was still an active and productive member of the site, and it hurts the site to lose him/her.

I'm not saying that this suspension was unjustified, or that the mods need to explain it to us. Of course, I don't really know the facts. But I am concerned that such a productive member of the community from the start has been banned just a few weeks after the new mods took over.

The fact that all 3 mods agree on a suspension carries less weight for me now, because all 3 mods were also 100% behind the forced-sandbox approach.


To be fair, I have no doubt the moderators' hearts are in the right place. But many of these are not their decisions to make, and it feels recently like a top-down site instead of a bottom-up site.

I'm a bit haunted by @ffao's comment from the moderator elections:

I'm a bit torn as well, for all of his great work on enigmatic/cryptic crossword puzzles, Deusovi is extremely trigger-happy when hitting vote to close. And this does matter, as I don't know what that would look like if his vote had the power to instantly close any question. – ffao Jul 13 at 2:06

Now we know what it looks like, and I at least don't like it.

On the other hand, one of the reasons I voted for Emrakul were comments like this from the moderator Q&A:

When moderating, I have a learned proclivity to step back and let the community handle things...It's a site made and formed by the community - and I don't want to draw away from that.

[Mod's role should be] passive/reactive, by far...unless someone flags, or unless something's obviously problematic, it's often better to simply let it go.

I hope that the mods (who will I'm sure read this) take this in the spirit of an honest challenge to think about what they're doing and to what extent it truly reflects the community's wishes. Being voted moderator is an honor, of course, that carries with it extra power and responsibility that should be used judiciously.

Overall, I feel like the new moderators are overstepping their mandate and making changes to the site and individual questions that should be up to the community. What do you think?

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    $\begingroup$ I find it interesting that a lot of the defense for the sandbox is based around the "we had no objections" argument. Yet when answering questions about how the sandbox might be used by new users to gain an advantage by knowing the answer already, I've seen responses like "new [or a lot of] users don't even look in meta". So of course there was going to be no initial downvoting if the vast majority of users don't even look in here. I think the delay in downvotes until after the sandbox was implemented (and clearly visible on the main site) can be explained (at least partly) by this. $\endgroup$
    – bg6471
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 8:37
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    $\begingroup$ When the linked question was closed, it had two data points. That's it. Two. It could be reopened at any time between then and now, but so far not a single user has cast a reopen vote. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Deusovi That's a response about the quality of the puzzle. My quibble isn't that this was a great and solvable puzzle. Rather that it was you and you alone who decided it wasn't. SE set up the VTC system to allow the community to review things. The real thing I'm after is for you guys to think about when to use the unilateral mod vote and when you might give the community a chance first. It's not necessarily that you're doing things wrong, but as others have pointed out a poster will be less justified complaining when they see 5 close votes instead of 1. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Deusovi Another potential litmus test for mods is to ask whether the captial-M Moderator decisions you're making are a matter of taste or necessity. Truth is, I usually agree with your personal taste but you now have a power that most don't: you can impose your taste on the site. Precisely because of that power, my opinion is that mods should take extra care to not appear to be doing so. There may not be all that many pro-riddle users on the site, but there certainly are some. There are no pro-riddle mods, and it's easy to see how that imbalance can lead to frustrated users. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ Fair enough! I see where you're coming from. I'd noticed a problem with bad puzzles getting lots of upvoted answers, so I was attempting to curb that. I hadn't realized that it may seem tyrannical or unilateral to close them, even if I was sure that they would be closed later. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @DanRussell Yeah. Ironic as it may seem, become a mod often means you have to take less action, instead sitting back and let others make decisions about e.g. whether or not to close a particular question. Of course, the mods make up for that by handling certain issues that non-mods never even see, but (like I said to Emrakul in another comment) sometimes, overactive mods can be as much of a problem as underactive mods! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ In fairness to the mods, who (again) I truly believe are attempting to do what's best for the site, I've changed the title of the post to something less alarmist. I did want the question to get attention and provoke reaction, but I didn't want to imply that there was malice in their actions. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ I'd just like to ask the moderators to let others VTC before they do. There is a reason 5 need to do so for a question to be closed $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ I'd second Beastly Gerbil's request. I have not done a ton of looking, but I noticed a few questions that were closed by a single vote from a mod, one of which (granted, it was mine so I'm biased) had no activity for almost a year. I'd say it as "Moderate instead of correcting" $\endgroup$
    – Aggie Kidd
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe overt mod-closing is partly a UI issue? Can moderators cast regular non-mod close votes? Or they vote to close like usual (like a regular user, without pressing special mod button), but the question gets insta-closed by system as result? $\endgroup$
    – Vi.
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 10:19

6 Answers 6


There's already one good answer here, but (obviously!) Emrakul can't help being biased on this issue. I thought you might like to get an answer from someone with both a history of criticising moderator actions on Puzzling1 and now also some experience of moderation on another SE site.

TL;DR: 1) As long as the community are active in closing questions, the mods can and should be more judicious in doing so. 2) The sandbox was a bad idea, implemented too fast, but they're open to discussion of a better solution. 3) I believe Gamow's suspension was entirely justified.

Exhibit 1: Closing Questions

Your statistics are conclusive and startling. The moderators are unilaterally hammering closed a great many questions - that's undeniable. The question is, are they justified to do so?

And the answer depends on the community. The whole design of Stack Exchange involves the community taking part in moderation tasks using their reputation-based privileges: any user with at least 3k rep (of whom there are currently over 100 on PSE) can vote to close. If they're active enough in doing so, then the mods don't need to get involved, and shouldn't except for egregiously bad questions. Quoting myself from the SE site where I'm a mod:

As a moderator, with insta-close powers on all questions, I've also had to deal with the issue of when to use these powers and how to avoid the appearance of heavy-handed abuse. My personal rule is not to close a question unilaterally unless I'm absolutely certain it should be closed. I'm not afraid to hammer a question which is blatantly off-topic or opinion-based, but if I'm only 70% sure a question should be closed, I'll usually wait for 3 or 4 others to VTC before casting the final vote.

Provided there are enough active close-voters in the community to stem the tide of bad questions, moderators shouldn't be closing too many questions on their own. It's OK if they're one of 4 or 5 close-voters, but a mod hammering a question closed all by themselves looks like abuse of power, no matter how justified it may be. People get more annoyed by a single person closing their question ("hey, who do you think you are?") than by five people doing so ("OK, everyone seems to think it's bad - maybe it is"). Quoting a Stack Overflow moderator on main meta:

People are much less angry when 5 users vote to close a question than one moderator, for example.

This is especially true in edge cases: if reasonable arguments could be made either for or against a question being closed, it shouldn't be mod-hammered. Mods represent the whole community, both those who might want the question left open and those who might want it closed.2 They should only be closing questions if it's absolutely clear they should be closed according to community consensus.

(The exception to this is when the community aren't active enough in close-voting. For example, on small beta sites where very few non-mods have enough rep to cast close votes. However, this shouldn't be a problem on Puzzling, as is evident from the fact that we were doing just fine without frequent modhammers before the election.)

Exhibit 2: The Riddle Sandbox

As you know from my answer posted here, I'm strongly against the existence of a mandatory sandbox stage for all riddles. But personal feelings aside, I agree with you that this was badly handled. When I saw the original proposal for the sandbox, I hoped I would have time to present my objections before it was actually implemented. Unfortunately, this was not the case - and I'm sure you weren't the only one who didn't even see the proposal before it went into action.

As you say, the mods had good intentions here: they saw a real quality problem and are trying their best to solve it. But as discussed above with close votes, the community opinion needs to be taken into account. Mods don't make or dictate policy - the community does, and the mods enforce it. And because the community is a large and fickle beast, it's not all going to be on meta at the same time. One day is far too short a time period to be able to say there's an overwhelming enough consensus to implement a policy that involves closing all new questions in the site's top tag (!).

Unanimity, schmunanimity. Sure, the proposal got +25/-0 in the first day it was posted. Well, my answer strongly opposing it has got +13/-0 in less than 24 hours so far, and on a weekend to boot. If it continues on in the same way and gets +25/-0 in its first day or two, does that mean the sandbox is going to be scrapped and riddles will be able to be posted as before? Somehow, I doubt it.

To their defence, though, the mods have reacted positively to my criticisms of the sandbox scheme. Deusovi and GentlePurpleRain both seemed to appreciate my answer to their proposal, and I and others had a long discussion with Deusovi in chat, which I hope will bear fruit in the form of more decisions made on meta and a change from the current sandbox system.

Exhibit 3: Gamow's Suspension

This time I'm going to absolutely 100% agree with the mods' decision. More than that: I'm going to say that action should have been taken against Gamow already more than a year ago. You may be interested to read the Sphinx's Lair transcript here.

Obviously I'm not privy to any of the private details about Gamow's account which can only be seen using mod tools. But I will say that there is massive publicly available circumstantial evidence pointing towards large-scale sockpuppetry3. I can't comment on why the mods haven't taken action against these users already (and presumably neither can they, so there's no point in asking them), but better late than never, I say!

The issue of plagiarism raised in Emrakul's answer is one I wasn't aware of, but which doesn't surprise me in the least: it always seemed to me that Gamow was posting questions straight out of a puzzle book and then posting the solutions using a different account. Also, my sincere condolences to the mod team for having to deal with this. Plagiarism is an awful load of work to deal with; two of my biggest and most time-consuming tasks as a mod on another site have both been concerned with mass plagiarism, and it's really no fun at all.

1 Disclaimer: I have no axe to grind against the current moderator team: I was very happy with the crop of candidates in the mod election, and I like Emrakul, Deusovi, and GentlePurpleRain (in no particular order). I truly appreciate Emrakul's openness in his answer posted here; it's great that the mods can accept honest community criticism and perhaps even learn from it.

2 Yes, it's a damn pain in the neck to be a mod sometimes, and be unable to express your own opinion but instead have to represent the views of the whole community, even if you disagree with the majority decision. What? Did you think being a mod was all fun and superpowers? No, it's a responsibility more than a privilege.

3 So massive that although I've gathered it all together in one file, I'm not going to paste it here. If you want to see it, let me know and I can post it up somewhere else, maybe in chat or another meta post.

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    $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir As puzzlers, aren't we all a bit nosy :)? $\endgroup$
    – IAmInPLS
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir (and rand al'thor). If you open the Google Sheet linked to in my answer, you can see exactly the method I used. If a mod's vote was the fifth, I counted that as "community closed." But if a question had < 5 total VTC and a mod finished it off, I counted it as "mod-closed". $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir I thought it did. Didn't realize what evidence you were talking about, but now I assume you're referring to the fourth footnote. Just ignore! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @DanRussell OK, so my second footnote is wrong. My apologies. (There's still a difference between three users and one mod closing a question and just a mod, but it doesn't really matter, since your statistics still support your conclusion.) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ Without actual data on questions closed that shouldn't have been, it might look like an abuse of power, but that doesn't make it one. (I'm generally in agreement here. But the community very often isn't independently closing these questions, which is why we're stepping in so often.) $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul I never said any questions were closed that shouldn't have been! Haven't even looked at many of the data points - I'm talking generalities here. Even with questions that should be closed, it's often better to wait for the community to have their say - it makes them feel more involved, as they should be if the SE system is working well. Sometimes, overactive mods can be as much of a problem as underactive ones ;-) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul Whoops, just saw the last sentence you edited into your comment. If that's an issue, perhaps the idea I just proposed in chat might help to solve it? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul The specific closed question I link to in my post was closed 5 minutes after being asked. I don't think you can really chalk that one up tot the community not doing our job. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ @rand That's actually a fair point. I'd actually tried that before, and it shows in that (at a guess) since the math questions close reason, no real quality standards have been developed. So while I get what you're saying, I'm torn: moderators should step back often, but stepping back often doesn't seem to be working as well as it really needs to be. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ @DanRussell If immediate closure is a systemic problem, then I'd absolutely agree that needs to change. But one data point (on a very easy decision, at that) does not a trend make. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, and I'll definitely be dialing back on my own close votes going forward, but it's important to bear in mind. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul That's fair. I think if you take a look you'll see at least 4 of the mod-only-closed ones were within 6 hours of a question being posted. I'm not sure if that's too fast or not. I guess what I'm getting at is that if it'll be a very easy decision anyway, why not let the community handle it? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ @DanRussell I think there's a balance to be struck. Moderator support in keeping the site clean is important, but it's fair that it should be largely community driven. I need to think about where that balance actually is as well, and I'm not sure that's something I can answer off the cuff. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul Makes sense. And I think I have a better appreciation now for some of the difficulties of being a moderator. With a large enough community, someone will always disagree, so you have to draw lines somewhere and hope that you've drawn them well. In all seriousness, I wish you luck! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 16:33

I feel like I should throw my 2¢ in here as well, although I don't have a lot to add that hasn't already been said.

Exhibit 1

To this I can only say, "guilty as charged." (For myself; I can't speak for the other mods.)

It took me a little while to adjust to the new scope of my close vote. I was used to seeing a question that I, personally felt should be closed, and voting to close it. It took a bit of time to get used to the fact that I was no longer a single contributing opinion, but the (only) deciding vote.

There were questions, like @rand al'thor mentioned, where I was 70% (or 80% or 90%) sure they should be closed, but I probably should have just sat back and waited for the community to vote on them instead.

I feel like I have been much better about that in the last couple of weeks, and have closed very few questions.

I certainly agree with the sentiment that moderators should be mostly "hands-off", but I'm still learning the ropes here, and I am hoping for a little grace from the community.

Exhibit 2

When we came up with the idea as mods, we weren't sure the community would go for it. We decided to post it in meta, and see what people's opinions were. When we saw the post skyrocket to +25/0, I guess we assumed that was representative of the trend in opinion for the entire community. In retrospect, we definitely should have given it considerably more time before enacting anything; we were a little too eager.

Exhibit 3

This has been thoroughly covered in the other answers; I see no need to discuss it further.

Other comments

I was actually happy to see this post. As a new moderator, I don't feel like I always know what is expected of me from the community, so it's invaluable to get feedback about what you do and don't appreciate. I hope that everyone will continue to provide feedback (in meta or chat) about the decisions you disagree with. (The occasional positive reinforcement doesn't hurt either... :P )

And the good news is that almost everything done by a moderator is reversible, so hopefully I don't do any permanent damage while learning the ropes...

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. It sounds like the kind of self-checking and adjusting-to-new-role you're doing is exactly what I would hope mods would do. Keep it up! $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ That is three cents, not two. (I have mostly seen this expression to be used for 2-part answers, not 3-part ones) $\endgroup$
    – EKons
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 6:15
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    $\begingroup$ @ΈρικΚωνσταντόπουλος I've always seen the expression to mean "give an opinion", but not to have any direct relationship to the content of the advice. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ @GentlePurpleRain I mean, I have only seen 2-part opinion answers with the 2¢ expression. $\endgroup$
    – EKons
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ @ΈρικΚωνσταντόπουλος giving my 2 cents doesn't refer to any specific amount of opinion given. It generally refers to a small amount of input. $\endgroup$
    – gtwebb
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 16:22

Although I'll probably regret this, I'm going to answer.

I, for one, do not believe that the mods did anything inappropriate. Stackexchange is about high-quality content, the quality here was not high therefore an experiment like the sandbox aimed at improving the quality is entirely justified. It was always billed as an experiment. The massive support the proposal had in its first day shows the widespread recognition of the situation and a strong desire for some sort of a solution. With hindsight, perhaps not this exact solution implemented in this exact way but something in the neighborhood.

I believe the matter of mod closings has been addressed in other answers. I would like to add that there were doubtless a number of closes related to the rule change. I missed the introduction of the sandbox, posted a riddle and had it closed by a mod. That's exactly what should have happened: mods took action to support a new set of rules while the community at large was getting used to them.

There is no problem with the mods as far as I can see. I think they have responded exceptionally well to the challenging question posed here.

Last point. I decided to leave the site and I made a comment regarding the sandbox. The comment was a response to someone whose opinion I respect who asked why I was going. I intended to delete that comment (and said so in the comment) but was unable to. I'm still a little puzzled on that because I'm sure I have deleted comments in the past. Maybe I don't have enough rep in meta. Whatever. Here's the deal on what I meant. I don't agree with the whole se policy of: "if you don't ask the sort of questions we specify in the way we specify, we will close them." It is a valid policy and the site's success proves its effectiveness. Although I had this philosophical difference, I participated because this is the best game in town: great community members, great mods, great content. When the sandbox came into effect, it made the difference too big to ignore: you have to be moderated by the meta community in order to be worthy of being moderated by the pse community at large. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but not my thing. If I had felt that the sandbox or the mods were "wrong" or "bad" I certainly would have said so and tried to make changes.

Thanks, by the way, to Dan for asking the question. I believe there were some hard feelings out there that the open debate has dissipated. Thanks to the mods for openness and your thoughtful responses.

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    $\begingroup$ I really appreciated your riddles, and was sad to hear you were leaving. Will you consider returning when the sandbox is no longer mandatory? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ Like it is right now? $\endgroup$
    – Areeb
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 19:13

I find it difficult to upvote this question, because I would like to see a bit more patience on the part of the community with the moderation team when mistakes are made. However, I've upvoted anyway, because you certainly made me stop and think. (And, perhaps, write a bit too voluminously. I think a clear answer is necessary, though.)

That being said, here are my thoughts, as my personal opinion.

What you're portraying in your post as sweeping, incompetent overreach has simpler explanations that instead reveal changing requirements for Puzzling moderation. We need to adjust to these requirements. There's nothing sinister going on here - just a rapidly growing site with rapidly changing needs, fresh out of an election.

Many of these changes could also be explained by the fact that Puzzling now has an active moderation team. The site effectively went from one partially-active moderator to three very active moderators. (I don't mean to be critical of my former colleagues in moderation, and they were good moderators, but this is undeniably the truth.)

Close Votes

I'm going to answer your comments about close votes as best I can, but this will likely be unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, because your numbers are actually off by a very wide margin, and second, I can't speak to close votes I'm not responsible for.

But what I can say is this, about my own close votes: supposing I'm personally overstepping our mandate with close votes, I'd expect to see a lot of questions I've VTC'd be reopened. This simply isn't the case: of the 33 questions I've closed in the past 30 days (again, your numbers are way off), only four have been reopened: one because it was sandboxed, one because I made an error and another moderator corrected me, one that I closed in error, reread the question, and immediately reopened, and one because of community disagreement with my decision (though I still disagree with the community on this last one, I decided to leave it be). Functionally speaking, this gives a miss rate of 2 in 32, or 6%, which really isn't that bad.

Additionally, your first time period represents a time when I was the only active moderator on the site. Your second time period represents a time when the site had three frequently-active moderators. It's unsurprising to me that close votes would go up as a result. Sites with more moderators tend to be more thoroughly moderated, and this should not be a remarkable realization.

That being said, if the general agreement is that we're closing questions that shouldn't be closed, that does need to be discussed. But no evidence of this has been included: simply evidence that more questions are being closed. General statistics are indicative, but they really don't say as much as one might think. Looking at these stats, it could easily be the case that I wasn't closing enough questions as a single active moderator, and without miss rate data, there's really no way to accurately respond to this.

If this is happening, it needs to be discussed in exactly that context: a specific type of question that we're closing too early or too often.

The Riddle Sandbox

This one is a little more complicated.

It's clear to me now that the decision occurred too quickly. However, understand that there was a time when a score of +27/-0 represented the agreement of practically everyone who cared to vote on site changes. (Additionally, this actually grew to +34/-3.) That was, roughly, the mindset I was still in. It's a testament to how quickly the site has grown that more votes continued to be added, but it's also worth noting most of the dissenting opinion came after the change was implemented.

There was quite literally no negative feedback, and tons of participation, at that 24 hour mark. So yes, perhaps it was pushed too quickly, but we also had an extremely solid reason to believe we had consensus.

It's absolutely clear now that may not have been the case. A lesson learned isn't a bad thing. We're not going to do everything right. All actions we take as moderators are reversible by community discussion, and this is by design, with good reason.

Gamow's suspension

Gamow was suspended for plagiarism. (I know, the banner says "for rule violations," but it's actually plagiarism.) The regular 7-30-365 sequence was eschewed while we work out the extent of the problem, in favor of a two month suspension. It may well take more than a month to understand the scope of the problem.

For reasons I don't intend to go into, we now have upwards of 400 questions we need to vet for plagiarism. Additionally, several obfuscating factors make each question take at least five minutes to check, which means we're looking at well over 33 hours of work. This process is going to take a while. We're a team of three, and only have so much time to dedicate to plagiarism-hunting.

Make no mistake: all evidence suggests this suspension is not an error in judgement.

But even that aside, as with any suspended user, once the end of their suspension is reached, they are welcome to return to the site in good faith.

Please recognize that Puzzling has a new moderator team. A very new one. The skills required to moderate well take time and energy to learn. That ultimately means some shifting in moderation style is inevitable, as we learn how to work with each other best, and re-learn how to work with the community in this new mode. Community feedback is critically important to this process.

Discussing specific moderation issues on meta is healthy for this process; using hyperbolic language is not. We're here to work with you, not fight you. All you need to do is ask. We're not hiding behind a wall of stoicism.

Be welcoming, patient, and assume good intentions. Don't expect a new moderator team to achieve perfection — they can't. And be patient while they learn. If you're here for help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Everyone here is volunteering, and no one responds well to demands for change. (edits mine)

  • $\begingroup$ How was Gamow's plagiarism found out? $\endgroup$
    – Mithical
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 8:49
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir A user flagged a series of cases of obvious plagiarism. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 8:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul Thanks for responding. Before anything else, though, in what way are my numbers way off? You mention that twice without explanation or alternative numbers. I simply ran a query to find all questions closed within a time period, then checked whether they were closed by mods or the community. (If a mod vote was the 5th vote, I counted it as community.) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 13:29
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Dan Need to ask other mods before giving stats, but there are closed and deleted questions not available in the Data Explorer. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 14:48

Thanks to the moderators for answering this honestly and openly. To reiterate: I wholeheartedly believe they care about the quality of the site and all of their actions have good intentions behind them. I apologize to them for the inflammatory language, and recognize that they are indeed a new team finding their way.

The crux of my complaint was that there are others of us in the community who also care about the quality of the site, and might not agree with them on some of these bigger questions, but don't have the powers they do. In short, I don't want the mod chat room to become an echo chamber with just three similar outlooks. I hope—and believe they will, because they care—our mods will seek out the opinions of the community as a whole moving forward.

And specifically, here's what I would love to see done about the particular points I raised.

Exhibit 1

I think that items like this

But what do community moderators do? The short answer is, as little as possible!

and this

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.

from the SE Theory of Moderation imply that our mods should take a lighter hand in closing questions. Give us a chance to do the work, and then when we fail, I thank you in advance for picking up the slack.

Exhibit 2

Personally, I think the mandatory part of the Riddle Sandbox should go. But that's just the opinion of one user.

The larger issue here is how significant changes get made going forward. As the mods said, perhaps this was "rushed" or "handled badly". I would like to know that important decisions will be given time and discussion before they're made from here on. If there's going to be a new close reason, or a tag added to the sandbox idea, etc., then I think there should be enough time to discuss it and its ramifications.

And also, if voting is taken to mean something, it should be explicit. (I.e. "Vote for this answer if you want a mandatory sandbox." "Vote for this answer if you want a sandbox but think it shouldn't be mandatory." ...)

Exhibit 3

I no longer have any concerns here. I'm convinced the suspension was justified.


I voted for these mods, and still believe in them. I was worried the Puzzling ship was headed off course a bit and wanted to help steer it back forward.

  • $\begingroup$ Yep, I pretty much agree with you here. I still stand by most of my closings, but I understand that other users perceive mod closing badly. I'll try to hold back a bit more. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ As for the riddle sandbox, we always planned for the "mandatory" part to be temporary. We were planning to give it more time, but we were desperate to finally stop the deluge of poor riddles, and the massively positive vote (which on meta indicates approval) made us go through with it sooner. (In retrospect, we should've introduced it before the mandatory rule was put in, and we might not have even needed the moratorium.) $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 17:05

I understand where you're coming from. Really, I do. And I'd like to fix that - I don't want us to be perceived as "tyrannical overlords" or anything remotely to that effect. But your inflammatory statements are a bit insulting, and the presumptions of malice are not appreciated.

I'm not nearly as eloquent as Rand or Emrakul, but I'd like to weigh in.

Exhibit 1

As Emrakul said, your statistics are a bit biased because two of the moderators were inactive in your first time period. You've concluded that sites with more active moderators are more heavily moderated. You shouldn't be asking whether we're closing a lot of questions - instead, what's important is whether we're undeservedly closing a lot of questions. If we're acting "in line" with the community, there shouldn't be any issues with doing things slightly faster. And so far, it seems to be the case. Again, as Emrakul said, most of the questions that have been mod-closed have not been reopened. If there was significant unjustified closing, you'd expect them to be reopened more.

Now, I'm not knowledgeable enough with SQL to write a query to check which of my closed questions were reopened, so I can't go into detail on them. (I know at least a few were because of the sandbox.) However, I can address that specific question you linked. In the original version (the one that I closed), there were two data points: $$M\to 18$$ $$\aleph \to 28$$

That's it. That's all we had, apart from some story dressing. I don't think you'll find a single user who says that that is enough to adequately answer a question.

Post-edits, there has been ample time for people to reopen it, but nobody has cast a single vote to reopen. Since edited closed questions pass through the review queue, I think that's evidence enough that the community agrees it should stay closed.

Exhibit 2

I agree that the sandbox was handled badly. However, I'd like to explain our thought processes - hopefully, you can see why we decided to enact the rule.

There had been a growing dissatisfaction with riddle quality for quite some time. Several meta posts had been made about it, and some of our high-rep users were even considering leaving. I know I was, and Alconja had also considered it as well. Bad riddles were flooding the site, drowning out the actual high-quality content. And we had to do something about it.

So we came up with the sandbox, and waited to see if there was an agreement. We had discussed it for several hours consecutively in mod chat, weighing the pros and cons, and decided to post it to see what the community thought. And in only a day we got +27/-0. That unanimous agreement was completely unprecedented.

So out of a combination of desperation to stop low-quality riddles and excitement that we could finally do it, we started up the sandbox.

The sandbox may not have been the right "something", but it has filtered out some of the worst riddles. Disagreement only came in after the implementation. We had a massive amount of support for the sandbox, so it's unfair to say it was a poor decision when dozens of other users agreed with us and nobody had spoken out against it. Sure, it may not have been the best solution - even I agree that it's not optimal, and I've been one of the sandbox's major proponents. A mistake? Maybe. But a bad decision? No.

Part of our duty as mods is to enact major changes that the community agrees on, and when we enacted the sandbox, all signs said that the community agreed on it.

Exhibit 3

Emrakul and Rand have already covered this, so all I can really do is support them.

I can confirm that there were massive amounts of intentional plagiarism on Gamow's part.

Many questions were given purely cosmetic adjustments that changed just enough to make them difficult to search for. In addition, there were other rule violations that made the suspension absolutely necessary. You'll notice that the suspension time was two months, rather than one of the defaults - this is because it was an exceptional case that warranted special consideration.


I don't think we have overstepped any boundaries as mods. I have just been trying to do my job, and I know the others have been as well. We are a new mod team, though, and I would appreciate if you took it into consideration before calling us "out of control". We're here to work with the rest of the community, and that's what we've been attempting to do. All three of these "exhibits" have been for the benefit of the community. Maybe the sandbox was misguided, but it was not a malicious act, and the other two have been actually helpful.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the response. I really didn't mean to imply malice, but I did want this to get attention/response. I've changed the title of my post to be fairer to you guys. I apologize for that. I think if you read the same post with a different title, it should appear far less accusatory and more philosophical. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ @DanRussell: I understand! Honestly, I think you may be right about the closings. I still stand behind all of the ones I closed, but it might be best for me to back off a bit to not give the impression that I'm a tyrannical dictator. (That way they won't suspect it when I do become a tyrannical dictator... :P ) $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. Build your goodwill then subtly start taking over... $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ One question: "Since edited closed questions pass through the review queue..." Is that true? And/or automatic? Like, if a too-broad question gets edited it necessarily goes into the review queue? I've never seen/noticed that. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Dan: Yep. Any quests edited after they're closed pass through the reopen queue. $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi Mod
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 15:59

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