When a moderator takes action to moderate a question, he or she should not also answer the question. To do so can create a perceived conflict of interest.

For example: Male colleague using female bathroom and not cleaning up

This question was recently both moderated and answered by the same person (I believe in good faith.) And if you read the comments on her answer, you will see that already some members of our community are complaining about a perceived bias. This is a refrain that is increasingly common here on meta. Moderators are accused of bias with regularity, this is especially evident when the question being discussed is controversial.

I don't want to drag down this discussion by trying to tackle the topics of gender and sexism or anything relating directly to this particular question or answer. Instead I would like to create consensus around the notion that a moderator should not attempt to answer a question which her/she has or will be moderating. Nor should a moderator attempt to moderate a question which he/she has already answered or will be answering.

Stated more simply, either moderate the question, or answer the question: choose one, but not both.

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

  • In this case the moderator action was to move comments to chat, but I don't think the scope of this question should be limited to the one example I have provided. Instead I hope that we can discuss whether or not the practice in general is appropriate. – Lumberjack Aug 5 '16 at 1:00
  • @redredwine meta.stackexchange.com/questions/118972/… – Lumberjack Aug 5 '16 at 1:11
  • cross-site duplicate at MSE: Closing Etiquette: Why Do Some Answer and Close? – gnat Aug 5 '16 at 7:23
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    I think this would benefit from an edit clarifying what you mean. Do you mean handling flags? Making edits to a question? Right now, you state you want to discuss a general question but about 75% of this is addressing a specific situation and talking about trends of people complaining about moderator bias. Is the purpose of this to discuss "moderate or answer?" or to discuss mod bias or to discuss a specific question? It's hard for me to understand your intent when you call out the purpose as a general discussion but include so much specific information. – enderland Aug 5 '16 at 12:44

Stated more simply, either moderate the question, or answer the question: choose one, but not both.

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

I disagree.

Moderators must do their moderation work. That's their "job".

In addition, I think they can sometimes provide valuable answers to questions. The community gets to vote on how valuable their answers are.

If you think a moderator's (or anyone's) answer is good - you should upvote. If you think a moderator's (or anyone's) answer is poor - you should downvote.

That's the way the site is designed to work. And I think it's a wise design.

  • To be honest, I don't have a problem with both, unless it seems to favor your own answer. A mod can change a question/dialogue so their answer best fits the OP. I see that as unethical. – Ronnie W Aug 5 '16 at 20:59
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    @RonnieW. = that's not something I've seen much of. Moderators tend to have more to worry about than gaming the questions/answer to get points. – Joe Strazzere Aug 6 '16 at 0:13
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    Anyone can offer an edit if it improves the answer's value to the OP and the community. That's designed into SE, hence ethical by definition for this site. Edits get reviewed, can be reversed or further edited, etc. There really is no incentive to cheat; the point system is a bad joke at best, useful mostly for not giving folks too much power before they have learned how the community functions. – keshlam Aug 6 '16 at 17:26
  • @Joe No, you are right. Generally doesn't happen. I think in this case it did though. – Ronnie W Aug 7 '16 at 5:36
  • @RonnieW. - you think the moderator was gaming the questions and answers in order to gain points? – Joe Strazzere Aug 7 '16 at 22:02
  • @Joe In this case the mod removed(and admitted to doing so) comments on the question that did not fit her definition of the scope of the question. In this specific case, any comments relating to gender(which my answer deems important and their answer does not) were removed. Thus making her answer seem more relevant. Egregious? No. Disingenuous? I think so. – Ronnie W Aug 8 '16 at 13:44
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    @RonnieW. Nowhere did she actually say what you are inaccurately quoting. And your accusation is serious and a very long bow to draw. The member to whom you are referring has absolutely no reason to game questions to gain points. If you feel there is evidence of impropriety, you are more than welcome to flag it for review by a CM. – Jane S Aug 10 '16 at 1:29
  • @JaneS From a comment on the original question "The discussion about gender has been moved to chat.". Please double check before you accuse me inaccurately of accusing someone inaccurately. – Ronnie W Aug 10 '16 at 13:58

I completely disagree here. If a moderator sees something that needs action I prefer they take that action regardless of if they have answered the question or intend to answer the question or if it is a question they have asked.

I think this is especially true for comments where the chatter has gotten out of line. Comments are post it notes and should not be considered a permanent part of the question. If a moderator goes beyond the scope of their responsibilities there is a process for handling it. Any action they take that has any real effect is reversible and visible so that the community(at least with enough rep) will be able to see that the action was taken.

Moderators should moderate as the need arises. I find nothing even remotely improper about what happened here.


Best not to worry about it I reckon, the moderators were voted in and they have a heck of a job, leave them to do it and trust them not to go too far off the rails.


In general, moderators do avoid both answering and moderating. When I realized I had done this (I'd done about 15 other things between the two events in my morning SE rounds), I explained to my fellow moderators what happened and invited review. I also said I didn't plan to handle any of the other flags there.

That said, sometimes fast action is necessary. In the first 30 minutes the question had already attracted 13 comments. By the time I saw them at around the 45-minute mark, there were almost 20 and there was an argument brewing about gender identity and you had played the racism card. That discussion wasn't about improving the question; it was people reacting to the situation. With some heat.

Remember the train wreck that happened in comments on the Muslim-handshake question, a question that never fully recovered afterward? That OP never came back, by the way. While this was milder, I saw the seeds of what could become that here, and acted. Even if I had remembered that I'd participated on it, I would have acted. Because it is far, far easier to avert an explosion than deal with it after the fact, and because I know I can rely on my fellow moderators to audit.

I'm not saying it was already bad. I relocated the conversation; I didn't purge it. Every participant had the ability to continue the discussion there.

I've been accused of trying to change the question to make it line up with my answer. That's a serious accusation. It also didn't happen. In fact, my answer demonstrated a constructive way to respond to mistaken ideas in the question: instead of arguing in comments, challenge the assumption in an answer. (You do still have to answer the question, of course.) I advised the OP to not make it about gender, for reasons given in my answer. I didn't edit the question, suggest that the OP edit the question, or interfere with any other answers. By the way, only hours later did I notice that most of the vehement complaints I was getting were coming from another answerer, not an uninvolved party.

Moderators try hard to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. But this community elected us to act when needed. We're not going to tie our hands and say "sorry, can't do anything" while things are spinning out of control.

  • "Moderators try hard to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. But this community elected us to act when needed. We're not going to tie our hands and say "sorry, can't do anything" while things are spinning out of control." Fair enough. I agree that your duty as a moderator might require that you take action to moderate a question and possibly create a perceived conflict of interest after you have already answered. – Lumberjack Aug 5 '16 at 1:15
  • Given your good faith desire to "avert an explosion" I would like to point out the repeated "explosions" that pop up on meta around the perception of moderator bias. In my opinion, choosing not to answer a question after you have already taken action to moderate the controversy will go a long way to reducing that perception. – Lumberjack Aug 5 '16 at 1:19
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    @Lumberjack We as moderators are very mindful of trying to not just be fair, but seen to be fair. As both Enderland and Monica state, if we have answered a question, then unless there are extenuating circumstances, we take great lengths to avoid moderating that question. Sometimes that isn't possible, especially when there is a sensitive topic that starts to generate emotional responses. – Jane S Aug 5 '16 at 5:10
  • I went back and reviewed that particular question, only TWO of the comments moved to chat were non-constructive. Most of them were either clarifying or asking for clarification. Why couldn't the obnoxious ones be removed and the ones asking for clarification? – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Aug 5 '16 at 12:22
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    @Lumberjack keep in mind that when you say "repeated explosions" on meta what you really mean is a small handful of users (such as yourself) repeatedly raising issues like this in fairly non-constructive ways. – enderland Aug 5 '16 at 12:33
  • @enderland watch how many up votes this question gets. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Aug 5 '16 at 13:20
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    @RichardU that's the problem with a post that isn't clear what the primary intent is. Are people upvoting because of the not-so-thinly veiled "mod bias" comments? Because people agree with the grievance towards this specific situation? Because people agree with what appears to be the ultimate point of the meta question - the "should moderators both moderate/answer a question?" Because people agree this discussion should happen? – enderland Aug 5 '16 at 13:32
  • @enderland again, I'm not unsympathetic. You're always going to get the folks with oppositional defiance disorder who are going to upvote any question that brings the mods to task, because of a natural dislike for authority. Perception, however affects reality. I've seen other questions bringing up concerns where the moderator responses have been essentially "We're doing fine, now shut up". not in those words, but with that sentiment. Present company excluded. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Aug 5 '16 at 13:38
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    Moderate or answer, not both. It's that simple. – Ronnie W Aug 5 '16 at 16:24
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    For context, @RonnieW. is on record as objecting to comment moderation. – Monica Cellio Aug 5 '16 at 16:51
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    @MonicaCellio I am not sure why you are bringing that up. I feel like you are trying to label me as a 'serial complainer'. I don't mean to complain. I just want to fix problems I see. Workplace is awesome. I hate to see it lose people because their is little incentive to participate because 'the rich get richer' and the 'poor get poorer. I feel like an obvious 'conflict of interest' existed here. In this case, it I felt it hurt my reputation(or chances of reputation). Should I not bring it up? What would you have me do? – Ronnie W Aug 5 '16 at 17:25
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    @RonnieW. how did this hurt your reputation? The question was not edited. The OP's opinions about it being gender-related are right there in the question, and the discussion about it is right there in chat. You responded to the OP. Since you object to comment moderation in the first place and nothing happened to the question that affected your answer in any way, I'm left puzzled about just what your complaint is. Whatever it is, please express it in a meta post, not comments (and especially not comments on main). – Monica Cellio Aug 5 '16 at 18:00
  • You removed comments on the question that did not favor your answer. You controlled the conversation. It did not "hurt", but more favored you instead to get more votes. I object to over zealous comment moderation especially when it's biased favoring the answer given by a moderator. I don't think that is unreasonable. – Ronnie W Aug 5 '16 at 18:19
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    @RonnieW. I think what Monica is saying is that the original question was not edited (well, I guess I edited it to include some comment information unrelated to this discussion) so the question has remained the same the entire time since posting - which means that the comments should not have had much impact on the overall voting on the question. – enderland Aug 5 '16 at 18:21
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    @RonnieW. I'm afraid I don't see it, for reasons I've already explained. I didn't remove any of the stuff about gender (except one comment that was obsolete after being edited into the question). We're going around in circles, so I'll stop. I'm sorry for what you saw as conflict of interest. My goal was not to influence voting on answers but help keep the question comment section (which was getting out of hand) clean, but I can see how it might seem that way to you. – Monica Cellio Aug 5 '16 at 18:23

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

I agree.

In fact, it is our standard practice as moderators to do this - we try to avoid handling any flags on a question that we also have an answer on.

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    @redredwine "Moderating a question" in general means review flags that have been raised by the community. That particular question had accumulated a LOT of flags. In general, we take only action once flag(s) has been raised, however there are times when we moderators, who are also still members of the community, see something that if we weren't moderators, would flag. – Jane S Aug 5 '16 at 5:06
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    I think its a good practice to follow but honestly I would rather have you step in and purge comment chatter than allow it to continue and create further conflict. Similarly an answer that is bad enough to need a to be deleted with out warning I would rather you take the action. And if it is bad enough to warrent a warning, cautionary comment , or banner applied I would rather you take that action when you see it rather than wait and hope another mod will handle it. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 10 '16 at 15:32

I'm going to disagree, for a very specific reason: There is no way to retract a moderation vote.

This means that there are cases where I initially think a question is unanswerable, but later find a way to reinterpret it that lets me answer... but am stuck either violating this guideline or being unable to post my answer.

The only fix the system supports is to vote to re-open if it does get put on hold. Which I'd do, but which doesn't look as nice.

Similar problems arise if when voting to close I accidentally hit the wrong reason; I can't fix that.

This is a SE design problem, and isn't something we can address in this sub-meta. It should probably be raised in the main meta... But to be honest I haven't seen enough real trouble caused by it that I'm interested in making that effort. If someone cares enough to want it fixed, they can and should take it there.

(By the way, reopen appears to be one of the features the Android app is missing; I had to flip over to browser.)

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    There is no way to retract a moderation vote Just a note, you can actually retract close votes now. As a moderator it's not possible since a close vote becomes binding, but if vote to close and later change your mind, or the question is edited, or otherwise you can retract your close vote. This was a new feature not super long ago. – enderland Aug 7 '16 at 13:58
  • Didn't seem to be available last time I looked, but that was via the app, which is not being maintained at all well. – keshlam Aug 7 '16 at 22:14
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    A bit off topic, but I just use the mobile site view. Every time I've tried the app I've ended up frustrated and the mobile view seems to work really well. – enderland Aug 7 '16 at 22:20

I find it mildly irritating. there have been a few times where I have flagged answers where the poster was being abusive in responses to me, only to find MY comments deleted and his standing.

There is a bit of a bias here. If your politics are left-leaning and the topic is political, you get way more leniency than if your politics are not. The recent 1 month suspension of a certain high-rep poster is an example of that. Was he being a jerk? Yes, were people being jerks towards him, yes. Only one side of the coin got the axe.

While on balance, I do have a great deal of respect for most of the moderators, there is always room for improvement. I've been a moderator on other sites and it is a thankless job with more headaches than you can imagine.

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    you get way more leniency than if your politics are not <-- just a comment regarding this, one's politics has no influence on this. Calling another poster dumb or an idiot or moron (or worse..) or otherwise attacking other users and making discussion about them and not the post will always be unacceptable. The Be Nice and the What if I see someone doing something bad sections of the help center provide useful guidance on this subject and what we as moderators use to guide our actions. – enderland Aug 5 '16 at 13:04
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    @enderland I'm reporting what I've observed. That said, I've never seen that kind of behavior from you. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Aug 5 '16 at 13:19
  • I totally agree about the political side, I've seen it many times – Kilisi Aug 6 '16 at 7:02

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