Our moderators have mentioned that they avoid closing questions unilaterally, unless it's a slam-dunk case. I think I've seen similar stances on other sites' metas, and this seems like a good general policy.

However, I think I've seen some inconsistent wording, and I'm now confused about the exact meaning of this. Do mods avoid casting close votes in general, or do they specifically only stay away from cases with 1 or 0 pending votes? Like if there are 3-4 pending close votes, do they still hesitate to cast the last one if they feel the question's off-topic?

I see multiple things to look at: firstly, we could say that the mods shouldn't be doing this because perhaps someone takes it a lot more personally/seriously when one of those close voters has a diamond, whether there are five voters or one. (Or is there some other reason?) I get the feeling (particularity based on the extreme-looking Tor SE close stats) that the data in 2018: a year in moderation (also see DavidZ's answer there) indicate actions which moderators took along with regular users (e.g. one of the 5 close-voters was a moderator) under the column 'moderators'. That suggests to me that the focus is on the fact that moderators were involved, rather than the extent of their involvement in the closing process.

On the other hand, I think it's completely appropriate for a moderator to close a question with a few pending votes simply because they feel it's off-topic (or whatever), and they're expressing that as any ordinary (though somewhat high-rep) user would: by votes.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with whatever the status quo is; I'm simply curious about this.

  • $\begingroup$ Just a remark for Tor.SE (and similar beta sites with 100% participation by mods), there's also a possibility that there are not enough active non-mod reviewers to handle the reviews in a timely manner, thus making it almost impossible for a question to be closed by 5 regular users. $\endgroup$ – Andrew T. Jan 19 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewT. Yep, that's very likely. I imagine that having a small mod participation ratio is generally indicative that the community has enough high-rep members to cover all those close votes. However, a moderately large mod participation ratio, is, in my opinion, not necessarily a bad sign. $\endgroup$ – Chair Jan 19 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ Seems like a job for SE data explorer. $\endgroup$ – Qmechanic Jan 20 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Qmechanic I'm don't think that'll work: SEDE does not track deleted questions very well, and a non-negligible (large?) fraction of closed questions get deleted by the Roomba. I imagine it could pull the number of close votes from each 3k rep member's profile, which would include votes on deleted questions, but I'm not sure of how that data could be used. $\endgroup$ – Chair Jan 21 at 5:34

Different mods have different practices, so don't take this as precisely representative of the whole mod team (though I think we all act somewhat similarly). Speaking for myself, I wouldn't say that I avoid closing questions unilaterally, but I am more reluctant to close a question unilaterally than I would be to apply a non-binding close vote (if I could do so). The difference has to do with how obvious it is that the question deserves to be put on hold. If I think it's quite clear that the question deserves to be on hold according to our policies, then I'll go ahead and do that, but in cases where I'm not so sure, I'll leave it to the community.

If a question already has some close votes from other people, I'll adjust my criterion accordingly. The more close votes it has from others, the more willing I am (or, the less sure about it I have to be) to cast a close vote of my own. If a question already has four other close votes, then the threshold I use in my mind is basically the same as if I were casting a non-binding close vote. If it has three close votes from others, then I'd have to be a little more sure than that before closing it myself. And so on.

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    $\begingroup$ Though this answer is presently negatively scored, I'm accepting it because the second paragraph clarifies pretty much exactly what I asked. Perhaps someone could suggest a reason for the downvote? $\endgroup$ – Chair Jan 18 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ I, for one, would be quite interested in the reasons people had for downvoting this. If there's anything here that looks incorrect or that people disagree with, it's important to have it out in the open. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Jan 20 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ The wording 'non-binding close vote' is misleading IMO... If I'm not mistaken, mod deletions can't be undone by ordinary users' votes, so those are actually binding. Questions closed by mods can be reopened through the usual 5 votes. Perhaps 'non-hammer' would be a better term? $\endgroup$ – Chair Jan 21 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know, I think "binding" works perfectly well to express the fact that the vote takes effect all by itself. Plus it is somewhat standard terminology on SE for this kind of vote. "hammer" wouldn't make much sense to me in that context. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jan 21 at 5:49
  • $\begingroup$ After some more research on Meta Stack Exchange, I've found that binding is indeed the common terminology (e.g. usage here), so this is fine. I still think that the word 'hammer' makes more sense though, since the functionality is identical to the gold-tag-badge dupehammer. $\endgroup$ – Chair Jan 21 at 7:41

Moderators need the discretionary power to unilaterally close questions when appropriate, and my experience is that this power has been used wisely: I would rather not constrain their actions through guidelines unless there is an obvious broad problem, and I don’t see one now. I suppose it’s possible to quietly query a mod through a reply or comment if some specific instance requires clarifications.

I do not think moderators should refrain from casting votes-to-close: they are not gods to interfere in affairs of mortals only on rare occasions, but experienced users with excellent background to flag for closure duplicates, low quality questions and answers etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Although I strongly support the stance "not gods to interfere in affairs of mortals only on rare occasions, but experienced users...", I don't think it exactly answers the question, which is regarding the present status, rather than the ideal. $\endgroup$ – Chair Jan 18 at 6:30

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