Update on the Manish situation

The fact that one of the moderators is pretty much inactive has been brought up many times already (e.g. this meta post from last year). In fact, he has been invited to step aside a couple of times by now, with no feedback from his side (AFAIK). I believe it is important to have a conversation about it at some point, so why not now?

Do we want this person to remain a moderator? Is there any mechanism to enforce the decision if he does not manifest any will to follow the community's wish?

• FWIW, the Stack Exchange administration tracks moderator activity on every site; there are no moderators here who have been completely inactive for an extended length of time. – Shog9 Feb 20 '19 at 3:19
• @Shog9 Thank you for the input. I guess that kind of depends what you mean by completely inactive. Is just logging in/out enough to be considered active? Or you do have to e.g. review flags or something of the like? – AccidentalFourierTransform Feb 20 '19 at 3:49
• When I talk about moderator activity, I'm generally talking about stuff that would contribute to a list such as the one I posted earlier this year. – Shog9 Feb 20 '19 at 3:55
• Last october I saw a question which I answered migrated to chem SE (which he moderates) by him. I don't see how such activities could be noticed by most users, unless there's something of the sort in the mod tools. (I'm not suggesting that one migration means anything significant though) – user191954 Feb 20 '19 at 3:58
• It was my understanding that, while he'd decreased his activity here, he was still quite active as a chem.SE moderator - but it does seem that his participation there has tailed off significantly in late 2014 (which, reminder, is coming up on five years ago) with his phys.SE moderation tailing off in mid 2016. – Emilio Pisanty Feb 20 '19 at 11:16
• He was a great moderator, with a calm and conciliatory voice over many rough conversations, and he was extremely active in improving the site and the platform, both actively writing code (example) and participating on the mother meta. But it does feel to me that if he's not actively moderating then him having a diamond doesn't make much sense. There's a proportionality to moderator powers - we give additional authority to people who will use it because we need them to do so - and if the tools are not being used then they should be put back in their box. – Emilio Pisanty Feb 20 '19 at 11:21
• Is it implausible for the mods/SE team to contact him, maybe via email, and request him to respond to this post, if at all he is in a position to respond? While site users can debate his continuation/dis-continuation as a moderator, with all the service he has done to the community, if he has to step down, he deserves the privilege of being the one to make that decision. – 299792458 Feb 23 '19 at 11:53
• @Chair - Correct. But such an attempt must precede any drastic measure from the SE team, if there is ever going to be one. :) – 299792458 Feb 23 '19 at 14:49
• PLEASE NOTE: His "bio" links to his Twitter account, on which he was active 15 hours back (from the time of posting this comment). Any one with a Twitter account can perhaps reach out to him. Hoping somebody would volunteer. :) – 299792458 Feb 23 '19 at 15:03
• @299792458 If 'drastic measure' means 'removal from the mod team', I'd say that the SE team has already made it clear that they don't remove mods for inactivity, and in this case, we even have a couple of 'invisible-ish' actions of moderation from Manish, including the migration mentioned in my first comment. – user191954 Feb 23 '19 at 15:14
• @Chair - I agree. Thanks. – 299792458 Feb 23 '19 at 15:22
• I would be much more comfortable if Manish just said something. This post has been on "hot meta posts" for over a week now. – knzhou Feb 28 '19 at 16:59
• "In fact, he has been invited to step aside a couple of times by now, with no feedback from his side" I wrote a longer answer clarifying things, but just wanted to note: I basically rarely opened meta, so I never noticed these things :) – Manishearth Mar 3 '19 at 16:43
• @Rishi Actually, SE does remove moderators for inactivity, if they don't perform a single action for a period of six months; at that point, they're emailed, and if there is no response or the mod says they want to resign, their status is procedurally revoked. In this case, he was performing an action at least once every six months, so he didn't fall under that policy; however, the same can apply if 1. the user keeps responding that they want to continue moderating, or 2. the rare case where SE forgets to remove the tools: ... – gparyani May 6 '19 at 23:17
• ...there was one case on the now-closed Startups site where a new mod was appointed to fill in the gap caused by one mod not being seen in the last three years, but that mod's privileges weren't revoked for some reason. – gparyani May 6 '19 at 23:18

Oh, wow, I hadn't realized this was going on :)

I first just wish to apologise to the community, both Chem.SE and Physics.SE, for my lack of activity. I'll shortly explain what happened, but I also just feel bad for causing this conflict, and think I could have handled this better. Sorry about that.

So a bit of background: Around 2014 I started getting involved in the Rust community, and my capacity for dealing with stuff online decreased. I also was just busier in college, and balancing my time on Stack Exchange became increasingly harder. I still spent time moderating, though.

I've always had a bit of conflict in picking between a career in software vs a career in physics -- I really like physics and picked it as a major, but I've really enjoyed programming. My opinion eventually shifted from being set on doing physics to doing software (for a complex tangle of reasons), and I eventually got a job doing Rust stuff at Mozilla.

This also meant that Being Online was a part of my job so I didn't have as much of an inclination to participate here as I used to. It also decentered physics from my life, impacting my participation similarly.

But Stack Exchange used to be a big part of my life. It was an online community I truly enjoyed, and I'd learned so much from it, both in terms of actual physics/etc as well as so many things about community dynamics. A bunch of the stuff I've learned here has been applied to the Rust community at a fundamental level, and it's overall been super helpful. So I couldn't bring myself to stop participating. Instead, I felt like I would eventually have time again, and that would be soon. Sometimes I'd drop by and moderate a couple things and check out the meta and overall be really happy that this place exists and is running smoothly. The comm team sends out these check in emails to semi inactive moderators and that would occasionally spur me into participating a bit again, but it never lasted. I recognized that this wasn't sustainable, but it always felt like "eh, I'll have more time next month".

Of course, tomorrow never comes, and I've only gotten busier over time. I still love this place to pieces, but it's just hard to find time to participate.

Honestly, moderation isn't the ideal way for me to participate anyway, as someone who isn't doing physics all the time anymore I should probably spend more time doing q&a for fun, not moderation. The reason I like moderating is that I really care about communities I care about being pleasant spaces, and I care about it enough to consider it my duty to help. But I'm not helping right now, and if I wanted to I can help quite a bit without having the diamond. There's really no reason for me to still have the diamond, it's just taken this nudge to cause the reflection necessary for me to explicitly realize that :)

So yeah, I definitely should step down. Consider this my resignation letter.

It's been fun!

I hope to eventually have time to participate again. I'll definitely be dropping by now and then.

• thx for your work on the site! for/ under a variety of reasons/ circumstances theres a major exodus of physicists → coders/ developers/ software engrs, there are many cases of this mentioned in Physics Chat many by hi rep users + other mods and hope/ encourage everyone to drop by with their own stories, and its just a great place to try to build up community connections or other informal discussions etc. – vzn Mar 3 '19 at 16:23
• Hey Manishearth, thanks for chiming in :) – David Z Mar 4 '19 at 9:01

I'll post this as an answer since it seems there's disagreements and it's important to get a feeling for folks' responses to this.

For one, I find that a particularly useful tool for gauging moderation activity is the All Actions tab on the Activity profile page, or at least a reasonably zoomed-out view of it. If you look at any given active moderator's All Actions history, you'll see a bunch of reviews, a bunch of edits, and a ton of moderation-related comments, in addition to the standard-user interactions with the site. We can't see all of a moderator's actions, since many of them (like, say, deleting obsolete comments) are designed to be invisible.

However, I would claim that if a moderator hangs out on a site in a moderatorial mood, for a few hours, then they're not going to only do those invisible actions - they're going to end up doing stuff like moving discussions to chat, fixing the tags on a post, approving an edit suggestion, or opening or closing a post here or there, which do leave a visible trace. For Manish, the last such activity dates from May 2017. While I have no trouble believing Shog9's assertion that Manish's moderatorial actions over, say, the past six months, are strictly-speaking nonzero, I am having a hard time swallowing the argument that it crosses any reasonable line drawn above 'negligible'.

And, frankly, it does feel to me that if he's not actively moderating then him having a diamond doesn't make much sense. There's a proportionality to moderator powers: they represent additional authority and powers which we give to some users because we need them to do use it. If the tools are not being used, then they should be put back in their box. There's no hard feelings about this, but I do think the position of moderator should be seen as active, and not just this special status that's conferred on you for life regardless of whether you ever come back to the site or not. I think it's part of an outlook where we do periodically, as a community, take clear looks at our moderation stance and evolve it as necessary. Site culture shifts, and we need all of our moderators along on the ride.

And in particular, I think OP is right to want a clear participation and used-in-practice line of communication with every moderator. We have a substantial amount of turnover, and a bit of digging is likely to turn up a substantial fraction of our active user base who joined after Manish effectively stopped moderating.

It's also worth noting that the stepping-down of a moderator who had become inactive has explicit precedent - mbq was elected as a moderator in 2011, together with David Z and dmckee, and s/he stepped down in mid-2014, about some six months after the last of their publicly-recorded moderation activity. Not to mention stronger precedent on other SE sites.

More importantly, though, to address the key voice that we should be hearing from here: Manish, what's up? What is your take on this? I can very well understand the pressures pointing away from physics and away from internet participation that come from a move to software development. Obviously the 2013-era Business As Usual has been replaced - but by what?

• Just one little thing I'd like to pick on: it seems reasonable to ask that every moderator be generally responsive to communication, but that shouldn't mean that any user is automatically entitled to a discussion with a mod of their choice, just like a user isn't entitled to a discussion with any user of their choice. I don't think that's what you meant but I thought it worth being clear. – David Z Feb 21 '19 at 1:26
• Another important thing I'd like to add: moderators are supposed to be active on meta, and the Quorum/convention badges for meta participation are mentioned on candidate nominations. They have an icon in the top bar to notify them of meta activity. But Manish was last seen on physics meta on the 28th of November. – user191954 Feb 21 '19 at 1:59

Just a quick note about the moderator perspective on this: as far as the duties of moderation are concerned, it doesn't really matter to us. After all, if someone is not regularly acting as a moderator, whether they have a diamond or not doesn't make any difference in our ability to carry out those duties. And if something is causing a problem, we have ways to deal with that; for instance, if we feel there are not enough active moderators to handle the workload, we can coordinate with the SE team to schedule an election.

Is there any mechanism to enforce the decision if he does not manifest any will to follow the community's wish?

Separately from what I said above, individual people in the community (including mods) can have their own opinions about whether it makes sense for a moderator to retain their diamond even if their activity is low. However, as far as I know, there isn't a process to turn those opinions into action, at least not a direct one. Moderators' accountability to the community is less than e.g. a democratic system where elected officials can be impeached, and that's by design, since moderators need the freedom to make unpopular decisions sometimes without worrying about their position being at risk. (At least, that's what I read somewhere. Of course if the mods are constantly at odds with the community, that's a whole different kind of problem.)

If there are serious concerns that would warrant a moderator's removal from the role, there's a process in place by which the SE team, if prompted by "numerous, substantiated complaints from users on the site", can do it, but I don't think the team would consider low activity enough to start that process. (I'm not saying that is or isn't how it should be, I'm just saying that is the current state of things.)

• Something I've seen on at least one other SE site with a similar appearing issue, was that a moderator without much visible activity was apparently still providing valuable advice to the more active mods, about disagreements, meta discussions, site direction, etc, via private chats or other channels; and they valued that mod's input even if they weren't as active as they were in their "prime", so to speak. I'm not sure if you or any of the other mods are interested in speaking to that, one way or the other. I understand that's somewhat private so please don't feel any obligation to respond. – mbrig Feb 21 '19 at 16:57
• Thanks for bringing that up, that's a good point. I would definitely want to check with the rest of the mod team before saying anything about that. – David Z Feb 21 '19 at 19:51
• @DavidZ Any update on that comment? – AccidentalFourierTransform Feb 28 '19 at 22:51
• Not yet. Sorry, I've been busy. I'll look into it. – David Z Mar 1 '19 at 0:15
• @AccidentalFourierTransform I got busy and didn't get to reply over the weekend, sorry. But we came to the conclusion that, in general, if a moderator isn't active on the site, we would be comfortable revealing whether they are interacting behind the scenes in a way that the community at large wouldn't see. – David Z Mar 4 '19 at 9:08

Said moderator logs in from time to time, so we cannot say for sure whether he's actually doing any actual moderation or not. The two options are

• He does not moderate at all, or

• He does perform some actions occasionally, but leaves no trace.

In either case, I'm not too happy about the situation. If this person is not doing any moderation, then the logical course of action is to step aside.

On the other hand, if he really is doing some moderation in the background, I would feel uneasy about the fact that a person I never interacted with is doing such important work. I want to hold moderators accountable for their actions. Manish was elected, spent some time moderating, and eventually became inactive, long before I joined SE. I have no idea how he behaves, and I don't want him to have the power that comes with the responsibility of being a moderator.

In conclusion, both options lead me to suggest that maybe he should resign. I am obviously very thankful for his time making this community what it is today, but I see no point in him staying a moderator when he has de facto resigned a long time ago.

There are many actions that the moderators take that aren't visible to users (e.g., cleaning up comments), so the bulk populous of this site would not able to determine how much said moderator is actually doing.

I think that so long as the moderator is not actively harming the site (no such evidence) and the current (visibly?) active moderators are not complaining (doesn't seem to be the case, given DavidZ's response), there really isn't cause for anyone to try removing the moderator.

An apparent "invisibility" isn't enough to justify trying to remove a moderator, in my opinion. I think actionable evidence is what is needed to move forward, but pretty much all of us are not privy to such evidence, hence any calls need to come from higher up (i.e., other mods or SE team).

• There are indeed many moderator actions that aren't visible to users, but I find it really implausible that any reasonably active moderation activity will leave a completely clean trace on the Activity page. A user who spends a meaningful amount of time handling moderation duties and yet none of the things they saw on the site during that time led them to post even a single (still-extant) comment over a full two years? Is this really something we want to keep on the table as plausible? – Emilio Pisanty Feb 20 '19 at 17:07
• I don't see why that's not plausible, especially given shog's comments to the main post. I also don't see what business it is of ours (i.e., non-mods) to complain about the invisibility of another mod & raise our pitchforks. If the mods or SE team see fit to remove a mod, that's fine. I just don't think we regular users have any business shoving our noses where they don't belong. – Kyle Kanos Feb 20 '19 at 17:29
• Shog's comments only state that the moderation activity is strictly nonzero; it sounds like one deleted comment every six months would snooze that alarm. But the concept of a moderator who, say, has a go at the moderation queues once a month for an hour or so, and yet never once approves an edit suggestion, or reopens a post, or cleans up a tag, or indeed interacts with any post in any visible way, over a full two years? If this is really being considered as realistic then to be frank I think that conversation's gone completely bonkers - or at the very least it does call for an explanation. – Emilio Pisanty Feb 20 '19 at 17:42
• And I don't see why this needs to be viewed with a "raising our pitchforks" lens at all. OP has a good point that moderators are community representatives and that there is now a significant fraction of the userbase that's never had any chance to interact with a specific moderator, and they are right to want that chance. – Emilio Pisanty Feb 20 '19 at 17:47
• I simply disagree. If any mod chooses to do $\epsilon>0$ amount of work, great & there really isn't anything to complain about. If they choose to do $\epsilon=0$ work, sure someone should say something. But it shouldn't be us. It should be the people impacted: other mods and SE team. – Kyle Kanos Feb 20 '19 at 17:53
• Re: "actionable evidence", are you talking about evidence of a mod doing harm to the site, or just evidence that they're not actively moderating? If the former, note that the rest of the mod team (and SE) is watching for that sort of thing and we would definitely do something about it if we saw it. In the latter case, you make a good point that only mods/SE have access to the evidence about how much a given mod is actually doing, and that may carry some responsibility to represent the community's view on it, even though we (mods) may not care about it ourselves. – David Z Feb 20 '19 at 21:33
• @DavidZ I would say either/or: either evidence of harm or evidence of negligence. It seems some/many feel there is enough of the latter to push this this far, but I don't feel it's compelling evidence given how much is hidden from our view (by design!). – Kyle Kanos Feb 20 '19 at 21:36