The event that has been dubbed panel-gate by members of the community has sparked emotion and even outrage from the community with regard to the actions of some, and how the events unfolded.

The facts

  • The head community manager noticed a moderator account closing questions with a "canned" comment
  • The community manager thought the closings were too close together and as a result, suspicious.
  • Upon further investigation the community manager noticed some questions that didn't exactly fit the canned close reason, and became even more suspicious.
  • The community manager searched meta but found no recent mention of a closing campaign, and only a single mention of what was happening in an almost defunct chat room.
  • To protect the integrity of the site, the community manager suspended the moderator's mod status, pending an investigation into the event and communication with the moderator.

  • The moderator was closing questions that are explicitly off topic.

  • The moderator believed he was acting on the consensus of the community.

  • There are questions on meta that confirm the moderator's beliefs.

  • A portion of the community has also confirmed these beliefs.

  • The moderator has since resigned from his duties in response to this incident.

Now that the situation has slightly died down, I wanted to create a question where the community can talk about what we should take away from this event. This question isn't about finger pointing or name calling, hopefully all of that is over. It is about what's left of the community can do better to ensure something like this doesn't happen again. We lost a very active moderator and other active high rep members over what appears to be nothing more than a communication disconnect.

To clarify, by community I mean both the SF community and the community managers. Anyone who has something constructive to say has the floor.

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    I think this should wait for Shog to post his version of the events... Although I guess he could just edit them into this question. In any case, I don't think the final take-away can be decided until we know why he thought his reactions (including "you're lying," etc.) were appropriate. – Ward - Reinstate Monica Mod Apr 13 '15 at 19:17
  • I agree @Ward, these points came straight from his post though, I tried to leave out any drama or emotion that wasn't relevant. – MDMoore313 Apr 13 '15 at 19:29
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    I agree; since this isn't over yet, I wonder if perhaps this is premature. – Michael Hampton Apr 13 '15 at 19:49
  • @Michael It probably is, but the real issue at hand as I see it is the one we had before panelgate and will continue to have afterwards. – Andrew B Apr 13 '15 at 19:54
  • I hope you both will agree though there are some things that can immediately be taken away though in regards to what has happened thus far. – MDMoore313 Apr 13 '15 at 20:02
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    I'm afraid that without a full, factual, statement from the SE staff it'll be hard to feel like I'm reading the other responses bias free. The communication from one side has been a lot more prevalent than from the other. Which doesn't mean people should refrain from giving their opinions, I know I don't, but it sure feels like it's tainting everything I'm reading. – Reaces Apr 13 '15 at 20:19
  • @Reaces I remained impartial when presenting the facts of both sides. Everything presented from the Community Managers point of view was taken from his own meta post, and his own comments. – MDMoore313 Apr 13 '15 at 20:51
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    @BigHomie Don't misunderstand, I have nothing to say against your post. It looks fair and it even seems like you're going out of your way to make sure that you don't misrepresent the Community Managers. I'm simply saying it's hard not to notice that the Serverfault's core users side has been more vocal. And unfortunately it's kind of starting to look like we're talking amongst ourselves a bit much. – Reaces Apr 13 '15 at 20:57
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    @Reaces no we're good, I read you loud and clear, I'm actually hoping Shog and some others will chime in here as well, we just have to give (at least Shog) some time. What I didn't want though is to bring this up ages from now after its been forgotten. – MDMoore313 Apr 13 '15 at 21:13
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    My biggest takeaway is that you can't just go and whack the suffix "-gate" on the end of a noun. THATS NOT HOW IT WORKS PEOPLE. – Mark Henderson Apr 14 '15 at 4:40
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    @MarkHenderson your annoyance at the gate issue will now be known as Gate-gate... – Rob Moir Apr 14 '15 at 6:57
  • As much as you're trying to so the postmortem correctly -- HUZZAH -- it really needs to wait until after the incident report has been written and distributed. Otherwise we end up making assumptions that can disrupt the fact-only analysis of the issue. – Scott Pack Apr 14 '15 at 11:55
  • @ScottPack that's a fair assessment, in addition though: There's no harm in posting this question early, everyone can wait for SE to weigh in before giving their thoughts if they like. I guess it could get pushed down meta's front page :( – MDMoore313 Apr 14 '15 at 12:31
  • @BigHomie It probably won't hurt but it certainly can. The purpose of a postmortem is to review the facts of SB incident with as little attribution or qualitative analysis as possible. The goal is to identify not only which button was clicked incorrectly but more importantly what was the root cause that resulted in the button being couched incorrectly. By discussing it before the report had verb released we run the risk of tainting the process with incomplete, or incorrect, data. – Scott Pack Apr 14 '15 at 12:52

What should the community take away?

Stop looking for a savior

I've watched one moderator after another tire and burn out here, but somehow the reason behind it never came into focus for me until this weekend: there is very, very little community moderation here.

The support I've seen for Hopeless and the overt hatred and bitterness I've seen poured out on other members of the mod team are two sides of the same coin: folks dissatisfied with the site and wanting someone else to fix it for them. As long as you can say you're doing that, you're golden. But if you falter, if you find yourself looking for help tackling a project too big for a few people to do alone, then it's, "What good are you, you used-up has-been;" time for a new great white hope to chew up and spit out.

This isn't accomplishing anything. Moderators can accomplish a lot - and you've all been lucky to have a long string of them willing to pick up the slack for you with very little complaint - but expecting a moderator team to handle the majority of the moderation on a site like this is naive; a good moderator excels at doing the things you cannot, but your role in the moderation process doesn't end when you cast your vote... Abdicating responsibility once the election is over does a disservice to yourself, to the moderators you elect, and to the community as a whole.

You get the site that you work to build. If you're not willing to pitch in, then expecting anyone else to do it for you is irresponsible.

I'm being blunt, but I don't think there's a nice way to say this. Whether you like it or not, Stack Exchange is and always has been a community-moderated system; if you don't want to be a part of that, then don't expect anything to change on your account.

That's what y'all should take away. But you asked what I (or others at SE) should take away...

Better, earlier warnings

There are eleven of us doing this sort of support, across 140+ sites. We try hard to be aware and responsive to issues everywhere, but don't have the luxury of spending all of our time anywhere. Sometimes, stuff gets missed...

But none of this should have been missed.

I should've sat down with Hopeless his first week after being elected, gone over the actions he took, and suggested better / easier / more open ways of doing them. But I didn't see most of what he was doing; no one did.

My takeaway here is that we need better monitoring tools, better guidance for moderator tools, and warning systems when activity goes too far outside the norm. The ones we have were probably barely adequate in 2009, but they're next-to-useless now. I'll be writing up proposals for this over the next few weeks; a good bit of this information can and should be public, at least for trusted users, so I'll post those proposals on MSE.

On a personal note, I want to apologize to all of you. It's my job to keep an eye on things like this, to provide guidance and correction to those involved before they get wildly out of hand. I didn't, they did, and I'm sorry.

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    +1, great feedback, and indeed, ..If you're not willing to pitch in, then expecting anyone else to do it for you is irresponsible. – MDMoore313 Apr 15 '15 at 3:36
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    Thank you for this and your other posts, Shog9. I truly do appreciate the work that went into them as well as your candor in describing what you could have done better. I think one thing that was missed (which IMHO contributed in a significant way to some of the vitriol following the removal of Hopeless's diamond) is the tone you used in many of your posts and comments. It was clear you were assuming the worst of n00b, instead of assuming that he had good intentions (as you now have realized). If you'd used a more empathetic tone, I think this would have gone down in a very different way. – EEAA Apr 15 '15 at 3:47
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    ...just something to consider as you handle other similar situations around SE in the future. Hopefully you won't need to do so, actually, but if you do, I find that conversations and confrontations with people go much better if they're initiated from an understanding that all involved parties are working with good intentions. – EEAA Apr 15 '15 at 3:50
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    I wish I'd used a more empathetic tone as well, @EEAA - but I don't think it would've gone down any differently. I've been here once or twice before. Regardless, nothing I wrote last week had any time for proof-reading much less editing for tone; I suspect this is one of those situations where the only way I could be prepared to handle it well is to have previously handled it poorly. Hope for next time, I guess. – Shog9 Apr 15 '15 at 3:51
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    I think part of the problem is morale--we do have a doomed tag in meta, after all. At the risk of generalizing, I believe we have a tendency as a career path to self-select for lone efforts and short, high-intensity bursts of activity, which... might not help? I know I find the close queue depressing in large doses, myself. I'm always relieved when the queue says, "You cannot have more close queue. You have a close queue problem. Go home, sober up, and do more in the morning." ;) – Katherine Villyard Apr 15 '15 at 4:16
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    Ah, see - no one believes me when I say that, @Katherine... But it's sooo so true. When I was young, I used to go out & pick up trash along the highway; you do that by yourself, you'll be out there all day with nothing to show for it, but you get five people lined up & you'll have miles behind you before you know it. When everyone does a little, together it all adds up. – Shog9 Apr 15 '15 at 4:25
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    Perception isn't necessarily reality, @BigHomie. Everyone hates it when their requests go unanswered, but even as we grow the dev team it's impossible to address more than a fraction of the requests on any site. I still have years'-old requests that haven't been addressed yet. Some requests are easier than others; take advantage of the ones that are possible now. – Shog9 Apr 15 '15 at 4:30
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    @Shog9 So, does HopelessN00b get his moderator diamond back again?!? – ewwhite Apr 15 '15 at 6:07
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    First off, thank you for the well written and well thought out response. I have however a comment (I'm so sorry I can't ever seem to help myself!). It seems like there is a clear disconnect between the stance of moderators being picked from the members of the community that are most active in community moderation, and the lack of community votes for moderators (IE their votes are binding). I know it's been discussed to death, but what I'm mostly taking away from your post is "everyone should vote, not rely on moderators" but with each election more voting people are removed. – Reaces Apr 15 '15 at 6:14
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    It's not just a matter of empathy. You let yourself get dragged into theatrics of your own, which goes a little above and beyond that. I'm not sure why it was so hard to clarify that point or at least own up to it if it was a mistake, unless you still have me confused for someone else and have put me on a mental filter. – Andrew B Apr 15 '15 at 6:26
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    Oh, and for the record: "The support I've seen for Hopeless and the overt hatred and bitterness I've seen poured out on other members of the mod team are two sides of the same coin: folks dissatisfied with the site and wanting someone else to fix it for them." I'm supporting Hopeless because I like him--he's one of our regulars. I didn't vote for him because I took his initial nomination spiel as inappropriate levity, but I think he worked hard and did his best for the site, and I was pleased with him as a moderator. – Katherine Villyard Apr 15 '15 at 12:59
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    Answer my question!! – ewwhite Apr 15 '15 at 17:26
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    @Shog9 I'll just make the point that I didn't and still don't find it clear how you reached conclusions like that the activity was malicious; an apparent early conclusion which seems central to all that happened, as well as likely set the tone, from that point on. (Not entirely sure what to make of your last sentence, considering the circumstances.) – Håkan Lindqvist Apr 15 '15 at 20:52
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    Well, @Shog9, you've certainly made it clear what you think of us, more than once. Don't get me wrong: I get that we're a pain in your anatomy right now and that further, if I were you my feelings would be hurt (and I'm sorry about that), but I really think it's time to try a different approach. – Katherine Villyard Apr 15 '15 at 20:59
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    @Shog9 Lack of evidence is the whole problem we had with the comment in question. It began with requests for why you said it and on what basis. Consistently refusing to address the topic is naturally going to generate speculation because it sticks out like a sore thumb: the only thing that's clear is that you don't want to revisit the topic. The perception that it leaves is that regardless of motive, you don't want to, and you aren't. That you don't see a problem with this is what enables us to get so wound up about it. – Andrew B Apr 15 '15 at 21:52

I think the biggest problem we have right now is negative expectations. To say that there is room for improvement in the relationship between SE and SF is an understatement. It does go a bit in both directions, to be fair. I'm going to start by stealing a quote from a recent comment by @RobM:

I coach newbie sysadmins and helldesk types at work by emphasising the difference between doing something for the users and doing something to the users. This feels like SE doing something to the community, not for the community.

SF's meta users have the expectation that we're ignored by the (usually) invisible SE overlords unless there's something they want from us. There is a perception that requests directed at SE staff typically get ignored for long periods of time. I'll let someone else provide the research to substantiate how accurate this impression is, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a common impression.

When SE admins do take action, it's usually in regards to an interest they have brought to us instead of vice versa, and the time between proposal (when it happens) and implementation is very swift by comparison. This creates quite a bit of consternation, even if there may be no connection at all between the parties who bring these proposals to us and the ones who are allegedly ignoring us. This is all the worse if it's a change that the community isn't exactly thrilled with.

Flipping this around, I think it's a fair assessment that several SE admins probably do what they can to avoid this site unless they absolutely have to touch it. Not only do we have a reputation for being ornery when compared to the other SE communities, we're extremely critical of the actions that the SE admins do take for the reasons covered in the prior paragraph. They expect negativity, so when they get negativity (particularly when it involves hyperbole) a great deal of it is probably dismissed out of hand. Nothing they do is going to make us happy, and things work out easier if they set their expectations low.

Summing it up

Looking at the larger picture objectively, this works poorly for everyone. SE admins appreciate being able to keep space between themselves and us for stress related reasons, and SF users don't appreciate it when SE admins do step in because there's an impression that they only do so for their own behest. We could try to debate who the biggest contributor to this bad relationship is, or who "started it first", but that's not going to get us anywhere.

I think the focus needs to be on what both sides can unilaterally do to improve this relationship. This does mean that the SE admins are going to need to be given an opportunity to ask us for what we can do to help them (and yes, that does include not being quite as quick to go for the jugular), but it should come with the understanding that there are needs that we need addressing as well.

I challenge both sides to begin working in this direction. It won't be easy, but our only choices are to live with each other, make each other miserable, or go our separate ways. If we continue down the road that we've been going for another year or two, the third option is increasingly going to become the only workable solution.

  • I'm confused as to: what SE want from SF? what SF wants from SE? what SE thinks it offers SF? As a sysadmin, I'm interested in participating in SF, but I don't care who or what SE is, at all. – BlueCompute Apr 14 '15 at 10:03
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    @Blue StackExchange admins are responsible for the backend functionality and oversight of all sites in the SE network, including SF. We have not always gotten along very well. As a new contributor I recommend not worrying about our opinions and instead form your own by observing. – Andrew B Apr 14 '15 at 10:13
  • Comprendez. thanks. – BlueCompute Apr 14 '15 at 10:36
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    Hooray, I'm quotable </zoidberg>. I do agree with a lot of what's said here. the summary in particular. Regardless of who and why, there's clearly a serious breakdown in communication and it won't get better by doing nothing. As users, its time to either grab a shovel and start helping to dig out, or walk away (and I honestly haven't decided which I should do myself yet). Hopefully SE will reciprocate in the same spirit with those who decide they want to continue on. – Rob Moir Apr 14 '15 at 10:38
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    @RobM Unfortunately what I'm seeing is a lot of narrative control. The "lying" remark was made before there was a full grasp on the situation and served little purpose other than to guide public opinion. The post-mortem takeaway is that this was a data and guidance problem, and that everything else is fine outside of community participation. It's probably time for everyone who doesn't see this as solely their own fault to move on. – Andrew B Apr 15 '15 at 9:01
  • @AndrewB agreed - I've made my comments and I don't think that making them again is going to help me or anyone else at this point... – Rob Moir Apr 15 '15 at 9:34

My biggest takeaway is that it will be business as usual here next week. Crap questions will happen, a few decent questions will surface that will get maybe 2 upvotes when 5 years ago it would get 20. The "experts" will banter back and forth within our inner circle elsewhere and the review queues will continue to be a den of despair. To think that anything substantial will change after all of this is a little pretentious since it seems like nothing substantial ever changes on SF short of what gets pushed to it from SE on high. Somewhere out there HopelessN00b is crushing devops, and the beat goes on.

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    I do agree that this is yet another morale hit to the increasingly dwindling number of people who are willing to contribute regularly. Can't really count myself among those: I follow meta and try to contribute good Q&A's related to my areas of interest, but I use RSS feeds to skip the crap entirely and thus rarely see or touch the front page. I'm part of the problem.™ – Andrew B Apr 14 '15 at 21:09
  • Don't get me wrong, I enjoy participating, but the community isn't as vibrant and active as it once was on the voting and answering side from what I see during my timezone. – TheCleaner Apr 15 '15 at 13:25
  • This matches my feelings pretty closely. I try to contribute to SF when I have free time or energy, but I have noticed the overall "feel" of Serverfault has trended towards the negative in both tone and content. I don't pretend to have the solution; just making a sad assessment from the sidelines. – jlehtinen Apr 15 '15 at 14:53
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    Re: upvotes. The regulars around here care way too much about crappy content and closing questions. If people put a fraction of the effort in to upvoting good questions (and answers), this site would be considerably better. – Doug Luxem Apr 15 '15 at 20:21
  • Agreed @DougLuxem and good to see you again! I still miss the gaming days... – TheCleaner Apr 15 '15 at 20:45
  • Ha, I've actually considered opening a meta "love fest" post where we shout out to people who are nice and helpful, but I don't know if it's too cheesy. :D You'd be on the list, though! – Katherine Villyard Apr 16 '15 at 21:22
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    Hah, well I tried the Christmas of love season but it didn't seem to even make a dent. – TheCleaner Apr 16 '15 at 22:07
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    You were really nice to me when I was a newbie. I really appreciate that. – Katherine Villyard Apr 19 '15 at 21:17

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