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What do moderators do? Is it just a matter of dealing with posts flagged for moderator attention, or are there other things too?

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Sometimes we have to write to some one who is misusing the site in some way, either with good intentions (e.g. over-eager editing of old posts), through ignorance (particularly new users), or simply because they are misbehaving. Very often there's first a discussion on the moderator mailing list. Sometimes we also suspend a user, and we have some (semi-secret, I guess) rules of thumb for escalating suspensions for repeat offenders, although happily this hadn't been necessary so much recently.

In a handful of instances we've had to ask a 'senior' mathematician to change their behavior, or suspend them, or otherwise deal with unacceptable behavior. This is a little scary sometimes (one might worry about them subsequently holding a grudge which might affect job or grant applications later, say), but in practice it seems to be fine. We've always managed to find a sensible and mutually acceptable solution, and to our knowledge(!) haven't made enemies.

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Dealing with flags for moderator attention is the main day-to-day obligation. Currently (October 2013) we do pretty well at this, averaging under 3 hours to process a flag. For various reasons, there are actually more flags for moderator attention now than there was before the transition to 2.0.

The software provides nice tools for going through flags, and in particular it's usually fine if a given moderator decides a particular flag is too complicated to deal with immediately. Occasionally a flag will 'escalate' to the point of someone started a conversation on the private moderators' mailing list.

Sometimes we find that someone is flagging inappropriately, and we need to write to them explaining our objection.

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  • $\begingroup$ 3 hours _per_flag ?! $\endgroup$ – Carlo Beenakker Oct 2 '13 at 6:11
  • $\begingroup$ I think it is worth pointing out that some flags need no moderator attention at all. "Low quality"-flags are visible to high ranking users, who can close and delete themselves. - Edit: But maybe MO has too few 10k+ users to make this workable. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Oct 2 '13 at 7:38
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    $\begingroup$ If MO is anything like MSE, the 3 hrs is due in large part to (a) no moderator being online and the moment and (b) some times a flag needs to stay open to keep all other moderators informed. Even with 8 moderators active on MSE, the current handling time is 2.5 hrs per flag on average. So I would say 3 hrs is pretty normal (and on the good side) considering the man power we have available on MO. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Oct 2 '13 at 8:01
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    $\begingroup$ @WillieWong --- thanks for the explanation; I had misread the "3 hours per flag" as an estimate of the time a moderator is actually busy handling the flagged issue. $\endgroup$ – Carlo Beenakker Oct 2 '13 at 9:14
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We try to spend enough time on meta to ensure that questions requiring our input get answered properly. Often this requires looking up some statistics from the moderator tools, helping write a Data Explorer or API query, looking at a deleted post, or merely remembering some ancient thread on tea. Sometimes it requires input from the SE folks, which we can request.

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The moderators are also responsible for the long term administration of the site. We don't really know what will be required in the future, but below I give some examples of things we've done previously. (I should also note that individual moderators have contributed in all sorts of different ways to each of the points below; some have been handled by a single person, some have been joint efforts. I'm making no attempt to sign credit or blame here!)

  • We solicited community input on the migration to 2.0, and negotiated the possible frameworks.
  • We wrote, with the help of a lawyer, the SE folks, and the community via meta, the legal agreement governing the migration to the Stack Exchange network.
  • We arranged for MathOverflow to incorporate (and, indeed, we've been meaning for a while to explain all the technical details of this!) so that we would have a durable legal entity able to sign this agreement, and to handle finances.
  • We applied successfully for a Sloan grant, to cover the legal expenses of incorporating and vetting the migration agreement, and also to support work on integrating MathOverflow with the mathematical literature.
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    $\begingroup$ I should add here that we're not really clear at this point how new moderators would interact with the legal entity. As things are currently written (to my understanding!) new moderators are not directors of this entity. We don't intend, however, that new moderators would be 'second-class' citizens in any way, and if there is reason we will update the legal setup to match whatever practical governance arrangement eventuates. $\endgroup$ – Scott Morrison Oct 2 '13 at 1:40
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    $\begingroup$ The reason it is written that way is that SE is ultimately sole responsible of appointing and removing moderators. It doesn't make sense for SE to appoint or remove directors of MO so it's best that there is no direct link. Of course, this does not mean that moderators shouldn't be appointed to directors. $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Oct 2 '13 at 20:28

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