Today (15-3-2018), there was a discussion in chat, starting about here, about the state of IPS and its moderation. (Moderation here means any moderation, not just diamond mods stuff)
It is no secret that we struggle with our answers. Unexplained answers, frame challenges, non-IPS solutions, and so forth. This is a difficult thing to moderate, since there is a lot of subjectivity on this site. Answers, with their point of views, can be compelling and agreeable, but still be incomplete. In order to prevent this subjectivity from being too dominant, we expect a lot from our answers.
While it is nice and all to have a list of things we expect from answers written down somewhere, acting on it is not as easy. Often NAA/VLQ flags come back disputed, because users reviewed them as 'looks OK'. There seems to be a mismatch between what is discussed on meta, and what is enacted on main.
What causes this?
There are multiple possible explanations. First of all, the flag was wrong. That's possible, but let's just assume that if we apply the policy to the post, the flag is helpful.
To me there are really two options:
- The reviewer is not aware of the policy on meta.
- The reviewer disagrees with the policy on meta.
Both of these are problematic. The former is problematic because it means that a significant portion of the reviewing community is not aware of what is discussed and decided on meta. I say significant, because of the frequency and consistency that these flags come back disputed. Or the frequency that problematic questions get reopened.
The latter is problematic, because if a significant portion of the reviewing community disagrees on the policy, why is it still policy? Why is that opinion not reflected on meta?
Meta community versus Main community
Both of these boil down to one thing: participation on meta. To me, there seems to be a significant disconnect between the IPS community on meta, and the IPS community on main. There are users that have enough reputation to moderate, that do moderate, but that do not participate on meta, and as such are disconnected from the policy and the ideas behind those policies, causing the moderating that they do to be not in line with what policy would expect. This is counterproductive.
From what I can see there is a group of about 10 users active on meta and in chat, that has an idea of how to moderate IPS, in terms of scope, expectations from answers and comments. These ideas then get discussed on meta, shaped into a nice bit of policy, and subsequently enforced.
And this is where the ship strands. For the enforcement, we are reliant on flags and votes. The moderators have said multiple times that these forms of moderation are up to the community to work out and to apply. And that is fine, the community has the tools to work with them.
So where does it go wrong?
The point where this idea fails is that if there is a small group of users trying to flag and VTC, all the while they are outnumbered by other users that fall in the two groups I described above, this is doomed to fail. Closed questions get reopened, NAA/VLQ flags get disputed, and so forth. This does not help the site, because the moderating is a gigantic tug of war, going back and forth on these issues, and it also doesn't help the community. The 'meta'-users eventually get demotivated. This is something that is happening as we speak. Users get tired of having raise every issue on meta, begging for people to adhere to policy.
What can we do about it?
I hope we can all understand that the building of this community is a long-term process.
This is true, of course it is. Shog9 has a similar story about the early years of StackOverflow.
But we need to start somewhere, and I think that we need a plan. Because right now, this site is split into two communities. There is the meta group, trying to define standards of moderation for this site and then there is the main group, blissfully unaware of these efforts. And while the building of a community takes time, while finetuning the moderation standards for this site takes time, to me it seems there is a clear place to start.
Getting more users to meta
The last few months have shown that the efforts of defining policy are largely ineffective if there is not a wide mandate for this policy. If only a small portion of the moderating users is aware of and agrees with the policy, it cannot be enforced. The policy needs support.
So how do we get this support? I think the place to start is to build a community, one community. We need to engage more of the users to contribute on meta. We need these discussions to happen. Maybe we even need to disagree. I don't mind being wrong. I'd rather be disagreed with in a meta discussion about moderation than after getting a flag disputed because someone disagreed with what we thought to have established.
So how do we tackle this problem? How do we get more users to share their opinion on meta? How do we make sure more people are at very least aware about what has been decided on meta? How do we turn these two communities into one?