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It seems moderators are frequently held to different standards by the community, even when exercising none-moderator privileges (such as discussion of opinions).

On some occasions, a user will single out a particular moderator as the target for a variety of blame, insults, or character attacks.

If the user is clearly violating the site rules, it is easy enough to handle this, but what about a user who stays within the bounds of the rules (mostly), yet seeks to undermine the credibility and decisions of that one moderator at every opportunity under the guise of "free speech"? The user criticizes every decision made by that moderator (even if they are supportive when other moderators make similar decisions), tell other users that the moderator can't be trusted, and even repeatedly links external blogs dedicated to how "bad" that one moderator is at doing their job.

So long as that user continues to toe the line and keep their behavior within the bounds of rules, what should be done to handle this situation?

4

In the context of SE sites, leveraging the «main/meta» split is the best way I have found to deal with these sort of situations. Allowing this sort of behavior to go on unchecked on main is just leaving room for it to fester, and fester it will.

As soon as critical comments stop being about specific instances of moderation and just being contrarian towards an individual moderator (or the process of moderation in general) its time to shut them down. Shutting them down on main does not mean censoring their voice entirely, instead you should be clear that you are redirecting the discussion to the proper venue. If their "beef" is with a moderator or the overall guidelines then they should be required to use the venue that has been provided for that. Meta is a much more constructive environment to air out such "beefs".

  • If their complaint has any merit and they go about posting on meta in a reasonable fashion, it is more likely to receive the proper review and effect lasting change on the site than if they stick to comments.

  • On the other hand, if their complaint is unwarranted or they go about voicing it in a non-constructive manner the community can more readily step in ether by answering or voting on discussion and making their position known.

Either way, the result of enforcing the use of a "second place" will be a more settled main site. Either site policy and moderation practice will change in response to the demand or a the existing policies and practice well be explained in a concrete manner relevant to the current case(es). Both you and the user end up with something to point back to showing how the issue was resolved. In the future you can redirect any instances of the same problem back to meta.

The third eventuality is that the user has some experience in being cantankerous and/or trolling and knows that the proper venue will just show them to be in the wrong. Prompting them kindly to express their concern on meta will just result in them lashing out more in comments. In this case they really don't intend to be constructive and letting them rail on in comments on main is not helping them, your community, or you. At that point you can aggressively cleanup any comments expressing issues that should have been raised on meta. If they continue to comment on main instead of posting on meta you can mod-message and suspend them for a while until they figure out that meta really is the only venue they can use for that.

As far as communities without such a second dedicated venue for discussing site issues go, I would still recommend opening a thread or providing some isolated place in which to conduct the discussion rather than having it inline with the rest of your content. Such inline debate is disruptive to your normal content, and at most a link to where discussion is happening should be provided for those interested.

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If the user isn't contributing to the conversation and has made it their mission in life to undermine a person that has been entrusted to monitor the community, then it is time to talk to them. Have a neutral moderator speak with the user.

This discussion should cover how it is acceptable to criticize, but their current activities are beyond criticism. It should also cover how "free speech" doesn't apply to private entities and is for how the government is to behave, not the administration team of an internet community.

During this discussion, attempt to address the user's problems with the specific moderator. If specifics can be extracted, it is worthwhile to discuss this with the other moderator. Perhaps there is some legitimate claims that need to be addressed. End it by reiterating that criticism is allowed, but there are constructive ways to do it. If those ways can not be followed, then further action will have to be taken.

The moderator under attack should step back and let the colleague handle the situation. This removes the neutral moderator being pressured to side with a fellow moderator. It also, hopefully, allows the grieved user to say what they need to say without fear of retaliation.

When the conversation ends, the user should have an expectation of what the next steps to be taken are. Will the neutral moderator speak with the other? Is a public post going to be made that addresses certain complaints? Will everything be handled behind the scenes and the snipes will just end? Without these expectations being set (and met), the user will feel that the moderation team is just paying lip service. Set an action plan and follow through.

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Publicly questioning staff decisions is usually an offence that gets its own section in the rules/code of conduct. The reason is simply that this behaviour is disruptive and flies in the face of trying to keep the community civil. However, the rule also has a bit of an oppressive nature. You are silencing critics, after all.

The solution to this kind of situation is directing the user at other moderators - let the user file a detailed complaint, and then respond to that complaint in detail. Do not let the accused moderator issue any actions relating to that user.

Codify the mentioned rule in your CoC, and apply actions to offenders as necessary - but show them where to voice their concerns. Depending on the nature of your community it may also be possible (and helpful) to publish the result of the complaint. Handle this professionally, and address the concerns, but reduce the noise volume and amount of spiteful public screaming at the same time.

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In the end, I think it is worth asking if this is even an issue in the first place. The most important part of this kind of situation is that the other moderators be honest in their opinions of the situations that the individual is critiquing and offer support to the moderator that is under attack.

So long as the community sees that the moderator's actions are being independently defended and not in the wrong, they will quickly see that the user simply has it in for the moderator and ignore them. Attempting to suppress or call out the user for their opinion is likely to create further issues as it may then appear that there is a vendetta against the user by multiple moderators and it may actually inflame the situation.

The best answer to false information is generally the truth and it is no different in this situation. If the user is not violating rules and being disruptive in a way that goes against community guidelines, then independent individuals countering them politely and exposing to the community that he is out to get the moderator makes it easy for people to reach their own conclusions without giving the user in question any further reason to feel ostracized.

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First of all, I think, it is important to proactively correct the system rather than reactively correct behaviour of separate user or moderator:

  1. Moderator must not present his own opinion, but opinion of the community. In this case users should mostly treat moderator as a community, not as a one person.

  2. Moderators of course are people, and can be wrong indeed, therefore must be system, which correct behaviour of each separate moderator.
    2.1. First of all this should be other moderators, who pay attention to moderator behaviour, especially if he is new one.
    2.2. Then users must be able to report misbehaviour of the moderator. But this should be done privately, users must be able to report their observations to admin, or whole moderator collective.

  3. And eventually: users must be forbidden by rules to correct moderator publicly, in this way spoiling moderators reputation based on what can be very subjective and emotional opinion. Items 1-2 allows to introduce such a rule and make it look reasonably for users. This rule, in its turn, allows to react strictly on such type of behaviour of a user.

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