Say you've just taken some sort of negative action on a post, like deleting it. Now another user (perhaps not even the post's owner) has become upset with the action you took and has started complaining about it.

Your decision on the post was not wrong, or it may have been based on a bit of opinion. Either way, the user is upset and pretty much anything you say will not convince them your decision was a right one. How involved should you be in the process of discussing the issue in order to get it resolved? Should you post your reasons and/or opinions anyways for the sake of the community, get another moderator involved to discuss it with them, or just leave it to the community to hash out on their own?

6 Answers 6


I have found it best to explain my reasons for the action. This does a couple things

  • Clearly shows what you were thinking at the time and provides your perspective
  • Allows you to (hopefully) cite rules that were violated that led to your action
  • Redirects the conversation, slightly, from "mod abuse" to a discussion about rules and whether the community still supports certain rules.

After that explanation is posted, I think it makes sense to step back and let another moderator handle the follow up actions. You've said what you needed to say. Anything you do after this looks like you are digging in.

If you end up being incorrect, show you are the bigger person and respect the community. Own up to the mistake. If corrective action is needed (eg. undeleting a post), follow through.

As for letting the community hashing it out, that can become a mess of opinions and personalities. Your input may be required to lead the conversation back on topic and your experience as a moderator may be required. However, if the community wants to talk about it, let them. It encourages involvement and strong opinions indicate they care about how the community is run.

  • +1 for "you've said what you needed to say" and owning up to a mistake in a mature way. The worst thing a moderator can do is get drawn into a flame war with a user; it damages the moderators' authority and the atmosphere of a community as a whole.
    – Jason C
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 19:19

You should definitely post your reasons for taking the action, or at least share them with another moderator. If you're wrong, you want to find out. Explaining yourself will either convince other people that you're right, or it will help them understand your thinking process so they can explain to you where you went wrong. It's almost always a good idea to let someone else make the final decision when there's a conflict like this, but that doesn't mean you have to sit silently by. As a moderator you should always be prepared to explain any action you take.

  • +1 Being prepared to explain your actions also forces you to get a good handle on your actions - which sometimes may be emotionally fuzzy. Whether you actually end up needing to explain yourself or not, this is a good reality check and a good habit to get in to.
    – Jason C
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 19:26

Personally, I think it looks bad when a complaint is raised against a moderator and that moderator doesn't comment on it. But, it can be grating as a moderator to defend your actions sometimes. There is also the problem of a complaint not being resolved properly coming back to haunt you in the future, as it can paint how users who read the interaction in the future view your capabilities as a moderator. Assuming your interaction is available for others to see. Though even if it's not public information, I would say that it's still important to consider how your fellow moderators view you.

My solution, as the moderator with the complaint against me, is to leave a short comment. Simply state why you took action, that you believe you acted within the community guidelines (assuming you have), and that you've asked another moderator to review your actions to verify that.

A little side-note: It's usually best not to ask a specific moderator to do this, or at least don't mention that you've asked a specific moderator, as it gives more credibility to you if it's a random selection. If users think you hand-picked someone to review your work, they might think that you selected someone specifically because you think they'd agree with you. Although, you can work this to your advantage, where if you can find a moderator that you know disagrees with you at times, but will agree with you this time, it could help to strengthen your argument that you did nothing wrong.

Now, the moderator that has reviewed your actions should give the user their unbiased opinion. If they did find that your actions needed to be reversed, you should politely apologize and thank the moderator for helping you. If they agree with your actions, they should state so, and why they agree. Sometimes it's helpful as the reviewing moderator to mention that you would have done the same if you were in their place.

The purpose of this is to show that your actions are not unique to you as an individual, rather that they're commonly shared across the moderation team and therefore the community that elected them.

Finally, you'll want to make sure that the user is understanding of the actions, and where the moderation team stands. They don't necessarily have to be happy with the decision, but if they still do not grasp the reason why the actions took place, or why those rules are in place, it can bring back similar problems in the future.

This can be as simple as directing the user to a page on the website that defines what the site is about and what actions are expected of users, or your having a conversation with the user and explaining it personally to them.

And above all else, keep it civil, be professional, and be respectful.


Should you post to explain yourself? No. Should you post, possibly. If there is another moderator around who can post on your behalf to explain why the post was deleted and to back you up then that would be the best option.

If no other moderator is available then you should post, but don't explain your actions just post the procedure for complaining about a moderator (assuming there is one) or the way to contact another moderator for them to complain about you.

What you are doing there is not arguing with the user, but getting it into private communications and official lines. If you've done nothing wrong in deleting the post then the user's complaint will fall on deaf ears. If you need to explain yourself to anyone then it will be to your other moderators. As an appointed moderator you shouldn't be explaining all your decisions in public to everyone who challenges you.

  • 3
    I think it's important to note that whether you post or not strongly depends on the type of authority you wish to create. Some communities, such as SE, work well with an open back-and-forth. Other communities, such as e.g. high-traffic moderated newsgroups, or mega-traffic sites such as YouTube, benefit from silent moderation (if you can call it that) without much feedback.
    – Jason C
    Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 19:22

It depends on the culture of the community and how open of a relationship you wish to build between moderators and users.

If your intention is to build a "moderators have the final word" type of environment then neither you nor any other moderator should get involved, as this opens a communication channel that you may not wish to have and sets a pattern for the future. You are a moderator entrusted with making these decisions and your decision is (relatively) final. You do not need to explain yourself. If the user raises a valid argument and you wish to undo your action, a short matter-of-fact note stating that you have reversed the action - without any "buts" or opinion - may be appropriate.

If, however, your intention is to build a more open community, such as that on SE sites, which I personally prefer, then you probably do want to get involved. Keep it friendly and do not put the user on the defensive. Follow a rule of thumb of preferring to start sentences with "I" rather than "you". Explain how you interpreted the users actions, why you took that action, and how that action relates to accepted community policies / culture, but do not take an accusatory or flamey tone. Do not let the user troll you into an argument. Try to avoid a back and forth but stay friendly. Your goal is not to "put the user in their place" (unless they are particularly problematic but even then take a "tough love" approach), your goal is to make the user feel heard. Regardless of whether a user is right or wrong, it will create an environment of honesty and openness if the user feels heard, even if you don't undo your decision. Don't argue with them if they argue back - if you've said all you need to say (in a friendly manner) leave it at that. Do not shut the user down, stay friendly, but maintain your position of authority - like a good parent. Remember: Some users simply won't be convinced, and you have to accept that gracefully - in their minds their opinions are as genuine and valid as yours, no matter how off-base they may seem.

In all cases do not enter into some kind of flame war or massive battle with the user. Your goal in both of the above is to maintain a position of respect and authority while at the same time maintaining the community atmosphere (openness vs. authoritative closedness) that you wish to create). The absolute worst thing you can do is have an "immature" fight with a user. As a moderator you accept the sometimes difficult responsibility of having to avoid reacting out of anger and staying calm, matter-of-fact, and friendly in the face of even the worst of trolls.

If you are the type of person who has difficulty avoiding this type of conflict it is best, in all cases, to let other moderators or the community work it out, otherwise you risk damaging the image that users have of moderators on that site or that community in general.

Also, reading Bill the Lizard's answer above, in all cases you should at least be prepared to explain your actions to another moderator - not necessarily because you'll actually need to justify them, but being prepared to explain to somebody else also means you are prepared to explain them to yourself, and it is a good way to spot a potential mistake in your actions.


If a user is complaining about an action you made, how involved should you be in its resolution?

The answer of the question depends on the action and the situation in which the action was made. However, considering the following points can be helpful in finding the most appropriate solution:

  • There is a simple fact which is often neglected and needs to be occasionally reminded when a group of people communicate with each other: Disagreement and having (completely) opposing opinions, even on seemingly obvious things, is quite natural.

    When a tension appears among any community members (including a moderator and a regular member) on some decision, it is recommended to remind community members of the fact and explain that people can express their opposing opinions without causing any tension or becoming angry. It is also recommended to state that when a decision is made, this does not mean that opposing opinions are wrong.

    Instead of finding ways to get rid of such tension, I think it is better to establish such a broad-mindedness culture among community members to avoid such tension.
  • Some decisions (such as closing/deleting posts, disciplinary actions, and etc.) need strong supports to be made with little tension. The best support for such decisions is a set of written guidelines, which should be as clear as possible. How can one expect to have no tension on a controversial decision while there is no clear guideline about it?

    However, if you, as a moderator, see that a community member questions one of your decisions, which complies with written guidelines, you can explain to him/her that decisions must be made in accordance with community guidelines and if anyone disagree with them then they can express their opposing opinions on a suitable place like meta. So in this case no tension occurs.
  • Unfortunately, community members insisting on criticizing some moderation decisions are likely treated unfairly (such as being called troll or unfair disciplinary actions) by moderators to end the disputes; this is the worst moderation in such situations. Please note that when you, as a moderator, make a decision, you should already assume that all community members can be aware of it; violation of the freedom of speech is intolerable to many people. Furthermore, if you want your community to flourish, you should be open to harsh criticisms.

    When a dispute becomes exhausting, it is recommended both parties (moderator & community member) to take a break, during which they have some time to think about their opinions or to consult other community members; otherwise, one should not expect constructive results out of the discussion.
  • Expressing the reasons of moderation decisions may not always possible, depending on the community policies. If a community has the transparency policy, explained in this answer, moderators should express reasons for their decisions; otherwise, they may prefer not be involved in controversial decisions.

    However, if you, as a moderator, want your community members to contribute to your community well and behave professionally, you need to respect their criticisms and show that you are interested to hear them. Please note that to have a constructive discussion, it is not needed that one party convinces the other one; a dispute can be more helpful to your community than a consensus.
  • In my opinion, it is not a good idea to ask another moderator to be involved in a dispute on a moderation decision you made because of the following reasons:

    First, moderators should show to their community that each of them has a sense of responsibility about any of their decisions. When community members see that a moderator asks another one to deal with a dispute, they may feel that the moderator wants to evade the responsibility of their decision(s).

    Second, many moderators prefer not to take a stand against their colleagues in public. So, if moderators want to defend a possibly wrong decision, community members may lose their trust in their community moderators as a whole.

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