2

This isn't actually a question -- it's just an observation I'm putting out here for moderators to contemplate.

I find cooking.SE the one and only SE site where the experience is decidedly negative, even hostile at times. This isn't due to the users but rather the moderators. I've never had any interaction whatsoever with any moderator on any other site I frequent, but on cooking I've been scolded, downvoted, and received highly critical comments from moderators on quite a few occasions, some of which I felt were entirely unjustified. (I use the plural "moderators" because I'm not going to draw personalities into this but in fact it has primarily been one mod -- but not entirely just one.) In fact, at this point I've pretty much decided to avoid the site entirely because it's become a negative experience more often than a positive one.

Am I alone in that feeling? I doubt it.

Am I just being a big whiny baby and feeling picked on? Gee, I wish, but I see other posters receiving the same treatment, so it's not just me. I've never encountered mods who use negative comments and downvotes as heavily as cooking mods do.

Am I asking moderators to do something special with regard to me? Nope, absolutely not.

No, I'm not going to get into an incident-by-incident postmortem so don't demand it. I don't have the time or desire to go back through months of posts to demonstrate my point and then argue them one-by-one. Yes, I fully expect many of you to reject this outright for that reason alone. Suit yourself.

And yes, I fully expect to get the crap flamed out of me for this post, so go right ahead, but I think you should just take this for what it's worth -- one person's experience -- and look at the moderation of the site with a critical eye.

TL;DR - Cooking is a hostile place while other SE sites are not because the moderation is very heavy handed and appears to involve personal biases at times.

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    This is probably a good time for a reminder: downvotes on meta generally represent disagreement with the ideas in the post, not a claim that the post is not useful. I think this is potentially a very useful post, if it helps expose anything that the moderators or the community as a whole can improve. – Cascabel Nov 19 '14 at 3:59
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    @CareyGregory Here's the thing that I don't quite get. I don't have a clue what either of you are talking about. That's odd because I can make a pretty good argument that I have (apparently) spent more time here on SA during the past year than anyone else on Earth. I am smarter and more observant than your average bear. So... if I don't sense hostility, and you do, it's only natural that I look for it closer to you than what you perceive. – Jolenealaska Nov 19 '14 at 6:56
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    I find cooking to be the most enjoyable stack to hang out on, personally. Without discussing specific incidents, it's hard for us to know what you're talking about. I have felt crappy/unwelcome in some stacks before and it sucks. I'm sorry you feel that way here. – Preston Dec 5 '14 at 21:44
  • Not the same but a related question. meta.cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/3327/… – paparazzo Feb 20 '17 at 17:13
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    The premise is false: Cooking.SE is not any more hostile than any other SE. On every one of the 25 SE meta sites I'm active on, I've seen essentially the same claim: "This site is unfriendly/mean/hostile/rude... much worse than any other SE site." – Ward Feb 21 '17 at 3:57
  • I get spanked on this board as well and it smarts. I've learned to take it with a grain of salt however and march on. I have a lot of experience and I do a lot of research and tests in the kitchen before I ask questions. – haakon.io Apr 19 '17 at 21:56
10

I won't comment further on negative communication because that has already been discussed at length in other answers. However, since the question specifically mentions downvotes, I think it is important to clear the air here.

Voting statistics are public. Anyone can see them by just viewing a user's profile. The current statics for our moderators are:

  • Aaronut (me): 1071 up, 252 down (81%) (yeah, I know, I don't vote enough)
  • Jefromi: 2394 up, 570 down (81%)
  • rumtscho: 5725 up, 499 down (92%)

By contrast, if we take a random sample of Stack Overflow mods:

  • 0x7fffffff: 5910 up, 6177 down (49%)
  • Bill the Lizard: 14500 up, 9,726 down (60%)
  • casperOne: 2770 up, 600 down (82%)
  • Flexo: 4,229 up, 5543 down (43%)
  • Robert Harvey: 7,271 up, 1183 down (86%)

The percentage is the upvote rate. In other words, if we look at the actual facts rather than speculating, our "most critical" moderators tend to have upvote rates comparable to the "most generous" moderators in other communities.

That's not to say there aren't some sites where moderators upvote even more than we do, but it's not typical. A typical upvote rate is around 40-60%. Moderators are by definition people chosen to police the site, so it is unlikely that someone who loves every question and answer is going to get voted in as a moderator, nor should they. More often than not, the moderators that get chosen are people who are assertive, i.e. they participate a lot in closing and deleting.

I also am definitely not advocating anyone trying to influence the upvote rate higher. These statistics are informational, not goal-oriented. I was actually pretty surprised to find that my upvote rate is as high as it is, but there you have it. I'm just stating facts.


One last FYI: A moderator's upvote rate is highly likely to be influenced by the way in which they interact with the site. Moderators generally start out as highly-active users and their "moderation" tends to be overshadowed by their usual contribution. Over time, however, many of us tend to realize a need for professional detachment, or simply get too busy for the usual Q&A. We still continue our mod duties, of course, the result of which often leads to a perception of negativity, not because we're actually taking more negative actions, but simply because our names aren't showing up as often in any other context.

So a pattern you'll see is that on newer sites, especially beta sites, the pro-tem or newly-elected moderators seem like easygoing, doe-eyed folks who mainly want to attract more users and questions and answers as long as they're not ridiculously bad or out of scope. On older and more established sites (such as Stack Overflow, obviously, but Seasoned Advice was one of the very first Stack Exchange spinoffs), you'll have more experienced moderators dealing with a relatively higher workload (once upon a time, there were days when we got 0 flags!). There's not actually that much difference in the amount, quality, or style of moderation, it just looks that way when compared to their overall activity.

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    Also worth mentioning: thanks to reviewing flags and so on, we're actually really likely to see a lot of bad posts. Plenty of them get deleted, but the ones that don't often warrant downvotes. So even if we aren't more critical, we'd likely cast more downvotes than most people. – Cascabel Nov 29 '14 at 17:57
  • You all are mean. 10% downvoted? (I currently have 5,385 up; 55 down) ... and about half of those down votes were in the last year ... two users in general just really bothered me. ps. Jolenealaska has almost as many upvotes as you, and she's been here for less than 1/3 the time. – Joe Dec 16 '14 at 0:20
  • Oh ... and to round out some statistics, looking at the other top 10 reputation users on here : saj14saj : 923 up, 454 down (67% positive; gave less than 7k rep to others while getting 55k); hobodave : 1225 up, 332 down (79% positive ... but hasn't been around for 18 months); Elendil : 184 up, 24 down (88% but wow, those are low numbers); Sobachatina: 2568 up, 81 down (97% positive); Michael: 257 up, 10 down (96% positive, but another might-as-well-not-be-voting person) – Joe Dec 16 '14 at 0:30
6

If a moderator is treating you unfairly or abusing his powers, this is a serious thing. Luckily, there are actions you can take to stop that.

First, it is important to know what is considered unacceptable behaviour. A moderator downvoting some of your posts and/or leaving a critical comment is not abuse of moderator powers. Doing both is a right of every user on the site, including the moderators, for every site on the Stack Exchange network. Even a case where you think that the comment was "unjustified" is acceptable, if the moderator is expressing a personal opinion about facts mentioned in your post (e.g. you say "wugs can be zugged" and the moderator says "it is impossible to zug wugs"), no matter which one of you is factually correct.

Also note that moderators do have the unpleasant task of housekeeping the content. It happens all the time that well-meaning users come and write posts which are against Stack Exchange policy. We would love to have more support from the community in this point, but the fact is that it mostly falls to us to explain the policy to the users. This is a task which involves rejecting content users have created in good faith, and as such it is unavoidable that it upsets the users to some extent. I can see how from the outside this can create the impression that we are seeking conflict and account for your impression that we are hostile to other users.

But moderators have to be polite just as any other user. Behaviors such as singling you out, serially downvoting your posts, or leaving comments which include attacks on your person (as opposed to disagreement with posts you have written) are not acceptable, no matter if they come from a moderator or another user. Then there is also possible abuse of moderation powers, such as deleting posts without reason. I have not witnessed any bad behaviour coming from other moderators on this site, and I hope I never do it myself, but we are all people and make mistakes. So, if this happens to you, please do the following

  1. Flag the problematic post. Don't worry, the moderator whose post it was won't handle that flag, but leave it to others to prevent conflict of interest. If some of us tried to squish the flag at that point, this will be quickly found out at a subsequent escalation.
  2. If a second moderator handles your complaint in a manner you disagree with, try to get more attention to the problem. Cast another flag and note that you want the third, not yet involved moderator to handle it. Ask other users how they see the situation. The proper channel for this would be to start a meta post about the particular problem, but because we have low Meta participation, it might make sense to also ask people in comments or on chat to partake in the discussion.
  3. If 1) and 2) fail, you can contact a Stack Exchange team member and ask for support. They are above both users and moderators.

Without knowing more about your particular case which prompted you to write this post, I cannot take any more actions. "Scolded" and "received highly critical comments" can fall under either the category of normal behaviour or inacceptable rudeness, depending on tone and content. I looked into the instruments intended to discover system abuse, and found no indications that you are being systematically targeted by anybody, moderator or not. If you want to raise a complaint about a specific interaction, or have evidence that you are being singled out for something, you can follow the steps I outlined above.

5

In the comment above, I said that I sincerely don't know what you're talking about. I mean that, and I actually (cursorily) looked for it after reading your question. I can see questions and answers that have been deleted, but not comments. Also, as I said above, I am here a lot. I say that because there is a certain relevance between that and what I hope I can make clear.

The "topic" here on SA is fairly narrow. Questions and answers that could be very interesting to cooks of all levels and experience get closed and/or deleted for not specifically answering the question, or for not fitting within the narrow definition of "on-topic" for the site.

When I first got here, I felt as if I couldn't get a word in edgewise without it being deleted. I got downvotes and question closed, I got critical comments. It pissed me off. I was right on the fence, I could have said, "Screw it, this site isn't for me". But, I didn't.

It just so happens that in my case it was the same moderator who was usually the one to make the critical comment or put my question on hold; the same moderator that you feel that you have been bumping heads with. The thing is, it wasn't personal, and I knew that, but sometimes it kind of felt that way.

I can't know this, but I strongly suspect that you're in a very similar situation now as I was then, although my frustration was directed at the site, not a specific moderator. It was a "Don't shoot the messenger" kind of thing, so I stopped short of ever getting upset with anyone in particular.

There came a point when things started to turn around, I wrote a few well received questions and kind of started to get the feel of the place. I felt a bit scolded when Jefromi edited the title of this question, but I understood. As it turns out, Jefromi's edit was a very good one and it felt great to have a question so well received. [EDIT: Actually, it was Aaronut's edit and Jefromi's scolding, but same diff]

Why are there spikes growing out of my ice tray?

Not long after that, I spent some time and put some work into a simultaneous question and answer. It was a pretty good Q&A, responsible for one of my three gold badges.

Can I test my oven temperature without an oven thermometer?

This was the first time I encountered what I perceived as rudeness and unfair downvoting from a user. He didn't like the fact that I had answered my own question, especially simultaneously with asking it. It was Jefromi that very quickly came to my defense and pointed out, rather strongly, that answering one's own question is encouraged behavior. It was nice to have a mod stand up for me. The user acquiesced and the comments were deleted. There is only a hint of the conflict left.

I noticed later that Jefromi had sneakily added links to that Q&A to a couple of similar questions that had been closed. I don't know that this was his intent, but doing it tangentially led to the gold badge, because the badge is for 10,000 views.

Since then, there was another instance was that was kind of funny in its own way. A user who was not being trollish was startlingly rude to me after I informed him that his question was off-topic. It's just as well that the question has been deleted, but Jefromi came in like a knight on a white horse. I felt very protected.

My point is, things got better for me here after I put some effort into really understanding the guidelines. The moderators are fair, and I really do think that you're seeing something that isn't there.

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    Telling someone that what they are seeing that isn't there is not the way to address something like this. Carey is and active rational user on SE. – paparazzo Feb 20 '17 at 16:18
4

For the record, I've been downvoted, chided and edited many times, and whether I thought it was warranted or not, I checked into the responses and found that in some way, my posts didn't adhere to what the Cooking SE requires. I think the key here is, "Don't take it personally."

A post that doesn't fit the site doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong. It just means the post doesn't fit. Period. Accepting that will reduce the amount of stress some people experience when they receive criticism (I was one of them). Since I figured out how to accept that, about the worst I've experienced is being told to turn a comment into an answer.

In summary: Instead of trying to be "on stage," try just sitting on the edge of it. The different perspective just may change everything about the experience.

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    Thanks, this is a good perspective! We really appreciate you sticking around and adapting to the site. Unfortunately I think the OP here has long since left, but hopefully some others will find this useful at some point :) – Cascabel Feb 22 '17 at 22:30
3

First, the general answer. If we have a problem with hostility here, that's a really serious problem, and I want to hear from others about it - don't just treat my answer as authoritative. But from what I can see, I think things are going pretty well.

I do not think cooking is overly negative. I think people do downvote (which is desired, the arrows go both ways) and they do often explain their downvotes (also desired, though optional). It's easy to take this as hostility (we all like to get everything right all the time) but it's not, even if the downvoter turns out to be wrong. And quite frankly, if someone thinks of it as hostile and respond accordingly, they're doing us all a disservice by making it likely that people will just downvote without explanation in order to avoid confrontation.

And yes, some of the people downvoting are moderators. This is also completely fine. We have some additional powers, but we're still users of the site. We do try to hold ourselves to high standards and lead by example. If anything, that means that we should be downvoting and explaining, because a site where no one's willing to do so is dysfunctional. In any case, the fact that moderators sometimes downvote or criticize is not an example of heavy-handed moderation. If we are unnecessarily rude, that's a problem. But being critical and explaining ourselves is normal behavior.

It's probably more obvious here than on StackOverflow (which I see is you also frequent) because we're a relatively small site, so moderators constitute a significant fraction of regular users, whereas on StackOverflow they're incredibly busy and are a tiny fraction of the users running around downvoting and commenting. (Side note: I think StackOverflow is extremely hostile compared to our site. If there's a small flaw in an answer, it'll accumulate downvotes and critical comments rapidly, and people won't always be polite about it.)

So if you see someone being rude, flag it. If you think that there's a systematic problem with the elected moderators and we can't be trusted to handle your flags, escalate it to someone higher up at SE and be prepared to show them serious examples. (You said you don't want to go back through things, but if it's as serious a problem as you're saying, you should be able to find a couple examples.)

As for the bit about flaming... no, I don't think that'll happen. In my experience both as a user and as a moderator this is a very friendly site (more so than many other sites). People may however disagree and even downvote, which I wouldn't consider flaming (see above).


And now the very specific answer, because despite you saying you don't want to go incident by incident or name names, I think it's important for people to see what prompted this.

I'm fully aware you're talking about me, because you've directly told me you think I'm hostile before, and because as far as I can tell you haven't interacted directly with other mods recently. I looked at our recent interaction, and I think I did all the right things. I think I've been doing fine before that too, but would really be happy to see examples where I could have done better. I'd love to make things better, but it's hard without seeing any specific problems. (Same for the other mods, I'm sure.)

You also mentioned personal biases. I think any of us moderators would have to admit that we do remember specific users - there aren't that many regulars, and everything they do has their name on it! And so yes, I do remember you (and others) but I don't think I have any biases that cause me to be more critical, more likely to downvote, or more rude.

I'd be happy to save you some time and post examples of your interactions with moderators, but I couldn't find an awful lot looking through your activity, and I think it should be up to you whether you actually want people looking at your posts like that, especially given that some comments have been deleted over time. (See rumtscho's answer for how to point out examples without posting them publicly here.)

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    Exactly as I expected. You turned it into a personal confrontation and shifted the blame to me and laid it on thick. I offered the community what I thought was constructive criticism without making it personal. I'll not spend further time on it. – Carey Gregory Nov 19 '14 at 6:03
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    @CareyGregory I'm sorry that my answer came across as personal confrontation. I've tried to remove anything that might have seemed directed personally at you. The bulk of the original post remains, though, and I feel it's a constructive response to your concerns. – Cascabel Nov 19 '14 at 14:46
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    @CareyGregory While I do believe you have a good point there, I must admit it is sometimes rather hard to do anything constructive about it without specific examples and I understand why you do not want to give them. Kind of a catch 22. – Seth Nov 19 '14 at 18:31
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    @Seth If you think he has a good point, then perhaps there are examples you could point to? I don't really see how it's a catch-22; if you find something bad to point out, then we can fix problems, and everyone wins. (See rumtscho's answer for more about how to handle these kinds of issues.) – Cascabel Nov 19 '14 at 19:14
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    @Jefromi I don't know about any specifics. In regards to having a point, all I meant was he was right in as much as it seems the answers and/or comments here appear to be turning the problem back on himself (the OP). Of course, as I also stated, there isn't much else that can be said without specific examples, although I understand why the OP might not want to give them. – Seth Nov 19 '14 at 21:44

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