Should moderators single-handedly close questions based on their personal/subjective opinion?

Some moderators on this site practice closing questions that they judge to be off-topic without waiting for 5 close votes from regular users. On the one hand, it is reasonable that moderators should be given such power to discard questions with obvious context problems - written in incoherent language or not dealing with the community subject. On the other hand, judgements about whether

  • a question asks for the internal motivations of people, how specific individuals would behave in hypothetical situations or predictions for future events


  • a question tries to promote or discredit a specific political cause, group or politician

are necessarily subjective, and better left to the democratic procedures (i.e., 5 votes).

The recent example is How likely is it that Putin does not know what he is doing in Ukraine 2022? (Update: This questionw as initially closed by a moderator, reopened by 5 reopen votes and again closed by 5 close votes. Thus, the opinion of the community is split in this case.)

  • 1
    You'll note the Q was closed again by 5 other users. Somewhat related regarding such roller coaster on controversial questions: politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3894/… Also related but from a different angle, on single-handed mod closures politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3848/… Mar 29, 2022 at 5:56
  • 1
    Or that factionalism is par for the course on P.SE such (loaded) questions. That's also reflected in the vote count to some degree (+5/-8 right now). I could have easily guessed how 4 of the 5 who voted to reopen that particular Q were going to vote based on their other Q & A's on Russia & NATO (or at least US foreign policy), by the way. Mar 29, 2022 at 7:35
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    @Fizz This is another problem (amplified in this community) - that people vote on the basis of their views or likes/dislikes, rather than intellectual merits of the question. Any question that is grounded in facts and seeks factual information should be allowed - whether it benefits a specific side or not. Mar 29, 2022 at 7:41
  • 3
    @RogerVadim And then it was closed again by 5 users, showing that my judgment of community attitude was correct after all. The timeline also shows how the question fared in the review queue, where the consensus was also that it is off-topic.
    – Philipp Mod
    Mar 29, 2022 at 10:24
  • 1
    @Philipp that it was reopened and then closed only shows that the community is split about 50/50 on the issue. This underscores not only the subjectivity of your judgement, but perhaps even your partiality in supporting questions expressing points of view similar to yours. Regardless of the merits of the question, a benevolent dictatorship remains a dictatorship. Mar 29, 2022 at 10:32
  • 6
    @RogerVadim Over the years I served as a moderator on this site I have been called biased against leftists, against rightist, a zionist, an antisemite, a racist against every race one can think of, racist slurs against races I don't belong to, a "social justice warrior", a "libtard snowflake soyboy", a misogynist, a radical feminist, a nazi, a communist, a US government stooge, anti-American, anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, anti-Israel, anti-Iran, anti-Russian, anti-Ukrainian, anti-Trump, pro-Trump... If I was really that biased, then people would agree who I am biased against exactly.
    – Philipp Mod
    Mar 29, 2022 at 10:41
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    @Philipp I didn't accuse you of any specific bias yet - I only pointed out that in this case you are siding with a part of the community, while the other part disagrees. Speaking of bias, you did accuse me of pro-Russian propaganda for publishing factually neutral material. Mar 29, 2022 at 11:36
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    @RogerVadim well my comment there is a joke, though Philipp's touches on a serious point. If you want to complain about 'moderation team policy' it might be better to use the contact form here. That way it will be handled by the community manager team.
    – JJJ Mod
    Mar 29, 2022 at 11:53
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    @Philipp (a) The OP was not accusing specifically you, so your argument does not extend to all mods. (b) Most people are biased, mods are people, hence... Plus, there is no scientific, peer-reviewed evidence that the other mods on this site are unbiased. We can discuss this in a separate meta post, w data. (c) The mod hammer has been used unusually frequently on this site lately, compared with a 5 vote closure. Again, we can discuss this in a separate meta post and w data. Summary: The mods should ease up on the mod hammer usage, to keep the atmosphere friendly and mostly objective. Mar 31, 2022 at 14:33
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    @TimurShtatland Well, I believe that the frequency with which we put down the mod hammer right now when it comes to question about the war in Ukraine is justified by the current situation. But you are of course entitled to your opinion (on meta).
    – Philipp Mod
    Mar 31, 2022 at 14:38
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    And by the way, the question now got deleted. Not by a mod but by community votes.
    – Philipp Mod
    Mar 31, 2022 at 14:41
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    @Philipp I think the idea of enforcing moderation in the current situation was to counter real propaganda, rather than hammering the users acting in good faith. Limiting free speech in the name of propaganda is always controversial, but it would be worth, at least, looking at the measures taken by various governments: prohibiting the open support for the Russian actions in Ukraine, insisting on specifying the sources of information, closely watching the users who have just registered and suddenly engage in prolific posting or engage in heated debates. Apr 1, 2022 at 8:07
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    After a short debate, the question in question has been sent to /dev/null with canned "explanation": "Page not found // This question was removed from Politics Stack Exchange for reasons of moderation." Services for the Q will be held here on [meta] until the [meta] question itself succumbs to the same fate and is deleted to keep the site "mostly objective and friendly". RIP, beloved question and father of much debate! Now Putin can claim that he was out for lunch, or that Shoigu never told him that RU weapons were stolen, or that no one told him that Ukraine was actually a country... :) Apr 1, 2022 at 12:34
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    @TimurShtatland the question was not deleted for being propaganda. Questions may be deleted if they are off-topic and they cannot be made on-topic through editing. This is often done by an automated process described here. As Philipp tried to explain, the question under discussion here was deleted by three high rep users, not by moderators. Trusted users, currently at 4000 reputation, may vote to delete questions in certain cases as explained here.
    – JJJ Mod
    Apr 1, 2022 at 16:16
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    Even at 2000 reputation, users are afforded some deletion privileges.
    – JJJ Mod
    Apr 1, 2022 at 16:16

5 Answers 5


Should moderators single-handedly close questions based on their personal/subjective opinion?

Yes. I don't think it matters who closes a question, what matters is that off-topic questions get closed. In many cases, it's better for questions to be closed sooner rather than later so that they can be improved before someone tries to answer them.

As for moderators acting on their personal opinion, I guess it's a matter of framing. All our moderators have been around for a few years, we know how the site is scoped and what kind of questions are off-topic or even problematic. We're also aware of the single close vote, so I trust that I and the other mods carefully weigh whether a question should actually be closed before casting that binding close vote. Another way of framing it would be:

Should moderators single-handedly close questions based on their extensive experience on the site?

Then all of a sudden I think it sounds a lot more reasonable.

Of course, that doesn't mean moderators always get it right. Just like the 5 vote closure can be overturned, so can moderator closures. I think the best recourse is to vote to reopen or to raise the specific question here on meta.

In the case of the question you mention, I think it calls for speculation. It asks about President Putin's competence in leading the war in Ukraine and it also touches on his mental competence. On the first part, we can only look at his actions. We have no access to his actual decision making process.

The same problem goes for his mental competence. Whenever we see him in public, like any leader, he's putting on a performance. So even if he acts crazy, we cannot say for sure whether he is actually crazy or whether he is trying to portray himself as such. For example, one reason to act crazy might be to be less predictable in brinkmanship.

  • That Putin is an idiot/lunatic was an allegation of the media, not mine. My question was mainly concerned with the media fulfilling their duty as a fourth power or not. I asked this on the grounds of the so-called "Ockham's Razor": always choose those models of reality which require the least arbitrariness. My question included examples of why "Putin is an idiot" is somehow on the same level as "The weather is made by the gods" because there are better explanations, which I wanted to get feedback on by the community.
    – user20276
    Mar 29, 2022 at 4:39
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    @oliver I don't think this site is the right place to arbitrate such vague allegations in the media. If there's a very specific claim you want to verify, it might be on-topic on Skeptics. In this case though, your question asks about speculation on how / whether Putin's actions can be rationalized. We don't know what his end goal is and we don't know what information he uses in his decision making. That's why I think it can only be answered by speculation.
    – JJJ Mod
    Mar 29, 2022 at 4:49
  • I disagree, because independent of whether Putin is crazy or not, one can model his behavior and may come to the conlusion that 9 out of 10 models are incompatible with mental insanity. BTW I see many speculations here in answers on Politics SE, which largely go unpunished. But maybe I am misundertanding the site objective, which I am fine with if someone else defines it. Then again, I repeat that if "Politics" is just about observable facts, this is a waste of available brain power, because man is made for constructing models, and if we don't we are easily deceived by people like Putin.
    – user20276
    Mar 29, 2022 at 4:58
  • Correction in the last sentence: "if we don't do that responsibly"
    – user20276
    Mar 29, 2022 at 5:02
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    @oliver to create such models sounds more like something you'd publish in a news paper or maybe in an academic journal. Stack Exchange isn't really meant for original research. See for example this Wikipedia page which explains about original research on their platform (I couldn't find a relevant meta post). To ask such an analysis, I think, is beyond the scope of our site.
    – JJJ Mod
    Mar 29, 2022 at 5:06
  • If moderator thinks that s question is problematic, they may use the comments section to suggest improvements. Indeed, this seems to be standard practice in other SE communities. Overall, there is a clear fault with the logic "I know better, so I will close it, and then you can democratically reopen it, if you can." Mar 29, 2022 at 5:07
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    @RogerVadim questions get closed because they are off-topic, in other words they don't meet the site requirements for questions. You can disagree with the requirements themselves or you can debate whether they aren't met in any specific question. I'm not sure what you're trying to get at here. Are you arguing we should be more lenient on speculative questions? I disagree with that though you are free to raise to discuss it (in a new meta question). As for the current question, I don't think it meets the requirements we have at this moment.
    – JJJ Mod
    Mar 29, 2022 at 5:11
  • @JJJ: I acknowledge site policy. But then the boundaries of what is considered research and what is not are very very tight on Politics SE. Maybe I am spoiled by other sites like Physics SE and Stackoverflow SE, where there is also the "no original research" rule, but where some range of deduction is policy-compliant. But I understand that this is because mathematical deduction is more stringent. Maybe this simply isn't my site/my subject.
    – user20276
    Mar 29, 2022 at 5:25
  • @JJJ I am arguing that questions should be closed by 5 close votes. Privilege to close questions should be reserved for extreme cases. Moderators are human and cannot be fully objective about what is speculative and what is not. Mar 29, 2022 at 7:17

I don't see this closure as particularly controversial. The question has problems from 3 different angles:

  • it asks multiple questions
  • it self-answers some of those in the Q itself, so a degree of "push", coupled with soliciting agreement with the asker's position
  • it substantially overlaps other questions in the objective sub-questions (which were linked by the mod in their comments)

Even regular users with a gold badge in a tag can (or at least could, last time I checked) single-handedly close a question as duplicate.

Glossing over the title that seems to be asking about Putin's state of mind, in rather broad terms:

How likely is it that Putin does not know what he is doing in Ukraine 2022?

The body of the question is structured something like (quoting)

what benefit is the Ukraine war to Putin and Russia?

Followed by the asker's self-answer, followed by

So, Putin's actions could possibly be viewed rather rationally, couldn't they?

That's generally a bad (leading) question to ask.

Glossing over the form issues, the body ultimately asks if Putin's war is "rational" which is going to be a subjective question to some degree. One could answer that it is from Putin's nationalistic "Russian world" and NATO-phobic perspective. (The short and quickly accepted answer to the Q can be summarized as "yeah, he's rational, he wants the Donbas and recognition of Crimea as Russian".) Or that it's not rational from others' perspective, as it rolls back 30 years of post cold war détente and substantially reduces Russia's integration in the world economy. The Q doesn't exactly narrow it down to one perspective, although it seems to biased towards Putin's perspective. And on that issue, we have a more straightforward (prior) question that just asks about Putin's stated goals for the war. And some others that asked about his gripes with Ukraine and NATO.

  • The answer does not address the question, which is not about a content of a specific post. It is whether questions should be closed by the community (5 close votes) or by moderators. Mar 29, 2022 at 7:19
  • "The short and quickly accepted answer to the Q..." don't blame it on me that the question was closed before the democratic process could gain traction. "...although it seems to biased towards Putin's perspective..." thanks for confirming very pointedly that the true reason for closing my question was not mainly violation of site policy, but rather bias with respect to my supposed "hidden agenda".
    – user20276
    Mar 29, 2022 at 8:43
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    @oliver: there's nothing wrong with asking a question to be answered from someone's perspective/positions. (In fact, a mod and I both provided such answers to the Q about Russia's stated goals for the war) But yours is not clearly phrased like that. One can produce countless questions like yours that are also unsuitable here: was Bush rational in invading Iraq in 2003? Was Saddam rational in invading Kuwait in the 1990s; was he rational in invading Iran? Etc. Mar 29, 2022 at 9:30

Ever since this war started we've had a number of questions about negative subjective attributes of either Putin or his government.

Basically, "is Putin a bad guy?". With the expectation that "reasonable people" would agree. Before that we had similar questions with Trump ("Is Trump a fascist?").

These are not questions that are very suited to SE.Politics because there's no objective way to define that any given person is a "bad guy", "idiot", "fascist", "yes-man".

Not answerable: "Is Putin a bad guy?"

Answerable: "Is Putin in charge of armed forces carrying out war crimes?"

Many of us will agree re the war crimes and can point to evidence and objective definitions. Some will disagree and state that we might be subject to propaganda. Some will happily segue into Iraq War whataboutism. These are facts or at least claimed facts.

Saying "Putin does not know what he's doing" is not as easily quantifiable. Had it worked out like Crimea in 2014, he'd be looking pretty clever right now. "Genius!" some even claimed early on.

The problem is that, as satisfying as it to call Putin an idiot, or his staff yes-men or whatever - and I tend to agree with both propositions - there is no objective way to answer this question. It just becomes catharsis for calling him an a**hole.

I would agree with the OP on this meta question that we have a voting mechanism and maybe unilateral moderator closings weren't necessary. Questions that deserve immediate moderator closure (deletion actually) might include low-quality bigoted questions that could reasonably be expected to distress people viewing them. We've had those and immediate moderator deletion, before too much of whatever message is being posted gets viewed, is a good thing.

This is not one such question.

Some other Ukraine-related questions deserve more closing IMHO, such as discussing Kremlin propaganda points (Was Ukraine about to invade?). Other people did not agree and... such is life.

Still, this is a bad question and I would have voted to close. It's also such a textbook example of asking for opinions that closing it immediately did not hurt much.


On the flagship Stack Exchange site, Stack Overflow, the moderators use the mod hammer (the ability to single-handedly close the question) rarely, when normalized by the (huge) number of questions they get per minute. I hardly see the mod hammer used on the [python] and [perl] tags.

Another site, perhaps more similar to Politics SE, called Parenting SE, has also seen a relatively less active use of the mod hammer. And boy, do they get their share of opinion-only, off-topic, not-an-answers, frame challenges and low-quality posts! In spades! But the community there does most of the moderation. And the moderators are not silenced: they often cast their vote - but as the last of the 3 or 5 votes, which makes the moderators more like ordinary users. Note that only (a) spam and (b) overly offensive brief posts with cursing and name calling are well-justified exceptions; that's where the Parenting SE mods truly shine: quick and firm. Just the way it should be.

In my experience across the various Stack Exchange sites, Politics SE seems to have the curious habit of overuse of the mod hammer. If you disagree with this statement, please do bring data to the discussion (with raw data included). The various explanations of the necessity of swinging the mod hammer, such as the war, the assorted biases of the posters, and all that seem to me poor excuses to the overly frequent use of the single-handed question closure by anyone - especially the moderators.

Moderators should primarily moderate the discussion, which they do, and for which we all should respect them and be grateful to them and thank them sincerely and profusely and often. Moderators are called moderators for a reason. And their service to our community is essential and super valuable. But single-handed closure should be reserved for truly egregious cases.

By the way, it has been brought to my attention (see comments above) that some users verbally abuse the moderators and engage in name-calling. This is wrong on so many levels, and should stop right away. I hope that these cases are considered some of the worst rule violations on this site, and that the offending users get disciplined right away (and yes, single-handedly in this case).

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    It needs to be noted that the question that was referenced by the OP was not closed by a single moderator close vote. 5 different people all voted to close and and then 3 different people all voted to delete it. There was not a single moderator involved in action on that post just normal users with the close and delete privilege's
    – Joe W
    Mar 31, 2022 at 17:24
  • @JoeW I am mostly referring to the overall objective stats on this site. If someone wants to bring data to the discussion, I welcome it! As for this Q that is the subject of the OP, I refer everyone to the lively discussion just below the Q, above. It’s like totally wow! And with the mod team!!! So like I said, something is different on this site, if this is a two-mod fire! :) Mar 31, 2022 at 17:45
  • And I don't think that makes sense when the question is complaining about the actions of normal users while claiming it is moderators who took the action. I think this just adds to the confusion about what happened to the question that was being referenced.
    – Joe W
    Mar 31, 2022 at 18:37
  • @JoeW the question was closed by a single moderator close vote. It was then reopened by 5 reopen votes and closed again by 5 close votes. Mar 31, 2022 at 18:38
  • @RogerVadim If you want to get picky it was closed by a moderator, left close by another moderator, left closed by 3 users, reopened by 5 users, closed by 5 users and finally deleted by 3 users. The point that as of now users are going to see that it was closed by 5 non moderator users and this answer leaves no hint of the course of action that happened on that post. When I looked at it I found it confusing that it was talking about a moderators action when non moderators are the ones who took action.
    – Joe W
    Mar 31, 2022 at 19:27
  • @JoeW I will add a comment about it to the OP. It was written after the first closure. Mar 31, 2022 at 19:30
  • @JoeW Looking past this one single Q, I urge everyone to analyze the big picture. On average, do we want more, less or the same level of moderator-only closures of not obviously dreadful questions? I say that I want much less. Mar 31, 2022 at 19:32
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    And I think that is fine but an answer for a different question rather then one about the closure of a single question.
    – Joe W
    Mar 31, 2022 at 19:39
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    @JoeW The OP is not about a single question - the particular question was given only as an example. Apr 1, 2022 at 8:01
  • @RogerVadim I disagree and the question in the op had over twice as many think it should have been closed as thought it should be open.
    – Joe W
    Apr 1, 2022 at 12:21
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    @JoeW I assure you that it was just an example at hand, but I really meant multiple closures. And I think the language in the OP is rather unambiguous about the specific question being taken just as an example. Apr 1, 2022 at 12:35
  • @JoeW , RogerVadim: Gentlemen, I am sad to report that the question that is the subject of our discussion has been deleted by someone who probably wishes to remain anonymous. The question is dispatched back to its Creator for a meet and greet session. I cannot even blame Vlad for that. Amazingly, we did it to ourselves, as a community! As one well-known real estate developer said a few times: "SAD!" Apr 1, 2022 at 12:38
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    And it should be pointed out that bringing up a question on meta is going to bring a lot more attention to it. As I pointed out in an earlier comment 13 total users felt it was off topic and 5 felt it was on topic (or at least not worthy of closure).
    – Joe W
    Apr 1, 2022 at 12:53
  • @JoeW You are 100% correct. Oh well, the people have spoken too. Maybe it is time for me to move on and leave this Q alone. :) Apr 1, 2022 at 13:04
  • Indeed. The mod hammer is frequently used against people who support Ukraine by mods who support Russia. yesterday

As far as I - as the author of the referenced question - am concerned, I consider it quite useful if, on sites like this, there are people who have excess power, because that unmasks the alleged nobleness of the cause, especially as like in this case, where there was an apparent "eagerness" to close the question and, furthermore, remove all comments that would have been able to correct the moderator's gross misunderstanding or, possibly, even bias.

Besides always appreciating downvotes and closings on Politics.SE because they give me a kind of "street credibility" for my self-esteem, a feeling that I must have hit the nail on the head, if a certain category of people vigorously opposes my question, it is also deeply satisfying for me to see that politics is just as ugly and inconsistent as it seems at first sight, and that is already being confirmed at the level of mere discussion about politics.

So, no worries, although I feel a bit sad for others that don't get the chance to draw the maximum out of my question, and, of course, to express their well-justified dissent. But then again, this is obviously not the right forum, at least not as far as it is under control of the owner of the site.

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    Who is "the owner of the site" in this context?
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 28, 2022 at 13:23
  • I don't know, and I don't really care, but I suppose this is a commercial site. At least there is someone who has to pay for the domain.
    – user20276
    Mar 28, 2022 at 13:25
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    Okay. I thought you might have been conflating "moderator" and "owner" and assuming that the mods actually owned the site, which they do not. The actual owners can be found here.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 28, 2022 at 13:28
  • No, certainly not, I justed wanted to point out, that the site owners have somehow learned to live with the consequences, if they tolerate moderators gone wild.
    – user20276
    Mar 28, 2022 at 13:37
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    @F1Krazy those people are management, but they don't wholly own the company. Last year Stack Overflow (which includes the network sites) was bought by Prosus which is a publicly traded holding company listed in the Netherlands.
    – JJJ Mod
    Mar 29, 2022 at 2:33
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: or the opposite, which is actually what happened with the quickly accepted answer that obviously jibed with OP's viewpoint. Mar 29, 2022 at 7:20

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