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While the tone so far during the private beta has been remarkably congenial, it seems obvious that politics.se has the potential to attract more contentious questions, answers and comments than some other SE sites, perhaps more so once the site goes into public beta or becomes a full-fledged member of the SE family - which, in turn, is likely to make the site even more challenging to moderate than might otherwise be the case.

Another site currently in public beta - islam.se - has been the focus of significant disagreement over the actions of its (apparently entirely Sunni Muslim) moderators, to the extent that a separate shia-islam.se site has been proposed. You can get a taste of the difficulties involved by reading some of the comments and answers on this question:

Is a separate site for Shia Islam necessary?

While it's obviously to be hoped that the moderators we end up with will be able to put their personal biases to one side in the course of their duties, in the cause of being seen to be unbiased, I'd like to propose that candidates for moderator disclose their political affiliations in their manifesto statements.

There's a risk, of course, that doing so will lead to moderators being elected along partisan lines, but I would hope that the group we have here at the moment is grown-up enough to see the value in electing a balanced, or at least diverse, slate. Either way, we'll at least get the chance to elect the moderators we deserve ;-)

Full disclosure: I am

  1. More or less a socialist, with some anarchist sympathies.
  2. Absolutely not intending to nominate myself as a moderator.
  • Halfway through the question I thought I knew exactly where this was going: mods should keep their political affiliations secret to avoid controversy. You went a different direction with it – Michael Mrozek Dec 10 '12 at 1:09
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    Past affiliations don't matter, from the moment they become moderators, they are Nazis. – yannis Dec 10 '12 at 3:35
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    Note: You guys don't get to elect mods yet. You can nominate candidates and comment/vote on them, but in this case the final decision is in the hands of SE. They will use your nomination meta post as a guide to choose potential candidates, contact them for confirmation, and then choose them. Sometimes a mod is chosen who never nominated himself on the thread. – Manishearth Dec 10 '12 at 9:54
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I think the Islam scuffle is a pretty good illustration of why this is a bad idea.

To be fair, I'm quite happy with the moderators there so far - but because they got stuck right away with the label of "Sunni Mods", they've had to put up with a lot more drama than they really should have...

There are far more potential political affiliations than there are moderator positions. So someone's gonna feel left out no matter what. More importantly, the first moderators on the site will be chosen by some of us working for SE, and we're far more interested in things like past experience and the ability to help others while remaining calm and professional... So there's a very good chance that the initial moderation team won't represent a balanced cross-section of various political views, since we'll tend to look for folks who don't inject their personal politics into every single discussion.

...Which brings me to the best reason for just ignoring this entirely: regardless of what a given moderator's views are on a topic, he'll be expected to act fairly toward those who disagree with him and with whom he disagrees, regardless of the topic. If you're forced to wear your politics on your shirt sleeve (like... some sort of colored arm band), then you're just inviting discord and harassment where none would otherwise need to exist. Not a good start to the site.

Wanna know what a particular person is like? Read what they've written. Is it accurate, informative, and helpful? Or does it push a particular point of view to the detriment of all else? A moderator team full of the latter, no matter how "balanced", is not going to do well.

  • Fair enough ... I only discovered the islam.se Sunni/Shia thing from browsing Area 51, so no doubt you know more of the gory details. – user97 Dec 9 '12 at 19:30
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This is an interesting question!

I believe we have to be a little sensitive around this issue, as some may consider their political leaning or affiliation rather private. It could be argued that someone's political beliefs are as private as their religious beliefs, and I would not want to require anyone to disclose those (though personally I am happy to disclose either).

While I understand and agree that we need to keep things as neutral as possible, disclosure could result in effective discrimination whether positive or negative by those who do not share those views.

I will update the Temporary Moderators question to explain that we expect any moderators to remain neutral in their moderation activities.

I think this is an area where we need to judge people by their actions rather than their beliefs, and we would need the support of SE to keep this in check.

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    I agree 100% on "judge people by their actions rather than their beliefs". On political leaning being private - in general I'd agree, but in any society there are positions that carry extra burdens to ensure that the privileges they also carry aren't abused, and those are often in the service of transparency in government. Judges, for example, are usually expected to disclose potential conflicts of interest, and where necessary recuse themselves. – user97 Dec 9 '12 at 15:56
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I think this is not necessary. Already after a few days, I am able to guess for several active people where political preferences lie. What actually counts are, as Graham says, actions. Now up- and downvotes are anonymous, but close votes are not. What the electorate can do instead is to closely scrutinise comments and close-votes made by candidate-moderators, and everybody can judge by themselves if they consider the candidate-moderator to be sufficiently neutral or not.

It's a bit like the speaker/president of a parliament. Should they be from a centrist party as to be neutral? Hopefully not; for a good speaker/president of parliament will treat all parliamentarians equal, whether communists, liberals or fascists, regardless of their own political leaning.

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    To be clear: my preference would be to have moderators with diverse viewpoints, rather than identical centrist ones (partly because I doubt we'd all agree on what constitutes centrist, and partly because I think "checks and balances" is a good model for governance). In the case of a Speaker-type role: yes, the good ones need not be politically centrist, but their affiliation is usually well-known, and the wish to avoid being accused of favouring their own side might in fact help them to remain demonstrably "purer-than-pure". – user97 Dec 9 '12 at 16:05
  • You're right, my speaker analogy is flawed for the reason you're stating. – gerrit Dec 9 '12 at 16:07
  • On guessing user's preferences: fun, isn't it? :-) One method which helps me in my attempt to write good questions is to try to make it impossible for the reader to guess my own opinion on the matter. Not sure how successful I am, but then I've blown my coever with this question anyway. – user97 Dec 9 '12 at 16:10
  • Already the selection of topics to ask questions about reveals something. – gerrit Dec 9 '12 at 16:15
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I would say that moderators should be able to show their edit history, and convince anyone that they are indeed impartial.

To put it pithily (I hope):

To be a good moderator, you have to show people who are clear partisans your edits (blind, without knowing the candidate) and those people should NOT be able to tell your political leanings from edits alone.

Matter of fact, I think this should be - if technically feasible - a required step in moderator elections on a site like this.


A good example of neutral mods would be History.SE - I can not, for the life of me, figure out their political leanings.

  • All edits are visible, and you can see every user's edits through their profile, I'm not so sure what you mean here. – yannis Dec 14 '12 at 23:24
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    @YannisRizos - not every SE user/election voter knows HOW to see the list of edits. But my main point is that the edit history is how the moderator candidates should be judged by instead of their politics – user4012 Dec 15 '12 at 0:11
  • Fair point. Perhaps you could update your answer to explain to people how exactly they can review everyone's edits? – yannis Dec 15 '12 at 5:24

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