# Appropriate use of moderator power with respect to question closure

Last night, I asked a question, a question I knew was on the borderline of acceptable on Math.SE, but I decided to hazard it anyway and make it as appropriate as I could. I flagged the post as community wiki, and left it at that.

After maybe half an hour, a moderator acting by themselves put the question on hold as too broad (I think this cleared my flag as well - although the post was not made into community wiki). My response was basically "sigh, oh well," until someone commented saying they disagreed with the on-hold reason. Since I also disagreed, I went ahead and started the vote for reopening. Within another couple hours the question was open again.

Today I come back and check the question and find that the same moderator, again acting by themselves, has put the question on hold for the same reason as before. This seems a little unfair to me. Was this action appropriate on the moderator's part?

tl;dr: Mod puts post on hold acting by themselves. Community reopens. Mod again puts post on hold by themselves.

Should a moderator refrain from a repeat modpower closure vote after the community has voted to reopen?

Please note that this post does not mean to focus on whether or not my original question should be closed.

It might be important to note that my question was not edited during any of the closure voting actions mentioned above.

• The only consideration I can think of that would suggest another mod closing would be that such questions tend to cause cycles of closing and reopening. Maybe the moderator has some particular reason they did so? (Or maybe just didn't notice?) – Milo Brandt Jan 1 '16 at 22:00
• @MiloBrandt I agree - if there were a cycle. But as it appears to me, the only close votes have come from the moderator (though some people did vote to leave the question closed when it was in the reopen queue). Disclaimer: I don't know how to check all the closure voting history, and the above is just what I observed – Peter Woolfitt Jan 1 '16 at 22:02
• So let me see if I get this right: You ask a question you know is likely problematic. A moderator puts it on hold. You do not edit the question, you do not even comment. You simply vote to reopen. And, then you complain when it is put on hold again? It is not the question here, but as far as I am concerned it is you who was behaving inappropriately. – quid Jan 1 '16 at 23:10
• @quid Ignoring, for the moment, the issue of whether the OP was correct to start a reopen review*, I don't really see why a moderator re-closure was necessary. As there were at least 4 users who felt the question was on-topic, I don't think the question is so off-topic as to need a second rapid one-person closure. $${}$$ *I don't have any problem with this, especially since it followed a 3K user commenting that they felt it shouldn't be closed. – user296602 Jan 2 '16 at 1:28
• @quid That is not quite right. I did not comment myself, but upvoted a comment I agreed with " 'There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format.' Why? I don't think that's the case for this interesting problem." Thus supporting asking for an explanation of the 'too broad' closure reason. I do/did not believe that the question was in fact too broad, and so voted for reopening. I also tried hard not to "complain" that my question was closed again (1/2) – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 2:16
• @quid (I in honesty don't have a strong opinion on whether it is appropriate for this site, though I do believe that if it should be closed, the closure reason should not be 'too broad') - it just made me want to discuss whether such moderator action was appropriate. I have seen elsewhere that users acting as a community should be able to overturn a moderator closure vote such as this one, in the case that they feel the moderator made the wrong call. (2/3?) – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 2:16
• @quid Sorry for the long response, but I also did not want to directly presume the moderator was guilty of inappropriate action. I wanted to ask whether this action was appropriate - an answer which may very well be decisively "Yes. This action was appropriate." (3/3) – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 2:26
• I hate it so much when people mistake this site for code golf or puzzles, and I hate it even more when it comes from experienced users. – Asaf Karagila Jan 2 '16 at 7:41
• @user if one thinks the question should be closed, of course the questions needs a rapid reclosure (to the extent there can be such a need at all). There is no point in waiting for answer to trickle in only to then have it shut down halfway. // Please do not use MathJax for creating white-space, especially not such an extraordinarily large one. – quid Jan 2 '16 at 9:15
• The question is quite clearly off-topic too, see for example Should all math puzzles go to puzzling SE from now on? The close reason "too broad" is somewhat commonly used for this general type of question though. Anyway, the wording you use runs counter to your claims: "unfair", "overturn", "guilty" etc. This is not a neutral post at all. – quid Jan 2 '16 at 9:55
• @AsafKaragila For what it is worth, "solving mathematical puzzles" is explicitly on-topic within the scope defined in the help-center. I presume though that your definition of "puzzle" is different from the sense in which it is used there. – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 13:01
• @quid A couple things. 1: the meta post you site does not apply to my question on the main, since I do not know the answer. 2: You mischaracterize my statements. (i) I said in the post "This seems a little unfair to me." One of the optimal words here is "seems." I am not attempting to make the claim that it is in fact unfair, rather that it appears that way initially to me, and I wish to request further clarification/opinions. (ii) "overturn" to me is a neutral word - an action. (1/2) – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 13:18
• @quid Well, for what it is worth, I do/did not mean for anything to be accusatory, and I do not believe that I am being so, but obviously it is difficult for me to fairly evaluate that statement myself. Moving on, you are correct that I do not believe the contest discussions are relevant - I do not believe my question to be in the format of a "contest". (1/3) – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 14:51
• @quid Your addendum for my quote from the FAQ is rather ridiculous - would you also say that the FAQ prescribes that we should ask "questions about Understanding mathematical concepts and theorems" i.e. not about the concepts and theorems themselves, but rather about how to understand such things? (I am interpreting that by saying the FAQ says "questions about solving mathematical puzzles" are on-topic, you mean that the act of solving puzzles themselves is not necessarily on-topic, but asking about how to solve puzzles is on topic (Please ignore/correct if this is not what you meant)). (2/3) – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 14:51
• @quid I do not encourage the rules to be broken in my question - I do say that I am also interested in methods which use fewer restrictions (as are many people who ask questions here). I do not ask about example, I say the goal is to minimize the number of characters used, and the people who answer are providing upper bounds (the answers given are debatably more appropriate as comments). The question is not too broad because there exists a precise answer - a set of expressions of minimum length (as defined in the question) which evaluate to 2016. (3/3) – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 14:51

"The community" in this case means "five users including the OP". If five users disagree with a moderator, it does not mean the community as a whole disagree with the moderator. It means five users do. Moderators are expressly given the power to overrule other users for when they believe the process did not work as intended. This is the whole reason to elect moderators – I believe the correct term is "human exception handler". They handle exceptional situations, including when five users make what they consider to be the wrong decision.

If you still disagree with their actions, you can open up a meta thread and see what the actual community thinks, and if there is agreement amongst everyone that the question deserves to be reopened, then yes, it would probably be inappropriate for the moderator to close it again. But before that it's perfectly acceptable for them to act as they think is best. If a moderator thought the question deserved to be closed, and then the question is reopened without anything having changed, it's only logical that they still believe that the question deserves to be closed.

Let me also point out that the question "Should we allow moderators to unilaterally close questions?" was met with a very clear "yes" by the (actual) community. Consider also this: it takes five users to close a question. Does this mean a moderator can never reopen a question (except perhaps by casting the last vote), ever?

Since you did not tag this specific-question, and did not discuss what specifically might be mitigating in favor of the reopening of such, I'm inclined only to address the issue of whether a moderator should refrain from unilateral action to close if the community has voted to reopen.

Several moderators have undertaken a "pledge" of sorts not to make unilateral acts, sometimes with caveats of one sort or another. However I take this to be a general sign of respect for the Community's ability to moderate itself.

The role of Moderator and the associated ability to act unilaterally is IMHO a design decision. Having a Question placed on-hold, whether by the Community or a Moderator, should most likely be the occasion for the OP to make an adjustment (edit) to the Question. Conceivably there can be good arguments on both sides of a close-reopen war, but if these points are not advanced, it scarcely implies that Moderators should abdicate their unilateral powers.

• Just responding to the specific-question portion of your answer: Yes, that's correct, I did just want to discuss appropriate moderator action, not my question specifically. Thank you for your answer. – Peter Woolfitt Jan 2 '16 at 2:05
• In my opinion, moderator powers should only used when 1) you're absolutely sure that it's a good decision, and 2) acting immediatly instead of letting "the community" do the job is necessary. If you think a question must be closed, but is not too harmful if it stay open one day, then just vote close like a "basic user". If it's garbage that must be cleaned asap, use your mod power. – Tryss Jan 5 '16 at 14:40
• @Tryss: I agree with the considerations you outline for a Moderator's actions, but I don't know that a Moderator can "vote close like a 'basic user'". In that case one consideration is the opportunity cost -- so many reviews (Math.SE is quite busy), so little time. In answering I took only the information offered in meta post about the specific question: that OP "knew it was on the borderline of acceptable" and that when the Question was initially closed, "started the vote for reopening" without making any edit to the Question. I am not convinced Moderators should refrain from re-closing. – hardmath Jan 12 '16 at 15:27