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I have noticed occasionally some very good posters who have been banned in Math.SE.

Question: What might get someone who is in my, and probably many people's opinions a high quality poster with a significantly high reputation banned (for a YEAR) with a defaming "low quality poster" designation?

For those who have been here a decade or more, have very high reputation and many subject gold badges, why tell the world they are now banned for low quality posts?

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    $\begingroup$ Posting low quality posts? Less tongue in cheek though, what kind of objective criteria are you applying here? Asking people why a third parties behaviour has apparently changed, or if their existing behaviour doesn't meet changing standards is impossible for anyone to answer realistically. So if you want an answer I think you need to lay out the criteria you'll judge any answer against. $\endgroup$
    – postmortes
    Dec 28, 2021 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ A possible reason (from Math Mod's office chat): “Finally, no one is "being banned" for "breaking the EoQS" (again, it can't be broken, it is a procedure, not a policy). We will temporarily suspend the accounts of users who demonstrate a consistent and long-term pattern of posting low-quality content (which includes answering low-quality questions), but we would prefer to convince those users to change their behaviour without resorting to suspensions.” $\endgroup$
    – Martin R
    Dec 28, 2021 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ @CalvinKhor: A general reason is displayed on the profile page, e.g. “This account is temporarily suspended for low quality contributions” (or rule violations, voting irregularities, cool down, ...) $\endgroup$
    – Martin R
    Dec 28, 2021 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinR I personally find it egregious and maybe a little bit funny that a distinction is being made between the terms Banned and Suspended. $\endgroup$
    – David P
    Dec 28, 2021 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidP I did not make a large distinction between the two. While I do think that it is important to use correct language ("ban" suggests permanence, "suspend" is temporary), the point was that no one is being denied any kind of access to this site because they post one or two answers (high quality or not) to low quality questions. Anyone who has been suspended under the EoQS procedure have been given plenty of notice, and have continued to knowingly act in a manner which violates community norms. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Dec 28, 2021 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ The moderators on the site are experienced and if they are doing something there must be a cause behind it otherwise think yourself why will our moderators ban someone who is good poster, You must trust them $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2021 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the displayed reason for such a suspension, there are only three or four canned strings which can be posted. The relevant string in this case is something like "This user has been suspended for posting low quality content" or some such. This is the most relevant of the canned strings which can be displayed, as the root cause of such a suspension is contributing to a culture of low quality content by posting answers which encourage more low quality questions. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Dec 28, 2021 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @LalitTolani I don't think that is a productive attitude. We are human, and we can make mistakes. Some part of me wishes that we could be more transparent, but (1) SE policy prevents it, and (2) there is a danger if we made these kinds of decisions more transparent, some users might end up stigmatized in the long term. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Dec 28, 2021 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson It's wordplay. Every other forum on the planet calls bans "temporary bans", "permanent bans" or worse "IP bans". Not your fault, but I also wish, at the very least, no reason is publicly given for a ban/suspension or whatever in any form. People come here for various reasons, but the most helpful and prolific of this community should not suffer reputation damage for such minor things as answering "low quality" questions. Some people use their real names and may even link their Math.SE profiles to their CVs and vise versa. $\endgroup$
    – David P
    Dec 28, 2021 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ (1) "ban" vs "suspend" is a distraction here. (2) Do you have any evidence that any person has ever suffered negative consequences in real life as a result of having their account suspended from Math SE? Absent any kind of evidence, this seems like a fairly empty hypothetical. (3) You seem to have certain people in mind who you have characterized s "the most helpful and prolific" users on this site. Perhaps the rest of the community does not find them helpful? This isn't Quora or reddit, after all---the model is quite different. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Dec 28, 2021 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ Voting to reopen the question. Don't know why "opinion-based" is even a reason to close questions here. Meta has been used many times before to discuss matters of interest to MSE, from tag management to moderation to EoQS - all of which are eminently opinion-based. Closing random questions for being opinion-based while promoting other equally opinion-based questions makes it look like a rather arbitrary enforcement of the rules. $\endgroup$
    – dxiv
    Dec 29, 2021 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ Just wanted to add: I believe it is inappropriate to deliberately downvote old posts by a user just because they disagree with a current question being asked. I think that qualifies as harassment. I have flagged appropriate posts that I've made that this has happened to immediately after this post here, and hope some investigation is done. $\endgroup$
    – David P
    Dec 30, 2021 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ If it is the same person(s?) who DV'd my old posts, they will know (from being suspended before?) not to DV too much at once (response to one of my flags: "At this moment, there is not enough of a pattern to be actionable. [...]"), and I have 5? such "curious" DVs so far. I don't blame the mods who are volunteers anyhow and not my personal e-bodyguard. But if I were the cyberbaddy type, it would be trivial to space out a few reminders on my G Cal (and I am but a slave to my calendar) to downvote someone I disagree with, and it seems to me, get away with it. Such is the price for participation! $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 6:26
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidP There are at least a few users who weaponize votes in this manner, e.g. attacking your main answers with downvotes if you disagree with them, or point out errors in their answers, etc. Please do flag when you see such patterns since such behavior is extremely damaging to the site, e.g. it may scare away users from participating in meta, inhibiting the democratic process (likely one of their goals - to attempt to suppress opposing viewpoints). I too have been suffering a highly unusual number of downvotes lately (alas, being middle of the road, I get them from both sides). $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ i 100% agree with the second comment. I won’t claim to know statistical theory etc but over years on this site, the only time I have ever received anomalous DVs (which are even a large proportion of overall DVs) is after participating on Meta. Sure, not every one of them must be linked in this way, much less can the perpetrators be punished or their motives found. But it’s a pretty strong correlation. Regardless, thank you (and the whole mod team) for helping us deal with this ugly part of the internet for us $\endgroup$ Jan 1 at 7:45

2 Answers 2

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The issue

I do understand where this post is coming from. The question is basically : "Should we keep people who maybe having toxic/ detrimental behavior if they are very resourceful to the site?"

What do I mean by toxic/detrimental behavior?

  1. Answering low effort questions/ not closing dupes
  2. Being toxic to other members of the community causing mental stress
  3. Asking many low effort questions

The above points are not exhaustive, just an attempt to capture most of the reasons.

Different aspects of the issue

The issue, I think, is rooted in the fact that there are many ways to give and take value on MSE. Due to this, we may be wanting to 'forgive' a person giving more value in one department while they may not be in another.

Some thoughts were put into trying to solve this issue by making chat bans disconnected from site bans, and also making ban on one SE site disjoint from one on another (for lesser issues). I think these can't really tackle the problem holistically. I also think the punishment periods are a bit too high at times (stretching beyond 3 months and so), but that is different topic to talk about.

One must also account that the people in charge of who gets banned and not are also humans and they have finite time to moderate and pass judgement on the users of MSE. Hence, we can't expect them to sit down and take do a extremally deep analysis of each case before passing judgement.

Remark on the question

I think there is also an underlying philosophy in this question of 'veterans/ elderly' being given benefit. That is the long time contributor should be given more room for their behaviors because of the time period of their commitment to this site.

In real life, in most culture, the philosophy said above is applied by default(i.e: veteran benefits), but I am not sure whether a system will really benefit from people who 'can't' keep up with the change.

In my opinion, MSE is like a big machine with each member in the community as nodes, with debate and arguments between community members, the opinion of the collective changes and what is considered 'correct' also changes. Eg: the recent shift in policy on PSQs.

Now, should we focus our mental energy and resources in trying to make this system run ideally or should we focus it on 'veteran benefits'? I think the first way is the way to go, as whatever changes we've made as a community, was done only after many debates and write ups by different members in it; The ideas in the change were established to be for the better of the community as a whole.

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    $\begingroup$ Feel free to correct my grammar and what not. This is just my thoughts and how I understand the site. Maybe I am wrong, feel free to correct. $\endgroup$ Dec 28, 2021 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ I support this. It's a very fair, unbiased assessment of changes that have, and are, taking place on this site. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Dec 28, 2021 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes, unseen intentions do strike at the debate, though. For example, I recall a meta post from some time ago where someone wrote that they deliberately searched for and expressed interest in low-quality undergraduate posts to prepare for their own classes . You really want to ask a lot of people here if you were SE (1) Why do you use MSE? (2) What according to you is "quality" at MSE? (3) What actions would preserve "quality"? You can have so many answers, SE would run out of categories. SE never chose to define quality, only give reasons for lack thereof. $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2021 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ By the way, @Burain, you express yourself very well, as well as a native speaker of English could. I see no need for any correction to your post! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 1 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ I tend to believe that a "veteran" who has spent many years giving his knowledge to the site for free and suddenly starts to get banned/suspended (because of a change in policies and not being offensive in any way(!)) can get very discouraged to continue to contribute. Which in turn is a loss for everybody. You cannot replace a high-level contributor ("veteran") with someone who is objectively worse in quality but better in following some rules (like not answering low-quality questions). So in my opinion, there should definitely be some "veterans benefits". $\endgroup$
    – pisoir
    Jan 4 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I don't see how "running a system ideally" and "giving some veterans benefits" are contradictory statements. You can run a system ideally and have some rules for people who has objectively been bringing quality to the SE. $\endgroup$
    – pisoir
    Jan 4 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @pisoir I see a fundamental incompatibility between "high-level contributor" and "not following the rules." In my book, a person who fails to follow the rules is per se a low-level contributor. $\endgroup$
    – user7530
    Jan 6 at 5:26
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    $\begingroup$ @user7530 you are saying it as if everybody who answers "low-effort" questions is a villain who deserves a punishment. What about the possibility that he just wanted to help someone because he knows the answer? Isn't one of the rules on MSE - "always assume good intentions"? $\endgroup$
    – pisoir
    Jan 6 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ @pisoir I have a hard believing that the mods are banning people who innocently answer one or two low-effort questions, without some discussion or warnings first. $\endgroup$
    – user7530
    Jan 6 at 20:33
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(This started as a reply to another, pertinent comment, but grew past what could fit into a comment, so I'll leave it here as an answer - even though it does not directly answer OP's question.)

MSE has always been ambiguous about its identity - "repository of (random) knowledge" on one hand vs. "museum of (curated) pieces of math arts" on the other hand. The former would weigh the substance of the question on its math merits, while the latter judges the form and the asker before even allowing the question. Not surprisingly, the two schools of thought often disagree on what's worthy of MSE's attention or not. This, again, is not a new problem (1, 2, 3).

Homework, "lazy" and crank'ish questions have always been shunned. What has changed in more recent EoQS times, however, is the agressiveness in punishing answers to borderline "dubious" questions. Granted, that's deserved some/many(?) times. But, as someone who posts a lot more comments than answers, I've seen many cases where the question lacked "context" or "own effort" only because the OP didn't think their failed attempt was worth even mentioning, or they'd be embarrassed of publicly admitting they went down a silly/hopeless path.

Back on the topic here of high-rep users being "fouled out", and without any claim of speaking for them, but what feels wrong about the policies that are invoked to justify the punishment is first and foremost the disingenuity around it.

  • That EoQS is the democratic choice of MSE users. Let's stay real, most MSE users don't know/care about Meta and EoQS. What made EoQS into a hard rule was just the concerted effort of an organized minority, with a tacit nod from the site. Does anyone really think that if a few high schools mobilized all their students before next election and chose their greatest cheaters as mods and voted "all homework questions have an automatic 1000 bonus bounty", that would stick?

  • That answering a PSQ is penalized because it rewards an undeserving asker. But then so does closing it as a duplicate, which is even more instant gratification to the OP. However, that gets applauded as a helpful moderation task (which, in fact, it is).

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm. Historically all (functioning) democracies operate as you describe: they enable a minority to get something done for the majority (hopefully benefitting the majority in the long run, but see Brexit as a potential counter-example if you like). The hope is that the minorities change periodically. If, as you posit, the community were to vote that homework answering was the most important thing, I think we'd see the same thing we've already seen: a bunch of users marching off in a huff and the mods enforcing that. I'm not sure why you think it would be different. $\endgroup$
    – postmortes
    Dec 31, 2021 at 9:40
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    $\begingroup$ No, I don't think PSQs should get closed for being duplicates : and I don't think they do in general. The first thing one usually notices when one sees such a post, is the lack of context, and not the content itself and if it is possibly on site. Given that the location of a duplicate is a harder task than noticing and closing a question for lacking context, I would like to rebut the last statement.Regarding the embarrassment, I think a better trend is to ask people to post a source for their question. Yes it can't be done all the time but it appears to be the least demeaning piece of context. $\endgroup$ Jan 1 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon These 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 are questions in the past $3$ weeks that were closed as duplicates at my suggestion after looking up the relevant links. Most of them were likely headed for quick dismissal, which I thought wasn't deserved. Not claiming it's typical, but you shouldn't be saying it doesn't happen, either. $\endgroup$
    – dxiv
    Jan 2 at 9:00
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    $\begingroup$ @dxiv Just clarifying before I misinterpret : by "quick dismissal", you refer to each of them receiving down/close votes for lacking context? That's funny, I'd close absolutely none of them for that reason and have even voted up a couple of them for having more than enough information. I agree : if my words were interpreted with finality, then I'm sorry. What I meant was that I encourage duplicate PSQs to be closed for lacking context over being duplicates, and I know quite a few people who follow this protocol. $\endgroup$ Jan 2 at 11:51
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon If a question lacks context, it should be closed as such, whether a dupe or not. If a question is otherwise sound, and is a duplicate, it can be closed as a dupe. Is that what you meant in your last comment? (see how concisely you can say so?) $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 2 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ @amWhy Yes I said this but the assertion from dxiv was that the opposite tends to happen. Thank you for clarifying. $\endgroup$ Jan 2 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @dxiv When such questions are PSQ and/or very low quality, I will continue to close them as such. If a question is a decent question, but happens to be a dupe, only then should it be closed as a dupe. But thanks for giving us those links. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jan 2 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Sarvesh None of those questions has much context, and I have seen similar questions being closed as PSQs. Or, had anyone answered one of them instead of linking the duplicate, I could see that being used as reason for a low-quality contribution warning (or ban, for repeat offenders). And this is precisely the incongruence that I was referring to: "punish answers to PSQs" vs. "encourage links to answers to PSQs (as duplicates)". Both of those policies are explicitly endorsed by EoQS - per $2^{nd}$ paragraph and "duplicates" section. $\endgroup$
    – dxiv
    Jan 3 at 4:08
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    $\begingroup$ @SarveshRavichandranIyer "I encourage duplicate PSQs to be closed for lacking context over being duplicates" $\;-\;$ Careful there, you are going against the EoQS rules ;-) Quoting: "Many of the low-quality questions which appear on this site have been answered before (...). Take a few minutes to search for potential duplicate questions and, if you find a good candidate, flag the question as a duplicate. (...) This will help to organize the database, and should help the asker find the answer they need". $\endgroup$
    – dxiv
    Jan 3 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ @dxiv Then I can see your point, but on CURED for example the common pattern is to close low-quality dupes as lacking context, prior to them being closed as duplicates. I've followed the pattern in general, see here for a "guide" on such questions posted by a moderator with some justification in the comments above. I mean, I guess these are some of the things we could have ironed out in finer terms before we went enforced, but at least on CURED the treatment was uniform. $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ If the linked questions are being called up for EoQS violations then I have no words. All I can say is that I have a fairly mild reading of the guidelines for each question , at least as of the past few months, and would vote to reopen such questions as soon as they close. It takes a very heavy-handed interpretation of the guidelines to close any of those questions, let alone penalize answerers. $\endgroup$ Jan 4 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the EoQS and "democratic choice": a few months ago there was a moderator election. Every active user was informed of this (by the usual notification system, like if they had received a comment response etc.), and none of the candidates stood in opposition to the EoQS. So yes we have a flawed democracy, but I don't think it is helpful to point to those flaws in order to undermine a policy when people are unwilling to participate in the current system. $\endgroup$
    – user1729
    Jan 5 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ "answering a PSQ is penalized because it rewards an undeserving asker" in my view this is not the main motivation for disallowing PSQs. The issue with PSQs is that they lead to the site having an extremely low signal-to-noise ratio (where the "noise" are students seeking to cheat on their homework, and the signal is everyone else). I don't even bother asking questions here anymore unless they are extremely elementary, because the questions just get Tumbleweeds. $\endgroup$
    – user7530
    Jan 6 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 "don't think it is helpful to point to those flaws in order to undermine a policy when people are unwilling to participate" $\;-\;$ Don't know where that "undermine' came from. I don't see how getting oneself banned by policy can be (mis)construed as an attempt to "undermine" the policy. The point about participation is valid, but that's only tangential to the topic here, and it's too wide to even try to answer in a comment. $\endgroup$
    – dxiv
    Jan 9 at 9:01

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