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CZ:Moderator Blocking Procedures

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The Citizendium Moderator Group is established to ensure that the community remains a collegial place to do work. To this end, it must enforce certain rules, up to and including blocking an account.

There are two classes of offense that can result in a blocked account, or "ban": those to which any Moderator can be expected to make a fair, rapid response, and those that are relatively difficult to adjudicate, and which require a lengthier process. We have separated the relevant policies into two sections, below.

Strictly speaking, it is not accounts that are banned but persons, who are then forbidden from creating new accounts. Bans can be reversed only upon appeal or through application for reinstatement.

Moderators, and persons contacting Moderators, should bear in mind that in general it is the function of the Moderator Group to regulate behavior, not editorial matters. This is very important!

These rules are still, as of March 2007, under development. We are apt to find grounds for banning that are not yet covered above. In such cases, we must discuss the situation fair-mindedly, and with a view to the future. In some cases, we should issue a warning and formulate a new rule. In other cases, no doubt we should ban the person outright even in the absence of a specific rule. In time, our rules will be formulated well enough, though, that such ad hoc actions on our part are unnecessary.

Rapid Response Rules and Procedures

See Ombudsman suggestion for Forum procedures

The Moderator Group holds that there are certain offenses the quality of which is immediately evident simply by reading text that the offender has written, or by observing behavior. In such cases, Moderators are charged with responding as quickly as possible. Some of these offenses will result in a warning first, then a ban; others will result in an immediate ban, as we have a "zero tolerance policy" toward these offenses.

In either case, here is the procedure for enforcing the following rules. First, a Moderator spots the offense, or receives a report about it and examines it. Second, if necessary, the Moderator consults the rule and confirms that, in his or her own judgment, the rule clearly covers the offense. Third, the Moderator applies the ban (duration is permanent unless otherwise noted) or issues the warning prescribed.

If in doubt, a Moderator must consult with the Moderator mailing list.

Offenses that will result in a warning first, then a ban

The following are offenses that are both clear and serious, but which in the judgment of the Moderator Group warrant first a (single) warning, followed by a permanent ban after the second offense. Warnings can be considered to have "expired" after six months.

  • Blatant and obvious violations of the Citizendium neutrality policy, or other fundamental policies.
  • Insults or personal attacks, on talk pages or other open forums, that are relatively mild, but which are still definitely objectionable on grounds that they aggressively impugn the moral character, or personal or professional credibility, of a project member. It does not matter whether these attacks are made using Citizendium resources or other resources.
  • Disrespectful characterization of others' work on talk pages or other open forums. Note, mere criticism of a position or a forceful reply does not necessarily qualify as disrespectful; objectionable language has an implication of personal criticism, or can be reasonably taken to have such an implication. For help, see Professionalism.
  • An author (or an editor writing as an author, e.g., outside of his or her area of expertise) straightforwardly ignoring or disobeying content decisions made by an editor about an article that is within the editor's area of expertise, even if the decision is under appeal. For details, see Author Conflict Resolution.
  • Deleting significant amounts of content (50 words or more) without explanation; or deleting Citizendium-sourced content in order to start a new article, without first fully discussing the matter and getting broad agreement, or a positive decision from appropriate editorial staff.
  • Reverting someone else's work (that is, simply undoing all the edits that someone else has made) without warning or explanation. Any simple reversion must be accompanied by an explanation at the very least.
  • Uploading of copyrighted material that is not properly licensed for reuse.
  • Casually (not maliciously) placing the {{speedydelete}} template on articles not deletable by Moderators acting on their own recognizance: see Article Deletion Policy.

Offenses that will result in an immediate ban

Any language or behavior that most reasonable persons would interpret in the following ways may, and probably will, result in an immediate, permanent ban.

  • Threats, either of physical harm or of other egregious aggression, whether against an individual or a group of individuals.
  • Extremely offensive insults or personal attacks; direct and harsh attacks on the moral character, or personal or professional credibility, of a project member in good standing; or any application of particularly crude and vulgar epithets ("four letter words") to project members in good standing. It does not matter whether these attacks are made using Citizendium resources or other resources.
  • Defamation; making what a reasonable person should know are false or unproven (and therefore legally actionable) claims about a person that affect the reputation and/or earning potential of that person.
  • Use of an unapproved pseudonym, or falsifying credentials.
  • Creation of a second account (a "sockpuppet") without first having the first account disactivated. In this case, both accounts will be blocked. Obviously people can make innocent mistakes here; the penalty is applicable only when a person attempts to create two separate identities.
  • Vandalism, i.e., the gratuitous changing of text, or moving pages, evidently aimed at offending readers and/or inconveniencing Moderators.
  • Writing or uploading clearly obscene, horrifically violent, or (in general) patently offensive text, images, or sounds.
  • Public posting of private, personal e-mails of Citizens.
  • Use of the wiki to sell goods and "spam," including, but not limited to, writing or editing articles about one's own company or organization, as well as adding links to websites with which one is associated. Persons tempted to do this are instructed to e-mail the Topic Informant Group at czinternal-topic@citizendium.org, or for minor additions, to use the article's talk page.
  • Deliberate and malicious misuse of the {{speedydelete}} template.

Some Rules of Behavior Enforced by Moderators

In general, see Moderator Group Blocking Procedures.

No initialisms. The Policy pages of the Citizendium may not contain any three-letter “initialisms.” For example, “IAR,” “NOR,” and “AFD” are three letter initialisms. These expressions are a considerable problem for new users who are unfamiliar with them. The first time a user introduces such an expression in a policy page, he/she will be advised of the policy by the expression being replaced by the {{acronym}} template. The second time a user repeats this offense, he may be warned. Continued offenses may be considered a behavioral issues and the Moderator may then block the user, the account and the IP address as well as the users forum account.

Rules regarding user pages. The content of user pages and their associated "talk pages" must conform to certain rules (see above). Moderators will enforce these rules about the content of user and talk pages.


How to do a "rapid response" ban

The following are guidelines addressed to Moderators.

While adjudication process should be used for complex, difficult cases, the majority of our bans are done using the above "rapid response" rules.

We are committed to leniency. We are committed by our Statement of Fundamental Policies to exercise leniency. Therefore, even if someone has strictly speaking done something that appears to warrant an immediate ban, an immediate ban is not always recommended or required. For instance, if the person in question has otherwise been a very productive member of the community, might have some honest confusion about the rules, or has some other mitigating circumstances, leniency is in order.

But the rules can be applied exactly as stated. Our commitment to leniency must not be taken to mean that we cannot apply the rules exactly as stated. For instance, if someone arrives on the scene and immediately reacts to criticism by making a physical threat, we may remove the offender without a warning. Common sense, good judgment, and reference to our growing "case law" are called for.

Interaction on talk pages prior to warnings and bans. Frequently, Moderators will issue informal instructions that do not amount to warnings or even reprimands (note, we do not have any formal category of "reprimand")--clarifications of rules, for example. It is a good idea to call everyone's attention to the relevant rules or etiquette guides, etc. But if you do so, try to do so in a generalized way, not directed at any one person. It is important not to make people feel defensive on the wiki, because that will only escalate the situation. Also, if you do make any instructions, make it absolutely clear in your own mind that you are not, in fact, issuing a warning.

Avoid the mere perception of a conflict of interest. Moderators writing or commenting on the substance of the article may not issue warnings or make bans based on behavior on the article's talk page, even if a Moderator is not actually involved in a dispute. It is necessary to find an uninvolved Moderator to issue warnings or do bans. The reason for this is, of course, to avoid the appearance that the Moderator is using his or her authority to advance his or her own editorial position. Any such appearance would have a profoundly negative impact on the esteem in which the Moderator Group is held, so we Moderators must follow this rule strictly.

How to issue warnings. Warnings are best conveyed by e-mail, not on the wiki. The reason for this is that public criticism tends to provoke difficult users into debates on the wiki itself, which can be very disruptive. (Indeed, that's why we have a rule against criticism and complaints about other users on the wiki.) When issuing warnings, it is very important to be professional and businesslike, and not to "get personal." Describe the offending behavior objectively, and do not use belittling, contemptuous, or other such negative language. Note that the use of the {{nocomplaints}} template obviously clues a person in that his language is inappropriate, but it does not by itself constitute a warning. Indeed, a person can write something that we delete without thereby committing a bannable offense.

Components of a warning. In a warning e-mail, be sure to:

  1. explicitly state that this is a warning, and that further violation may lead to a permanent ban without further warnings;
  2. cite the rule(s) violated; and
  3. link to at least one instance (preferably several, if there are several) of a "diff" page in page histories that illustrates the offense. (To find the "diff" page, go to the page where the offense took place > history > select both the version just before the offense, and the version containing the offense > press the "Compare selected versions or set status" button.)

When is it necessary to consult the Moderator list before a ban? Generally, when in doubt, consult. Do not ban someone "in the heat of the moment," i.e., if you feel angry. Such feelings are an indicator that you need to consult cooler heads first, or simply let someone else do the ban, if necessary. This said, bear in mind that as a Moderator you are fully permitted to make "rapid response" bans when they are clearly warranted. If someone is making adolescent insults right and left, ban him.

How long should bans last? The software gives you the option of banning someone for a few hours, a day, a week, etc. Always choose "infinite." This does not mean that a person cannot ever return to the Citizendium; rather, we simply do not have any particular date at which the person's account will again come available. That is because anyone who is banned can rejoin the project only after a successful appeal or an application for reinstatement. Note that a ban can specify a certain amount of time after which a person can apply for reinstatement; but reinstatement is not automatic.

The ban procedure. If you have decided to ban someone, here's the procedure.

  1. If the ban seems quite pressing (abuse is severe and ongoing), block the user first. Otherwise, draft the letter first.
  2. Collect evidence for the ban letter.
  3. Draft the ban letter.
  4. Copy the person's user page and user talk page (the wiki code), and paste it below the signature on the ban letter.
  5. Go to the person's user page and press "Block user" (in the "toolbox" area, lower left). Choose expiry "infinite" and state the reason briefly, just a few words. Don't bother to check the boxes.
  6. Request a forum moderator to ban the person's forums account.
  7. Immediately after this, send the ban letter (by e-mail of course).
  8. Forward a copy of the ban letter to the Moderator list and to Moderators@citizendium.org. File the latter copy in "Formal cases".
  9. If the user has made no contributions, or if all contributions have been removed, the user pages can be deleted. If contributions exist, do not delete these pages. Instead, surround the author categories at the bottom of the user page (such as [[CZ:Authors]]) with <!-- and --> to render the invisible in workgroup and user lists.

Components of a ban letter. Moderators, you can find examples of letters explaining bans filed under "Formal cases", and you can use those letters as templates if you like. But here are the components we should include in these letters:

  • State that you have blocked the account.
  • State the grounds in two parts. First, describe the specific offense(s)--the more detail the better, particularly for potentially controversial cases. Second, state the rules violated by the offense(s).
  • State the grounds for applying the rule. For example, "These rules have been duly announced and are available to view on the wiki." But if the case has occasioned the new application of a general rule (and the case is egregious enough to warrant such ex post facto treatment), then this will require more explanation.
  • If the person was previously warned, say so.
  • Inform the person of his or her rights: (1) the right to have material about this case published on the wiki; (2) the right to appeal (to another Moderator); and (3) the right to apply for reinstatement (after some period yet to be established). (We might, of course, be adding to this list.)
  • Sign the letter "The Citizendium Moderator Group". You may include either your name or your code--this is up to you.
  • Include the wiki code for the person's user page and user talk page beneath your signature.

The Citizendium Adjudication Process

While Moderators are empowered to take many actions singly and with only appeal oversight--in relatively clear cases--disruptions of the community in many less clear cases cannot be decided so summarily. The following describes the process we have adopted for adjudicating the hard cases.

Here is a summary. Somebody reports a violation to Moderators@citizendium.org. If it seems serious, but not something that anyone can act on immediately, someone forwards it to czinternal-Moderator. Then two people volunteer to look into the matter and compile a list of problems and what rules they violate. At the same time they ask the respondent if he/she wants them to publish the results on the wiki. They collect statements from anyone involved who wants to offer them, and then settle on a decision. This decision is quickly put before the larger group of Moderators before acted on--then it is acted on.

In detail:

1. The adjudication process formally begins when someone makes a complaint about a Citizendium contributor by sending an e-mail to Moderators@citizendium.org. It may be a Moderator who lodges this complaint.

2. If a complaint is frivolous, resolvable summarily, or otherwise does not require a formal process, it will be resolved by whichever Moderator first responds, and then placed in an appropriate folder. Otherwise, a Moderator will forward the mail to the Moderator mailing list.

3. Two Moderators declare on the Moderator list that they volunteer to take up the case. Note that, due to conflict of interest concerns, no Moderator who has been a party to a dispute with a respondent may volunteer, nor may Moderators adjudicate disputes about their peers in a given workgroup of which they are members, or in which they often do much work regardless of whether they are members.

Note that merely having previously been an assigned Moderator for a case involving the respondent does not constitute having been "party to a dispute" with the respondent. It is the Citizendium Moderator Group, not any particular Moderator, that has the dispute with the respondent.

4. If in the opinion of either of the assigned Moderators (including the first volunteer) it is the case that both (a) there is excellent evidence of a bannable offense, and (b) there is no evidence that the offending behavior has stopped or is likely to stop, then that Moderator may block the account of the respondent, with the following notice in the log and in an e-mail to the respondent: "Your user account has been placed on probation, possibly only temporary, by the Citizendium Moderator Group, pending the final resolution of your case."

5. The assigned Moderators then ask the respondent whether he/she wishes the proceedings to be made public on the wiki or else to be kept private. The proceedings are kept private until the respondent clearly instructs the Moderator Group to make the proceedings public, e.g., with the words, "Please make the proceedings of this case public."

6. The assigned Moderators then compile a list of offenses, that is, they list the respondent's offending edits or otherwise document the respondent's offending behaviors. If there are very many of them, then the Moderators list only those that are perceived to be the most egregious, and summarize the rest.

7. Next, the assigned Moderators present these documents to the respondent and to any other persons most directly impacted by the respondent's actions, and ask for statements from all parties. One week, measured from the time the request is first made, is allowed for statements, although the statement period can be shortened by various parties saying that they will not be making a statement. The respondent, in particular, is asked whether he/she wishes to contest either the findings of fact or the applicability of various rules to these findings of fact.

8. If the statements require any significant revision to the list of offenses, then 6-7 are repeated, although with the period for further statements being limited to three days.

9. The Moderators make a decision regarding the case, given their findings of fact, their judgment regarding what rules have been broken (and how egregiously), and any other relevant information contained in the statements proffered by the respondent and others affected.

10. If the Moderators cannot agree on a decision, or if in the view of either of the Moderators, the case presents any special difficulties, e.g., the covering rules are not clear or do not exist yet, then the case is forwarded to the entire Moderator group for discussion. All efforts shall be made by Moderators to arrive at consensus. If no consensus appears forthcoming, then the Chief Moderator calls for a vote, which he or she then tallies. The decision in the case is then executed by one of the original volunteers.

11. If, however, both Moderators agree on a decision and that the case presents no special difficulties, then all documents are submitted to the Moderator mailing list, and (at about the same time) one of the assigned Moderators executes the decision.

The Appeals Process

Both bans and warnings may be appealed by sending an e-mail to Moderators@citizendium.org.

Appeals are to be assigned by the Chief Moderator to a group of three Moderators which does not include any of the original Moderators who made the decision.

Appeals may either be granted, rejected, or dismissed. Decisions made about appeals are final.

While appeals may be rejected with no ill consequences, appeals with no merit whatsoever may be dismissed. The accumulation of dismissed appeals will be regarded by the Moderator Group as evidence of participation in bad faith, and may contribute to an author's ejection from the project.

We have not yet had any appeals and future policy may be settled more definitely after we do.

Application for Reinstatement

Generally speaking, reinstatement of contributor rights is achievable after a period of some months, so long as the respondent demonstrates remorse about and understanding of the offense, and also convincingly proves his or her identity. Requests for reinstatement may be made by sending a mail to Moderators@citizendium.org.

The Moderator Group will decide (via discussion on its mailing list) what an appropriate period is required before reinstatement may be granted, or whether reinstatement is indeed possible.

Reinstatement a second time will be much more difficult, and probably impossible.

How to block an account

Moderators should see the private Moderator Group page for information on how to block an account.