Suspension retrospective

Last week, a user was suspended for one week - this was later corrected to a one-week silencing (meaning the user cannot post). There were several communication failures and missteps in the way this was handled that - these escalated the situation more than was needed, and created a lot of confusion and lack of clarity for this user as well as others on the forum who were unsure how concerns were being addressed. The moderation team would like to address what happened, where we felt things went wrong, and what steps we’ll take to improve this in the future. Some of this information (e.g. exactly how many posts were flagged and their status) can be slightly hard to ascertain due to e.g. deleted or moved posts or the way the forum software presents information, or private messages between users - we’ve done our best to only include information we feel sure about.

Before a more detailed discussion, we would like to apologize to the user involved for the way this process has played out - our own guidelines were not followed and mistakes were made along the way, and the result was disruptive and harmful for him.

We would also like to apologize to everyone in this situation who had concerns they felt were not addressed transparently/swiftly/adequately, and anyone who may have had concerns but didn’t register them due to unclear mechanisms to do so, or general distrust in the moderation process. We’re sorry, we’d like this to be an environment where problems are clearly heard and dealt with efficiently, and where everyone feels comfortable bringing up concerns.

Finally, we want to clarify that this thread represents full transparency over the important details of what has happened, as far as we are aware. There are no other accusations or unresolved / pending actions on the table. If there are issues that you feel are not adequately addressed by things in this post, please reach out to the moderation team privately, or in a public comment on this thread (only if it feels appropriate) and we will address it. We recognize that some process issues and mistakes have corrupted this, and so we would like to keep the door open on any further actions if they are needed, whether they come up now or in the farther future.

What happened?

The user in question had 9 posts formally flagged for being “off-topic” over several months. All of these flags were approved by the moderation team, who felt these were indeed off-topic enough to be disruptive to the conversation. These flags are not disciplinary actions in themselves, they are mainly a way to make sure topics stay on track and don’t get too disrupted by unrelated conversation. Privately, the moderation team has informally discussed when to enforce off-topic posting - there was consensus that off-topic posts should be split to their own topic when it made sense, and that enforcing off-topic posts felt most important for development-related topics, where keeping the thread on track and avoiding unrelated noise felt like a priority.

There was a feeling of at least one moderator that the pattern of off-topic posts, as well as the tone and content of several newer posts, required immediate action - this action, a suspension for one week, circumvented our normal moderation guidelines either by mistake or intentionally - it did not happen with consensus from the whole moderation team, and did not follow major points of guidance from our moderation guide. This was later downgraded to a one-week silencing (e.g. only that the user cannot post), which would have been closer to the “formal” policy here, with the intention of giving moderators time to assess a situation and decide what further actions (if any) are necessary, while avoiding further escalation.

What went wrong?

  • We acknowledge that there is no public or formal policy around “off-topic posts”, and we have no clear or transparent decision criteria for whether a post is off-topic enough to take action, other than vague internal agreements. We also have no obvious criteria for when off-topic posting would be disruptive enough to be considered e.g. disrespectful. This is obviously ambiguous territory, and there is not consensus in the community or clear guidance here.

    • Follow-up: in the coming days, we will start a conversation in a new topic about what the community thinks are appropriate guidelines and processes for handling off-topic posts. If you have opinions on this, we’d love if you could express them in this topic when we post it.
  • It appears that not all off-topic flag actions were clearly transmitted to the user in question, so his visibility into the flagging was very different than the mod team. This may simply be a software usability issue, or a UI ambiguity. This did not give the user a fair chance to adjust their behavior, reach out to moderators to ask additional questions about what was / was not appropriate, or register disagreement about the flagging.

    • Follow-up: We will look carefully at how flagging actions are communicated to users on Discourse, and make sure a user is aware of every confirmed flag against a post of theirs, so that they have clear idea of WHY and have space to ask questions or disagree. If repeated off-topic posting becomes a serious issue and not just an “topic organization” issue, we will use official warnings to users to communicate this, rather than relying only on flags.
  • Off-topic posts are generally not a disciplinary problem or e.g. against the code of conduct - however, some moderators and users had an opinion that the repeated pattern of off-topic posts was an issue that needed to be addressed. Additionally, there were posts that were not flagged but still deemed to be inappropriate enough to warrant action. Nonetheless, the user in question was never given a formal or clear warning about the flagged posts or the pattern of communication, and there was never an explicit consensus discussion on the mod team about whether there was a problem here at all. Issuing a warning first is part of our moderation guide, and ensures a user clearly knows where they have violated norms and have a chance to respond if they disagree or have questions - a warning was never proposed or issued. Openness and consensus-based decision-making are the basis of how we chose to act, and this did not occur.

    • Follow-up: We will stick to our moderation policy of issuing formal warnings where we feel lines have been crossed. These warnings are always up for clarification, discussion, and dispute. Behavior that might require a warning will be explicitly discussed by moderators, rather than leaving a situation where e.g. moderators have unspoken differing opinions that lead to lack of action or ambiguity. We allow that process can be circumvented in more extreme circumstances e.g. to prevent abuse or escalation.
    • Follow-up: The moderation team missed opportunities for reaching out pro-actively to discuss the off-topic issue with the user in question, which would have made for more chances to improve this situation before it escalated. We believe this is due to both ambiguous policies re off-topic posting, as well the current moderation team simply being too small / unavailable to deal with issues in a timely manner. This will be addressed via the discussion of off-topic posts, and expanding the moderation team (below).
  • The user was suspended, and was not given a reason. This is not our agreed-upon process for moderation, and came across as overly severe and without any information that would have helped clarify reasons or allow for follow-up discussions. Issuing a warning first is the policy of our moderation guide, and ensures a user clearly knows where they have violated norms and have a chance to respond if they disagree or have questions. A short term silencing / downgrade of users status occurs in a case where one or more official warnings are ignored, or in more exceptional cases of more severe code of conduct violations - neither of these things were the case.

    • Follow-up: Our moderation guide has a clear process of: (1) warning, (2) short-term silencing, (3) suspension in severe cases. Each step should include a clear explanation of why it’s happening, as well as mechanisms for follow-up communication. Suspension is a last resort, and removes access to the forum completely - in this case, one or more email addresses should be included for follow-up communication if it’s safe to do so. The moderation team will stick to this process in the future, and any steps taken will be logged so other moderators have visibility and can ensure the process is fair.
    • Follow-up: The moderation team has communicated to the user in question that there were cases where flagging was warranted, and cases where no explicit flags or reports were made but where we thought the forum was being used inappropriately and communication could be more germane and conflict-free in the future.
  • Actions were taken based on private communication and complaints that were not registered or logged in any formal way. This makes it difficult or impossible for the moderation team to have a clear view of whether action needs to be taken, what action(s) to take, whether the original concerns were addressed and that everyone is treated fairly. We recognize that a major reason why complaints end up in private communications or silent is because of a lack of transparency about who is on the moderation team, what moderation mechanisms are available, as well as opacity or distrust in whether / what follow up actions will be taken.

    • Follow-up: We will post and pin documentation of moderation guidelines and policies, including what to do in cases where you feel a post may be inappropriate or disrespectful, violate community guidelines, etc. This will include a list of moderators, and ways to make contact with the moderation team or specific moderators in cases where it’s needed.
    • Follow-up: A communication where a moderator reaches out to a user in a non-conversational official capacity will be reported to other moderators for review and transparency. Messages that constitute official warnings will be marked as such - if you are receiving an official warning from a mod, it will be clear and unambiguous.
    • Follow-up: we want to make sure we have a diverse and attentive moderation team - this is important to make sure everyone in the community feels like they are represented and have a clear communication channel and ally if they have a concern. With that mind, we’ll start a process in the next weeks to nominate and vote for new people to add to the mod team. New moderators will also give us a chance to jump-start discussions around how we do moderation on the forum and improvements that can be made.
  • Similarly, we recognize that some users feel that they have faced complaints or allegations that have not been formally logged or detailed, including possible Code of Conduct issues. We take the Code of Conduct very seriously, and recognize both how crucial it is that any possible issues are addressed, and that everyone facing allegations has the right to respond in discussion with moderators. Decisions on such issues cannot be made opaquely.

    • Follow-up: We encourage all issues to be raised via our formal moderation process, either via flagging or a private message to a moderator. If issues are raised outside this (e.g. an in person conversation, discussion topic, or in an email) we ask that these be formally submitted so we can be sure they are handled transparently and fairly. Public accusations that remain unexplained even when reasonable information is requested may be hidden, as they are unfair to users being accused and we are unable to act on them in an appropriate way. It’s important to note that moderators themselves can also be flagged, and we will never silence or hide discussion or criticism of moderation decisions or failures of the moderation team.

If you feel that there are things that are not addressed in this list, please mention in a reply or contact us privately.

Thanks for patience, we know this has been frustrating and we hope this can be a productive and forward-moving discussion that results in a more pleasant, respectful, and productive forum.

With respect, moderation team


Thank you a lot for this and I really appreciate your effort to make things clear in such detail.


More informally, apologies this took as long as it did. We felt it was important to try to get it right.


Apologies for pressuring you guys, as soon as I read it I could see you put a lot of care and effort making things clear and right.


No worries! It’s been heartening to see how much people care about this community and its conduct. That all comes from a good place!

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In relation to this case, one user has been suspended for a week and one user appears to have left the forum. Both are important members of this forum. I hope this will never happen again.

I think off-topic flagged replies could be handled with a softer rule due to the following reasons:

  1. For the questioner and information seeker who needs help or information quickly, off-topic replies and all non-informative posts are not welcome. It can be a nightmare and an incredible waste of time for them. However, some off-topic replies can also enrich the conversation and broaden the perspective of those users who have the time to read and reply. For them, reading an off-topic reply can be a meaningful moment.

  2. In some cases I believe that slightly off-topic replies may be better than no replies at all. No replies may be since no one has come across a case similar to the question, but it may also be because the question has been ignored.

Splitting a thread is already a good way of doing this.

However, a one-week suspension is a bit harsh. Instead, how about giving the off-topic poster the reason for the flag each time, with sufficient explanation? (It is certainly a time-consuming job for the moderator group.) If a suspension is necessary, I think two or three days would be enough. For me, this forum is almost my only window to the world at the moment. I would be really sad if I was suspended for a week.

There’s a multiple-page statement from the mod team at the top of this thread which agrees with this point.

There were multiple points of failure, which I think are well discussed above such that it isn’t really useful for me to rehash them. The incident has sparked extensive introspection among the mod team about how to move forward and prevent incidents like this in the future. Nobody wants a repeat.

My opinion is that topics in the Questions or Code Review categories should police topic boundaries relatively tightly (this wasn’t done consistently, leading to frustration and an eventual overreaction); Development category, it depends (in some topics, it may be productive to allow a wider-ranging discussion); and it would also be useful to have a space for random chit-chat (e.g. the Pd forum has an “Off-Topic” category, formally! I would see some benefit in creating this category here) so that members can engage in fun / speculative conversation without affecting more specific, technical threads.

I’d also point out that there are some deeply hurt feelings remaining as a result of this incident, such that it probably is not helpful to rehash individual or collective mistakes publicly. As the above response states: if anyone has concerns that the above reply doesn’t address to their satisfaction, they’re invited to contact members of the moderation team directly. This is not out of a desire to silence discussion, but out of respect for certain members’ desire for privacy and quiet and peace to recover from the fallout. The moderators’ list is linked above.



I don’t think anyone but the thread’s author should be able to make that decision - having a third party adjudicate over what the author finds on-topic seems problematic. How many questions or code reviews have gone off topic as identified by the original author? I imagine this is quite a small percentage and not worth the trouble altogether.

I don’t know how discourse works, but a flagging-like system asking the commentor(s) to move their conversation to another thread might be more appropriate?

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As noted above: That should not have happened in this case, and won’t be how we aim to address concerns in future.

This is exactly how the flagging system is supposed to work. Ideally the author of a flagged post can edit or move it to address the concern without 3rd party moderation. If it had been automatically hidden, it would then be restored. This is perhaps unclear to users however, and we will review the forum settings for flagging.

I don’t think it’s reasonable or practical to expect all authors to moderate their own threads. Some won’t feel comfortable doing that, and threads are not the property of one user. All users can raise concerns. We are all collectively responsible for supporting the good conduct of our community.

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I think we’re all sensitive to the fact that topic boundaries are a porous gray area, more like watercolors than like Lichtenstein black-inked borders. Inevitably it will always be a judgment call.

I could perhaps say it better like this: In the Questions category, there’s a relatively high likelihood of more tightly focused topics, whereas in, say, a language category such as French or Korean, a higher likelihood of looser, chattier topics. Even within Questions, some topics will be more speculative and open, where others will be “how do I xyz?” and I don’t think anyone wants to hard-impose the same standard on all of these.

There’s more scrutiny on this question now because of recent process failures, but I think it will be possible to exercise a light touch that is firm only when needed.


We recognize that off-topic posts have a variety of opinions and no consensus yet - there’s more to work out here. We will make a separate topic to discuss off-topic posting and flags, lets save the detailed conversation for that?

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Discourse’s flagging system - when it comes to content that isn’t offensive or unambiguously Code-of-Conduct breaking - is intended first and foremost as a user-to-user communication mechanism. In general, posts are not automatically hidden unless they have been flagged by several users. Posts are also unflagged automatically if they are edited. Re jordan’s comment - short answer is, a flag is a request for a user to split or otherwise fix up an off-topic post.

The ideal resolution to e.g. a good-faith off-topic flag is the original author either alters the post to be more on-topic, or splits it into a separate topic. The hope is that a vast majority of cases are solved by users choosing how to self-edit their own posts based on good-faith feedback from other forum users. Moderator action / “enforcement” should only really be happening in cases where someone disputes a flag, refuses to edit the original post, or where false-flagging / flagged posts are an egregious or repeating problem for a particular user.

I think we have not always treated flags this way, and it’s not clear to folks that this is the way the system is intended to work - we can do some work to clarify and decide together how we want to use it (again, lets save this conversation for another topic?)

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