I'm a big fan of demonstrating good behaviour and avoiding getting a suspension. I have never received a suspension on any SE site*. However, this puts myself and those similar to me at a disadvantage because it means that only those who have experienced a suspension know the actual outcome and messages that are communicated to those who do get one.

I'm also a big fan of Hanlon's and Hitchen's Razors, so I have a tendency to lean towards defending the target of a suspension unless there is clear evidence available to me about the particulars. This, obviously, makes my opinion vulnerable to others explanation of their experiences. Without SE's explanation, it's a bit one-sided. Yes, we all know that a user's suspension is between SE and them, but there are other ways to make that less opaque.

As discussed in the comments to one particular high-rep user's experience, they misinterpreted a "suspension" message sent to them from 30 minutes to 30 days. I, obviously, cannot speak to this since I have no experience, and I questioned SE's processes. They have since updated their answer to retract their statement but I feel there is some evidence of a lack of transparency here if not to them, to us - non-offending users.

If one searches "suspension" in the Help Center, I find that the policies, penalties, and messages of suspension are exceptionally vague, only stating "(one day or more, depending on the violation)". This is obviously not true, since another moderator in the same comment trail has indicated that, for chat room reports, that particular suspension was only for 30 minutes and "the chat suspension...was automatically applied by the system because a comment was flagged".

Where (or why not) are these suspension policies published clearly (perhaps in table format?), particularly to include clearly the time penalty range and method of communication?

*(and would, honestly, probably take it harder than most if I were to be suspended, so I'd hasten to say it's a fear which exacerbates anxiety)

  • If anywhere , you will find that information on meta.se, though spread over a few posts. – Journeyman Geek Feb 20 at 3:33
  • Yes but, as we all know, these things change over time, so it would make more sense for it to be published centrally somewhere rather than scattered amongst people's bad experiences. I'd be surprised if these policies weren't codified in some way, too. – tudor Feb 20 at 3:38
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    Related: What does it take to get suspended? – pomsky Feb 20 at 4:43
  • Thanks @pomsky. Once again I see conflicting statements in the related answers. "The mods, and SE, do not give suspensions lightly over nothing." vs "that wasn't a mod-issued suspension and that's why there was no explanation" and "the chat suspension...was automatically applied by the system because a comment was flagged" – tudor Feb 20 at 4:56
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    @tudor there’s a difference between site suspensions and chat suspensions. Site suspensions are NEVER applied automatically. – MEE the setup wizard Feb 20 at 6:14
  • @MEEisJohannGambolputty... yes, I worked that out, but I still feel this is not explained well anywhere in the FAQs which is the first place I would expect someone to go when seeking clarity on a suspension, particularly if they weren't the target of the suspension. – tudor Feb 20 at 23:42

First of all, there are two broad categories of suspension: site suspension and chat suspension. I will address each of the separately.

Chat suspension

This is a suspension that is applied to your chat user. It doesn't block you from using any SE site and, in fact, it isn't even linked to any SE site. The SE chat system is shared across all sites in the SE network. With the exception of Stack Overflow and Meta Stack Exchange, who host their chats on http://chat.stackoverflow.com and http://chat.meta.stackexchange.com, all the rooms of the various sites are hosted on http://chat.stackexchange.com. This also means that all moderators of the SE network are chat moderators and any one of them can apply chat suspensions to any user from any site.

A chat suspension means that a user cannot participate in chat until the suspension is over. The user can still use the main sites normally, they just can't chat. Since these suspensions only affect chat, they are not treated with the same gravitas as site suspensions. For example, they can be issued automatically when multiple users flag something in chat as offensive. Then, the system will give a half-hour suspension to the offending chat user.

Alternatively, any moderator on the network can choose to suspend a user from chat if they feel they are being disruptive or if they are behaving in a way that breaks the Code of Conduct.

There are no clear cut rules about these suspensions since it's not really possible to have rules covering all eventualities. The details are left up to individual mods' discretion. However, it usually just comes down to "be nice" and "don't be disruptive".

Site suspension

These are the serious ones. When your user is suspended from the site, you cannot ask or answer questions. This sort of suspension can only be given by the site's mod team and by SE employees. Site suspensions are always accompanied by an email (and also a site inbox notification) from the mod team that will give the reason for the suspension. The suspended user can respond to the email to defend themselves if they feel the suspension was unfair. It isn't even possible to suspend a user without an email, the SE mod interface doesn't allow it. The only way we can suspend is by sending an email explaining the suspension.

As for when we suspend, the rules are relatively simple: if you break the code of conduct or other rules of the site. The most common reasons for suspending users (in no particular order) are:

  • Sock puppet shenanigans. A user has created multiple accounts and is using them to upvote their main account. Or, more generally, a user has multiple accounts and is using them to do things that would be impossible with a single account (down/upvoting posts multiple times, getting around a question ban or suspension, generally trying to game the system).
  • Vote shenanigans. A user keeps voting for another user. This can be upvotes or downvotes. While moderators cannot see who voted for whom, we do have access to general voting trends and tools that alert us when something looks fishy. Voting based on who posted instead of what was posted is against the spirit of SE and if a user insists on doing so, they may be suspended.

  • Rudeness. If a user is consistently rude or aggressive towards other users, the mods can choose to suspend them. Again, this is down to the discretion of individual mods. There is no way to define a clear threshold of rudeness after which a suspension will be applied. So we need the judgement of a human.

  • Defacing the site. A user who defaces posts (bad edits, hate speech, spam, even excessive deletion of your own content) can be suspended if they ignore moderator warnings and continue in their destructive behavior.
  • Anything else that is harming the site. Users who are being disruptive can be suspended to protect the site. This includes spammers, trolls, people who consistently post poor quality content etc.

In all of these cases, unless what you are doing is just blatantly bad, the mods will give a warning first. Our first recourse is always telling the user they're doing something wrong and we'll only suspend if they ignore that warning and persist in doing whatever it is they're doing. Of course, if a user is doing something really bad, we may go straight to a suspension, but those are the cases where the user knows exactly what they're doing wrong.

As for the length of suspension, this is the guidance the SE interface gives mods:

  • First (serious) offense: you get a 7-day suspension.
  • Second (serious) offense: 30 day suspension.
  • Third (serious) offense: 365 day suspension.

Also, for the first not so serious offense, the usual reaction is just a mod message letting you know you crossed a line and no suspension.

Now, the details will always vary. Mods are humans and able to apply their own judgement. This is actually precisely why we're here: as human exception handlers, and suspending users is very much an exception. This means we can choose to give a shorter or longer suspension as we feel is merited. There are no strict rules about this sort of thing and there can't be since the details will always be important. Someone who posts a comment using racial slurs and threatening physical harm will be dealt with much more heavily than someone who posts a comment calling another user a jerk. But, obviously, you cannot have a set of rules that says something like "jerk=1day, asshole=4days" etc. There will always be judgment calls.

In conclusion, there are no published suspension policies for the same reason there are no set sentences for crimes in real life. Just like you need a judge to make the call for how long to send someone to jail for, or a school principal to decide how long to suspend a student for, you need a human to make the call for how long to suspend for. And, just like in real life, there are guidelines that help make this decision, but these are not set in stone and cannot be 100% specific and unchanging.

  • I appreciate the answer but I disagree with the conclusion. Judges in western cultures still have a range to work within, and that is published within the law so everyone can see it and see that it is applied reasonably. So I don't agree with the reasoning that the ranges (and method of communication) shouldn't be published simply because it's applied case-by-case. – tudor Feb 20 at 23:36
  • @tudor I never said they shouldn't be published! I just gave you all we have. This is all there is, there are no hidden rules or anything, just these guidelines. The ranges are what I mention in the answer, and the method of communication is email and SE inbox notifications. – terdon Feb 21 at 0:39
  • I apologise, I misinterpreted your answer as staff because of the categorical "...there are no published suspension policies for the same reason...". I presume you didn't implement it so isn't that conjecture? Or do you have access to put this in the Help Center? – tudor Feb 21 at 1:08
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    @tudor sorry, you lost me there. Implement what? I haven't implemented anything on SE, I don't work there! But these are the guidelines we, the mods, have and work with. I can't put it in the help center, that can only be done by SE employees, but here it is in meta which is the next best thing (and thanks for posting a question as requested, by the way). – terdon Feb 21 at 1:17
  • Yes, that's my point. You didn't implement the policy processes and don't have access to publish them (outside of this answer) on SE, so your reasoning for SE (not) publishing them (in the Help Center) is conjecture based on experience rather than an actual involvement in either decision, correct? Really, I think you're missing an "I believe that" in the last paragraph. – tudor Feb 21 at 1:23
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    @tudor there seems to be some basic misunderstanding here. These are the policies. Suspensions are handed out by mods, not by SE (except when the problematic behavior extends across multiple sites). So I, or one of my fellow mods, will decide who and when and for how long to suspend for. There is nothing more for SE to publish. They aren't hiding anything, this is all there is. – terdon Feb 21 at 1:28
  • But there is. As your answer states chat suspensions are codified and the methods of communication are codified also. (And where does the "one day or more" come from if not somehow codified also?) – tudor Feb 21 at 1:31
  • Additionally, from reading further I think the statement is actually "there are no published suspension policies because there are no such policies, only guidance given to moderators." The comparison to real life judges is a bit misleading. It adds gravitas that, from your explanation, is not really comparable. – tudor Feb 21 at 1:37
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    @tudor codified? No, there is just an automated system that will suspend you from chat for half an hour if multiple users flag your messages as offensive. But that's just a half hour of no chatting, not really something to get worked up about. The one day or more is about site suspensions, not chat. And that just means that the smallest suspension we can give is a day. So all suspensions are a day or more because they cannot be less. And nothing is codified. We choose the length of the suspension, using the guidelines above as, well, guidelines. – terdon Feb 21 at 1:37
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    And no, of course it isn't comparable! We're not judges, we're just random internet people who have been voted into a janitorial position by other random internet people. I just used the judge as an example of how human judgment is involved in making decisions. A school principal deciding on how long to suspend a student for or a boss deciding on suspending an employee would have been better choices. They hadn't occurred to me while I was writing this. I'll edit tomorrow (it's late here). – terdon Feb 21 at 1:39
  • Any UI is a form of codification that has an effect on the outcome. e.g. "How many days to suspend the user: [___] (positive integer only)" means that the minimum of 1 day is therefore a codified policy. The way that is communicated is also a codified policy. Impact and significance is based on perspective. IMHO, each of these decisions has an impact that should be able to be independently verified (if only to ensure that the system is operating correctly). – tudor Feb 21 at 1:56
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    I'm not saying any of these are unreasonable, only that they are a little too opaque, IMHO, particularly to third-parties and non-mods. – tudor Feb 21 at 2:02

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