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If a user is suspended for plagiarism, is it possible for non-moderators to view the plagiarism? If not should it be possible? It seems that this would be a good idea from the perspective of transparency. As far as reputational damage goes, it seems that being suspended for plagiarism already constitutes reputational damage. Allowing inspection would simply allow any interested party to verify the plagiarism.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ See also this question on Stack Overflow Meta: Suspension for almost 6 months for plagiarism?. Although SO is a different site and the question is different, I imagine the answer will be the same: it is a private matter between the Moderators and the user. \$\endgroup\$
    – toolic
    Dec 16, 2022 at 11:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Allowing everybody to see in high definition what was done leads to a more permanent loss of reputation in the minds of those who see. The purpose of the actions of the moderators is to reform and eventually restore the member, with as little loss of reputation as possible. If you see what actually happened, you will form your own judgement -- but will you let it go when the penalty box has ended? Many people can't so easily overlook, once they've seen up close and personal. We must let the moderators do their jobs and trust them and the process. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 16, 2022 at 12:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ But a part of me is with you. I, too, want to make sure that my friend has been treated fairly and is safe. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 16, 2022 at 12:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is your definition of "moderator"? Dimaond mods? Or regular users with >=10000 rep who have access to moderator tools? As I see it, those users can already verify by themselves the validity of plagiarism accusations from the ability to see deleted posts. The only difficulty is to get a link to the post in question, but if it is recently deleted, it will appear on the moderator tools page. Given your rep, you can do it already. So, is the question "should this be available to users with rep lower than 10000"? \$\endgroup\$
    – dim
    Dec 16, 2022 at 12:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MicroservicesOnDDD if you like there is a link at the bottom of the page, you can contact a Community Moderator and have them look into any issue that you have. \$\endgroup\$
    – Voltage Spike Mod
    Dec 16, 2022 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dim how would I find the plagiarism? If a user has been suspended for plagiarism I would have to search through all their deleted posts one by one trying to find the one that is marked as being plagiarism. Maybe there is an easier way and I just don't know it. \$\endgroup\$
    – user57037
    Dec 16, 2022 at 18:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Occasionally people claim to be treated unfairly by moderators. I have not seen this and I am aware that some people on the internet are essentially pathological people who constantly cause problems and think it is anyone's fault but their own. However it is also the case that sometimes there is real bias in moderation, or a person may be singled out by a group unfairly. It seems to me that on this site there is little visibility into the actions of moderators vis-a-vis third parties. We just have to trust them. I guess, big picture, you might want to think about that. \$\endgroup\$
    – user57037
    Dec 16, 2022 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ "As far as reputational damage goes, it seems that being suspended for plagiarism already constitutes reputational damage." All users will get displayed as having rep 1 while suspended. That's only temporary though and the purpose seems to be blocking them from all earned privileges during the suspension. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Dec 23, 2022 at 9:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ As for transparency, the company is a "benevolent dictator" and may do as they like, at a whim. If you don't like that, then don't use a Q&A site owned by a private company, but use the community managed, open-source alternatives. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Dec 23, 2022 at 9:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm also wary when I see someone shout "plagiarism" after I learnt that academia thinks it's plagiarism if you post your own work in two places. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Dec 27, 2022 at 23:40

4 Answers 4

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A commenter noted that "I, too, want to make sure that my friend has been treated fairly and is safe." I'll note up-front that I consider everyone my friend, and that I desire that everyone be treated fairly. Ensuring that people who get involved in any process are "safe" is harder - but I both wish and actively seek to ensure that this is the case. Those may sound rather grandiose claims. Notwithstanding, I mean them.

The rules on privacy, both societal and for this site, make it hard to satisfy others users' requests for relevant information. As a moderator I have an "insider's view" of what is involved. However, this answer is a personal response.

In any specific case it is not possible to talk about not just the material involved but issues of extent, frequency, reason and intent.

For the purposes of this discussion I suggest an informal definition of plagiarism that should serve the purpose is "unacknowledged posting of licensed material as if it was your own work in a manner that does not meet the requirement of the licence AND which would get you barred from any course at a school, university or any other body of learning." ie actions which would be clearly and universally recognised as plagiarism. This is not an attempt to 'stand on ceremony' but to deal with action that is clearly unacceptable. Major action is not taken on single instances. Significant action is liable to be the result of an ongoing problem.

In all cases, citing licenced material used in answers is a requirement of this site - both to protect the integrity and value of the site and also as a legal requirement. eg even Wikipedia, which is widely viewed as an essentially open source of information, is covered by a CC by-SA licence, as is this site.

Citing internet based material used is trivially easy. In practice some latitude is allowed (essentially observing the spirit and maybe the letter of the law) - provision of a live link to the source material is generally accepted as adequate.

For the purposes of this post plagiarism can be divided into two forms.

  • In some cases plagiarism is just a matter of someone trying to appear more capable than they are, while

  • In other cases (generally less common) the person concerned may be extremely capable and the reasons and background to the actions may be both more complex and harder to understand.

In the latter case it can be very or completely unclear what lies behind the plagiarism. Moderators are liable to attempt to work with people in such cases to point out the site requirements (even though they are liable to be already clear enough) and to indicate the unacceptability of such action. It would be expected that this would be adequate to solve the problem. Sometimes it isn't.

As ever E&OE. Hopefully I have not mis-spoken anywhere above. Comments and input welcome.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You I do not question, as I respect and value you highly. But with the Monica Cellio incident and the likes of Olin Lathrop leaving for less political pastures, I question... What is going on? And that is what makes me question the fairness -- though I know nothing at all about the related happenings. I have also had my own struggles here, and I'm also a 55 year old curmudgeon who thinks I've earned a right to bark a little at what I think is wrong with the world. As far as the safety of my friend, I had one friend take his life, and you never know when it is the last straw for a friend. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 22, 2022 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ and I now tend towards trying to keep people safe (from themselves?) rather than just assume that everybody is doing okay (especially at Christmas time). I sure would like it if, when a member is taken out of fellowship for a while, that we would have an arm of our own organization constantly reaching out to them every few days. A "Shepherds Anonymous" organization, sort of having as their mission to chase down the lost sheep, both reminding them to behave, yet telling them we value them. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 22, 2022 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am glad that you consider yourself to be everyone's friend. I value you highly. And the other moderators as well. I'm sorry if what I said was unclear. Please accept my apology. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 22, 2022 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MicroservicesOnDDD do you not have some way outside of Stack Exchange to contact your friend? SE is not intended to be a social networking site, so relying on it for that kind of thing doesn't seem like the best idea. \$\endgroup\$
    – brhans
    Dec 25, 2022 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MicroservicesOnDDD If people disappear from this site and their "real" names are known it is often possible to find them elsewhere on the web. This is an example only. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Dec 26, 2022 at 9:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @brhans It is often hard or impossible to contact a site member by other means - even if they would be happy to be contacted. Some hide their true ID on both this site and others. Sometimes they use the same or similar nomdeweb here and elsewhere making it easier to locate them. All this I know you know - but it somewhat relates to your comment re social networking and contact. It is permissible to place ones contact details - email or other - in one's profile. In my case I list my email address and telephone number in my profile. I am occasionally contacted by group members by this path. \$\endgroup\$
    – Russell McMahon Mod
    Dec 26, 2022 at 9:25
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Russell has provided a useful answer regarding general principles. I will address your questions with specifics about the Stack Exchange network.

If you want to "verify the plagiarism" then you will have to find it yourself -- moderators are not going to give you a list of plagiarized posts. While you may think this is useful to "protect" a user and check that he wasn't unfairly (in your judgment) suspended, it is also an unnecessary airing of that user's dirty laundry...especially if such a list is provided while the user is suspended and unable to respond in any way to defend himself. Furthermore, moderators have access to additional information about the user's history which non-moderators do not -- and that history is likely relevant to the moderators' decision on how to handle the plagiarism (e.g. edit in attribution or delete the post), whether or not to suspend, and how long to suspend. Therefore, even if you were given a list of plagiarized posts you would not have access to all the relevant information that the moderators have -- especially for longer suspensions. Minor infractions will result in a (usually private) warning with no suspension or a short suspension (perhaps a day, 3 days, or a week), and most non-moderators will not even notice such action taken against a plagiarist. Only major infractions or a history of past incidents will result in longer suspensions.

If you are concerned about verifying plagiarism, transparency, moderators abusing their powers, etc., then the Code of Conduct tells you what you should do:

If you have concerns about how a moderator has handled a situation, contact us directly.

(Where "us" is the company.) If you contact the company your concern will be reviewed by a Community Manager (CM), who does have access to all the relevant information the moderators do. The CM also has the authority to take action against any moderator if abuse is detected.

That said, you may be able to verify plagiarism on your own, depending on the action taken and your site reputation. If a plagiarized post was edited rather than deleted then any user can see the edit history of a post and check if an older revision contained plagiarism. If a plagiarized post is deleted then you will need sufficient reputation to see deleted posts, but if that is the case then you can look for such a post and see for yourself if there was plagiarism. Finding those posts is your affair, though -- moderators are not going to give them to you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is no way I can have a concern about how a moderator handled anything because I have so little visibility into it. I am not sure if you see it or feel the same way but the process seems to me to be so byzantine that it is actually designed to just prevent people from ever taking any action or getting a straight answer. I have no first hand reason to think the moderators are doing anything unfair. I will say that your condescending tone toward me ruffles my feathers a bit. \$\endgroup\$
    – user57037
    Dec 16, 2022 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkeith The system is designed to give non-moderators very little visibility on suspension matters. That's not my design -- it's Stack Exchange the company -- but I think it makes sense because there is no need to broadcast bad behavior. I wouldn't say the process is "byzantine" (i.e. complex), but it is opaque by design. If you have any concern about how the moderators handled anything (even if your concern is that you have so little visibility about an action) then you should contact the company. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 16, 2022 at 19:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mkeith Also, I don't intend to have a condescending tone toward you. Is there something in particular which seems condescending to you? If so I can edit it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 16, 2022 at 19:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ not so much in this answer but in my previous question which was closed. \$\endgroup\$
    – user57037
    Dec 16, 2022 at 19:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkeith I deleted that previous question "why is a specific user constantly suspended?" because it's impossible for us to answer. We can't reveal private information like that. If it was intended to be public then it would be publicly available on his profile. I don't mean to come across as condescending but it really is the truth: why another user was suspended does not concern you. The only reason you might be concerned is if you thought a mod(s) were acting inappropriately, in which case the solution is not to ask on meta but to contact the company. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 16, 2022 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you re-read what you wrote on that question you will likely see what I mean. If the question needs to be closed because policy prohibits you from answering then just say that. It is not possible to say "it is none of your business" or "it doesn't concern you" without being condescending and judgy. Then you closed the question so I couldn't even reply to your comment. Nobody can be perfect all the time. Moderation is a soul sucking endeavor because you have to constantly try to hold yourself to a very high standard. So I am grateful to those of you who do it. But you did ruffle my feathers. \$\endgroup\$
    – user57037
    Dec 16, 2022 at 22:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkeith I did re-read my comment from the previous question and I can't come up with a way to say "it is none of your business" or "it doesn't concern you" without being condescending...but it is the truth. It really does not concern you. Policy prohibits us from answering (and the system does not show non-mods any details about previous mod messages, previous or current suspensions, etc.) because it does not concern you. I deleted your question not to prevent you from replying to me but because we cannot answer and so it has no purpose. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 16, 2022 at 22:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkeith As for being "judgy" that cuts both ways: asking if a suspension is "legit or [if a user is] somehow being targeted unfairly" is rather judgy with regards to the moderators. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 16, 2022 at 22:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I see you have doubled down. Interesting. I apologize for sounding judgy. My question was meant as a question not an allegation. I will try to do better in the future. Reading between the lines, I gather that there is much about the user in question that I didn't know but which is material. I am at peace with that. I still think transparency of moderator action is an ideal to aspire towards. But it is very clear that all moderator action is subject to review only by basically higher level moderators. \$\endgroup\$
    – user57037
    Dec 16, 2022 at 22:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why would the cause of the suspension even be mentioned? No other reason ever gets mentioned. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 19, 2022 at 1:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ScottSeidman - Hi, "Why would the cause of the suspension even be mentioned? No other reason ever gets mentioned." FYI that is not true. Although old, this Meta.SE topic explains the thought which went into the "public reasons" which SE chose to display. I'm not claiming anything is perfect, just saying that I've always seen a public reason for a suspension and some of them relate more to the specific issue than others. As always, if you want to change an SE-wide system like that, you would start on Meta.SE; we can't change it just on EE.SE. \$\endgroup\$
    – SamGibson Mod
    Dec 19, 2022 at 13:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkeith Like I said, I can't come up with a nicer way to convey the truth that the exact details of a suspension of another user do not concern you. I thought perhaps "it is not your job/responsibility so you don't need to know" would be nicer, but that's not entirely accurate as all users are responsible for at least flagging plagiarized content. Transparency of moderator action is fine so long as it does not conflict with more important considerations such as the privacy of the suspended user, which the system was designed to prioritize. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 19, 2022 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkeith Transparency of moderator action would also cause harm to the site in other ways. For example, the moderators' tools for detecting sockpuppet accounts is not publicized so that users won't know how best to try to circumvent those tools...yet complete transparency would require exposing those tools. Transparency is therefore nice to have when possible, but it is at best a secondary or tertiary consideration. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 19, 2022 at 14:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 19, 2022 at 19:32
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Any user with 10k rep can view deleted questions. Another thing I think you can check is how many flags a user has (but I can't verify this myself). There are certain users that create many problems on the site by violating the CoC or plagiarizing. For users with multiple offenses are usually not given a second chance (or a 10th chance) if they are belligerent towards other users on the site.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure 10k users can view them, but only if they can find them. Regular users cannot get a list of another user's deleted questions/answers, afaik only moderators can. You can get a list of your own deleted ones from the user profile, but you can't view such a list of another user. Meaning you'd have to know the direct URL of the post in order to view it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lundin
    Dec 23, 2022 at 9:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe, I've never tried to search for a users deleted questions. The tool descriptions are here electronics.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/moderator-tools \$\endgroup\$
    – Voltage Spike Mod
    Dec 23, 2022 at 16:00
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If the issue is supposed to be between a user and a mod, then wouldn't specifying that a suspension is because of plagiarism on the user's profile be a violation of that idea??

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    \$\begingroup\$ As Sam linked in a comment to you the reasoning is given on main meta here. The idea is that a basic suspension reason is provided in order to avoid too much speculation by other users. For example, if a user is suspended for plagiarism you won't start looking for rude posts/comments to "verify" that the user needs to cool down (which is one of the other publicly given suspension reasons). \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 19, 2022 at 14:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ However, exact details of the specific problems that caused the suspension are not publicized as (1) it is not necessary for other users to "verify" why a user was suspended and (2) it would only serve to (unnecessarily) air the suspended user's dirty laundry. As SE founder Jeff Atwood stated in the linked thread: "I believe it is the re[s]ponsibility and right of the user who was placed in timed suspension to have the freedom to discuss (or not discuss) what happened to them. It is a basic matter of respecting other users' privacy." \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 19, 2022 at 14:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Null, so is a banned user not suspended on Meta, where the suspension can be discussed?? If the is suspended on Meta, there doesn't seem to be much freedom to discuss. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 19, 2022 at 16:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, I agree with mkeith that a suspension for plagiarism doesn't seem to be the same than every other suspension I've seen from the standpoint of reputational damage. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 19, 2022 at 16:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Suspended users lose their privileges on both the main and meta sites. Suspensions for a particular user are not meant to be discussed on meta, either during the suspension or after. If you wish to discuss a particular suspension you may do so in chat (without the suspended user, until his suspension ends) or on another site, but the moderators will not be providing you with any private details about the reasons for the suspension nor any past violations which factored into the length of the suspension. The suspended user may share such details with you, if he chooses. \$\endgroup\$
    – Null Mod
    Dec 19, 2022 at 16:58

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