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Due to extraordinary circumstances, the inaugural Bioacoustics election has been canceled. A new election will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Recently, it has come to the Community Management Team’s attention that certain circumstances surrounding this site’s progress through the Area 51 process were in violation of our policies — and, more importantly, that without these irregular activities, the proposal’s success might have been affected. As a result of a preliminary investigation, the Community Management Team has decided that the best course of action is to cancel the ongoing election, undertake a deeper investigation of the extent of these irregularities, and schedule a new election once we’ve assessed the impact of those irregular activities and taken the appropriate corrective measures.

We plan to schedule a new election to take place in the coming weeks, but we will keep the community updated and let you know as soon as we have a new date for nominations to open.

We recognize that the original election is quite close to finishing, and we understand that this may cause some confusion and frustration. If you have any questions, please post them as an answer below. Note, however, that we may not be able to fully disclose all the details of the situation at this time, because we have a standing policy to keep the details of user-related incidents private.

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    $\begingroup$ The lack of transparency is what is causing the confusion and frustration (not just the suspensions themselves). What is going on? $\endgroup$
    – Chloe
    Aug 19, 2022 at 8:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Chloe I very much disagree with your complaint about “lack of transparency”. There’s clear communication that a) there have been irregularities, b) these are under investigation, c) further information is promised as soon as possible. I don’t think going into detail or even naming people would be of any benefit. Transparency is good and important, but must still protect the privacy rights of those who may have been involved (-> under investigation), possibly in a misguided attempt to foster the proposal. $\endgroup$
    – Stephie
    Aug 19, 2022 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ Not all details should be made public, especially if more information may hurt someone disproportionately. There will be (in fact, already are) consequences for individuals involved, and while I can understand that you and others would like to have more details to understand better, what’s going on, please let the folks at CM do their job for now, and be patient until there is reliable information available and the necessary decisions are made. $\endgroup$
    – Stephie
    Aug 19, 2022 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ I say that because several colleagues have said that they are confused why their accounts were suspended when they were barely active on it in the first place. They have read your email, and understand what unethical voting entails, and they do not think they have violated any of these. $\endgroup$
    – Chloe
    Aug 19, 2022 at 12:56

3 Answers 3

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First, I would like to apologize that our behavior caused so much work for so many people, and we appreciate that you acknowledge the efforts we have taken to rally and educate our community. I believe this is an example of where communication may have resulted in significantly less work and stress for everyone on both sides (SE, Bioacoustics).

Yes, we actively coordinated the education of our inexperienced community to ask/answer/vote on SE and reach 200 points. At times the process felt very much like an insiders’ game where the rules were confusing (at best) for newbies such as us-- but our intent was not to game the system (despite appearances). As has been noted, we are an enthusiastic community– perhaps at times we were too enthusiastic. We do not deny the actions we have been accused of, but our intentions were good (we would not have worked so hard if that were not the case!). I see this as a learning opportunity for our Bioacoustics Community, but also for SE (see here).

So, where do we go from here? Yes, clearly, we need to ensure we have good behavior, but at this point the questions are: (1) How do we (Bioacoustics) move forward? And: (2) Can SE take steps to minimize this behavior in the future?

How do we (Bioacoustics) move forward?

Do we move forward? As the leader of this effort, I can speak directly to the history of this proposal (the history started in 2018), and I can say that while there are alternatives, I strongly feel that this is the best platform for our needs, and I strongly feel that we can (slowly, surely) build a successful site with active and dedicated community members. It appears from the overall response that SE is willing to allow us to continue our efforts. There have been discussions from our community about moving to a different site, and there are many that are deeply frustrated with our experiences to date, but I would recommend that we continue our efforts to create a Bioacoustics Stack Exchange.

Behavior Change: The intention of the massive suspensions were to encourage change – that is easy enough going forward. But know that we had very good intentions and were working very hard to teach our community how to use SE – and we were trying to navigate this frustrating process on a timeline. On the one hand we are commended for working hard to reach & educate our community, but we are suspended for too much coordination. Fair enough, as many of us did take it too far– but for newbies such as us, the rules have the transparency of a kaleidoscope.

Electing our own Moderators: Now that our most active and enthusiastic people have been suspended, they are unable to be a moderator for >1 year. We then must either:

  1. Identify alternative moderators from less active or less experienced users (after our community has been severely wounded), or
  2. Use moderators who are not dedicated to our community.

Neither of these choices is in our best interest or will help us succeed, and we are given only a few days to make this happen.

We would like to respectfully request that the Community Moderators help us identify a path forward so that we can consider electing from at least a few of our initial Moderator Nominees.

I’d be happy to elaborate on how we got into this mess– but where we stand now is that we have been crippled at a point in the process where we have a matter of days to rally a wounded community. We are not trying to game the system, we are trying to build a successful site. I hope the moderators will consider our good intentions.

Opportunities to improve SE for communities such as ours

It is clear that Area51 is not meant for communities not already embedded in the Stack Exchange network, but I am encouraged that there may be at least some interest in changing this. Based on my experiences, I have provided suggestions to @JourneymanGeek’s question on on how to better accommodate communities such as ours: How should a new site with a good userbase *outside* the Stack Exchange mainstream get itself bootstrapped?

The problems related to voting were not due solely to the need to garner 100 users with >200 points. These problems stemmed from a frustrating registration process, unclear and confusing expectations, a very limited ability to communicate with the community, and a deadline that sets up good intentioned and dedicated groups such as ours for failure.

We SEE the value of SE for our community, we KNOW we can get there, but please understand what an intensely unnecessarily frustrating process this has been for us so far. We would like to move beyond these frustrations and get to the real work of supporting a successful site.

(Preferably with help rather than obstacles, and preferably with a timeline that is supportive rather than punitive.)

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    $\begingroup$ Hi Shannon, thank you sincerely for this post. We'd love to work with you all in order to make this election successful, and we understand that the timeline may be too short if your intent is to rally the community. With this in mind, we'd like to propose that we defer the election until the community indicates that you all feel ready for an election. Once that happens then we can schedule it for a date that's as early as possible. However, the latest date we can start the election is Monday, November 7th. $\endgroup$
    – Slate StaffMod
    Aug 25, 2022 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ If this sounds good to you, please split the request for an election deferral off into its own post, so the community has better visibility and a chance to discuss the issue on-site / express approval. (It seems like you've had this conversation elsewhere, which is good, though there needs to be a conversation on Bioacoustics Meta to help build assent here and make sure all members have a voice. We would also like to be able to participate in the conversation, as well.) $\endgroup$
    – Slate StaffMod
    Aug 25, 2022 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ If the community agrees, we can commit now to a deferral until the community indicates readiness (or until Nov 7th, whichever is sooner). This will both allow time for users to request internal reviews of their suspensions as needed, and allow time for you all to coordinate about a path forward. Please let me know if there are questions we can answer, or further ways we can help. $\endgroup$
    – Slate StaffMod
    Aug 25, 2022 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Slate This sounds good to me- and I will post a question for others to vote on. Yes, a small group of us retain communications offline, but our preference is to shift all conversations here and use voting & comments to understand the views of our greater community. My post will likely be imperfect and require editing-- warning and thanks in advance for help editing! $\endgroup$
    – Shannon
    Aug 25, 2022 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ No problem at all - looking forward to it! (Edit: for posterity, Shannon's post is now live here.) $\endgroup$
    – Slate StaffMod
    Aug 25, 2022 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ So will people who got suspended be allowed to nominate themselves as moderators (like the original moderator nominees)? I am not seeing a clear answer to that question. Would they have to win an appeal in order to run again? $\endgroup$ Aug 26, 2022 at 0:33
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Could you please clarify whether or not we should still be inviting new participants to the SE? The link you gave (to "the site's progress") show some Needs work labels, and these are largely about the number of participants. So, I personally don't know whether:

  1. you'd like us to engage more people; or
  2. you'd like us to pause any such activity until after your investigation is complete.
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    $\begingroup$ Considering at this point in time they're still planning on having a new election later down the road, I see no problem with trying to engage more people. For now. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Aug 16, 2022 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ (A) I would suggest not to read too much into the Area51 statistics and "site's progress" or "Needs Work", even though JNat gave you a link to the Area51 page. Those progress indicators are almost a decade out of date. Sites no longer need 10 questions/day to graduate, and Bioacoustics is not doing poorly in terms of number of participants. You can simply look at other new sites and their number of users as a function of time on the Waybackmachine. (B) Considering that it seems that the site might get shut down, I'd be hesitant to invite people as it could be bad for your reputation. $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2022 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ Minor clarification note: closing down the site is not the desired outcome for the Community Management Team, and we still plan to hold a moderator election — the success of which might dictate the site's future. As such, while we can't guarantee that the site will be successful at this point, we also don't have any issues with inviting more users at this point. $\endgroup$
    – JNat StaffMod
    Aug 19, 2022 at 10:06
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  1. If it is discovered that the site should not of made it through Area 51 with out this activity what will happen? Did the site shut down? Or will it stay up since there is a good amount of activity?

  2. Will we be able to download the "results" of the election? Or can we not do that if the election failed or was canceled?

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    $\begingroup$ (1) JNat's post explicitly says that they have to "undertake a deeper investigation of the extent of these irregularities" before deciding what's going to happen. I think we better let them do that and not expect answers that they're not yet ready to provide, while they're still investigating the extent of the damage. (2) The election has been cancelled, so I would not think that there will be a "result". $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2022 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding 1: I can only speculate here, but among the main reasons for the entire Area 51 process is to avoid the work and disappointment of launching (and shutting down) a site that has not gathered a sufficiently big and active community or never will. In that respect, almost all the potential damage has already been done, except that from shutting down the site. Sending the site back to Area 51 would not improve things – on the contrary, it would dismantle whatever community you have. Thus, from SE’s perspective it makes sense to wait and see whether the site works out. $\endgroup$
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 16, 2022 at 5:11
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    $\begingroup$ Nike's comment is correct on both counts, and pretty much what I would've responded with. $\endgroup$
    – JNat StaffMod
    Aug 16, 2022 at 11:41

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