The Stack Exchange platform has a number of built-in mechanisms that aim to protect communities like ours from low-quality participation. One of them is the question ban.

When a user asks enough questions that are received poorly by the community (downvoted or closed), their privilege to ask further questions begins to be progressively restricted. In some cases, the user receives a temporary ban, preventing them from asking new questions for a certain number of days. Once a certain threshold is met, the user is prevented from asking further questions at all. Users who are close to the threshold are presented a quality warning before they complete each post. A question ban generally shouldn't be a surprise, although it may not have a great deal of warning if a user engages in a high volume of poor participation.

The paragraph above is somewhat vague because the exact details and thresholds involved in quality bans are secret and I do not know them. They're proprietary to the Stack Exchange platform. Moderators like me have no visibility into question bans: we cannot predict them and we cannot remove them.

The only canonical information about question bans is in the linked Help Center article above. It's key to note that deleting poor questions or deleting one's account is not a fix for a question ban.

The only way to fix it is (a) to improve your existing posts and earn the approval of the community or (b) to take some time off from the community, and in 6 months, when you get another chance, ask a very good question to improve your reputation.

Are there times when I am surprised by a specific question ban (or lack thereof)? Yes, occasionally. But I do believe that the mechanism is critical to maintaining our signal-to-noise ratio and our value as a community knowledge base, contra platforms that do not utilize quality control mechanisms.

Unfortunately, some users are unwilling to work with the strict format of Stack Exchange, and even after being warned about question bans and then having such a ban applied choose not to alter their behavior. Some of those users who do not master our format, but desire to participate anyway, choose to respond to a question ban by simply creating a new account.

This makes the problem worse. Under a question ban, the ball is still in the user's court to improve their record and win the trust of the community. They're still community members who can participate in other ways than asking questions, and they have the privilege to work to improve their reputation.

Once someone starts to use alternate accounts to evade system restrictions or generically to do things that are not possible with their regular account, additional consequences may begin to accrue, either by overt action by moderators and Stack Exchange employees or by further automated system controls. All moderator responses are inherently a case-by-case basis, but responses to users who employ alternate accounts to try to evade question bans may include:

  • Us advising the user that what they are doing is not acceptable and deleting alternate accounts.
  • Us suspending the user, potentially for an extended time, and deleting alternate accounts.
  • Automated system controls may begin to restrict activity coming from specific persons.
  • If the behavior continues or escalates, us referring the user to the Stack Exchange community team, who can apply additional restrictions to prevent that user from participating and that may have long-lasting consequences.

The long and the short of it is that trying to evade a question ban takes a user from someone who can work to improve their position to a bad-faith actor. Once someone enters the latter category, it's much less common for them to return to being a productive contributor or to be permitted to continue asking questions. I see that as a huge disappointment.

If you're currently struggling with a question ban, it's always okay to come discuss it here on Meta and get help thinking through what you can do differently. Please do not try to evade the ban. Do not create a new account. We'd really like to help you learn to participate effectively here.

Hopefully, the discussion above will be academic for you.

I won't, of course, discuss specifics, but these topics have been pertinent to my work recently for multiple reasons. I wanted to share this as a searchable and linkable resource, a locus for discussion if there are questions around this topic, and an oblique explanation of some of what the moderator team works on.


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