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Announcement Appeal backlog cleared

Discussion in 'SteamRep General Discussion' started by Lava, Nov 29, 2021.

  1. Lava

    Lava Public Relations SteamRep Admin

    SteamRep Admin:
    As of November 27th 2021, I am pleased to announce that SteamRep has fully caught up on our appeal backlog, and there are 0 unfinished appeals. I would first like to acknowledge we owe special thanks to our head of appeals, @You Are The One, for the tireless work, planning, and follow-through he put into making this happen over the past several years. It simply would not have happened without him. I'd also like to thank the additional admins who helped him reach this goal, as there is no way he could accomplish this alone. With the backlog cleared, there should no longer be a significant wait for new appeals to be handled, and we hope to keep it that way moving forward.

    With this announcement, I'd like to talk about some of what caused the appeal to grow as out of control as it did, what we did to try and remediate it until we caught up, how we plan on keeping it from getting out of hand in the future.

    Triaging and prioritizing appeals

    Pre-screening new appeals

    Starting on a certain date, all incoming appeals were pre-screened for any obvious issues, and time sensitive evidence immediately requested. If, at a quick glance, it appears likely or plausible that someone innocent may have been banned, the newly submitted appeal was bumped to the front of the queue and expedited. If that seemed unlikely - possibly due to lies or uncooperativeness of appellant - or the appeal was a change of heart plea, it was sent to the regular pile. This slowed our grind through the backlog to a degree, potentially hurting someone innocent already waiting in line, but ensured that no new innocent people were also hurt.

    Expediting active cases

    While in writing we did not allow bumping appeals, if someone with an appeal 2 years or older posted anything in their thread, or was otherwise clearly active, admins were instructed to quietly move their case to the front of the queue. This was because the majority of old appeals (which were at the front of the line) were inactive, and draining significant time by keeping admins waiting. Bumping cases to the front of the line in this manner did not in any way guarantee a particular outcome, but was an attempt to (a) speed up the grind through our backlog and (b) minimize the damage to potentially innocent people actively using the banned account.

    Change of heart pleas

    Out of concern for potentially innocent people banned by mistake, we de-prioritized those who plead that they had a change of heart, and no longer wish to be known as a scammer. They still dragged our backlog down, but we were able to address potentially innocent traders quicker at the cost of those who just didn't like the consequences from stealing.​

    How it got so bad

    Limited staff

    This will be the first factor on almost everyone's mind. As much as SteamRep wants new staff, this is not an easy problem to solve, and unfortunately we still don't have a good solution for it. There are few enough people with the attention to detail required of SteamRep admins, but specialized experience and expertise about Steam trading are also required, in a format and degree that not a lot of traders have. Those with sufficient experience as community admins generally know what the job entails and shy away from it, while those apparently eager to help usually have ulterior motives. A significant portion of the candidates applying as a SteamRep moderator, on average, are either likely or provably a scammer alt. The rest are unknown, but typically lacking fundamental experience, and among those accepted, many lose interest once they see firsthand just what the job entails.

    Appeals are even more demanding. In cases where evidence is contested, and the reporter and appellant are prone to lying and doctoring evidence, the sharpest minds at SteamRep need to get involved to figure out who is telling the truth in a decision that can't be contested. For those reasons, only a subset of SteamRep's senior admins are qualified to work in appeals at all. And among those who can pull it off, few remain interested once they know how draining and difficult the job can be.

    Abandoned appeals

    The biggest factor exacerbating our appeal backlog was abandoned appeals - where the appeal was picked up by an admin, but the person in the appeal never answered an admin's questions. This sometimes happened with new cases that we expedited per above interim procedures, but was widespread with older appeals that haven't been touched by admins. In the interest of absolute fairness and consistency, we handled cases first-in-first-out, based on the time the appeal was submitted. Unless another policy dictated it, appeals admins were expected to finish whatever they were already working on before moving onto their next case. This left admins with the choice of either waiting for a reply that may not come, or rejecting for no response to questions after we ourselves hadn't replied for so long. Ultimately, in many cases we had to reluctantly conclude appeals without input from the submitter, so we could move on. To compensate for this, we have decided to grant leniency to these cases in Appeal Reviews; if your appeal was denied for no response, without other reasons, you may request an Appeal Review. Be prepared to explain your inactivity, especially if you stopped responding suddenly. Dropping out of contact from your appeal is a point of consideration, but not a guarantee that appeal reviews will be approved. Any other reasons the admin rejected your appeal, such as lying, will still stand. Additionally, the admin who rejected for inactivity will not necessarily be recused from your case.

    If extenuating circumstances warrant it, an approved Appeal Review may grant you special permission to submit a second SteamRep appeal. Normally, you get one appeal per lifetime, and then you're stuck with whatever judgement the appeals admin came to. When an Appeal Review is granted, as far as we're concerned the admin's previous "Rejected" decision will be overturned (and the admin may be recused from your case), and you have not made your once-per-lifetime appeal yet. No decision about your reputation status will be made from the Appeal Review, because it's not an appeal, so you should not use this as a place to discuss whether your SteamRep ban is warranted or necessary. Admins handling Appeal Reviews are only concerned with whether or not your circumstances meet this criteria, and by design, they are rarely granted.

    Among the normal conditions for an Appeal Review:
    • New evidence not produced in your original appeal.
      You claimed innocence in your original appeal, and the admin rejected it. Years later, the person who reported you was banned for fake reports with doctored evidence. This new evidence, which through no fault of your own did not exist when you first appealed, casts reasonable doubt on what you allegedly did and supports your claim to innocence. This type of situation would almost certainly result in a second appeal being permitted.
    • Appeals admin violated policy, or had a demonstrable conflict of interest in your case (should've recused themself).
      If the appeals admin was the same person who issued your ban in the first place, they should not have handled your appeal. SteamRep guarantees everyone will have a fresh set of eyes on their case, to remove bias. The admin's decision will be discarded, but any statements or evidence you provided in the original appeal may still be used in your case.
    • SteamRep's policies have retroactively changed, and what you did is no longer banable.
      Your ban was for trading with scammers, and the policy changed after your appeal was rejected.
    • The Partner Community who banned you is abusing their access in our database, and won't allow you to appeal.
      You committed no fraud, but the community in question banned you in retaliation for speaking out about something you felt was fishy within their staff ranks. They completely banned you from their site, and will not allow you to appeal, or reply to your appeal attempts with NSFW image macros. SteamRep is not involved with, and does not intervene in Partner Community decisions. However, all SteamRep Partner Communities are required to allow at least 1 appeal for each of their bans or caution tags, and partners who fail to comply with this requirement may have their affiliation re-evaluated or their tags revoked. If a Partner Community is not providing this, then SteamRep may intervene to ensure this condition is met.

    Appeal reviews form: https://forums.steamrep.com/forms/appeal-review.13/respond
    Choose your Appeal Review reason from the list very carefully, and be prepared to back it up.

    Just a reminder: Appeal Reviews are not appeals, nor are they "2nd chances". Appeals are still once per lifetime by default, so requesting an appeal review just because you didn't like the outcome, or didn't take it seriously the first time won't work. We're making a special exception because we recognize expecting a 1-2 week response from you after not responding ourselves for over a year is unreasonable. In order to get to everyone, and fairly handle appeals first-in-first-out, we had to close some cases for inactivity whether it was reasonable or not, so we're compensating for that.

    Changing evidence requirements

    Another of the largest contributing factors backlogging appeals was the lackluster evidence from past reports submitted years ago. Our evidence requirements have gotten stricter over the years, to limit harm to innocent traders from mistakes or fake evidence, but these changes were not retroactive, so the brunt of the workload in making judgement calls from older, less airtight evidence requirements, fell on appeals admins. With fewer and fewer 5+ year old tag appeals coming in, that impact should decline over time, but we are nonetheless making the requirements for new tags stricter, including those for linking alt accounts.
    Hidden Content:
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    By nature, appeals are a lot more difficult and time consuming than reports. It may take an admin between 15 minutes and several hours to properly document a case and issue a SteamRep ban, but the following appeal may take anywhere from several hours to several weeks depending on complexity of the case, details from tagging admin, and sometimes time differences and scheduling availability for both parties if a live interview is required.

    While report admins historically endeavored to get scammers marked as soon as possible, to quickly warn the community and limit damage, sometimes the work figuring out details got pushed off to appeals in that rush. Unlike report staff, appeals admins were also required to review every reported scam before making a decision (we later added a procedure for expediting old open reports when a judgement was needed for appeals).

    No available admins

    Another thing that sometimes jams the appeal process is that an admin handling the case cannot have previously been involved in any capacity, because we guarantee each appeal will receive a fresh set of eyes to avoid bias. Usually this is unavoidable in high profile cases, where multiple admins recuse themselves due to vested interests, appellant having individually harassed all of the admins, appellant had multiple tags issued and then removed in appeals, or other reasons. This sometimes leaves us with very few admins who are eligible to handle the case. It won't help with high profile cases, but we're clarifying to admins that our standing policy allows granting appeals (not rejecting) for a ban from the admin who issued it if the tag or ban was issued in error, provided an appeals admin hasn't already taken over the case.

    Change of heart cases

    One more thing that frequently clogged our appeals was hordes of appellants pleading for a change of heart appeal - where they claim to be sorry, have repaid their victims, and now feel their SteamRep ban should be lifted. These types of subjective decisions, often edge cases, were among the most time consuming of all our appeals. We're planning to clamp down on this, with more consistent responses, while moving the majority of "I'm sorry" cases to an entirely new workflow that will itself have better-defined criteria. This new workflow is something that SteamRep has never provided before, and we expect it will be of great interest once the details are ironed out.​

    New Scammer Clemency Program

    With the appeal backlog cleared, I can now publicly share that we at SteamRep have been internally discussing some form of a Scammer Clemency program for those who believe they are a better person today than when they committed fraud a long time ago. This program will be distinct from appeals, and because the criteria is different you can submit a request for clemency even if your appeal was already rejected. However, if you appeal first and get rejected for lying, the outcome of your clemency request may reflect that. You should carefully consider whether a clemency request fits your case better than an appeal before submitting one or the other. Because some specific details are still being debated for this program internally, I cannot give a definitive timeline for when this program will be launched yet. All of our staff are generally in agreement it should exist though, so with the appeal backlog cleared it should happen Soon™.

    Another difference from this program is that, unlike appeals, a significant length of time must have passed before clemency can even be considered. Fundamentally, by requesting clemency, you are freely admitting you committed the offense, but instead claim it happened a long time ago, you're a better person now than you were, and that lessening the public warning on your profile is warranted. Generally speaking, serious, premeditated, or repeated scams will not be granted clemency, but individual scams from a long time ago that haven't been repeated since that time may have the severity of their reputation reduced as a one-time courtesy (report remains public). It will be up the admins' discretion, following a set of internal guidelines, whether an individual scammer receives this leniency.​
  2. ♪Mr.Dr.Prof.Dj♪

    ♪Mr.Dr.Prof.Dj♪ New User

    Congratulations you guys! I know a lot of you have been grinding away at the backlog for some time now, and especially YATO.

    Very interesting to see this Clemency program coming up. Will these requests be handled by appeals admins as well?
  3. You Are The One

    You Are The One Appeals SteamRep Admin

    Special shout-out to @Tio José das Vacas for handling cases prior to the pandemic, @Teeny Tiny Cat for screening hundreds of old appeals at the start of this most recent backlog clearing project, @Lava for doing cases I was recused from or reviews and more recently, a special someone <S who directly helped me with dozens of cases:D:p.
  4. You Are The One

    You Are The One Appeals SteamRep Admin

    Most likely yes will be led by the appeals team tho we might expand who can process them to include other department head admins or other specialty admins.