It is clear to me that there is not quite a hard and fast rule.
But can someone ballpark the number of warnings one can accumulate without being banned outright?

A big issue is the time period: 5 warnings in a month will probably get you banned; 5 warnings over a 10 year period probably won’t.

In general, we look for a pattern of warnings. Low grade, one warning per year is not best practices, God knows, but it won’t likely lead to a banning barring some other circumstance. However, picking up three or four in a month or two is probably going to cause us to have a discussion on the mod loop.

A rough outline of the sanction process that can lead to suspension or banning:

  1. Get a warning.
  2. Get several warnings.
  3. Get a warning and have a mod say, “Hey, didn’t I already give this guy one recently?”
  4. Mod looks at history. Note: Only warnings are tracked, not mod notes.
  5. Mod’s hair shoots up as he looks at the offenders list of transgressions.
  6. Mod brings it up on the mod loop.
  7. Discussion ensues. Voting may occur.
  8. One or more mods make the case for suspension, our go-to for first time offenders.
  9. Should voting hit a majority, a suspension or banning may occur.
  10. Should a mod, even in the face of a majority vote, object strenuously about a sanction it may not happen, even in the face of majority vote.

All of these points should have sub-points in which the words 'Endless Mod Loop Discussion Occurs" as we’re good at kicking things around.

Some bannings happen right away, however. If someone is judged ‘troll’ we can go straight to a ban with no suspension, no appeal, no thread in ATMB, no nothing. If we think you’re trolling our readers then fuck you, you’re gone. Ditto for spammers or people who threaten legal action against the board or its ownership.

So that’s about what it takes in practice. It’s not really a short process and some people may offend for a long time before enough is enough. It’s not like we have a quota or anything. We want posters. Posters equals page views and clicks.

The object of warnings (and suspensions) is to get a poster to change their behavior (with the additional function of letting other posters what behavior is not permitted). When a poster persists in the same kind of behavior after receiving several warnings, that’s usually when discussion gets initiated in the mod loop.

I think we would be better served with less 'Endless Mod Loop Discussion Occurs" and more suspending/banning.
Maybe create some hard&fast rules:
-2nd warning in 6 months for the same offence: X weeks suspension.
-3rd warning in a year: goodbye.

Discuss the grounds for warning people, Not the consequences of those warnings.
(12 warnings, 2 after a suspension? Really?)

“Hard and fast rules” don’t work very well in real life. I’m not sure why you think they would work better here.

We take a lot of factors into account when deciding on suspensions/bannings, including the severity of the offense and its frequency. We don’t really end up banning very many posters. Only 9 regular posters, who had been around for a significant amount of time, have been banned in the last 12 months.

To be clear, this actually applies to any sort of threats against the board or its owners. We’ve also banned people for trying to infect the board with malware, and if someone threatened to go to wherever our headquarters are nowadays and do something in person, we’d ban them, too.

In the case you appear to be referring to, the poster in question spaced out his offenses over a period of years. I almost think that he would watch the calendar to figure out when he thought he could get away with another one. But they were always for the exact same thing, and recently he seemed to get less cautious and made them more frequently.

As Jonathan implies, we don’t always look at a poster’s history when issuing a warning, and if offenses are committed in different forums and seen by different mods we may not immediately notice a pattern of behavior. But it eventually catches up with them.

Because arbitrary decisions work even less well?

Endless discussion followed by voting is sorta the exact opposite of arbitrary.

On the contrary. A hard and fast rule is where it is written down that (for example) a warning expires after 9 months. Without such rules, where it is left to discussion, you get arbitrary decisions. Left to discussion, you get one decision where in one case it’s been a whole 6 months, so let it slide, and another case where it’s been only 11 months, it still counts. That’s arbitrary.

At some point trust is required. The fact is we don’t suspend or ban people very often, even in the face of what feels like overwhelming and incessant demands via the report function that we do so.

Besides, grey lines and better than stark ones. Making it too mechanistic leaves us no wiggle room to see the seams in the system. Not unlike how the first rule, “Don’t be a jerk”, leaves us enough latitude to deal with those posters who seem to instinctively turn to finding out where exactly the lines can be. Just how far they can go before things start happening. Blurry lines allow us to decide as a group where to go and deal with such people.

It is amusing to me, though, that we seem to have about the same number of people insisting we’re too strict and too lenient.

Arbitrary means capricious, inconsistent, autocratic, lacking any reason or consistent system.

But you seem to be under the impression that the opposite of arbitrariness is rigid inflexible adherence to fixed rules. It’s not. A system where all circumstances are carefully discussed and a committee votes for what they believe is a fair and reasonable outcome is not arbitrary. By your definition, the Western justice system is arbitrary.

Wrong. Arbitrary means random or not based on no consistent system. In mod discussions, we do place a great deal of weight on precedent and previous procedure. Decisions are not always identical, because no two cases are identical.

As I said before, we place a lot of weight on whether or not a poster shows evidence of changing his behavior. So really, every decision is on a case by case basis. But they’re not made by individual mods, they are made by the consensus of the mods. This is anything but an arbitrary system.

I got the impression that a poster even threatening another poster could result in some sort of mod action.

Yeah, I gotta admit, it’s always befuddling to me how people seem to think any one of us can just kick a longtime poster out or to the suspension box unilaterally. Warnings are awarded by individual mods, yes. But any other sanction will have a significant debate behind it before being implemented and consensus needs to be reached.

I couldn’t disagree more. How can fuzzy lines ever be netter than hard ones?
Suppose you’re playing tennis. There are lines drawn on the court, and official rules written down for what happens if a ball lands inside, outside, or on a line. But instead let’s make the lines fuzzy. If the ball lands just a little tiny bit outside the line, then the umpire can decide to count it as inside.

Or maybe you’re driving on a road with a speed limit of 55 mph. Go at exactly 55, or 54 or less, and you’re inside the law. Go at 56 and you’re breaking it. But let’s abolish the limit. Just have a rule against going too fast. Leave it to the judgement of traffic cops to decide what is too fast. One can decide that 60mph is safe, while another can decide that 50mph is too fast. Leave it to their judgement, rather than a hard and fast rule.

Do you really think that’s better?

How is that not what we do?

Definition of arbitrary.

  1. subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion: an arbitrary decision.
  2. decided by a judge or arbiter rather than by a law or statute.
  3. having unlimited power; uncontrolled or unrestricted by law; despotic; tyrannical:
  4. capricious; unreasonable; unsupported: an arbitrary demand for payment.
  5. Mathematics. undetermined; not assigned a specific value: an arbitrary constant.

The example I gave meets the first two definitions, especially the second. There is no written rule that says when the penalty for a warning expires, it is decided by an arbiter or mod. That is arbitrary by the dictionary definition.

This particular dictionary does not support your contention that “Arbitrary means random.” Can you find one that does?

This is really weak. You’ve given two completely irrelevant analogies (tennis and speed limits) and now when everyone disagrees with you on what a word means you’re cherry picking dictionary definitions? Ok, if you must…

2 in your dictionary is a special legal meaning. 1 and 4 are poorly written imo but correspond to the excellent first definition in Merriam Webster:

Oxford dictionaries: