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I did something for the first time ever on any SE site today, and that was not reject an edit from an anonymous user. (I am able to open review queues on 5 SE sites). This particular edit was nothing but helpful, but whomever offered it is listed as an anonymous user. My experience for the last two years on edit suggestions from anonymous users is that they are either vandalism or just bad.

Can someone explain why an anonymous user, who has not signed up for the SE site, is allowed to edit other users' posts? It seems to me an invitation to vandalism and against the "high signal to noise ratio" premise of each SE site.

Is there a consensus/policy on how to handle these during reviews?

As this is a site still in beta, and my search of our meta found no useful links to meta questions on anonymous users editing content here, I'd be interested in what the consensus is on History.SE regarding how to deal with what I see as intrusions into the activity of the people who signed up for this site by those with no stake in this site's health.

There does not seem to be a hard and fast policy on this for SE writ large.

  • It appears they can get blocked (by IP address), like a normal user can if they make too many bad edits. Otherwise, I'd suggest this may be a better question to ask on meta.se, as I don't think its specific to this site. – T.E.D. Dec 4 '17 at 19:45
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    IP address blocks are a very poor way of implementing this kind of user blocking as most users these days are sharing a public IP address with many others. So if you block bad_anon via a school's public IP, you also block good_anon and all her friends at the same school (or college or company, etc.) – Steve Bird Dec 6 '17 at 12:20
  • @T.E.D. I am asking how the rest of this site/community feel about (view) this feature, and if there is anything to be done within our limited context. Based on the responses so far, likely not. (No worries, not every flag one runs up a pole gets a salute). I am not interested in trying to change the SE - wide site policy, given that my concerns about this on another SE was met with "not worth going to SE about" from some experienced users. – KorvinStarmast Dec 6 '17 at 22:02
  • There was a recent event regarding "too helpful" anonymous edits on MSE. This is certainly an exceptional case though. – Andrew T. Dec 14 '17 at 3:41
  • @AndrewT. An interesting episode that probably doesn't fit the particular case of History.SE beta. Thank you. – KorvinStarmast Dec 14 '17 at 21:03
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While I understand your concern, I believe this is a network wide feature, so there's not much we can do about its existence.

However, the number of suggested edits on H.SE is still quite low, and those made by anonymous visitors even fewer. Examining the recent log shows that we only get about one or two suggested edit per day, and the most recent page of records contains only three from anonymous users. One was unquestionably spam and rejected accordingly; the other two were helpful and duly accepted.

There is no sign that user review system cannot keep up with the volume of anonymous edits. I would say that, for now at least, it is quite sufficient to simply deal with anonymous suggestions on a case by case basis.

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Anonymous edits do require approval by 3(?) registered users, so hopefully any vandalism will be detected and rejected before the edit is made public. I think the key is to treat each edit on its own merits. If the edit improves the post then it should be approved regardless of who made it. Likewise, if the edit fails to improve the post, or even makes it worse, then it should be rejected (or rolled back) regardless of who made it.

  • The network-wide standard is two approvals I believe, not three. Stack Overflow used to be three (as it tends to have higher levels compared to the rest of the network) but has been brought back down to two recently due to the lack of reviewers. Based on the examples linked above, this site needs two approvals for an edit to be approved. – CalvT Dec 15 '17 at 14:22
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I think I agree.

I've not been using SE as long as you have, but I'm not convinced that it's a good idea to allow unregistered users to suggest edits to content on this site, or indeed to post questions or answers.

I mentioned this latter point in passing in an answer to another question here on meta:

... I'm becoming increasingly of the opinion that we should probably require that users are registered before being allowed to post on the site. I've noticed that, at least over the past few weeks, a significant percentage of trivial questions (and most of the low-quality answers) have been posted by unregistered users. Yannis mentioned that this might be possible in a discussion on chat. There are certainly pros and cons to preventing unregistered users from posting, and many of these have been pointed out on SE:Meta ...

but I never got around to following up on it.


The advantage to allowing anonymous users to suggest edits is that mistakes are more likely to be picked up with a wider pool of potential editors. The disadvantage is that, as you point out, many of those edits will be either vandalism or just very low quality. There was some discussion about whether anonymous edits are helpful about 5 years ago on SE:meta, but I can't see anything more recent.

  • NOTE: I'm working from a mobile phone atm, so it is entirely possible that I did miss a more recent post on SE:meta. – sempaiscuba Dec 4 '17 at 19:10
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I have just one more thing to add which the previous answerers (Who have pretty much explained it very well) haven't added.

Being an anonymous user does not automatically mean that the person is not a member of wider stack exchange or unfamiliar with SE culture. I have been on SE for nearly three years, sometimes I see interesting questions from SEs that I am not a member of and then I see some room for editing, so I suggest an edit without registering on that site. That edit goes through as if proposed by an anon user.

You should never reject edits based on simply who proposed them. Rather judge the edits on their content. The edits, regardless to whether they are from a low-rep registered user or from a casual passerby who thinks that they can improve/vandalize the content here, go through the regular review queue so you should have no fear on that count.

  • These are very good points, I'm not sure why it was downvoted. – Semaphore Dec 5 '17 at 22:14
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    @Semaphore Down votes are anonymous, which meta we all recently chimed in on. :) Heh, I found this juxtaposition amusing. – KorvinStarmast Dec 6 '17 at 2:49
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I have a dream where the edit is judged by content and not by the identity proofing of the 'nym. I have a nearly neurotic reaction to those who would take away my right to pseudonymity or anonymity. I can read the words you're writing, and I'm sure that they parse for you, but when I read those words, I am seized by fear. In my experience, the only reason to exert that level of control over a stranger's identity is to enable oppression.

I've spent a lot of time in identity management; I a representative to the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group. We spent a lot of time on anonymity and pseudonymity - we agreed that the right to anonymity was something we wanted to preserve, and that there is no generally acceptable boundary between anonymity and pseudonymity. When facebook implements their "clear selfie" policy, I will delete my account.

If the edit is helpful, approve it; if the edit is harmful, reject it. Anonymity is a feature, not a bug. You admitted that the edit was helpful, but you rejected it because the user was anonymous? That does not make sense to me.

SE is a cooperatively moderated site - it is what we cause it to be, not what I want it to be. But if we require that even helpful edits be traceable to a body then I think we will have moved the site in a direction that will disappoint me greatly.

I respect your position - there are many people who hold that position. I merely think it is wrong, and that promoting that position has the effect of facilitating behaviors that I find repugnant. While you may feel that anonymity encourages unaccountable behavior, my experience is that forcing identity encourages abuse, oppression, racism and retaliation. My opinion. (posted, ironically enough, from an ID with is LoA 2 or 3)

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    Here's the deal, Mark. If the user can't be bothered to at least become part of the site, under whatever name (no, my parents didn't christen me Korvin) why are they messing with it? Those of us, the thousands of us, who bothered to do that have made a commitment, be it small or large, to this site. Drive by edits? No, not value added in the past 2+ years that I've been involved in SE sites. That's where I am coming from. Of all of the edits that i have been asked to approve, on all sites, this is the only anon edit that was not flush-worthy. The numbers tell me anon edits are bilge. – KorvinStarmast Dec 6 '17 at 2:42
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    I understand the point you are making, and I hope we can agree to disagree. Love your show. – KorvinStarmast Dec 6 '17 at 2:45
  • To be clear, NO, I did not reject this one helpful edit, which exception moved me to post this meta. – KorvinStarmast Dec 6 '17 at 2:48

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