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What is the site policy for dealing with questions on very heavily-trolled topics, like Hitler and The Holocaust?

We've long had problems with these particular topics, as they seem to be magnets for new users who either want to push offensive ideas (hereafter called "pushers"), or troll others by appearing to do so (hereafter also assumed to be pushers for simplicity's sake).

Normal rules about offensive content and topicality can of course take care of the worst offenders. However, such rules require the poster to step over a line, which they may not do until considerable user effort has been expended on the question.

This is part of the cost of maintaining a SE site in general. However, there are some topics that specifically attract pushers, to the extent that the odds of a new question from a new user on those topics being a legit question appears to be quite low.

Thus is has been demi-official site policy for years that new questions having to do with Nazis, Hitler, Jews, and the Holocaust have a much higher quality bar they need to reach to stay open than other questions do.

So the question is, what is the official site policy on this? Is what we are doing now sufficient, or should something different be done?

  • Adding an answer for current practice, and other answers for other options I know of. Feel free to add other options if you have them. – T.E.D. Feb 21 '18 at 19:50
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Current site policy (before this post unofficial) has been the following:

Questions on these topics have a hair-trigger for being put on hold. This goes in particular for new users who don't have a proven track-record of asking good questions.

There is a certain quality bar that all questions on SE sites in general, and this site in particular, must reach in order to remain open. However, questions on these topics in particular, due to excessive past abuse, are not given nearly as much leeway.

These questions can't be sort of on topic, or even mostly on topic, they must be fully on topic. They are expected to fully comply with our SE help center guidelines, and with our site expectations for good questions. Any issues with this that are pointed out in comments, particularly those with multiple upvotes, are expected to be promptly acted upon by the poster. User edits to fix perceived problems should not be blindly reverted. If this is a problem for a new user, they should probably start their participation experience with another topic where the standards aren't as strict.

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    This is actually a bit more forceful than the initial formulation. I think this, along with making it official, may be sufficient going forward. – T.E.D. Feb 21 '18 at 19:43
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    Excellent. Important to note that this is a case where closure offers an opportunity to modify the question and get it fully within scope. – Mark C. Wallace Feb 21 '18 at 21:28
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    I'm not sure what the difference between 'hair trigger' closure and auto closure is, but perhaps we can define this option a little more clearly. For instance this option could be triggered by the presence of (some number) down-votes or user flags? – justCal Feb 21 '18 at 22:30
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    Especially newbies have be made aware of the 2step process: 1. on hold 2. closure. This wording is imho not clear enough anywhere on SE. – LаngLаngС Feb 21 '18 at 22:38
  • @justCal - A very good point. I'm thinking the difference is mostly the possibility that a clearly well-formed question may not get closed immediately. Historically moderators have been letting users enforce this, and stepping in only in really obvious cases that shouldn't have to wait around for several votes. The last year or so that's been upped to "fairly obvious cases", and recently (thanks to the infusion of moderator manpower) I'd say its been stepped up further to "probable cases". – T.E.D. Feb 21 '18 at 22:51
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    @justCal - FWIW: I made this post CW for a reason. If you think you can word a good clarification, go for it. Knowing the mood of our current mod corp, if any of the 4 of them(/us) see a post on these topics and think it might be problematic, its likely to be put on hold regardless of any other activity. Otherwise, critical comments and a close vote or two are your early warning signs, just like with any other post. But if you really think mods ought to try to wait for users to complain somehow first, this would be the place to codify that. – T.E.D. Feb 21 '18 at 23:02
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    I don't know that I could really clarify anything. I have faith in our group of mods, and have been in agreement on most of the moderator closures/actions I have seen. My comments here were basically to support the current level of responses instead of the other option you raised of automatically closing first. Having this question to link to will make it easier to explain some closures for those OPs (or readers) that actually question it. (and my apologies if it seemed I was criticizing any actions, definitely not my intent) – justCal Feb 22 '18 at 1:46
  • @justCal - No apologies needed. This is exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping to see. – T.E.D. Feb 22 '18 at 1:56
  • I get the feel that an early warning sign is/might be that a user doesn't sign up. In itself allowed and welcomed per SE policy… But is there a shortcut to see this without visiting the user-page? – I guess I'm missing/overlooking sth here. – LаngLаngС Feb 27 '18 at 20:50
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On Politics, we have a custom off-topic close reason for questions that appear to have been asked in bad faith:

The primary purpose of this question appears to be to promote or discredit a specific political cause, group or politician. It does not appear to be a good-faith effort to learn more about governments, policies and political processes as defined in the help center.

This - of course - doesn't do much to stop the trolls. It does, however, help us communicate our policy far more effectively than Meta (which very few visit) or comments (which more often than not spiral into unconstructives messes).

It might be a good idea for History to adopt a similarly worded close reason.


Related discussions:

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    Just in case any of the new mods is wondering: admin/flags/close-as-off-topic is where you can manage the off-topic close reasons. – yannis Feb 22 '18 at 11:48
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    Hmmm. This may be a really good solution to Rose's question. So I'm thinking we should probably do something like this regardless. – T.E.D. Feb 22 '18 at 14:28
  • I would totally support this! It's quick, simple and "surgical" Re my reference to the Normandy question, I think we should appreciate that not everyone on the planet grew up with "Dunkirk" or "Omaha Beach" as part of their folk memory. Had that question not been closed, I meant to supplement DevSolar's excellent answer with a discussion of the rhetorical flourishes used, which might have made it less accessible to someone with English as a second language. – TheHonRose Feb 22 '18 at 14:31
  • @T.E.D Couldn't agree more! We get a fair number of the (subtle or not) "Hitler wasn't a bad bloke", I think a standard response would be really helpful. The "what constituted a Jew?" question began to sound a little like "how many drops of blood makes someone 'black'" in the old Southern States, or indeed apartheid S. Africa! – TheHonRose Feb 22 '18 at 14:38
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    OK. I've added a proposed form of this as a new (wiki) answer to Rose's question. – T.E.D. Feb 22 '18 at 15:13
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I haven't been in the trenches half as long as most of you guys, but I'm getting awfully tired of the not so subtle "hidden" agenda questions, as I tried to raise in this question

I also feel we are going base over apex at times. This question, despite an excellent answer from @DevSolar, was swiftly put on hold. A quick glance at the OP's profile would suggest that he does not have English as a first language, and culturally did not have a West-oriented understanding of the references. Yes, it could have been better researched, but it was a genuine question from a Rep 1 newbie - precisely the people we are supposed to be encouraging!

Compare that with the time, spilt ink and angst expended on this question and I think the point is obvious. Personally, I'd rather use my time helping a genuine newbie than arguing out-moded notions of race, colour or creed

If I sound irritated, that's because I am, and I apologise in advance. But I do think the very different treatment of these questions does indicate a problem!

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    Agree. Worth noting that first question was closed by community; second question closed by mod intervention. Different procedures, different implications. My personal preference would have been for different outcomes. – Mark C. Wallace Feb 22 '18 at 0:42
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    I voted to close the Normandy question as "requests for trivia or basic historical facts are off-topic ...". If you believe we should revisit our policy on ill-researched questions, I'm all for it - and will probably be on the side of becoming a bit more welcoming. That said, I never assumed it wasn't a genuine question or that the OP had a hidden agenda, and I'm a bit surprised to see it used as an example on this discussion. – yannis Feb 22 '18 at 11:23
  • @MarkCWallace I agree - I tried to respond last night but having IT problems. I just worry that we spend more time on a probable "bad faith" question than on a naive but genuine one! – TheHonRose Feb 22 '18 at 14:21
  • @yannis I'm sorry, I was irritated last night and certainly didn't mean to imply that the Normandy question was a "bad faith" one. I was merely pointing out that, as I said, we closed a (bad?) but genuine question, but spent hours trying to "rescue" a "probable" bad faith one! Surely this is the wrong way round? – TheHonRose Feb 22 '18 at 14:25
  • Ah, I see what you mean now. Yes, it's unfortunate that "bad faith" questions often steal the focus from far deserving questions. I'm not sure we can do much about it though, it's only natural that people get excited by the controversy and drama following "bad faith" questions. – yannis Feb 22 '18 at 15:01
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    That said, if you feel you have the energy to take on the "requests for trivia or basic historical facts are off-topic ..." policy, please go for it. It's been around for as long as I remember, it might be a very good time to revisit it and see if the reasons for it still apply - or if we are losing good questions because of it. – yannis Feb 22 '18 at 15:06
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I'm told its possible to put "alerts" on specific tags, such that warning pop-up text is given when a user sets out to use them. A moderator for another site suggested this could be used to effect a bit of an informational speed-bump for the problem tags.

This is apparently accomplished by requesting it on meta and getting developer attention. So its not something we could do ourselves on our own schedule. But it is something other sites have done.

  • Personally, I think this only helps when the user wants to participate properly in good faith, which is not the situation here. However, there are some other tags where this might be useful (eg: modern-history and prehistory, which are often used on out of scope questions). – T.E.D. Feb 21 '18 at 19:56
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    This would be an important addition. I am convinced that there are actors in good faith who just do not know any better, yet. Since this happens before a post goes live, it would save all involved a lot of trouble. But newbies often do not tag properly, so this has to look for keywords in bodytext as well. For future developments this should be on the list, even if it will accomplish almost nothing for pushers. – LаngLаngС Feb 21 '18 at 20:32
  • @LangLangC - I don't know that it can look for keywords in the text. If it can do that, we'll be wanting another version that keys off of any present-tense English verbs too. :-) – T.E.D. Feb 21 '18 at 20:56
  • AFAIK it can do that too, in principle ("be adjusted" was the response). The Spam-catcher works like that. But I do not know how much favour is needed to get that adapted and working here. On another beta-site this thing was requested a while ago and is still not there. Cf. this meta. In its default it's "generic, content-independent: capitalization, punctuation, length" – LаngLаngС Feb 21 '18 at 21:10
  • @LangLangC - That doesn't shock me. I understand some site requests that require code or graphic work (eg: graduation styles) can take a very long time to be accommodated. – T.E.D. Feb 21 '18 at 21:52
  • About your comment that "this only help when the user[...] in good faith", I think that it does not undermine the utility of the alert. If a user sees the alert and keeps posting a trolled question, then the alert at least gives the rest of us the peace of mind that the user has been warned beforehand and allows for a close vote without giving more warning in the comment. – SJuan76 Mar 2 '18 at 23:18
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In the years since this "higher-bar" policy was described, things have actually gotten worse on these topics.

For that reason we should actually go a step further and just automatically put any question on these topics from a new user on hold. If, presumably after ironing out any issues, users decide the question is acceptable, they will vote to have it opened for answers. The "higher bar" will probably still be in use by users to help determine weather to vote to (re)open the question.

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    I have to say the idea of auto-closure of questions just due to being on a 'sensitive' list seems a little totalitarian to me. I have voted to close/flag/ and delete my share of trolls here, but it seems some form of due process should be involved. – justCal Feb 21 '18 at 22:33
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    @justCal - It seems a bit that way to me too. On the other hand, its the most well-defined and objective of the options so far. – T.E.D. Feb 21 '18 at 22:52
  • That is true. Very objective. – justCal Feb 21 '18 at 23:07
  • @T.E.D. Perhaps instead of calling it "on hold" we can give it its own category, perhaps called something like "Assistance Required." Then give it its own Review Que, and get any user with 1000 or more points can help the new user transform it into a new answer? – axsvl77 Feb 27 '18 at 14:59
  • @axsvl77 - An interesting idea. But since what you're talking about requires software support from the SE network, that'd be a topic for the other meta. – T.E.D. Feb 27 '18 at 15:23
  • As the apparent instigator of this policy, I think this is a bad idea. Whatever the supposed intention, 'on-hold' questions almost always get binned. – Ne Mo Jun 5 '18 at 22:12
  • @NeMo - Having seen a couple of answers treated this way now, I believe you are correct. Another issue is that with a "hold first" policy, people feel compelled to work with even obvious trolls, because they were given no real human consideration before the hold. So I'm now of the opinion that its probably better to let questions earn their holds. – T.E.D. Jun 5 '18 at 23:18

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