There are some questions and answers that are good, or OK, except that they contain some little bits of nonsense or offensiveness. It may be a racist comment, a personal attack, some partisan nonsense only relevant to US history in a question not relating to US history, etc. This is especially common with first-timers on the site, of course.

Since I have the right to edit peoples questions, it means I can fix them. And I'd rather fix them, than flag the question for moderator attention.

But maybe I'm wrong in this? Maybe I should just flag them and let the moderators deal with the bullshit?

3 Answers 3


I'm with you. If possible, fix the question.

To take an extreme example, we often get questions from first-timers that contain questions with overtly racist premises. We could simply delete all such questions of course.

However, a lot of the time the kernel of the question is something that a large number of people besides the one racist are wondering. Wouldn't it be nice if people searching the internet on that question were directed to the question on our website, and presented with a few good well-reasoned answers for why the racist point of view is wrong?

So I think it is much better to, if possible, clean the offensive content as much as possible, but leave the core of the question. In my experience racisim is a product of ignorance. Assuming its not willful ignorance, that is fixable just by imparting knowledge. I know we can deliver that.

  • 1
    Not everyone's concept of "racism" is the same. You treat the matter as if it was something objective and obvious and thereby justify making potentially substantial edits to a post. But "racism" is by no means objective, and imposing your definition of "racism" on others is IMO irrresponsible.
    – user2590
    Oct 2, 2013 at 18:22
  • @Vector - Very little we do here is objective. That's why its a community, and most actions reqire multiple votes to become effective. We have removed content, posts, and even users in the past for making comments that were judged racist, offensive, and for other reasons that were every bit as much a judgement call). That's how SE sites work. If you don't like that, I suggest finding some place where you feel people behave more "responsibly".
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Oct 2, 2013 at 18:34
  • 1
    I agree that there are some bright lines. OTOH, some are quite murkey. Therefore I believe that inaction is sometimes the better route. By inaction, I mean allowing flags, comments and down-votes to do their work, in lieu of explicit intervention.
    – user2590
    Oct 2, 2013 at 19:26
  • @Vector - I agree totally. Sadly, erring on the side of inaction can lead to issues like this. :-(
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Oct 2, 2013 at 19:29
  • LOL. But that is a case where there was a flag in place.
    – user2590
    Oct 2, 2013 at 19:37

From bitter experience (due to my own tendency to be "trigger happy" to a large extent) I have adopted a policy of "non-invasive" editing: Edit to refine language, adjust formatting, etc., but refrain from making any substantial changes to the content of any post without the consent (explicit or implied) of the poster. Better to rely on comments and flags.

To act otherwise is perhaps fraught with "moral hazard":

  • Nobody can claim complete impartiality - the risk of editorializing is always there, although it may be unintentional. What one considers a "bad bit" may not be so for others. Having worked as a professional translator, I am all too cognizant of how seemingly innocent modifications and interpretations potentially breed far-reaching "unintended consequences". The question's terminology itself: "questions and answers that are good, or OK, except that they contain some little bits of nonsense or offensiveness" demonstrates that a subjective judgment has already been made regarding the post, even before the editing begins. If so, subsequent edits of the sort under dicussions are danger-fraught.
  • Such editing may be the result of misunderstanding the OP's intent.
  • At the moment, the policy on SE (AFAIK) is that editors have no accountability for their edits in terms of reputation: If one makes a substantial change to a post, they may impact the reputation of the poster at no risk to their own reputation, although through such an edit they have "taken ownership" of that post to some extent. IMO there is some inherent inequity here.

By way of suggestion, perhaps such a policy should be taken into consideration: If a member edits a post that is not subject to peer review, in a manner which effects the substance of that post, the editor in question should bear some accountability for potential impacts on the poster's reputation, perhaps by binding the editor's reputation to that post, to an extent which reflects the degree of their edit.

Admittedly, such a policy would be very difficult to automate, because it requires qualitative analysis of each particular edit within the context of the post in question, and to put such a burden on moderators is not viable.

  • I agree with your three bullet points and I furthermore agree that your suggestion to have an edit impact the editor's rep would be difficult to implement. Oct 2, 2013 at 19:06
  • You edit questions in an attempt to improve them. Therefore you hopefully give the question upvotes. This is done to improve the question and hence the site. Claiming this should impact the editor seems like being greedy for points to me. Oct 5, 2013 at 14:54
  • @LennartRegebro - the point is accountability that's all. Maybe you improve, maybe you don't... If you improve you deserve credit, if you don't you deserve to be held responsible. But it's moot, as I mentioned in conclusion.
    – user2590
    Oct 5, 2013 at 21:39

Fixing a question is praiseworthy.

Editing the question so that it changes beyond recognition is not.

Example: How did Germany rebuild so quickly after World War I?

Comparing just the titles tells the story:

Original question:

How did Hitler rebuild Germany so quickly after World War 1 that Germany was able to make a major comeback in World War 2?

The premise of that question is wrong. It is not salvageable. Close, explain why it has been closed, and invite the OP to try again.

After your edit:

How did Germany rebuild so quickly after World War I

In no sense of the word was this an improvement. I'll give you another (fictitious example) and maybe then it becomes clearer:

Original: Why did U.S. fake the moon landing?

Edited: What is the history of NASA's PR effort during the Apollo years?

  • This doesn't answer the question, as it's not about rewriting the answer, but about removing bad/offensive things vs flagging it. Oct 1, 2013 at 9:47
  • I would argue that it does answer your question. Seems to me that you were removing "bad bits" from that question (the premise that Hitler rebuilt Germany after WW 1) and my opinion is that this is going beyond what is O.K. to do. Oct 1, 2013 at 10:14
  • That was not something where the other option was to flag the question. I removed an incorrect assumption, making the question answerable. That was not offensive, a personal attack or partisan nonsense. That it would be beyond what is OK is both a completely different question and plainly incorrect. I have no idea why you are so upset that I made that question answerable, and I suspect I will never know, but drop the stick and stop flogging that dead horse. Oct 1, 2013 at 10:54
  • You know, don't you, when you "order" me to do something, it invites the exact opposite response? Oct 1, 2013 at 12:23
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    Your first example looks to me like it could just be a cleanup edit (I suppose that's me agreeing that it didn't fundamentally change the question). I'd agree with you on your ficticious (strawman) example though. In fact, if you like you could use our recent 9/11 conspiracy question as a good real-life example. There was just no saving that baby.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Oct 1, 2013 at 13:47
  • I'm with TED. The Germany example is a typical "Take crappy question, refine into the good one" process that is 100% standard on all SEs. Whether you personally think it is worth your time/effort is another story (since you're basically helping a possibly undeserving poster at the cost of your effort), but someone else doing it is in no way an infraction.
    – DVK
    Oct 10, 2013 at 13:44
  • @DVK Please give an example on Stackoverflow where a question is changed to another question entirely and this is considered acceptable. Oct 11, 2013 at 8:22
  • @EugeneSeidel - SO ones were a while ago, so I definitely wouldn't remember (I kinda slacked off from there for a while) but I'll try to dig out something on SFF.SE for you
    – DVK
    Oct 11, 2013 at 10:37

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