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My recent answer to a question about how to address racist comments has been edited by a moderator (eykanal) to remove a substantial portion of the content. As authority for the edit the moderator cites another meta post discussing whether or not a different answer contains off-topic commentary. The moderator also states, "OP - If you wish to discuss this edit please feel free to do so on Meta, but please refrain from heavy editing as the current votes are based on what was present." The moderator has now locked the post to prevent rollback of his edits.

(A brief history of the answer: (1) there was an initial detailed answer that received a large number of upvotes and a few downvotes (approx +50 net upvotes); (2) following solicitation from other users in the comments section, I added an additional section to the answer, and there were then a small number of additional votes which did not make any substantial change to the net score of the answer; (3) the moderator edited the answer to remove the bulk of the content (including both the new section and most of the original post), based on his rationale above; (4) based on the rationale that the answer should not be heavily edited after receiving substantial numbers of votes, I rolled back all edits to restore my answer to its original form in (1), when the bulk of voting occurred; and (5) moderator then restored his edit removing most of the content, and locked the post to prevent further edits.)


I do not agree with the removal of content from this answer and I would like the original content of the post restored. There are several problems with the moderator edit:

  • (1) It removes relevant content --- this content is on-topic and gives a detailed argument challenging a false premise in the question, in order to give context for the advice at the end of the post;

  • (2) The edit does not fall within the scope of when should I edit posts in the help centre guidance;

  • (3) The edit does not leave the post in a better state than the original version; and

  • (4) The edit contradicts the moderator's own instruction that the post should not be heavily edited after the bulk of votes are accrued to the post;

  • (5) Unlike the case of the answer that was the subject of the meta-post cited by the moderator, this answer has a high net upvote score, suggesting that a large number of users found the post to be of value in answering the question; and

  • (6) The edits pre-empt the current discussion of development of "frame-challenge guidelines" on Meta.


I appreciate the work of moderators on this site, including the present moderator. Nevertheless, in this instance my answer has been edited down to a shell of its original content, and this edit substantially detracts from the quality of the post. (The main negative effect is that it removes contextual argument on the premises of the question that are crucial to understanding the advice given in the post.) It seems to be getting more common for moderators to edit down answers where they feel that the content is "controversial", and in such cases, there are some very stretched interpretations of what is "off-topic". In particular, in questions where there is an assertion of "racism" by the OP, moderators seem to be opposed to answers that question this premise. Questions on racism, sexism, etc., are necessarily going to be controversial, so it is important that we allow scope for "frame challenges", questioning about potentially false premises, etc., without removing this content as "off-topic".

A secondary problem here is that it represents an instance where moderators unilaterally remove the bulk of contents from an answer (in this case a highly upvoted answer) and then put the onus on the answerer to go to Meta to appeal this change. In previous cases there is usually a discussion on Meta that comes first, to discuss whether or not the answer should be edited down. The present case sets a bad precedent in which moderators remove content under a strained interpretation of what is "off-topic".

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    Moderation on this site has always had a substantial arbitrary component. It's time you accept that. Also, I strongly suggest you learn to be more concise; excessively long posts are not useful and voters should vote accordingly. Jun 27 at 9:00
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    Some answers are only highly upvoted because they've hit the Hydron accelerator HNQ. Here they are available to tens of thousands of drive-by readers who are only able to upvote, and not downvote them Anything vaguely contentious, however off-topic and unhelpful, will always accrue upvotes on a HNQ. It's a well-understood design flaw of the HNQ system, and one of the reasons why certain sites have sought to be removed from the HNQ list.
    – Araucaria
    Jun 27 at 9:53
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    I think it’s long past time to block all questions touching on gender or race from the HNQ. In the former case there’s already a highly upvoted meta answer saying to do this! Jun 27 at 13:26
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    Voters did vote accordingly, and overwhlemingly found the answer to be useful (hence its large net-upvote total).
    – Ben
    Jun 27 at 15:15
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    @Ben Most readers were unable to downvote it, however much they may have wanted to. HNQ reaches people who are not already members of Academia. These people are trusted to upvote, but not downvote when they come here.
    – Araucaria
    Jun 27 at 15:20
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    If we are going to take that line (of selectively ignoring voting totals when they tell us something we don't like) then really we can never invoke vote totals as relevant to anything. Even if it is true that the post was upvoted on HNQ, those are upvotes from users who apparently appreciated the answer; counterfactual downvotes of people who don't have that privilege is completely speculative. As stated, the moderator in this case specifically invoked the justification that a post should not be heavily edited after it has accrued its votes; that militates in favour of the original post.
    – Ben
    Jun 27 at 15:24
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    I'm removing the comments (and ensuing discussion) that are basically an ad hominum attack against one of the moderators. We debate ideas/decisons, not the people who write them (per our code of conduct). As for the demand for details of internal moderator discussions and tasking: sorry, no, we do not comment publicly on these.
    – cag51 Mod
    Jun 30 at 5:26
  • @cag51: Based on visible comments, it seems there are pretty liberal rules re ad hominum against OP (i.e., me). Perhaps review some of those comments too, including a certain sentence fragment in your own (otherwise polite) answer.
    – Ben
    Jun 30 at 6:31
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    I am not sure what comments you are referring to, and am baffled as to which of my sentence fragments could have offended you. In any case, you can always flag ad hominum attacks (such flags are usually reviewed by multiple moderators before being declined, if they end up being declined); that said, we try not to delete comments on meta unless they are truly abusive or unacceptable (we do not want to be in the position of censoring discussions about censorship).
    – cag51 Mod
    Jun 30 at 6:45
  • @cag51: I haven't flagged your answer because I think the bulk of it is polite and reasonable. It is the insinuation that I consider SE to be my personal blog that I consider to be ad hominum. Like I said, just one little thing in an otherwise polite answer (and honestly not a big deal), but if you are looking to purge ad hominum there is plenty of it around in the comments here. To be clear, I think your answer is reasonable, and I probably would upvote it if not for the slight ad hominum, which detracts from it.
    – Ben
    Jun 30 at 8:34
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Obviously I agree with Massimo's answer, but let me add my own reasoning.

Your answer included a 1500 word (!!) monograph describing your views on the distinction between racism and concern about migration. This long discussion was unrelated to Academia (as defined in our help center) and only loosely related to the question at hand. This occurred a day or two after you wrote 500 words describing your views on the FDA's approval process for the COVID vaccines.

This is a Q&A site, not your personal blog, and as you know, we are rather strict about closing off-topic questions and not allowing anything but answers in the answer box. There is no magic formula that can unambiguously differentiate on-topic and off-topic answers, so there will occasionally be disagreements like this one, even between reasonable people with good intentions (which I am sure you are). But in this case, I think the consensus will be that three-page treatises on racism -- going back to the Irish Rebellion of 1641 -- are not sufficiently probative of the question, which was "how can racist/offensive comments from a supervisor be addressed?"

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    Sorry, was traveling the past two days. Both these answers address the reasoning behind the edits quite well. I don't have anything else to add.
    – eykanal Mod
    Jun 29 at 13:51
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First, let me remark that controversial cases like this one are always first discussed internally by the moderators' team, sometimes with further advice from the Stack Exchange Community Managers, and the moderator action that you see is virtually never unilateral but it's usually agreed by all moderators.

As you can see from the answer's timeline, your answer received two not-an-answer flags and two rude-or-abusive flags. The number and type of flags clearly indicate that your answer is problematic and not up to the standards of the site and the code of conduct.

We decided to salvage the part that attempted somehow to answer the question because the alternative, given the content and the flags, would have been that of deleting the answer entirely.

Final remarks:

  1. When answering a question, try to accept the premises at face value. You can challenge an action or its effect, but questioning what someone has witnessed, knowing that they wouldn't be able to give more details anyway, is rude.
  2. Don't use answers to propose or discuss theories around topics that are not considered on-topic for this site.
  3. This meta answer, written by a Community Manager, essentially covers also this case.
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    I agree with most of this answer, but I am curious why the number of flags raised is relevant to the suitability of a post. Since almost anyone can flag a post, isn't it more an indication of the controversial nature of the post, without necessarily being an indication of quality?
    – GoodDeeds
    Jun 27 at 11:29
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    @GoodDeeds Anyone can flag, but few do and an answer with four flags is a rare event. Simply controversial answers are usually just downvoted, not flagged.
    – Massimo Ortolano Mod
    Jun 27 at 12:15
  • I see, thanks..
    – GoodDeeds
    Jun 27 at 12:16
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    Mere flags do not show that an answer is flawed. There is clearly nothing rude/abusive in the post, so flags that assert that are highly dubious. You seem to be giving a "heckler's veto" based on whoever is willing to flag posts.
    – Ben
    Jun 27 at 15:11
  • Nothing in the answer disputes anything witnessed by the OP; it takes this at face value. What the answer disputes is the characterisation of actions by the OP. Saying that this is rude is censorious, and non-scholarly; academics should have the ability to challenge subjective characterisations of actions in a question.
    – Ben
    Jun 27 at 15:14
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    @Ben As I wrote, we had an internal discussion. Flags are indeed a way to indicate possible issues in answers and questions. They exist exactly for this purpose. For you, there may be nothing rude or abusive in your answer, for others there may clearly be. Since no one but the OP has witnessed those actions, disputing their characterization without enough ground can be considered rude.
    – Massimo Ortolano Mod
    Jun 27 at 16:16
  • @Massimo: If you take a totally subjective view of what is rude then that is literally the heckler's veto. Anyone can flag a post as rude/abusive and if you are unwilling to engage in an objective analysis of that claim then that is a veto anytime a sufficient number of users choose to flag an answer. Deletion of an answer then becomes purely a popularity contest.
    – Ben
    Jun 27 at 16:18
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    @Ben I'm not a moderator, so they should feel free to correct me, but my understanding of the process goes like this: (1) Flags draw the attention of moderators, (2) Multiple flags indicate a situation worth the moderators discussing as a team rather than simply resolving individually, (3) The moderators then independently decide what to do about it, regardless of the nature of the flags or the opinion of the writer. You seem to be interpreting flags as votes, when they are not (except in the special case of spam).
    – jakebeal
    Jun 27 at 17:00
  • @jakebeal: In the present post, the moderator explicitly states, "The number and type of flags clearly indicate that your answer is problematic and not up to the standards of the site and the code of conduct." So this contradicts the view that moderators independently decide the matter; it is an explicit statement that the flags prove that the answer is problematic/not up to standard.
    – Ben
    Jun 27 at 23:30
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    I think Massimo was just a bit imprecise in the wording and was intending to convey that this number of flags is incredibly unusual and indicates a likely problem, not to imply that moderators don't also consider the validity of the flags and content of the post. Focusing on that sentence and ignoring the rest of this answer seems disingenuous.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 28 at 17:12
  • @BryanKrause: That is a really unfair comment; I am surely entitled to assume that people mean what they say. If Massimo was indeed misdescribing the process then that is a fault in his answer, not a fault in my interpretation. To say that I am disingenuous to believe that he means what he said is totally unfair. The reactions to my complaint on Meta (which moderators suggest you raise in these cases) are really nasty stuff, and very disappointing.
    – Ben
    Jun 29 at 23:40
  • @Ben What do you think of Massimo's first paragraph (and the third), and how that relates to your interpretation of the later sentence?
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 29 at 23:58
  • @BryanKrause: They are fine as far as it goes. If moderators look at things as a group, great. If they try to salvage the part of the answer not in dispute, also great. If the moderators tell you that the occurrance of multiple flags clearly indicates that the answer is problematic (and you take them at their word that this is what they do in deciding on the response) then that undermines the other two aspects of the process. Okay, I've answered your question; now, what do you think of calling someone disingenuous for taking moderators at their word in their description of the process?
    – Ben
    Jun 30 at 0:04
  • @BryanKrause: With regard to me focussing on that part, we naturally comment on parts of an answer we are concerned about, not the parts that are fine. I doubt you go through answers and write lots of comments about all the parts of the answer that raise no concerns to you.
    – Ben
    Jun 30 at 0:09
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    @Ben I stand by it. I think you chose to read in something that wasn't said: to interpret "4 flags indicate your answer is problematic" (personally as a mod I don't think I have ever seen 4 flags on one post except for explicit spam) to mean "we don't review the validity of the flags and just count them". You can assert as much as you want that your answer wasn't rude or abusive, some people in the community thought otherwise and flagged as such, and the mods agreed the answer needed to be edited to stand.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jun 30 at 0:09

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