I chatted with the other mods about going back on HNQ, so here's my thoughts.. TL;DR, we should remove:
- When the OP requests it
- When it’s attracting negative attention because of issues that can’t be handled otherwise
First, what can we fix without this tool?
Here are the main problems I see happening with HNQ questions..
HNQ removes all extra context. People seeing the title on the sidebar aren’t necessarily going to know anything about our site and the sort of Q&A we host, which can lead to rather uncharitable interpretations (as was the case in the past) and turning them off from wanting to find out more. In addition, “clickbait” titles can be a problem. Controversial-looking or suggestive titles typically get more traffic, as curious people and people looking for a good smackdown opportunity click through and often leave bad comments and answers (and upvote the same).
Solution: edit titles to be more descriptive and less clickbait-y. At the same time, don’t include details that aren’t relevant (particularly if they relate to a commonly controversial topic - more on this later).
Questions that hit HNQ are often about controversial topics. We (and other stacks) have also experienced problems with trolls who post provocative stories to seek attention.
While our scope allows for users to talk about their (relevant) views, we don’t want to play host to ideological fights in the comments/answers, and we do want everyone to be nice. While we can deal with this by flagging and deleting the bad responses, ideally we don’t want those sorts of things to get posted in the first place - it’s very unwelcoming to the OP, not to mention draining for the community and mods to handle a flood of it.
Solution: remove salacious details, make descriptions more “clinical”, focus on the interpersonal skills rather than the surrounding story.
I think this is a great way to neutralize questions that aren’t necessarily bad (read: closeable) posts, but are still attracting drama and negative attention. I like how Monica Cellio, Workplace mod explained the rationale for making such an edit on her site:
Often the actual questions are fairly straightforward or even boring. How do I handle a hit & run fender-bender? What do I do about a slacker coworker? How do I give credit to a junior colleague without calling my own abilities into question? But the problems arise when these questions are packaged up in descriptions that are fanciful, filled with colorful characters and intriguing but utterly irrelevant detail. Lots of detail. Worldbuilding-levels of detail. People then respond, in comments and answers, to the detail, in the process losing the pearl of the actual question in the vast dunes of sand that are all that other stuff.
Removing the fluff lets us focus on the actual interpersonal skills, rather than reacting to the surrounding story.
It’s also important to promptly close bad (off-topic, too broad, unclear) questions! Don’t leave poor questions open because you hope that OP will come back and edit soon; you can always retract your vote (or vote to reopen) once it’s improved. The longer bad questions stay open, the higher chance that it gets answers.. and those answers get votes.. and it goes to HNQ.
All questions should be looked at with a (constructively) critical eye. Ideally, we catch the common issues and fix them before they hit HNQ, thereby reducing the amount of drama they attract.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here's some examples of topics that often attract a lot of arguing in comments and answers, based on past HNQ experiences:
- Gender issues
- Racial issues
- Dating and sex
When you see a new question about something that could be controversial, please be extra mindful of the potential for negative attention when you're deciding if or how to edit. Yes, often the particular worldviews / identity / etc. of the people involved will be relevant, but ultimately we’re trying to build a Q&A index -- consider if simply saying, for example, “my parents and I have opposite political opinions” is sufficient to describe the situation. Or at least, if that’s sufficient for the title.
We also should keep in mind that while OPs are naturally going to be biased, we need them to describe behaviors as objectively as possible rather than just their judgments. If there's none of that included, consider if it's too unclear to answer without more objective examples and should be closed in the meantime.
To be clear: I'm naming these categories because when we were taken off HNQ, I saw a lot of users commenting along the lines of "some people get offended by everything, so we shouldn't bother caring about whether a title could be offensive". I disagree. We can and should anticipate when a question is likely to cause offense and take reasonable action - from editing, up to removing from the sidebar - before we get lots of complaints. The last thing I want is for someone browsing StackExchange to see, completely out of context, a title that's offensive or triggering. As an example, it's fine to ask a question about your open relationship, but take a minute to read the title through the lens of a woman who's used to the internet being full of sexist/misogynist dudebros - that's exactly what we missed back in October.
So, when do we remove stuff?
Posts will only stay in HNQ for 72 hours. So we can't take too long to decide whether or not a question is salvageable.
- we've already tried editing it
- it's not closeable
- protecting it doesn't help
...then we'll have to consider removal.
I think some questions will just never be appropriate for the sidebar, however politely worded they may be. Most likely this will be a case-by-case judgment call. The only category I think we'll end up removing more often than not is questions about sex; the topic is always going to make some people feel uncomfortable to see, so we probably don't want to be advertising ourselves to the rest of the network with those questions. I think a good guideline for deciding whether or not it's appropriate for the sidebar is to ask whether or not you could have a conversation at work about it. Considering StackExchange is overall aimed at a professional audience and a lot of traffic is people browsing at their work computers, I think that's a reasonable rule (and in tune with the reasons why we were taken off the sidebar in the first place). The other questions will still be here, if they like our site enough to browse around some more.
(I know workplaces can differ in what's allowable so.. let's say average tech company? What I'm getting at is that gender and racial issues are often discussed in a work context - so those could be fine on HNQ, even when they're difficult to moderate - whereas, e.g., developing a healthy sexual ethic is typically not.)
Another reason would be if we have reason to suspect the OP is a troll, or if the OP is otherwise being part of the problem.
To a large extent I do expect this will result in the mod team discussing and making a call. That's kind of why we're here - to step in and take action when the system and community can't. Just like with other moderator actions, you're always free to raise a discussion on meta so we can explain our reasoning and work out some more concrete rules and precedent.