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Recently I've found myself willing to answer a question from users who previously posted a significant number of questions before, using info from their previous questions that I think are relevant to answer their latest question. I am bothered by the fact that they didn't include that info again in their latest post (did they forget, did they think it was not relevant?) and found myself reluctant to the idea of mentioning said info in my answer, as I don't want to recall facts they possibly didn't want to mention in their newest post.

On the pro-side (ie "yes, we may use info from previous posts"), there are several things to be considered:

  • Everything one posts on the Stack Exchange network is publicly available and "stays forever", so using that info does not break the site's rules (and I would not tell anything that was said by OP on SE already),

  • Said info may help in writing a better answer to OP's issues.

On the con-side:

  • It feels like breaking OP's trust, should they didn't want this info to be disclosed/considered in this particular question (not everyone scrapes the site to get to know as much as they can from someone and maybe OP would expect this info to be mentioned only in one specific question),

  • Mentioning info from another question may make other users' experience harder ("how do they know that? I can't find it anywhere in OP's question!")

Regarding the abovementioned I still can't make my mind on whether it is okay to do so. Asking OP in question's comments if they're okay that I use info XYZ from question ABC doesn't feel either because this links to the info already.

Should we include publicly available info from a user's previous posts when we think it may help in writing a better answer to their latest question?

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  • @Tinkeringbell erh, I think those are different situations. In the one you've linked the questions context is always the same (dealing with roommates and the communication issues they're facing with them). Here I want to talk about questions that are not directly related but which may benefit from references to each other because they include info that enrich the context of the other. I am not sure it makes much sense? I do have examples of such questions but I wouldn't want to mention them here for privacy reasons. – avazula Sep 11 '19 at 11:39
  • Oh, it's only related in the sense that it's also a question about questions having details spread across multiple questions. As you can see from the answers there, they all seem to have agreed all relevant information should be in 1 question, that questions should focus only on 1 question, and that answers should also focus on that question. My answer there also stated that if the question really needs details from other questions to be answerable, that it shall be commented on/closed... – Tinkeringbell Sep 11 '19 at 11:46
  • It's easy to create throwaway accounts to protect the privacy of an already (easily) anonymous user name here. By posting at all, members make information public, and by posting under the same user name the information can be casually connected by anyone who cares to look. Do we generally assume a position of maximum secrecy, given these? If not, the question may be easier to address – Upper_Case Sep 11 '19 at 17:43
  • As long as you don't make unwarranted assumptions, I think it's ok. If they said, "I did X" on a previous post, the only assumption you're making is that they told the truth, which I think is fair. If they said, "If someone did X, what should they do?" , and you said "when you did X", you would be assuming they actually did the thing they were talking about instead of perhaps asking for a friend. – called2voyage Sep 18 '19 at 13:47
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Yes

If a user has posted some information on IPS before, it is perfectly acceptable to consider it when answering a new question.

An Example

Let's say that a user posted a question in which they mentioned being on the autism spectrum. Then they post a new question that doesn't mention this, but you think that their autism is relevant to the situation described in the new question. Bring that information in, with a proper attribution of where you found it.

You mentioned on this other question that you are on the autism spectrum

Make sure that you link back to the original question, possibly even quoting the relevant parts of it. Once you have introduced the information, you should explain why it is relevant to the current question.

When not to do this

It's not uncommon for users to use an alternate account to ask highly personal questions that they don't want tied to their main account. If you see a question that you know is from a certain user's alternate account, don't link back to a question from their main and remove their anonymity.

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  • I'm curious, how would you handle a situation in which said user tells you they're unhappy that you used info they deliberately didn't include in their new question? – avazula Sep 11 '19 at 12:21
  • I would apologize, but then suggest that if there is specific information that they don't want being used to answer the question, they could call that out in their post. Obviously we aren't going to be able to please every single person, but if an answer can be made better with extra information from another post, by all means it should be made better. I'm not going to go hunting on Facebook and Twitter to find information about someone for a post, but unless explicitly stated, I think that any information they have posted on IPS is fair to use if it helps you give them a better answer. – Rainbacon Sep 11 '19 at 13:01
  • What I don't understand on the last bit of the question is how can you know whether the account is an alternate account or not? (moderators can obviously see that but not normal users). If I were to create a alternate account right now, I wouldn't make it obvious that it's related to my main. – CaldeiraG Sep 11 '19 at 14:54
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    @CaldeiraG About the only way you would know is if they told you. One instance I can remember is that someone was talking in chat about a question they wanted to post, but weren't sure about posting on their main account. That exact question was later posted by a different account. It's not something that happens a lot, but it does happen from time to time. – Rainbacon Sep 11 '19 at 15:02
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Yes, but...

If there is some information that you think is important to answering the question, but that doesn't appear in the question itself, we have a process for this!

If you're confident that the user won't take offense to this information being public (something like "they have a dog"), edit it into the question yourself and leave a comment to let them know what you did, where you pulled the information from and why you think it's useful information.

Otherwise, if it's something of a more personal nature, you may want to leave that same kind of comment but let OP edit it in themselves.

In both of these cases, the OP has the option to rollback your edit and/or reply to your comment to express their feelings on the matter. Just be aware that if they're not happy with your edit, you should be willing to either rework or delete your answer.

Basically, if this is information that you think is useful for answering the question, chances are someone else will too!!

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  • I'm torn. Leaving a comment suggesting to add the info is already disclosing said info, even if as pointed out in my question, it's not private in any way. If they didn't want to include it and tell me so in comments but then people comment too, saying it should be included, it wouldn't feel right for OP :/ – avazula Sep 11 '19 at 14:16
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    @avazula since comments are more ephemeral, I'd think that if/when OP says "no," flagging those as NLN and removing them should leave no trace (unlike an edit). If the information exists on SE, then it's no harm if a few more people who happened to see the comment now know. But if they don't want that information linked with the question in the long term, deleting the comments should fix that. – scohe001 Sep 11 '19 at 14:19
  • In case where it's possible, another solution could be to ask a leading question that doesn't disclose the information but might make OP include it – Ael Sep 11 '19 at 15:30
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    @Ælis Exactly. I think a comment like "Would you mind if I edit in some information that you gave in [this other question]? I believe it would be useful for answers here." would be more than enough if you don't want to put the actual information in. – scohe001 Sep 11 '19 at 15:43

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