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A few hours ago a user posted Let's clean up low-quality posts with profanity on Stack Overflow. The premise of the discussion was to remove the word Damn from posts as it is considered profanity. However, the community, by method of voting, disagreed with the premise of this post.

However, in the meantime, I was alerted today to a set of edits on Super User which consisted of removing the word Damn from posts referring to a product, funnily enough named Damn Small Linux. Considering this is what the product is called, and it is a widely accepted name, editing all these posts is counter productive and also doesn't help with driving Google traffic for the product to Super User.

This is not the first time, a change is suggested on Meta, and immediately we have users that start a campaign to implement this as policy, long before it is actually agreed to be implemented by the majority of users.

It was suggested by some members of the community that there should be a way to revoke edit rights to prevent abuses like this, however I feel this may be a bit harsh.

Is there, if any, a way to prevent these type of policy changes to take effect without agreement? These edits bumped questions to the home page unnecessarily, and therefore detracted attention from new questions?

Reversing them is simply a rollback, however this requires time and effort, and again unnecessarily bumps these questions to the home page.

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Damn the editors! Full damn ahead! –  Won't Oct 31 '11 at 20:23
    
amusingly, the third point made there in that post is 'Do not blindly censor all instances of "damn" (especially in a phrase like "Damn Small Linux")' - which is what happened in this situation –  Journeyman Geek Nov 1 '11 at 1:16
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@JourneymanGeek: I believe that the point was not added to the question until after quite a few of those edits had been made. –  Josh Caswell Nov 1 '11 at 3:04

4 Answers 4

up vote 32 down vote accepted

This has happened before.

Let me be clear: regardless of the editor's intentions, beginning a major series of edits without support from the greater community is dangerous; unilateral, large-scale removing or replacing tags, censoring specific words, or otherwise destroying content that the community has previously accepted without at least some prior meta discussion indicating that the change is desirable is abusive.

There are plenty of examples of how to do this right: Should 'Hi', 'thanks,' taglines, and salutations be removed from posts? is probably one of the most famous.

As an editor, the onus is on you to ensure your editing is acceptable to the community. Don't just edit and forget - go back and check that your edits aren't being rolled back, make yourself available in chat, and if you encounter push-back stop, go to meta, make your case, and wait for consensus before continuing.

As a moderator, if you encounter editing you feel is abusive, your first duty is to put a stop to it: if you can contact the user in chat, great; if the edits are few enough or slow enough to make raising the issue on meta or via email practical, then do that - but if he can't be reached, or is unwilling to stop, a short suspension is in order. In keeping with the original philosophy of a "penalty box", this removes the user from the site long enough for you to undo the damage and come to an understanding with him as to the proper behavior.

Editing is a privilege, and arguably one of the most important privileges available to a user on Stack Exchange. And like all privileges, it comes with the responsibility to use it properly. An editor can be forgiven for making bad edits in good faith, but only when the community has not made its wishes known.

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+1 Thank you. In this case I only became aware of it after a user pointed it out, but it is valuable advise for all editors and moderators. –  Diago Oct 31 '11 at 17:41
    
I've had to do this before. I still think that there's a place for a notification before a moderator has to step in, see my answer below. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 31 '11 at 20:29
    
+1: Suspending the users would be the first step. Then just farm out the rollbacks. I'm sure you can query for users you can trust that are currently online. –  surfasb Oct 31 '11 at 21:51
    
If we're supposed to be aware of rollbacks of our edits, I'd prefer to get a notification, rather than having to keep polling round my recent ones. –  martin clayton Oct 31 '11 at 22:36
    
@martin: note that I'm recommending this specifically for large-scale, single-purpose batch edits: for instance, introducing a new tag, where you might do small batches of questions day-by-day. For normal editing (e.g. correcting grammar in new questions), this is less important. However, a notification isn't a bad idea... Although I'd be concerned about fanning the flames of rollback wars. –  Shog9 Oct 31 '11 at 23:18

This has happened before when I started a discussion on our site about "We probably ought to fix this systematic formatting error sometime" or "This sort of tagging is discouraged by this policy. Should we retag these questions?". Suddenly, the front page is flooded with edits by users who are unaware of what's happening.

It seems the users do not realize what was happening to the front page, or that consensus had not yet been reached. Regardless of the usefulness of the edit (they may, in fact, be useful edits - though I agree that editing the D out of Damn Small Linux is counterproductive), the user should be informed of the policy around actions like these.

I suggest that rapid edits trigger a message to the editor. The message could be something along the lines of:

You've edited 10 posts in the last 15 minutes. Thanks for your contributions, but consider the following:

  • Edits will bump posts to the front page, displacing new content
  • Too many edits too fast can overwhelm the suggested edit queue
  • Too many edits too fast can overwhelm the peer review process on the front page
  • You seem to be going too fast to fully edit the post. Make sure to read fully and edit every part of a post which needs a change, even when making systematic changes!
  • A question posted on the meta site does not necessarily indicate consensus. It should be highly voted, have supportive discussion, and probably be edited to indicate that the consensus has been reached before working on the potential problem.

We suggest that you take a break, and do this in small chunks.


Thanks for the notification. Please remind me to start here when I log in tomorrow!

(Optional) Enter the URL of a search query for the project here: [______________________]


This has community consensus and needs to be done now. Leave me alone!

Clicking the first button would trigger an inbox message 24 hours later reminding them of the task. Something along the lines of:

You stopped an edit/retag project at this post yesterday as part of a task. It's been 24 hours, feel free to continue! (Your search query was [SEDE query or search?q= page]). Thanks for your help!

It will be important to remember that these edits are almost certainly done in good faith - the user is trying to help. Don't punish them for that, instead, try to make sure that backlash against their actions is minimized.

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+1 I agree punishment is too harsh. There is some rare instances where it is real abuse, but some, are just done prematurely. –  Diago Oct 31 '11 at 17:25
    
But what should the message say? Are you sure you know what you are doing? I'm not sure this would help - maybe a silent (bump-free) rollback is needed. (+1 for the rest though) –  Pëkka Oct 31 '11 at 17:25
    
@Pekka We know the Chaos team can do non bumping edits, maybe if a policy is agreed upon it can be something they can be tasked with. –  Diago Oct 31 '11 at 17:36
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CHAOS no longer does non-bumping edits, @Diago. That privilege is granted only temporarily, and only in exceptional circumstances (in preparation for making hundreds or thousands of edits in a short period of time). –  Shog9 Oct 31 '11 at 17:40
    
@Shog9 Thank you for clearing that up. –  Diago Oct 31 '11 at 17:41
    
@Shog I really think mods should be granted that right for circumstances exactly like the one we are discussing here. It's maybe 30-40 questions that somebody could revert in 10 minutes –  Pëkka Oct 31 '11 at 17:46
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@Pekka: 30-40 posts is a lot to have to roll back, but it's also a lot to edit - that should make the need to do rollbacks fairly rare. That said, it's not an extreme number: depending on your settings, that's one or two pages. The "no bump" editing was implemented for campaigns that might fill fifty or more pages with nothing but mundane changes. There's probably a better way to handle this. –  Shog9 Oct 31 '11 at 17:55
    
I disagree with this system. It's just another form of feature creep. At best, it is a speed bump until they build a bigger and better abuser. –  surfasb Oct 31 '11 at 21:11
    
I kinda like warning idea. Not a fan of the reminder. If you really care, there are plenty of ways to remind yourself. I'm partial to Post-It notes. –  Shog9 Nov 1 '11 at 1:07

Is there, if any, a way to prevent these type of policy changes to take effect without agreement?

I can't think of anything really, but then I also don't think it's necessary.

Going in and doing the edits like that was definitely premature; most of them should be rolled back. However, it was done in good faith, and happens rarely enough, so it doesn't warrant any new rules or safeguards IMO.

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+1 Valid point and they could very well be in good faith. Not warranting anything to change or prevent it is acceptable, however, I do believe there is value in raising the point on meta. –  Diago Oct 31 '11 at 17:13
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@Diago yeah, there absolutely is value in raising the point. This was an edge case because it touches a grey area - where is the line where censor-worthy profanity begins? –  Pëkka Oct 31 '11 at 17:15
    
@Pekka, it's where $reader_name_here says it is, obviously. –  Pops Oct 31 '11 at 20:34
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It might have been done in good faith, but I'd suggest that someone who really thinks that editing the "damn" out of "damn small linux" is a good idea. then they are a poster child for why editing is a privilege, not a right. If someone has a pattern of that then this should be addressed. –  RobM Oct 31 '11 at 23:04

You aren't going to be able to prevent people from abusing the edit privileges. It's a fact of life. Build a higher wall, and they'll just tunnel under it. Build a better lock, and they are just going to ram the door.

There is this quote from Rainbow Six Vegas I'm trying to remember. Something about making our position unassailable. . .

It's similar to the "it's not if it happens, but when will it happen. . ." Putting speed bump after speed bump is only feature creep. To beat a smart system abuser, you don't need a smarter system. You need a smarter human.

We have great editor and moderators out there who are essentially motivated by the top tiers of Maslow's Hierarchy. I suggest we help build better tools and unleash their motivation. Anything we can do to ease their workflow, or automate systematic actions would get my vote.

I'm not sure of the rollback system on higher levels but from where I can see it can be painful to rollback that many edits.

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