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When users receive a question ban they see a message that links them to a post on meta in the tag.

I would like to put forward the hypothesis that this is the way most of the users who post blatantly off-topic questions on meta find meta in the first place.

If this is true then hosting that link anywhere other than on meta would go a long way towards cutting the volume of "I got banned so I asked it here instead" questions that meta sees.

Proposal: the link question banned users see should be hosted on the site the ban relates to itself, not on meta. The text of that message could link to meta still, it's a layer of additional indirection.

Rationale: The people who post these questions clearly don't read the contents of the message, it seems like the thought process runs approximately as "I'm banned, but what a stroke of luck - another Q&A site, I'll just ask there, someone is bound to solve this for me". This would remove the "another Q&A site" aspect and make reading the text the only option.

It's hard to say for certain that this is indeed the cause, questions of this nature get deleted quickly and it's not possible to do more than guess if a user is indeed question banned. (I would give example of these questions, but I can't see them once they're deleted on meta and I think it's fairly obvious what the sort of questions I'm referring to are)

I think this hypothesis could be tested (by a developer) with something like change point analysis on the number of closed+deleted off-topic questions after making the change.

I can't quite believe I'm the first one to suggest this, but searching for this mostly just turns up thousands of duplicates of the "Help I'm banned" questions.

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marked as duplicate by gnat, hims056, Martijn Pieters, Hugo Dozois, Eliah Kagan Jul 31 '13 at 22:22

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Interesting hypothesis. –  ChrisF Mar 2 '12 at 11:25
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. –  Won't Mar 2 '12 at 15:13
Far more elegant than my moat + hungry alligators idea. I'll yield to this one :) –  Tim Post Mar 8 '12 at 11:24
The new help center has a page for this now! I don't know if the link in the message has been changed. –  Jeremy Banks Jul 13 '12 at 18:24
How about we just have the link autopost their question to Meta? That would really add to the efficiency of the process. –  Lance Roberts Dec 19 '12 at 18:52
this is now [status-planned]. see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/183285/… –  Doorknob Jun 15 '13 at 20:03
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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The error messages have been updated and should now link to the help center articles about question bans and answer bans, respectively.

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I believe it can be added to the faq of every site, one picture is better than thousand words:

faq update

In the "show more" it can refer to the infamous Meta post and the ban message can link directly to that faq section e.g. http://stackoverflow.com/faq#banned (That will show it expanded by default)

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"Can I be banned..." is not a bad question to include, but I dislike the wording in this proposed entry. It seems snooty and passive-aggressive. Your screenshot even includes the "rudeness will not be tolerated" part of the FAQ, for crying out loud. –  Pops May 26 '12 at 23:00
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What would go a long way towards fixing the Why was I banned posts is that everyone banned is given a specific message telling them exactly why they were banned, and a few specific suggestions for how they can get unbanned. This could all be automated, just like the process to ban is now automated.

Made up example (not sure of all the algorithmic stuff behind the ban):

You have been banned because you

created 2 questions that were downvoted

 - link to blah-blah-question 1
 - link to blah-blah-question 2

deleted 1 of your own questions

 - link to question they deleted

If you want the ban removed then you can edit 1 of your questions in order to get some upvotes on it. 


You can wait 30 days for your ban to be removed.

If you want people's behavior to change, you need to give them very specific information, so they can modify their behavior without having to guess. This is especially important for those from different cultures who may have a hard time figuring out from non-specific english sentences how to accomplish their goal.

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This would require a large amount of manual work for every single question banned user; the main reason for the automatic bans in the first place seems to have been to reduce the workload for moderating users (and yet SO still has mountains of crap to sort through, so I don't think adding more manual labor is a winning strategy) –  Ben Brocka Dec 23 '12 at 19:21
Still, I like the general direction of this, especially seeing as occasionally, the ban seems to catch users who look pretty intelligent. Maybe some hint could be given automatically? (Many downvoted questions, many closed questions...) –  Pëkka Dec 23 '12 at 19:43
@BenBrocka, I think this is stuff that can all be automated, just like the ban is. The ban is being implemented for specific algorithmic reasons, so we can just show those reasons. –  Lance Roberts Dec 23 '12 at 19:45
"You can wait 30 days for your ban to be removed"... I know it's a mere example to support your answer, but from what I understand that is wrong. –  Bart Dec 23 '12 at 19:47
Yeh, I'm definitely not sure of all the details with how the banning works. –  Lance Roberts Dec 23 '12 at 19:48
Post-bans do not expire automatically. From the mentioned page: "Automatic bans never expire or "time out." This means that you cannot simply wait for a certain amount of time: if you do not take action, you will never be allowed to post again. The only way for the ban to be lifted is by contributing positively to the site in other ways." –  Bart Dec 23 '12 at 19:49
@Bart, thanks.. –  Lance Roberts Dec 23 '12 at 19:55
@Bart Not that you would know what the SE employees are considering, but just a thought.... but has a 30-day ban been considered for first time offenders... you can even change a 2nd ban to be permanent (meaning can never be lifted). I agree with Lance in that if you give them clear info on why the ban was instituted and how it can be fixed, it will cut back on the why was I banned questions on MSO and if you give them a 2nd chance, it might help. –  psubsee2003 Jan 1 '13 at 0:28
It's probably worth noting that quality bans are not really an educational tool. They're meant to be a safety net to stop folks who've no interest in improvement from continuing to abuse the site, and for questions they're only enabled on sites where traffic has reached the point where it's not feasible for the community to identify and moderators suspend folks who repeatedly ignore more helpful guidance. A kinder, gentler q-ban sorta misses the point... –  Shog9 Jan 1 '13 at 0:48
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I've provided some rough data on the scope of this problem here.

To that, I'd like to add that folks who post programming questions here on Meta after being q-banned on SO are generally suspended here, usually for a fairly generous period of time. There are currently 52 suspended users here.

The more I think about this, the more I dislike the idea of putting this in the FAQ, or on some other disconnected page. I have two reasons for this, one philosophical and one practical:

  1. This is the support site for Stack Overflow. Someone encountering a problem should come here first for help. Being directed to an answer that instructs them what to do to resolve the problem is exactly what's supposed to happen. The exact details of the quality ban aren't public, but the factors that contribute to it are all influenced directly by the community on Stack Overflow - so in cases where someone shouldn't be q-banned, it is within the power of the community to lift that ban, and again this is where such reviews should take place. The very existence of this question and others like it indicates that y'all do care about this, and are paying attention to how this system is behaving - I don't think sweeping the effects of quality-banning under the rug would be healthy.

  2. If we put a section in the FAQ (one that only applies to a tiny fraction of users, most of whom probably don't even read the FAQ) and in it direct folks to MSO, we're not really solving the problem - except that now there's no handy target for duplicate-closing.

Remember: q-bans are intended as a safety net for the community on Stack Overflow - an automated way to keep the folks who are habitually abusive and inattentive from continuing to waste the time of those here to help. It's not a warning system, or training wheels, or purgatory - there may be a place for such things, but this isn't it. It's a shame, really, that such a thing is even necessary - but the alternative is (and was) worse.

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The real solution, of course, is to fix the faq, so that instead of this airy-fairy "Welcome to Stack Overflow blah blah" sunshine and sunflowers thing that we have now, it says something with more clarity and honesty. Something more like, "Welcome to Stack Overflow. A word of warning before we begin: This is not your Father's Forum..." –  Robert Harvey Jan 1 '13 at 1:58
Of course, this may all be a simple intelligence test, and nothing will help those that fail it. –  Robert Harvey Jan 1 '13 at 2:00
That's... Sorta in the works. –  Shog9 Jan 1 '13 at 2:07
@Shog9, you're such a tease. When will we get details? –  Charles Jan 1 '13 at 3:53
When Joel's satisfied with the cartoons, @Charles. –  Shog9 Jan 1 '13 at 3:53
That only raises further questions! –  Charles Jan 1 '13 at 3:56
@Charles he may mean something along the lines of patents.stackexchange.com/about (IIRC it used to be even more cartoon-y) –  Manishearth Jan 1 '13 at 6:33
What about blog post, same way there is (old) post about user suspension? Think it would make more sense and post banned users will stop posting here. –  Shadow Wizard Apr 22 '13 at 13:46
It's really not hard to find another place to put that guidance, @Sha... I think Meta is the most appropriate place for it. FWIW, I think you're overestimating how many banned users ever find their way to meta in the first place, much less actually post anything here. –  Shog9 Apr 22 '13 at 17:28
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