About a year ago I asked a question on a somewhat new StackExchange site. The question was up-voted a couple times, I got my answer and I accepted it.

Then, a couple months ago, someone found my old question, marked it for deletion and then down voted it. Someone must have noticed the down vote and deletion flag from the active questions page, and they followed along and did the same thing again to my question which had been completed and inactive for about a year.

The problem is, their behavior was correct as of the date they flagged my question. The point of the site had been solidified and my question was, technically, inappropriate.

However, a year ago that wasn't the case. The full intent of the site was still being discussed in meta, and the FAQ description hadn't been fully nailed down, so my question was acceptable.

I have a fair amount of reputation on this site, so I wasn't not grossly offended by their actions. I am curious, though; was the behavior of the down-voters inappropriate since my question was historically acceptable and had an accepted answer?

Please note, this happened a few months ago. I'm not looking to complain within the comments of my question. However, my question regarding the etiquette of this scenario has bugged me-- I'm genuinely not sure if this is considered appropriate behavior or not because I can see validity with the idea of either cleaning up old, no longer unsupported questions OR leaving them for historical reasons.

  • 6
    The problem with leaving old, off-topic questions on sites is that they are broken windows: if this old, crappy, off-topic question is allowed to stay on the site, then why can't I ask my new crappy, off-topic question?
    – user102937
    Jul 11, 2012 at 16:48
  • @Robert Harvey: I can agree to that. But, like I said, I think there is a bit of value in leaving old questions that were used to formulate the intent of the site. The question isn't crappy. (It generated a fair amount of discussion and received a good answer.) But, it's no longer appropriate regarding the sites current context, because such topics were weeded out because the scope of the site needed to be narrowed down a bit.
    – RLH
    Jul 11, 2012 at 16:51
  • Chances are it was never on topic in the first place. But that's hard to determine without looking at the question.
    – sth
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:43
  • nothing in the answers/comments so far I disagree with at all. I would add this, though: I flag/vote to close many such questions, but I would never down vote such a question simply because the site's focus has changed since it was posted. Jul 11, 2012 at 18:42
  • My metric is this: I look at the tooltip that pops up when I hover over the downvote button. If the question fits the criteria, then I downvote. Off-topic should be flagged, grammatical and formatting errors should be edited, and lack of code can be fixed by requesting it in the comment area. None of these things should be downvoted, in my opinion.
    – Yawus
    Jul 11, 2012 at 19:38
  • My reasoning is this. Downvoting has more of an effect on a person's participation on SE than flagging. A single downvote immediately reduces someone's reputation whereas it takes numerous flagged questions before someone gets disciplinary action. So when you can flag to fix a problem, you should do that instead of downvoting. It's essentially self-applied Mill's harm principle.
    – Yawus
    Jul 11, 2012 at 19:42

2 Answers 2


If an old post gets flagged as off-topic, I evaluate it under the current community consensus as to what is considered on-topic for the site. If it's off-topic under the current rules, I close it.

If a user comes along and justifies his off-topic question by pointing to old, off-topic questions as evidence they can ask theirs, I thank him for pointing out the broken windows, and I close them.

The only exceptions are questions that are remarkable enough to warrant preservation. See What is a historical lock, and what is it used for?

  • Fair enough, however, would you consider down-voting the question appropriate?
    – RLH
    Jul 11, 2012 at 16:52
  • 2
    Not really. But users are free to do with votes whatever they wish, so long as they are not targeting a specific user.
    – user102937
    Jul 11, 2012 at 16:53
  • Should posts made under public beta be historically locked when a site exits beta? Questions during public beta help define what is and isn't on-topic and could be used as examples in the future.
    – Yawus
    Jul 11, 2012 at 16:55
  • @Yawus: That's what Meta is for.
    – user102937
    Jul 11, 2012 at 16:57
  • But FAQ for Area 51 states that The earliest questions set the tone and topic of the site for a long time. So shouldn't those question be historically locked once out of beta? Or are you suggesting that those questions should be migrated to the site's Meta?
    – Yawus
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:01
  • Historical locks are reserved for legendary questions. Academy-award quality questions. Questions that would diminish the site if they were lost.
    – user102937
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:03
  • I would argue that any question that defines a site's scope would diminish the site if they were lost. The Articles of Confederation were hardly Academy Award quality (especially compared to the Constitution), but they were an important part of defining American government.
    – Yawus
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:04
  • 1
    Questions can be historically locked when: 1. The post is Off-Topic or Not Constructive, and 2. The post is stellar, in spite of its off-topic nature, and 3. There are a large number of views, upvotes and inbound links on the post, and 4. The post is contentious; i.e. it has been closed and reopened at least once, or deleted and undeleted at least once
    – user102937
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:05
  • Fair enough. Without a link to the post, I can hardly judge whether or not the question was "stellar", but the OP claims that he had a healthy amount of upvotes before the flagging and there was a lengthy discussion on the question as well. This discussion has really helped me understand this issue (which has been rattling around in the back of my mind for awhile).
    – Yawus
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:09
  • 2
    Note that closing doesn't always mean deletion; if the post has some merit, it might stay on the site closed forever. The close banner is a warning to future users who might contemplate using the question as evidence they can ask theirs.
    – user102937
    Jul 11, 2012 at 17:11

I've faced this situation before, and also asking for advice, I've come to think this. Yes, the content on the site should reflect the current FAQ but with some caveats.

Doing this on every old question on the site every time the FAQ changes is just crazy. I'd be doing that only on the sites I moderate. I mean, I could do it, but that would also mean bumping too many questions and it's better to do this in a not-too-invading way (same as Robert suggests). So a rule that I was told to use, and that I agree with, is to do that only to bumped questions.

Situation: A question is old and someone makes an edit (fixing tags, spelling, etc). If someone sees this question and flags it, then I'm going to act on it. But I'm not going to hunt the questions down.

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