I'm not sure if this is a legitimate question for Meta, since it may involve information that is purposefully hidden from the public eye to prevent abuse. But the reason I ask is due to an issue on this question.

I flagged this answer for moderator attention because it was a direct copy-and-paste of someone else's answer which had already been there for several minutes. Unfortunately, the original answerer was still actively editing their post, and because these edits were occurring during the grace period, none of them show up in the edit history. Because of this, I can't show that the two versions actually were identical.

Is there any way for moderators or administrators to see the previous versions in order to prove that the person had just copy-and-pasted the other answer? Or is that information genuinely lost forever during the grace period and a moderator would just have to "take my word for it"?

(I'd assume that there are still enough similarities between the posts to make it obvious, but you see how it could be an issue or something useful in future cases of such abuse.)

If this isn't an ability that moderators have, should it be one? Should this data be preserved in some way for just this kind of record keeping?

  • As far as I remember from one pretty bad argument on Drupal Answers, mods can't see them and I got blamed for pinching innocent user... Back in my early days there. It's better to ignore one flag marked unhelpful than to care, in situations where the system here doesn't care, by design. – Mołot Dec 6 '13 at 9:33
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    No, we can't. I think it's theoretically possible to determine that edits occurred from the logs but we can't query that. – Flexo Dec 6 '13 at 9:35
  • (Usually plagiarism isn't a one off thing though so there tends to be more evidence lurking around) – Flexo Dec 6 '13 at 9:36
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    If you look at the link Sachin posted (in comments) I think you will find both answers where copied from the same place, Kamlesh Arya just copied it quicker. I would advise not flagging answers so quickly after they are posted, give yourself time to be sure you are making the right call – musefan Dec 6 '13 at 9:39
  • @Flexo That makes sense. I didn't actually look at any of the user's other posts to see if there was evidence of similar behavior. – asteri Dec 6 '13 at 9:39
  • @musefan Ah. Nice. So they were BOTH plagiarizing from some third source. That's lovely. – asteri Dec 6 '13 at 9:41
  • @JeffGohlke unless that third source uses CC licence and they linked back. Then it's not plagiarism, but content sharing that licence was created for. – Mołot Dec 6 '13 at 9:45
  • @musefan You say to advise not flagging the answer so quickly, but there's absolutely no way I would've thought they were both copying from an outside source. Waiting 20 minutes or two days wouldn't have added any new information or changed my perspective on what had happened, because I was under the assumption that the original answer was genuine. – asteri Dec 6 '13 at 9:46
  • @Molot Fair enough. Maybe "plagiarism" is a somewhat stronger word than what I'm looking for. It's 5:00 AM here. :P Pretty sure my college professors would've called that kind of word-for-word copying and pasting without citation "plagiarism" though. It might not be plagiarism as far as the legality, but it's taking another's words/ideas/whatever and claiming them as your own. shrug Regardless, a semantic or philosophical argument about what qualifies as plagiarism isn't at issue here. :) – asteri Dec 6 '13 at 9:47
  • @JeffGohlke: I see where you are coming from. Personally though I wouldn't have flagged at all, if I think it was a rip off then I would downvote and comment saying why. In this case that would have led to Sachin explaining his reasons and I could retract. If no further information is provided then it doesn't really matter, the answer is still valid to the question but the poster has lost some rep and they know why so hopefully it would discourage them from doing it again anyway – musefan Dec 6 '13 at 9:51
  • @JeffGohlke well linkink back in a way specified by CC is also giving a credit, as it should sound like [url](Based on this post) or [url](original post here). If it doesn't then indeed it is plagiarism. – Mołot Dec 6 '13 at 9:51
  • @Flexo Why didn't you post that as an answer? It seems you are an authoritative source. – Duncan Jones Dec 6 '13 at 9:59
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    @Duncan: It only answers the "can" question and not the "should" question. Maybe he doesn't have much to say about the latter, and I think that's what this question is more about. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Dec 6 '13 at 10:04
  • @gnat Not quite the same. I like the idea of the grace period in general. I'm just saying that the information should probably be preserved on the back-end somewhere so that moderators have sufficient information to deal with issues. – asteri Dec 6 '13 at 10:25

Nope, most of that content isn't even stored in the database. Mods can't see it, neither can devs. There are certain things we can determine from the data that is logged, but the content of the title/body/tags isn't usually on that list.


Okay, so we know the answer is no and that is a problem.

It happens quite often that users post something terrible (offensive stuff), and afterwards edit it out quickly within the grace period. The same happens with comments, which don't have a 0-revision either. The point is: usually I don't comment on such posts, but I do flag them. Flagging doesn't preserve the revisions for public eyes though (I think I read it does for moderators).

You can now somewhat force the edit getting saved by commenting on the post. Every following edit will force a new revision. This is still a workaround though.

I would argue that this needs to be fixed, preferably by always creating an initial revision which remains unaltered on edits. This will also give more insight on common FGITW behavior.

  • I went ahead and requested it: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/287808/… – T.J. Crowder Dec 6 '16 at 10:37
  • Indeed. Thanks @T.J.Crowder – Patrick Hofman Dec 6 '16 at 10:38
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    Another idea would be to kill the grace period once there is a flag raised. – Bhargav Rao Dec 6 '16 at 10:47
  • That is possible too, but that would give away information and will give explainable behavior (only mods could see the cause), which might not be desired. – Patrick Hofman Dec 6 '16 at 10:48
  • @BhargavRao: That is a very good idea, and presumably easier to implement than showing ninja edits to mods. I think showing ninja edits to mods has value beyond the flag scenario, but disabling the grace period on flag makes good sense too and one assumes could be done more quickly. – T.J. Crowder Dec 6 '16 at 10:49
  • @PatrickHofman: It's true that it would leak information, but not very much. You wouldn't know (for instance) if someone flagged, or someone commented and then removed the comment. – T.J. Crowder Dec 6 '16 at 10:49
  • Yeah, that is basically the same. So it doesn't matter in the end. @T.J.Crowder – Patrick Hofman Dec 6 '16 at 10:50
  • I'm actually surprised that these FRs are being raised now. I'm sure that there must be a few related posts, at least on the child meta sites, if not on MSE. – Bhargav Rao Dec 6 '16 at 10:52
  • I once had one about comments, not posts @BhargavRao – Patrick Hofman Dec 6 '16 at 10:53
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    @BhargavRao: There's a feature-request for that (since last year, apparently). – T.J. Crowder Dec 7 '16 at 7:01

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