13

World Building has questions on inbreeding, bestiality, genital transplants and other adult topics.

Writers has questions on writing erotic scenes and erotic fiction.

Travel has questions about the Dutch Wallen, sex tourism in Thailand and the Mile High Club.

So far, nothing serious has happened, I think, but if we get too many of these questions, we might run into issues with workplace filters banning the entire SE network because of association with adult topics. And we really do not want that, given that many people use the SE network for work-related purposes.

I think we need to be clear about how we need to handle this. I personally deleted one of my own questions I asked earlier today after getting comments about how inappropriate it was.

  • Are the three example sites you mentioned used by people in a workplace? I agree with the potential issue, however. At a quick glance I can see tags for most of these potentially problematic subjects. Such as "sex" and "erotica", so those are possibly going to be picked up by filters given their prominence on the site. – James Jun 6 '15 at 20:42
  • They're not used that often in workplaces, but most filters block on a domain level, and the entire domain has websites that are used by people in a workplace. @James – Nzall Jun 6 '15 at 20:47
  • True, as they're beta they're on the same domain too (just a sub domain) – James Jun 6 '15 at 20:48
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    An answer to this meta question on Movies & TV cites the network content policy as saying, "Sexually Explicit Material. Accounts that use Stack Exchange to post sexually explicit or pornographic material, or links to it, will be suspended." That seems to apply to accounts created for the sole purpose of posting this material, but I'm not sure about that. – HDE 226868 Jun 6 '15 at 20:49
  • @James Even promoted websites that are no longer beta stay on the domain. It's important that people on sites like Physics, Biology, Programmers,... are not blocked from accessing their sites because someone asked the wrong question. – Nzall Jun 6 '15 at 21:02
  • I would note that there is this proposal on Area 51 area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/62814/sexuality - some workplaces will find reasons to mark some things from here as NSFW – user151019 Jun 6 '15 at 21:31
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    This is currently a topic of significant discussion on Anime.SE: meta.anime.stackexchange.com/q/2405 (Main context: random internet schmoes come to Anime.Se and post screencaps or remembrances of pornographic anime ["hentai"] and ask us to identify them. Should we permit this? I think not, but consensus seems not to lie with me.) – senshin Jun 6 '15 at 22:37
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    @HDE226868 I think clarity on that is definitely needed, because I can think of plenty of cases where "explicit" linked material would definitely be on-topic for several Stackexchange sites. – user295616 Jun 7 '15 at 7:07
  • @James technical writing is on-topic on Writers and I use that site professionally. I have also sometimes used Travel in the context of business travel. In neither case am I looking at the types of questions you're talking about, but having the sites blocked would hinder those uses. – Monica Cellio Jun 10 '15 at 14:05
25

Internalized censorship isn’t the answer to external censorship.

I’m going to take the step here of going outside of what seems to be the site policy and the position of several moderators and say it should not be the position of SE to censor its content or the content of its sub-sites.

Such is a dangerous path to start on with the number of things banned by schools and workplaces, and made more difficult by SE’s international (and thus inter-cultural) focus. At an extreme, one could argue religious discussion on SE should be banned, for example. I’m not saying that’s what will happen, but a line needs drawn. A potentially more realistic case would be to point out we have a Russian site, https://rus.stackexchange.com/, yet Russia has been lately making intense overtures to ban LGBT materials. What degree of censorship would SE find acceptable to comply with outside censorship?

While censorship might have worked when Stackexchange focused on technical topics, that is no longer the case, and censorship network-wide is no longer appropriate.

This issue has already been addressed in what I think is a very elegant way by Wikipedia. To quote What Wikipedia is Not:

Because anyone can edit an article and most edits are displayed immediately, inappropriate material may appear before it can be removed. Content which is obviously inappropriate (such as an irrelevant link to a shock site, or clear vandalism) is usually removed quickly. Content that is judged to violate Wikipedia's biographies of living persons policy, or that violates other Wikipedia policies (especially neutral point of view) or the laws of the United States will also be removed.

Some articles may include images, text, or links which are relevant to the topic but that some people find objectionable. Discussion of potentially objectionable content should not focus on its offensiveness but on whether it is an appropriate image, text, or link. Beyond that, "being objectionable" is generally not sufficient grounds for the removal (or inclusion) of content.

Wikipedia remains unblocked by the vast majority of connections I have used myself or heard of in the US, despite containing outright explicit material. Clearly, the argument we must censor to avoid censorship does not hold water.

It is of course likely that certain topics will result in blocking in some context, but those are difficult to predict and potentially damaging to attempt to avoid. I propose SE follow the policy that what your connection blocks is your own problem.

If your employer blocks https://chemistry.stackexchange.com/ because https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/ brought up steamy lizard-people sex, that's neither Chemistry, nor Worldbuilding, nor Stackexchange's problem.

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16

The major point on the network-wide policy on these materials is the following line from the Content Policy:

Sexually Explicit Material. Accounts that use Stack Exchange to post sexually explicit or pornographic material, or links to it, will be suspended.

That’s really the root of it, network-wide. As noted in ChrisF’s answer, this kind of action could lead to us being globally blocked or otherwise marked on the entire network. No posting explicit material, no linking to places that host explicit material, no directing people there, and no trying to be cute with words to try and hide the fact that you’re still quite literally discussing explicit content.

There’s a good portion of adult content that can be discussed without crossing the line of “sexually explicit”, however. We know it’s a thing, we’re not going to pretend that it doesn’t exist. And the fact remains that some sites actually need some degree of ability to talk about this kind of stuff - and not because haha let’s talk about adult stuff but because someone has a genuine situation they're trying to solve for within the scope of that site, and there are a good number of other people who will benefit from the information being available.

That’s why, past the notes on the Content Policy, we mostly let sites be the judge of what they want to allow on their own site.

Arqade for example very early on mostly decided to not permit strictly adult games - allowing just the non-explicit content to be asked about puts the site in a very weird position where we’re quite discoverable for people looking for a game but can’t answer 80% of the possible questions where that 80% is why some portion of the people who play those games do so. Adult content found in other sorts of games is then mostly handled on a case-by-case basis, mostly sticking to the network content policy.

Movies & TV, meanwhile, permits adult movies as a topic of discussion. They allow it simply within the confines of the network content policy, so one can’t talk about the explicit portions or link to such things but anything else in the movie is fair game. To date, only 4 such questions exist - 3 of which are general informational questions and 1 being the only surviving identification question (the vast majority were automatically cleaned out by the system due to inattention).

Other sites, like Parenting or English Language & Usage, abide by similar principle because even within their own domain, there’s simply going to be times when you need to talk about this stuff. Both of these sites actively dissuade against slang or regional terms, preferring to stick to clinical terminology (unless the question itself has to do with slang/etc).

So as a general rule that I’ve pretty much rephrased in every paragraph before this one and am doing so again here, we have a network content policy. Stay in those lines and you’re good. No explicit content, neither directly on the sites nor directed to from the sites. After that, it’s up to the community to decide how they wish to handle the stuff, if they want to have additional rules or not.

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6

The only thing I can remember being asked was a question on Meta Web Apps about adult websites.

Jeff's answer states that they were off topic as:

it would cause us to get globally banned from web filtering software. So including adult links, or even mentioning adult sites by name, is explicitly not allowed.

Now this isn't exactly the same situation as it's the links to adult content that would definitely get SE blocked. However, if there is too much (for some value of "much") adult content then there is a risk that SE gets added to the list of adult sites by overzealous and/or overcautious filtering.

I don't know what the answer is here. I don't want to suggest censorship, but equally I don't want to see SE getting blocked wholesale. I know that other sites (e.g. Wikipedia) aren't routinely blocked, but I assume that the proportion of adult content is relatively low. This should be the same with SE, but you never know.

There is the other issue of people opening inappropriate content while at work. Now, for most sites it's not a problem as a) they're not the sort of site you'll be usually browsing at work and b) the sites that are related to work don't tend to have these type of questions, but there is the "Hot network questions" that appears on most pages.

So in this case with the use of appropriate tags and avoiding (where possible) NSFW language in the title this should be enough. This will probably go a long way to keeping SE off net-nanny lists too, as it's the titles that people will see first.

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    I think the sooner we get a clear and network-wide policy about this that can prevent us to run into issues with blocking, the better. This question gives some good background, but we need to discuss this more in-depth so we don't run into nasty surprises. – Nzall Jun 6 '15 at 20:58
  • The SE goal is ...a better, smarter Internet.... Let's dedice that the NSFW part of the internet is smart enough and be done with it.... – rene Jun 6 '15 at 21:18
  • I don't think overzealous blocking software is a good argument for bad censorship. There are plenty of sites out there that don't implement such policies, like wikia and wikipedia. – user295616 Jun 6 '15 at 21:38
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    @WilliamKappler - "I don't want to suggest censorship." Agreed. Other sites do cope, but I don't know what arrangements (if any) they've come to. – ChrisF Jun 6 '15 at 21:45
  • @ChrisF I'd presume it's two pronged. A large enough site (SE is definitely large) could likely ask to be removed. Users can of course ask their employer/school/etc. to override the block. Generally, I don't think it should be the place of SE to censor itself to avoid potential censorship elsewhere. Wikipedia gets a lot wrong, but I don't think a "no censorship" stance is in any way revolutionary in the modern world. – user295616 Jun 6 '15 at 21:47
  • @WilliamKappler - the only thing is that for employers to unblock SE (assuming it gets blocked) is that it would have to show utility and that blocking hampers their employees doing their work. Asking question about the sex life of alien species doesn't really come under that heading :) – ChrisF Jun 6 '15 at 21:52
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    @ChrisF The concern here seems to be that *.stackexchange.com gets blocked because aliensexlife.stackexchange.com got a little steamy. In that context, I think it's an easy argument to make. If the match is only for aliensexlife.stackexchange.com... well, maybe they should do their job instead of that! – user295616 Jun 6 '15 at 21:54

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