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I'm writing about this answer on Islam.SE (Metasmoke mirror in case this gets deleted). This came up as reported on Smoke Detector (a chatbot that scans network wide for spam and abusive posts), so that's why I even saw it. It got me thinking. The text of the "Rude or Abusive" (colloquially called "offensive") red flag reads

"A reasonable person would find this content inappropriate for respectful discourse."

Now. I find that answer offensive. It is in my view a display of bigotry and some deep, deep misogyny. I don't think its appropriate for reasonable discourse, and I wouldn't consider it acceptable. The question now is: Does my opinion, as a westerner who is also an atheist, matter on Islam.SE? I could go and flag that now, instantly possible due to the site association bonus.

The problem that I see with this is that this presents a conundrum:

  • This is on a Stack Exchange site, so it being left up will reflect on Stack Exchange, very badly to some.
  • Deleting something which is arguably supported by their gospel (I have no clear idea, I'm not taking either stance in that debate) just because it is offensive to me seems wrong.

So, extrapolating that issue (it could happen on quite a few different sites, like hinduism.SE or christianity.SE, or a few others), what is a normal user like me supposed to do in this instance? Close my eyes and look away? Or go into a community I have nothing to do with and no involvement in and flag things?

  • Excuse my ignorance here, but what is 'Smoke Detector'? – JonW Jun 17 '16 at 12:32
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    @JonW A chatbot that reports potential spam network wide. – Magisch Jun 17 '16 at 12:32
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    @JonW Smoke detector is a bot which finds spam and abusive posts. Find it in charcoal: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/11540/charcoal-hq – Ashish Ahuja Jun 17 '16 at 12:32
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    That post is somewhat unintelligible to me, just to clarify, which part exactly do you consider offensive? – Mad Scientist Jun 17 '16 at 12:50
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    @MadScientist I had hoped I'd get around debating the merits of that exact post here, but apparently not: The "right of her husband" to see the charms of the woman, the "marriage contract" and the insinuation that all other men will flirt with the womand if she isn't completly covered. Its bad english, but its basicly a repetition of the "A woman belongs to her husband, and all men would be pressed to flirt with her or do worse were she to walk around uncovered" doctrine, which I find to be offensive and misogynistic. – Magisch Jun 17 '16 at 12:52
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    Perhaps it boils down to whether or not the whole doctrine is (in your eyes) offensive and misogynistic, or whether the OP of the answer is explicitly trying to be offensive/misogynistic. If it's the latter, it's a problem (as in flag away), if it's the former then maybe it's up to SE whether or not to support it. And if you can't make that distinction yourself, perhaps don't take any action. ... that said, I have no clear answer to the issue either. – Bart Jun 17 '16 at 12:56
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    @Bart Part of the crux of that is that I don't know. I read the quran once, but only in translated form and I have no clue about the different interpretations. I can't really make that call, but doing nothing feels wrong too. – Magisch Jun 17 '16 at 12:57
  • A flag can't harm @Magisch. If you really feel bad about it, flag. If it's declined, so be it. – Bart Jun 17 '16 at 12:58
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    If anything, that answer could do with a complete rewrite to make it readable, at least. I can't make heads or tails of that mess. – Cerbrus Jun 17 '16 at 12:58
  • Your use of "normal user" in the last paragraph admits a reading that is problematic. It is not quite clear if this is intentional or not. – quid Jun 17 '16 at 15:01
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    Also, smoke detector aside, isn't part of the point of flags to let the community handle its standards? Feels a bit wierd to be offended, and demand change in a site one's not a user of, especially when your sole interaction with the site's a bot meant to primarily hunt down spammers – Journeyman Geek Jun 17 '16 at 15:05
  • @quid I meant that only as that I (I hope) am a reasonable person and I would find this offensive. I had some massive qualms going into a site I'm not a part of and take moderation actions the site's members probably wouldn't agree with. – Magisch Jun 17 '16 at 15:18
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    Related: sort of a mirror image of this scenario – Shog9 Jun 17 '16 at 15:28
  • That's basically the problematic reading though as you declared your point of view as the normal one. – quid Jun 17 '16 at 15:30
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    @quid not "the" normal one, but "a" normal one. There is a difference there, and its important – Magisch Jun 17 '16 at 15:31
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Context matters. In this case, the question specifically asks "Why are girls in Islam forced to fully cover their body in loose clothes and can't wear makeup?" and the answerer responds with why they believe that to be the case. You may disagree with this practice, and may feel strongly about this, but it was a targeted response to the question asked and was not intended to demean or attack another individual.

With the diversity of sites that Stack Exchange covers, there will be content on some of these sites that certain groups find objectionable. Frank discussions of sexuality occur in response to questions on some sites, troubling work practices on others. Where a discussion takes place and in response to what question makes a huge difference in whether something is or is not appropriate.

The real problems with that answer are that it's poorly written, doesn't provide any citation or backing for the beliefs presented, and tries to get us to carry on an offline conversation at a private email address. Those are the reasons that this answer should be downvoted and possibly removed.

  • Plus without context, entire tags on Stack Overflow would start having valid offensive tags! – enderland Jun 17 '16 at 14:11
  • @enderland Did you know God exists? It's not a tag you would expect to have on Stack Overflow, but it's on topic. – Laurel Jun 19 '16 at 19:10
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    @Laurel I was thinking more like PHP or JS. :) – enderland Jun 19 '16 at 19:17
42

I'm a moderator on one of the religion sites (Mi Yodeya). We contend with possibly-offensive and actually-offensive posts fairly often. In my opinion and experience the guiding principle in handling these should be: offensiveness is relative to the norms of the community where the post appears.

Perhaps you find Islam's rules of dress offensive, and thus an answer justifying them is offensive. But Islam does not, so the mere subject matter doesn't render a post like that to be offensive. On Mi Yodeya we have questions about whether certain other religions or practices are idolatrous. We also have questions about dress, and questions about intimacy (which we require to be very carefully written to avoid offense). On both Islam and Christianity I suspect (I haven't checked) they have questions about errors in the Jewish bible and understandings thereof, which we Jews would find offensive but those communities don't. So long as the posts are not written rudely (a "clinical/descriptive" approach is better than a "personal/opinion" one), they should be allowed to stand.

This issue has a flip side. Sometimes a post that would be just fine on some other site is offensive on the site where it was posted. We get proselytizing posts from some other religions on a fairly regular basis on Mi Yodeya. On a question about, say, repentance, an answer arguing that Jesus is the only path is probably offensive no matter how politely it's written. That answer wouldn't raise an eyebrow on the Christianity site but might well attract offensive flags on Mi Yodeya, and that's not wrong.

If you think a community's norms are out of whack, that a community seems to be welcoming material on a regular basis that a reasonable person would find offensive, a discussion about that might be needed. I don't know of any site that's anywhere close to doing that, but if you think one is, you should absolutely raise it either on that site's meta (if you're comfortable doing so) or via the "contact us" link (to reach SE).

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    This seems reasonable enough... Except that the rubric for the offensive flag says ""A reasonable person would find this content inappropriate for respectful discourse." As that rubric does not say "A reasonable member of this community...", either the flag is meant to really mean any reasonable person, or the rubric is wrong. – Raedwald Jun 21 '16 at 12:00
  • @Raedwald fair point, and assessing the reasonable person is itself a challenge. The OP here is offended by gender-based dress codes, but that's clearly not some fringe idea with only a few adherrants, so should the canonical "reasonable person" be offended by that? The OP clearly is, but the flag also doesn't say "I find this offensive" (which is why he asked). And my last paragraph still holds; if a community systematically supports ideas that a reasonable person would nonetheless find offensive, that's something SE should care about. – Monica Cellio Jun 21 '16 at 12:55
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Genuinely offensive posts are usually characterized by an "attack" of some sort directed at a person or group. Moderators don't necessarily curate content just because someone decides to be offended by it, and it's hard to see how merely describing Islamic beliefs in an answer that directly addresses the question asked would be an attack, no matter how misguided we westerners might think those beliefs are.

As a moderator, I generally avoid these debates by getting involved when a post has become a distraction to the community. I don't really need any other justification to intervene, and I avoid any culturally-specific arguments about how offensive a post might or might not be.

14

I'm not familiar at all with the Islam SE site, but I have some experience with the Christianity site. One thing they did that helps with this issue is that questions are generally expected to be about the doctrine of a specific denomination. So you don't ask questions about what is true, but about what certain groups of christians believe and teach.

This adds a level of indirection that I think helps with doctrines that some would consider offensive. They might still be offensive, but we're not necessarily endorsing them. We're not saying if they're right or wrong, we just explain what they teach.

I think questions similar to the one you linked could be handled in this way without causing offense.

In more drastic cases than your example I would consider offensive flags appropriate. I don't think SE is a place on discussin why we should kill all gay people, or other similar things that more extreme groups believe. An Islam site should not be a platform to justify e.g. ISIS.

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    Where do we draw the line on the "more drastic cases"? I imagine both of our definitions on what constitutes drastic aren't exactly aligned either. – Magisch Jun 17 '16 at 13:19
  • -1 for inconsistency; "discuss everything as long as you're not partisan" might work, but then making an exception for "really bad" stuff (basically, stuff that is very unpopular right now) seems pretty sketchy. Or does Christianity SE ban talking about whether specific doctrines are considered heretical — as in, can condemn people to eternal punishment, which is pretty bad — by specific groups? – Nathan Tuggy Jun 17 '16 at 20:49
  • @NathanO'TᴇstingTuggy I'm talking about stuff like advocating violence, which is clearly in a different category. Of course there is a huge fuzzy area in between, but if this was easy we wouldn't have to discuss it – Mad Scientist Jun 17 '16 at 20:51
  • @MadScientist: You mean saying "here is why we should <kill gays/stone adulteresses/believe Jesus was just a human/believe Jesus was God>"? Or do you mean saying "XYZ group believes one should <kill gays/stone adulteresses/believe Jesus was just a human/believe Jesus was God> for these reasons"? – Nathan Tuggy Jun 17 '16 at 20:53

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