The following question: If you're gonna talk Politics, you must respect those who disagree mirrors my sentiment way more eloquently. But I'm looking for less of a discussion and more of a clear-cut answer I can use to explain something good on the internet to my jaded friends.

Recently Internet rage and trolling has reached new levels of relevance in people's lives. But Stack Exchange remained untouched (as far as I can see). Questions that on politicised topics could kick up flamewars elsewhere were still met with thoughtful and respectful answers and comments. There is oversight and regulation by peers and advanced members that enables the content to remain relevant to the question asked. The system also appears to stimulate a respectful attitude towards people that get the facts wrong trying their best to answer questions.

The incentivised peer review system is meant to improve the quality of the knowledge being shared and generated, but some may feel their point of view is being "suppressed" by it. On the internet that could be a reason for a system to be discredited when it reaches mainstream popularity. This might not be an issue when the topic is software development, but now that we have SE sites for politics and religions, this might become an issue.

I ask this also because I'm interested in the potential of gamification systems to incentivise constructive interaction.

  • 2
    Most Stack Exchange sites are not about opinions, but about facts. MSE and the per-site metas are the exception, but there the opinions should be strictly opinions about Stack Exchange issues.
    – S.L. Barth
    Jan 10 '17 at 14:30
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    You need to educate yourself on feedom of speech, methinks. xkcd.com/1357
    – Oded
    Jan 10 '17 at 14:31
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    "some may feel their opinions are being oppressed by it" - they are not. They are free to air there opinions elsewhere, which does preserve their freedom of speech.
    – Oded
    Jan 10 '17 at 14:32
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    When you're on a site that belongs to a private entity, you do not have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech only guarantees you protection from government prosecution, not from a private entity deleting your content.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jan 10 '17 at 14:34
  • @Catija is correct, think of it this way: if you start shouting your opinions in a restaurant, the restaurant owners has the right to throw you out. You disrupt the order. Using "but I got freedom of speech" won't help you. Jan 10 '17 at 14:38
  • @Oded Reading your comments I realize I've made an error regarding my use of the concept freedom of speech. Thinking about it, all I want to know is how SE is protected from trolling. Should I edit the question, or remove this one and ask another.
    – Quarktaart
    Jan 10 '17 at 14:41
  • I'd edit and use something like "honest, open discourse".
    – Catija StaffMod
    Jan 10 '17 at 14:43
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    @ShadowWizard, thank you, that makes perfect sense. I should know better than to get such a basic concept wrong. Catija, thank you too.
    – Quarktaart
    Jan 10 '17 at 14:45
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    @ShadowWizard well, that does explain why I'm never able to finish my plate ...
    – rene
    Jan 10 '17 at 14:58
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    I think "oppressed" is rather a strong wording. It's what trolls cry when they get banned. Maybe "does not allow them to argue their point of view fairly". Although "unfair" is also what trolls cry when the get banned.
    – S.L. Barth
    Jan 10 '17 at 15:02
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    @S.L.Barth Thanks for the feedback and the friendly editing. Yes, it is strong wording. I'd like to keep it in though, just because strong expressions of outrage (however misplaced) are part of the discourse.
    – Quarktaart
    Jan 10 '17 at 15:10
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    Maybe put "oppressed" between double-quotes then? I think you are not saying they actually are oppressed; I think you want to say that they call it oppression, or may feel oppressed. (Although tbh, I could think of far worse forms of oppression than having a few SE contributions removed!)
    – S.L. Barth
    Jan 10 '17 at 15:21
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    This type of question would be welcome on Community Building.
    – Andy
    Jan 10 '17 at 16:17
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    I know this is nit-picky, but points of view are not oppressed, they are suppressed or repressed. In contemporary English, only people are oppressed. This PSA brought to you by one of those English Language Learners people :)
    – ColleenV
    Jan 10 '17 at 18:37
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    The background info here may be related: If you're gonna talk politics, you must respect those who disagree
    – jscs
    Jan 10 '17 at 19:00

People think all sorts of wrong things about "freedom of speech" - as a moderator on a site on Stack Exchange, plenty of people translate "freedom of speech" to mean "I can say whatever I want and you can't delete it!"

In what ways does the Stack Exchange system strike a balance between countering trolling and honest, open discourse?

By focusing on Q/A. Seriously.

When you focus the entire network on Question --> Answer, then it becomes easy to remove the things that do not contribute.

Bad answers get downvoted, good answers get upvoted. Imperfect but this does a lot to keep trolling limited and content high quality.

Over time, a community becomes protective of its "turf" and self-moderates. Trolling types of content get edited/flagged as the community itself in many cases and when it's unclear what the outcome is, it comes to meta.

We just had a post about trolling within the past week on our meta. Because our community cares about this.

  • 1
    "Because our community cares about [trolling]" That. That's exactly why Stack Exchange is such a safe haven in terms of trolling and verbal abuse.
    – dorukayhan
    Jan 10 '17 at 17:19

I don't believe gamification has as much of an impact on the level of discourse here as you'd think. I'd argue that the limited scope of the sites and the tools available for community moderation play a much larger role.

enderland's laid out one of the ways in which the scope is limited: focusing on questions and answers, not open-ended discussion. In general, only questions with objective answers are allowed, which cuts out a lot of the more heated arguments you might find. There are still arguments over correctness and interpretations, but they start from a more verifiable foundation. It's easy to pick out trolls, spammers, and other disruptive actors because their behavior deviates so far from the rest of the site that they out themselves.

In addition to that, each site has a specific focus that narrows the topics discussed. Questions about religion stay within the appropriate sites, ones about programming on another, etc. You don't have the kind of spillover, vote brigading, etc. that you currently see on sites like Reddit. Reputation on one site doesn't translate over to another, which by itself prevents some of the abuses you see between subreddits.

However, I'd argue that the community moderation tools implemented across the Stack Exchange network, and the empowerment they provide to average users, are what really keep the sites clean and free of trolling. Pretty much every user can flag comments or posts they find offensive, and those flags are acted on quickly.

Trolls and abusive users are dealt with in such a way that it's easy to identify and block puppet accounts they create to work around the system. As a moderator, I believe there's a lot that other sites could learn from Stack Exchange when it comes to their anti-spam and anti-trolling systems. From what I've seen, they are incredibly effective and they scale to some very large sites.

Compare this to Twitter, where it's several steps to report trolling, and good luck if they do something with it. Someone could be threatening you directly and it would take them days to even respond. In most cases, they seem to do nothing, or at worst they'll remove an account after lengthy review. Meanwhile, the troll creates five other puppets in its place. That just makes the average user want to give up and not bother flagging. In contrast, trolls are dealt with quickly on SE sites and systems are in place to make it increasingly difficult for them to recreate usable accounts, forcing most to just give up.

By removing most trolls and bad actors from the equation, and focusing on topics where disagreement can have some basis in fact, you can have a diversity of opinions without arguments degenerating into hostility. Voting coordination and fraud is minimized, preventing the artificial suppression of points of view. Unpopular opinions or approaches will be voted down, but you can be reasonably sure that this is due to the genuine belief of the users and not some manipulation somewhere.

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    You don't have the kind of spillover, vote brigading, etc. that you currently see on sites like Reddit <-- maybe not on Stack Overflow. But trust us smaller sites.... we get this every time a question hits the Hot Network Questions.
    – enderland
    Jan 10 '17 at 18:11
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    I have to disagree with just the opening: those tools are essential, but gamification is fundamental in that it is how we gate access to community moderation tools. What is gamified, and how, is the filter that selects who moderates, who in turn determine what community moderation tools are used to filter for and against, which acts as an amplifier for those values. Jan 11 '17 at 19:27

Funny thing is, politics has no place outside of the politics site.

As far as the sites proper go - we have fairly focused/limited scopes , various aspects of technology, cookery, life skills. In most cases, the main sites are designed for maximised signal to minimised noise.

For a Troll to actually survive, he has to be pretty clever, and be consistently insightful and constructive

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Trolls are rarely that patient.

Where someone does attempt to troll or spam, where its blatant, they're taken down fast and hard. Where it is less so, they're given a fair chance.

However, the issues that shog's talked about are in chat, which is a much more freeform space.

I'm in one of the supposedly better behaved rooms. We have our occasional miscreants, and the occational troll wondering in.

I can primarily speak for/and on Root Access - its the chatroom where I've had the most active influence, and have we've had pretty good success with building room culture.

Firstly, we've typically encouraged the solving of 'issues' immediately. If you're not happy with something that was said, let the other user know what and why. There's no foul, most of the time, unless its repetitive and egregiously bad. In a sense, we try to have a culture of minimal drama.

We also quietly added a few room owners. In addition to mods who're chat regulars, they act as the 'responsible adults'. Once they worked this out (oh, I'm sneaky like that), I've seen them do a great job politely talking down irate users (amusingly one who was mad at me).

We've also found used appropriately Mod tools are handy for exceptions. I've used kicks on disruptive users and suspensions on trolls. However that's negative reinforcement. For most part, I've rarely seen ROs use it, since by the time its needed, you need the big guns.

I believe I once told someone on chat "You need to make the site you want" - what we did might not work everywhere. We built a core of users who know what's expected and more or less guide new users gently to the way things go on chat. That also lets out put out most fires before they get out of hand.

Successful communities are a balance - one of the influences of how I moderate was a admin who was a complete bully who liked to throw his weight around - chasing off core members of the community for no reason. On the other hand, sometimes a mod needs to make the tough decisions, and sheepdog his users.

My right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins.

We encourage honest, open discourse by being aware of others. I've dropped a topic immediately when asked nicely (though I was ever so slightly miffed at the long lecture after that). We realise what's important in community - politicians come and go, but the people we share spaces with are much more important than petty political differences. More often than not, the ability to go "Hey, guys, cool off" or "guys this is not the space for politics" helps a lot.

We build the places we want.

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