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Should we edit out useful links to likely offensive websites?

This question is motivated by a question at meta.Islam.SE: Should we forbid linking to anti-any-religious groups sites?.

The problem is that there are anti-Islam and anti-Islamic-sect websites around which people read and ask questions about at Islam.SE (often in an attempt at debunking the claims). The authors of these posts sometimes provide a link to these posts because they provide valuable context. A problem arises since the material at the linked (external) sites can be reasonably regarded as offensive.

A typical example follows the narrative:

  1. Muslim reads anti-Islam website.

  2. Muslim thinks "I'm sure that's not true, but I can't immediately disprove it."

  3. Muslim asks on Islam.SE if it's true, providing the link to the anti-Islam website.

The author is not trolling, or deliberately engaging in harmful behavior (usually they're Muslim themselves). They are asking a question and providing useful context in the form of a link. However, the contents of the linked site are offensive.

Examples of such websites are: 1. The Religion of Peace which contains a lot of violent images; 2. WikiIslam which pretends it's impartial, but predominately hosts anti-Islam claims; and 3. Answering Islam. All of these sites are unafraid to provide content that Muslims would universally consider offensive (e.g., using words like "paedophile" to describe the Prophet).

This problem belongs in the gray area between censorship and not hosting offensive material, and it would be helpful to get advice from those who have experienced this problem previously.

The closest related post I found was http://meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/1632/censoring-comments at Judaism.SE, and it argued against forbidding such links, but the community didn't seem to strongly support it.

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  • What about Skeptics SE? They link to such sites occaisionally in order to evaluate the merit of the claims within.
    – eshimoniak
    Feb 15 '17 at 4:33
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    @FracturedRetina The relevant Skeptics Meta post is here. But Skeptics is a bit different because there's no taboos and questions need to prove it's a notable claim.
    – Laurel
    Feb 15 '17 at 4:43
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    I understand that Skeptics is an exception, but the question seems to be proposing a site-wise ban. It seems to me that this issue should be dealt with on a site to site basis
    – eshimoniak
    Feb 15 '17 at 4:45
  • @RobertLongson: There's no list of offensive sites (nor is one proposed). And the authors are not promoting these sites surreptitiously, but are including relevant links to motivate their posts. Basically, I'm asking if should "edit out the links" be the site policy in these cases (or should we just leave them alone). Feb 15 '17 at 5:17
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    Are these sites offensive because they disagree with Islam, or because they needlessly trample on Islamic values? It sounds (from the "anti-sect" part especially) more like the former, but I'm hoping that's not the case. Feb 15 '17 at 6:14
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    Offensive really is in the eye of a beholder. Once you forbid websites considered offensive by some people, almost nothing can be linked anymore.
    – magisch
    Feb 15 '17 at 7:16
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    Wouldn't it be possible to use an acronym similar to NSFW to indicate a link contains material some might consider of a pornographic nature? Something like POC, Possible Offensive Content? It is then up for the reader if they want to follow those links and be offended.
    – rene
    Feb 15 '17 at 7:18
  • @rene: I suggested something similar to that in my answer to the meta.Islam.SE question: adding an adjective such as "Islam-critical" (calling something offensive might itself be offensive). However, it would be preferable to identify how other sites have resolved this problem (if they have encountered it). Feb 15 '17 at 7:22
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    Yeah, okay, still POC is more neutral then islam-critical and can be used SE wide. NSFW also depends on interpretation of the OP. But I agree it is not easily solved.
    – rene
    Feb 15 '17 at 7:25
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    on Movies and TV, links to TV Tropes are generally marked (warning: TVTropes link) since following such a link will consume hours of your day before you know it. It's half a joke, but as my mother would say whole in earnest. A warning that the link leads somewhere you might now want to go sounds smart, but not with initials - POC stands for people of colour, point of contact, and much more. "Warning: Islam-critical site" sounds good to me. Feb 15 '17 at 17:41
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I see both practices on Mi Yodeya. Sometimes we do edit out the links, figuring that anybody who really wants them can get them from the revision history. We almost always do this in the case of a site that is actively hostile, abusive, or fraudulent (as opposed to just wrong). We feel no obligation to provide visibility and promotion for hate sites, for example.

For sites that aren't like that but are more mildly problematic, often we keep links but make sure the nature of the link is clear without clicking. So, for example, we might change "I saw here" to "I saw on this Muslim site" or "I saw on this anti-religion site". We try to quote the minimum necessary in those cases (and nothing that would be blatantly offensive); long excerpts of anti-Jewish material will get edited out, and users who do that a lot might see other negative feedback. I've noticed a preference in our community for summarizing rather than quoting -- something like "I saw a claim on this Christian site that the talmud says X". We usually don't need to know the exact text of the claim that brought someone to our site seeking answers. We get a lot of questions with sources even more vague -- ones that begin with "a Jewish coworker told me X", "I remember learning in religious school that Y", or "my grandmother had a custom to Z".

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At the end of the day, this feels like something the community and moderation team will need to sort out. I don't engage in the religious sites, outside the occasional spam flag so, feel free to consider what I say from the view of an interested outsider.

I'm not a fan of editing out links and censorship - a much more appropriate way to deal with this would be to try to understand the author's intent.

The authors of these posts sometimes provide a link to these posts because they provide valuable context

From the skeptics link in the comment "we do expect claims to be written respectfully." sounds perfect.

Indicates its a perfect chance to educate the OP. However if the site is outright offensive, it might be nice to comment "Hey, I know the link seems relevant but there's some content there that might offend other users" and see if you can work out an acceptable compromise. It might also be worth flagging with a custom flag but once again, that's something your community and moderation team needs to decide on.

It makes much more sense to evaluate each link rather than creating a blocklist of sites that might offend unless your community wants to completely cut out that line of questioning.

If its incidental but its appropriately part of the answer, censorship seems counter productive. If the author is doing it to outright troll then, well, handle them as a troll.

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