It seems like the Controversial Topic notice could be worded a little better:

Controversial Topic — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

I know I'm not the first person to question whether the word "controversial" was the best choice, and I'm pretty sure I won't be the last.

When the notice is applied to some questions it may give the OP and future readers the somewhat unpleasant impression that the subject matter is inherently, well... "controversial" and it's kinda easy to be offended by that implication.

In my case it was applied to a question asking about communicating with family about my sexuality, and correcting their language missteps when they talk about LGBT+ issues. Of course people who are generally unsettled by the topic felt the need to chime in, and eventually the notice was added to keep things civil and on topic. I have no problem with the post notice in this case apart from the wording. People were doing what they usually do with these sorts of questions, and the post notice slowed them down a little.

What bothers me about the wording of the post notice is that it seems to imply that being queer and talking about it openly is somehow controversial. Or that being queer and asking to be treated with the same respect and kindness that you would extend to any other culture or group is somehow controversial. Or that just being queer is somehow controversial.

I hate to have to put it like this, but none of the things above should be controversial. The issue isn't that the topic is controversial, the issue is that some people feel it's ok to break the be nice policy and say some pretty unpleasant things to people and/or use a comment or answer as a soapbox to preach their personal point of view.

Now I'm sure some will say that the topic is controversial simply because someone wants to argue about it... That's not a great argument. There are still people that argue that the Earth is flat, but most of us probably wouldn't say that the issue is somehow controversial or even up for serious debate.

So, could we please try to think up a better word than "controversial" for the shiny new post notice?

  • The notice looks fine without the bold bit. No idea why a "controversial post" needs to be called out differently to others but if it does then focusing on the people is a good idea: call it "quarrelsome people" or use "combative" or, my favourite, "salty" – ben is uǝq backwards Nov 19 '17 at 6:44
  • @ben is uǝq backwards that was sort of my first thought. Removing the bold bit solves the problem and accomplishes the same goal. – apaul Nov 19 '17 at 6:47
  • @benisuǝqbackwards focusing on people is never a good idea. Makes it personal. Focusing on topics, subjects, actions and behaviour tends to make for better moderation IMO – Journeyman Geek Nov 19 '17 at 6:54
  • As much as I'd love to have something that says salty people at the top I don't think it's a good idea either @Journeyman. It only needs a name for the mod-menu, not for the site though. None of the others have a name on the site. – ben is uǝq backwards Nov 19 '17 at 6:58
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    But it is controversial - there are people on both sides with very strong opinions. You can say that it shouldn't be controversial (because you don't believe those on the other side are using valid reasoning), but to deny that it is controversial is to deny facts. Calling something controversial doesn't say anything about the opinions on the subject of the person calling it so. – Dukeling Nov 19 '17 at 14:41
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    @Dukeling feel free to write an answer. – apaul Nov 19 '17 at 15:36
  • @apaul The "make it look like everything else" solution Catija posted works for me (although whether the way everything else looks is ideal is up for debate). – Dukeling Nov 19 '17 at 15:57

Considering that none of the other post notices have a "title" like that, the easiest solution is to simply remove the bold section entirely, leaving:

You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

For reference:

Post Notice Picker

I've had discussions about this for a while, with various people as it hasn't sat well with me. When I was first approached about this post notice, I made some suggestions for improving the text, which were accepted, giving us the "Controversial Topic". Upon reflection, I found that this was not the right wording for me. I wrote in chat at one point:

I'm concerned actually about our "Controversial Post" post notice... I want to use it on something that I hate calling "controversial" it sounds so negative and I'm really sad to call a question about someone wanting to dress in the gender they identify with "controversial". I wonder if there's a better name for the post notice that isn't so... heavy?

From the discussion that followed with some other mods, I asked that the wording be changed from "Controversial Post" to "Controversial Topic". Unfortunately, despite this, my main concern - the use of the word "controversial" wasn't really addressed. The switch from "post" to "topic" was an attempt to take the weight off of the OP for asking a question that was controversial but I think that, considering the sorts of questions this has been attached to, it seems a poor idea to tack the word "controversial" to them because, as you say, I feel strongly that these shouldn't be "controversial" issues.

So, the solution is simple - make the post notice match the others. Remove the bold text.

For reference, I'm a moderator on Interpersonal Skills, one of the two sites that can use this post notice.

  • Thanks for that, it probably means more than you realize. – apaul Nov 19 '17 at 7:05
  • @JourneymanGeek That's awfully long. Also, if you see the original request, it was only about answers. Shog added the comments stuff himself. In fact, the version that I was shown first - that I asked be improved and never saw the light of meta, was about comments only. – Catija Nov 19 '17 at 7:08
  • @Journeyman Geek there's a world of difference between chatty comments and openly hateful comments. – apaul Nov 19 '17 at 7:24
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    Well, that's assuming everyone has perfect awareness of the effects they have when they speak. And not all controversy is hateful - some of it just might be different points of view. Something like this both deals with hate, and general peanut-galleryery, and incidentally its now not as controversial. – Journeyman Geek Nov 19 '17 at 7:45
  • The tone seems quite accusatory compared to the others which use very neutral wording. The bold "Controversial Topic -" is redundant and nothing like it is in the other notices. The phrase "Moderators will remove" is a personal and aggressive "order". Alternatively, I've often seen the word "sensitive" used in place of "controversial." Thus something like a bullet title of "sensitive subject" and a body along the lines of -- Comments are only for improvements. Answers are only to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Debates amd arguments may be removed without notice. – DocSalvager Nov 19 '17 at 8:29
  • @DocSalvager Please see the original post by Shog (linked in the question) to see the explanation for the direct wording. – Catija Nov 19 '17 at 13:07
  • Shog9 seems quite angry. His implementation of the notice is quite the opposite in tone from what was requested. It's effect will only serve to make people angrier and more intolerant. Yes. Things have already "gone off the rails". Getting them back on the rails requires all parties to voluntarily (with the prodding of this notice) restrain themselves. The notice as written will instead just redirect their aggression to the moderator and the moderator's supporters, eventually resulting in people leaving or being banned. – DocSalvager Nov 19 '17 at 23:18
  • Not angry (well, not about this) @Doc. But... I do think there's at best a slim chance of this notice doing what it was intended to do. The two sites where it exists - IPS and TWP - are aberrations; their subject matter tacitly encourages anyone to answer, whether or not they have any experience in the topic - a notice hung off of a polarizing post is not likely to do very much to discourage that. The original wording for that notice was in a passive voice; I reworded it in hope of catching folks' attention in situations where moderators have already had to delete multiple comments or answers. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 2:29
  • FWIW... I strongly regret changing the lead-in from the original "Controversial Post" - that was a more accurate description, and the theory that changing "post" to "topic" would avoid hurting authors' feelings is debunked by this thread. An alternate description, one more in line with the other notices, would be "This post lends itself to debate and discussion." For tonight, I'm reverting back to the original wording since I got zero complaints about it from actual authors - I apologize for not going through the normal meta discussion process prior to making that change. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 2:40
  • @Shog9 So why then? You could have talked through it. I shared the link to that discussion with you when I pinged you about it. If you were concerned, you don't have to give in to it... but the point of my initial concern was the word "controversial". So, in that sense, I missed out on what I wanted, too... – Catija Nov 20 '17 at 2:44
  • I didn't see the harm at the time; I should've thought more about it, but I got in a hurry. Sorry. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 2:52
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    @Shog9 It seems odd to have you apologizing to me, since I was the one poking you about changing it... but I think, for now, we need to keep talking through it. Probably not tonight... but I don't really think that switching it back to "post" really solves the problem. This is something that obviously needs more discussion. I should have asked this question weeks ago instead of doing what I did. – Catija Nov 20 '17 at 3:13
  • You had a good reason to ask for the change; I should've thought about the side effects. Oh well; nothing like a visceral demonstration of the outcome to teach us. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 3:16

The notice was originally called "controversial post" not topic. I changed that wording on a whim in response to a comment on the announcement, but should've given it more thought.

That was a mistake; I sincerely apologize for my carelessness.

There are, of course, plenty of topics that are not inherently controversial but which can and do result in controversy arising from specific questions related to the topic. This notice exists to call out this potential pitfall for participants on threads that've already demonstrated themselves to be controversial - as such, "controversial post" is the accurate description.

I've restored the original form; thanks for pointing out the problem.

If we wanted consistency with the other notices, a lead-in such as "This post lends itself to debate and discussion." would be an accurate replacement for the shorter version that now exists. I'm skeptical that the added verbosity would benefit anything though.

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    Eh... "Post" is slightly better than "topic", but there's still that "controversial" problem. – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 3:01
  • Any chance of doing something with that? – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 3:05
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    "polarizing" would also work – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 3:07
  • Almost, but it seems like we could do something to shift the focus away from the post or topic and towards the way people react to it... Just a thought, but that seems to be the real issue. – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 3:11
  • Actually that just gave me an idea. How about the "Don't be a jerk" post notice? That is the wording used in part of the Be Nice policy. – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 3:14
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    @apaul We want to tell people how they should behave, not how they should not. – Catija Nov 20 '17 at 3:16
  • I expect that'll work out about as well as the "be an adult" notice you tested earlier, @apaul. We need to warn folks away from quicksand, not dare them to jump over it. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 3:18
  • @Catija 6 vs half dozen... – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 3:18
  • I'd be fine with the solution in the last paragraph, or something similar. – Catija Nov 20 '17 at 3:19
  • Hmm... That's a fair point... Would you mind removing the status completed tag to reopen things for suggestions? – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 3:21
  • @Catija saying that something is debatable isn't much better than saying that it's controversial. – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 3:23
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    Stop thinking about this from the perspective of an asker angry at folks kibitzing on his post, @apaul - think about it as a reader, angry at an insensitive asker and poised to fire off an answer or flood of comments aimed, not at helping, but at "correcting" them. Now... What would you have to see to stay your hand? – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 3:42
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    @Shog9 I'm not just thinking about this from the perspective of an angry asker. I'm thinking about this from the perspective of someone who's already seen this notice play a part in someone leaving my community. I'm thinking about this from the perspective of someone who answers questions from younger LGBT+ people and tries to step in when people are being nasty to them. And I'm thinking about this from the perspective of being sick and f'n tired of being told that there's something wrong with me for standing up for the rights and dignity of the people I care about on an SE site of all places. – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 4:38
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    There's no peace to keep. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 6:55
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    We went over this last weekend; I should've seen it coming this time around. If your primary goal with regard to IPS is to establish a platform for your cause, then our goals are orthogonal; we have nothing to discuss. Good luck; I'm gonna spend the next week on more productive tasks. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 7:15

"Controversial" isn't wrong; at least on The Workplace, the other site using this notice, it's a good description of the questions that generate 50 comments (many rude) and several snarky/rude answers in the opening hours. That stuff isn't appropriate anywhere on the network, but when we've already flushed a bunch of stuff, we'd like a way to pre-warn people about to start the next wave, and manually crafting moderator-notice comments wasn't cutting it.

When we discussed the first word in chat one night, "controversial" was the best of the options we came up with. I remember proposing "explosive", which was more cathartic than helpful, and might have thrown out "volatile". But those options sound more judgemental than "controversial", which is more neutral and objective.

Perhaps "sensitive" would be better. What wouldn't be better is a longer introduction like what was originally proposed for this notice; we want to get to the point quickly, in hopes that people will see it.

  • Any thoughts on Shog's "This post lends itself to debate and discussion."? It would be more similar to the existing notices' first sentences. I've been trying to think of a shorter version of this. – Catija Nov 20 '17 at 20:01
  • @Catija that seems fine to me. (I upvoted his answer.) I didn't mean to preclude "at all longer", just that the original proposal was too roundabout. – Monica Cellio Nov 20 '17 at 20:07

If we really must have the bold text... It seems to me that a simple "Remember" would/could work. As in:

Remember — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

If I remember correctly moderators on Stack Exchange have always removed noise without notice. Why should these questions be different?

  • I don't really see the benefit of adding "Remember" here - notices are already things that need to be remembered or noted, so it seems a bit redundant and inconsistent with the other notices. – Dukeling Nov 19 '17 at 16:02
  • @Dukeling I prefer Catija's solution, but it seemed like a couple people seemed to think that it needed a name and/or some bold text. – apaul Nov 19 '17 at 16:09
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    The notice itself reads somewhat redundant except as a reminder @apaul because we all know as a generally accepted set of regulations anywhere on Stack Exchange that "You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice." – English Student Nov 19 '17 at 20:58
  • "Remember" that does nothing to explain why the notice is there, which is the purpose of the first sentence of every post notice. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 2:35
  • @Shog9 isn't the post notice, more or less, there just to remind people to not abuse the system and remind them that moderators can and will delete noise? – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 2:43
  • No. There's already placeholder text in the comment field and a pop-up above the answer entry form that remind people of that, @apaul. Post notices exist to call out potential dangers in the post / thread so-noticed. For readers, they're a warning as to a specific pitfall they should avoid; for authors, they're... well, a badge of shame. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 2:50
  • @Shog9 Do they have to be a badge of shame though? A simple change of wording could go a ways to mitigate that. – apaul Nov 20 '17 at 2:57
  • Ideally, whatever issue led to the adding of the notice goes away and the notice is removed. – Shog9 Nov 20 '17 at 2:58
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    There are many types of post where OP has no real control over whether it becomes controversial or not. Some topics are inherently controversial and some posts can become controversial in unexpected ways, usually through contentious answers and comments left by all sorts of users. Famous example: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/2115/… Many a new OP has got overwhelmed by it all and silently declined to participate any further on their own question. So when a post is marked 'controversial', the 'badge of shame' is worn not by OP but by the community. – English Student Nov 21 '17 at 4:07

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