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(Related to this question is this question, which also discusses a historical lock on a hot network question. However, the situation in this case seems to be somewhat unique; in particular, the solutions used in that case won't work in this one. As such, I've asked a new question.)

Currently, this question is at position #48 in Hot Network Questions, and thus showing up on the sidebar on multiple sites. This is despite the fact that the question is historically locked. Obviously, this situation is very confusing to new or casual users: the question was posted just a few hours ago, is somehow apparently already historically significant, and is of a rather lower quality than a duplicate question that already exists (and yet is not closed as duplicate).

What seems to have happened is that the moderators of the site wanted a short question with short answers to use on the "site tour" page (i.e. the ), and thus created an edited-down version of an existing question, voting on it in order to create a plausible-looking vote total: good answers would be too long, so some much more perfunctory answers were added (and ones which failed to cover the full topic). As such, the voting on the page is (probably) entirely artificial (with the question at 5 points and answers at 3 each); apparently, this was enough to set off the Hot Network Questions algorithm.

This situation raises several worrying points:

  • In order to create an example for a help page, a site had to post an actual, live question. The question itself sets a very bad example: the question is short; the answers are short, when they could be longer and more informative; the answers fail to cover the entirety of the subject, and thus give a misleading impression; the question is a duplicate, but not closed as duplicate. So Stack Exchange is promoting some of the worst content of the linked site.
  • In order to keep the example in the desired state, the site had to apply a historical lock to it, despite the fact that the description used for a historical lock doesn't match at all. This is a frequently seen issue on Stack Exchange: that moderators have to use locks with misleading descriptions, simply because no other lock has the desired functionality. The resulting situation is very confusing for a user who's less experienced with Stack Exchange and doesn't realise what has happened.
  • The question in question was locked with, apparently, an entirely artificial vote count; in other words, the rating it has is the result of voting manipulation, rather than actual users. Presumably, this manipulation was not detected or reverted by the site software; and yet, some simple and easily accomplished vote manipulation was sufficient to trigger the Hot Network Questions algorithm. This implies that anyone willing to indulge in a small amount of voting fraud can have their own Hot Network Question whenever they want.

More interestingly, this question also illustrates quite a bit about how Hot Network Questions become hot in the first place; 5 question votes, two answers, and 6 answer votes were enough to trigger the hotness algorithm. (Normally it's not possible to see the vote count that triggered HNQ in the first place, because the prominence in the side bar attracts a large number of 101-reputation users who, on average, upvote the question and its answers (they can't downvote). Because this question was locked almost immediately, we can see a vote count which is closer to the count it would have had at the time it hit Hot Network Questions.)

Despite the interesting insight into the HNQ algorithm that this question has given us, incidents like this are likely to be worth avoiding in future (and if this really is the only way to get a usable tour page, then it's likely to be repeated once per site as other sites catch on); we're promoting some of the worst content of the site to new users (in both the HNQ bar and the tour page), and the trigger for this occurring is something that could easily be accomplished accidentally by well-meaning moderators (as happened in this case), or intentionally via malicious users (and would likely be hard to detect; in the case where the question hadn't been immediately locked, the drive-by upvotes from curious visitors would quickly overwhelm the manipulated votes in noise and make it hard to see that anything had happened). How can we stop something like this happening again?

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    I have a user script installed that displays a question's hotness score. It seems to be low (36%) at this point; it will likely be removed from the list in a couple days, if not tomorrow, due to the aging factor in the hotness score. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Nov 14 '18 at 4:44
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    The mod should close the question, not put historical lock on it. (Or close and lock.) – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Nov 14 '18 at 7:33
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    It has 10.419 hotness points right now, being halfway down page 2. It'll disappear in a few hours. – Glorfindel Nov 14 '18 at 8:00
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    @ShadowWizard do closed questions qualify for becoming the post shown in tour? – muru Nov 14 '18 at 10:11
  • @muru pretty sure mods can manually choose the questions that appear there, probably by giving URL. But yeah... maybe closed questions can't be put in the tour, so good point. Worth asking some mod. – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Nov 14 '18 at 10:13
  • @Shadow A post has to be open in order to be eligible for tour selection. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Nov 14 '18 at 16:02
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I think it's definitely a good idea to exclude closed posts and locked posts from the HNQ list. It's not really a bug to toss over the fence but I'll put the idea up for review and we can get that tweaked. It wouldn't solve the vote manipulation bit, like if this were to happen to a question that didn't get quickly locked or closed, but for now we will trust our existing vote fraud detection mechanisms (the automated ones and the sentient ones) to cover that piece.

As for the tour aspect, I agree this method of getting a suitable question onto the tour page is not particularly graceful. It's not meant to be a long-term solution, though. The tour page is on the docket to be looked at Soon™ as part of overhauling the general onboarding experience (in the hopes of giving new users a better idea of how to get involved here without stepping on as many rakes). So, we decided it was better to go with a somewhat clunky workaround in the meantime. Now that the DAG team is really good at roadmapping and estimating (!!!!!!), we'll know soon if this is a "within the next quarter" thing or a further off thing, at which point we can re-evaluate that call.

In the meantime, as far as I can tell, that question has already slipped off the HNQ radar, so the immediate need is resolved.

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    But if it happens again, what should happen? Do closed questions qualify for becoming the post shown in tour, as muru asked in this comment? (If so, mod can just close the question, not lock it) – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Nov 14 '18 at 15:23
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    @ShadowWizard Mods can currently choose the question that goes in the tour by choosing from a list of eligible questions (not by entering any URL). The locked question shows up on that list for Latin, but there are no closed questions on that list. I'll check into whether that's how it's built to work or whether that's coincidence on this particular site. – hairboat Nov 14 '18 at 15:27
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    Going by this, posts have to be open (cc: @Shadow) – muru Nov 14 '18 at 15:39
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    Closed posts are already excluded from HNQ, but locked ones aren't. – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog Nov 14 '18 at 16:02
  • @Sonic edited, thanks! – hairboat Nov 14 '18 at 16:34

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