Last month Stack Exchange removed a site from the Hot Network Questions list across the network because of a complaint about some questions that appeared there. I'm not here to rehash that decision (there are other places for that), but I want to understand it because it affects other sites too. My concern is that I moderate a couple other sites that often appear in HNQ and sometimes generate complaints, and I want to know what kinds of question titles put us at risk too.
The original complaint included the following three questions:
- IPS: How to approach a friend about his girlfriend asking to sleep with me?
- IPS: How do I tell students at a school I volunteer at to stop flirting with me?
- SciFi: Story about aliens nicknamed "Eechees" who have created a network of tunnels on Mars
A followup complaint included one more:
- IPS: How do you tell a Facebook friend that they might be on the autism spectrum?
Something in the IPS questions was bad enough to prompt the site's immediate removal from HNQ. After things calmed down, SE declined to reinstate IPS -- so there are probably some lingering concerns there. I asked an IPS mod what specifically SE's concerns were with the questions, but that mod hadn't seen any such feedback.
My problem is that I don't see what was so terrible about these questions, which makes it hard for me to spot potential similar problems on my sites. The first two questions are from people trying to deflect or prevent unwanted sexual activity; that's a good thing, right? (We aren't being jumpy just because we know the gender of one of the people being asked about, are we?) The autism one, without the context in the question, does sound like somebody's being pushy, but in the same sense as "how do I talk to a friend about his alcoholism" or "how do I deal with the boss's incompetent brother" -- maybe pushy or assuming too much, but none of that sounds worse than many other hot network questions. (I assume the SciFi question was unobjectionable.)
The HNQ list often has provocative questions (that's a design feature). I've seen questions I considered much more problematic than these ones, but other sites have not been removed.
So, my questions:
What was so bad about these questions?
What do other communities need to be careful about in question titles?
I am particularly looking for an answer from SE, because they are the ones who took action and can take future action with regard to other sites. The rest of us can only guess, unless there was other communication from SE that people can report.
I am aware that SE can't specify a complete set of rules. That's why understanding the single case study we have is so important. We have the fact of one site's removal prompted by these three questions; while this case won't tell us everything we need to know, it can tell us something -- if somebody who was part of the decision is willing to share SE's thinking with us.
Note: there are lots of ways that the HNQ itself could be modified to mitigate against problems like this. That discussion has its own post; if you don't find your suggestion in the 65 answers already present there, please add it there not here.