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One of the best answers on this website was deleted late last year.

Why is asking a question on "best practice" a bad thing?

Well, actually, it wasn't just deleted, the answerer was struck violently down. Possibly even costing the poster rep over it (it's got a spam warning on it, dunno if the same rules apply if struck for rudeness, possibly not showing up on their timeline).

This answer was marked as spam or rude or abusive and is therefore not shown - you can see the revision history for details.

Here's the post in question that apparently now violates the CoC:

While you may be an exemplary, clear-thinking individual, who uses the term best practice in a constructive manner, you have been preceded by a giant procession of zombies who use it as the antithesis of thought. Instead of understanding the important specifics of their situation and looking for an appropriate solution, all they want is to spot a herd in the distance and go trotting off after it.

Thus, the term best practice has been rendered an extremely strong signal of an empty resonant cavity in the place where a brain should be, and questions that mention the phrase get closed.

I flagged the answer asking for this injustice to be reversed and got this reply

No. The level of sarcasm in this answer is just too high. The CoC (or previous, Be Nice) always applied to everyone, calling people mindless zombies never fitted with that.

Let's examine both statements within this response as they apply to the answer:

How the OP is referenced

While you may be an exemplary, clear-thinking individual, who uses the term best practice in a constructive manner[...]

If that's an unacceptable level of sarcasm then you might as well nuke my account from orbit. There's practically nothing I've written anywhere on SE that isn't more sarcastic than that gentle statement. In fact, this paragraph is already more sarcastic. Ceding the argument to the OP (that they used the term constructively in their question) is sarcastic? Horsehockey.

Calling a large group of unidentified members asking about best practices "mindless zombies".

If that's the new standard, then get ready for some overtime, because we don't go a single day without thousands of comments and answers being added that refer to "help vampires." If I can't call folks who ask about best practices "best practice zombies" then I sure as hell can't call people who want gimmeh teh codez "help vampires". HOLY HELL! Throw "gimmeh teh codez" on the pyre as well! There are thousands of answers here and elsewhere that need to be struck.

A gentle ceding of an argument and the coining of an appropriate term a la "help vampire" for a large group of off topic questions (too broad/opinion based) doesn't deserve to get struck as if he called everybody who asks for best practices is a lazy asshole and the OP should count himself among them.

Undelete, pls.

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    The comments indicate people were more upset because they disagreed with the answer's premise, rather than the wording it used, attacking it's tone is simply the more effective means of silencing the opposing viewpoint. – Servy Jan 22 at 19:08
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    For the record, the answerer's rep doesn't show a 100 point drop when the answer was removed. – Josh Caswell Jan 22 at 19:44
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    Sometimes... the truth hurts. but it's important for it to be pointed out imo. "Best Practice" in general is the "easy" solution. it's the solution you choose if you can't be bothered to put any effort into the problem yourself. it is... "brainless." that is irrespective of what the topic is. "best practice" should not be confused with religious doctrine, standards, or manufacturer's recommended use. – Kevin B Jan 22 at 20:21
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    @Won't why would you say this was 'one of the best answers'? What kind of metrics are you using? Also... it's not even your answer. How/why did you notice it was missing, do you use it a lot as reference material for new users perhaps? – Tinkeringbell Jan 22 at 20:30
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    @Tinkeringbell The answer is art. It's a succinct description of the problem and why questions that ask for best practices aren't received well. I often cite it when somebody drops a "best practices" question. And it has zombies. It doesn't deserve to be treated like one. – Won't Jan 22 at 21:11
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    @JoshCaswell the 100-rep penalty, if present, is shown only to the affected user (and mods). Sometimes you can figure out that it happened by looking at the reputation graph, but in this case that's not helping -- there's a 2k discrepancy and I really doubt this user has had 20 posts deleted by red flags. – Monica Cellio Jan 22 at 21:56
  • Oh, okay, thanks, @MonicaCellio; I was pretty sure that I had seen such an entry in someone's rep history before, but I guess I am mistaken. – Josh Caswell Jan 22 at 22:02
  • here is a Wayback Machine link for those without 10K rep at MSE. @Tinkeringbell looks like this answer was present on the site for over 5 years prior to deletion - could you please check history of older flags on it and how these were handled by prior site moderators? – gnat Jan 22 at 22:02
  • @MonicaCellio 100-rep penalties for spam or abuse deletions, unlike most other private reputation events like downvoting answers and normal deletions, aren't shown in the graph as a drop. (But it does result in a discrepancy between graph rep and actual rep.) – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Jan 22 at 22:51
  • @SonictheIntrovertedHedgehog I know; I even have a meta complaint about it somewhere. My point is that in this user's case, there's a larger discrepancy between the graph and rep so we can't tell. If the graph exactly matched the rep we could have confirmed that the user didn't get a penalty. – Monica Cellio Jan 22 at 22:58
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    @Won't: "The answer is art. It's a succinct description of the problem and why questions that ask for best practices aren't received well." That may well be your assessment of it, but that doesn't make it true. I see it as pointless blather that serves only to make people who agree with it feel better about themselves, rather than something that might genuinely enlighten someone who is not already convinced of its veracity. One typically calls such things "propaganda", which is usually differentiated from "art". – Nicol Bolas Jan 23 at 0:00
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    @Won't: To help back up this point, Kevin B has posted a pretty good answer on that question. One which, quite unlike what you consider to be "art", is actually correct, since the actual reason we don't allow such questions is that they're opinion based, referencing a standard that may be very different in different contexts. We don't forbid them because of "zombies", "help vampires" or whatever. – Nicol Bolas Jan 23 at 0:38
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    This seems like a decent compromise, thanks to Catija. – Josh Caswell Jan 23 at 1:44
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+50

I've edited and undeleted the answer.

As in many cases, there's a middle way. I agree that referring to unspecified users as "zombies" and implying that they don't have brains is problematic but the content of the answer, that so many users have found helpful, can be retained without it. If I've failed to convey that in my edit, you may suggest an alternate edit if you like as long as it avoids abusing other users.

Do consider whether the value in the answer - what attracted all of the upvotes - was in the "art" of how it's written or the content. I personally think that some of the other answers do a better job of answering the question clearly without being snarky. To be clear, that doesn't make this specific answer bad or wrong but it doesn't necessarily make it the most helpful.

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    I barely even noticed a difference in your edit, which is a good thing. It gets the exact same point across, imo, without the controversial stuff, and it even maintains the tone. – TheWanderer Jan 23 at 4:09
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    if you put "art" in quotes, shouldn't you also put "snarky" in quotes? It looks like we differ on opinion what qualifies as art or snark. – rene Jan 23 at 8:50
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    @rene I put art in quotes because that's how the OP describes it. I didn't put snarky in quotes because it's my own words. – Catija Jan 23 at 16:25
  • It seems like your revision would suffer the exact same CoC hand-wringing, e.g.: "Don't imply that people are lazy! I'm marching for the lazy! Save the lazy!" Your action is concerning, particularly given that the author obviously chose specific language on purpose. If it were my post, I'd much prefer deletion over meddling... – canon Jan 24 at 22:51
  • I've only been around for basically this year, but I've gotten a pretty firm impression that Stack Exchange is ok with calling people who don't do research lazy. – Ed Grimm Jan 28 at 22:47
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Your sarcasm is not mine and for sure when Avoid sarcasm and be careful with jokes got added to the CoC the authors had you and me in mind. Deal with it.

The answer as a whole paints a (strong) picture with words. In the way it is formulated I agree it adds value due to its artistic expression of opinion as opposed to the two other answers.

What bothers me most are the rude flags that caused the answer to be deleted. I suggest to clear those as there is no strong evidence this answer is rude / abusive or in conflict with the CoC. A side effect of clearing the red-flags is the undeletion of the answer.

Some might argue that some wording is offensive / rude. If you cherry-pick words and review them out-of-context, yes, then words might cause grief or even be in violation with the CoC. But we delete posts as a whole, not sentences or words (at best we edit those, but we can't fix that now due to the lock on the post). Considering the whole answer, the red-flags were used too frivolous before other attempts were tried to salvage the post that was deemed useful by many voters.

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So, I guess I messed up a thing while moderating Meta. I'm sorry! I see others succeeded where I did not, and the post is now edited and undeleted.

For those curious in how it ended up deleted, I've written up my thoughts at the time below.

I saw the r/a flag on that answer, and your flag asking for undeletion as well. I discussed the r/a flag on the post with a fellow moderator, and we/I basically drew a few conclusions:

  • Age/votes don't make things less likely to be perceived as rude. Coming from Interpersonal Skills, I've had to get used to deleting highly upvoted 'answers' that weren't answers but just a good amount of snark. I'll keep in mind that this is apparently different on MSE, though like Journeyman Geek said:

    So today? Similar answers would likely get downvoted to heck and deleted. That one gets a senior citizen card and is allowed to shout at clouds apparently.

    I hope people in the future will think better about what they're writing, and focus on creating answers instead of art. Clear, simple language does that a lot better than chains of adjectives and metaphors.

  • I spent around a day thinking whether/how the post could be saved by editing, but I couldn't find a way to get past the tone of the answer ('While you may be') without entirely invalidating it or seemingly going against the author's intent. In Dutch, if someone would start talking like that, especially while emphasising the you, it would certainly not be treated as a starter for a respectful discourse, but as a personal attack/sarcasm/snark. Followed with a whole load of chained adjectives and calling people 'zombies' that want to 'trot after a herd' and 'brainless', it was enough for me to say 'this is too much, I understand and agree someone would flag this'.

  • Next thing on my list was that to me, the answer didn't say anything that wasn't also present in the other two (now three) answers there, nor was it the most helpful. I share that opinion with Catija:

    Do consider whether the value in the answer - what attracted all of the upvotes - was in the "art" of how it's written or the content. I personally think that some of the other answers do a better job of answering the question clearly without being snarky. To be clear, that doesn't make this specific answer bad or wrong but it doesn't necessarily make it the most helpful.

    Did it really answer the question well? Meh. Other answers do a better job of that, as they offer some guidance on the kinds of things to think about instead of 'best practice' when asking a question, they explain that best practice is often just asking 'what do others do' without hiding that behind a metaphorical 'trotting behind a herd'. Again, they used clear, simple language instead of a lot of adjectives and metaphors, and as such came across as much more kind and actually helpful.

In the end, I came to the conclusion that editing that answer down wouldn't have left anything that could be remotely construed as an adequate answer to the question, that editing it without going against author's intent or making changes too significant seemed impossible, and that it was indeed not too out of this world that it had a red flag. After hearing from a fellow mod that they were okay with going either way, I deleted the answer for the sheer amount of snark in it.

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    Conveniently omitted from your post are the 196 upvotes versus the 9 downvotes (to date) it received during the nearly seven years it was up. Is the maxim: "Good answers are voted up and rise to the top" now to be taken with a pinch of salt? Don't worry, you're not the first nor will you be the last mod to delete a highly upvoted and popular post, it happens on every site. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 at 13:03
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    It's not really "conveniently omitted", seeing how her first point adresses exactly that. – Christian Rau Jan 23 at 13:10
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    @ChristianRau conveniently omitted is the number. Any post that accumulates over 25 upvotes is highly upvoted, but one that has earned 196 upvotes in over 6 years, deserves some respect, even if we/some disagree with its premise or its conclusion. Isn't that what the downvote is for? – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 at 13:43
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    @Mari-LouA When she says "highly upvoted" in relation to IPS ... she means posts with often +100 score after only a week. The mods there, myself included, have often made the decision to remove such answers. Something being well-received doesn't make it meet the site's policies. Something having a ton of upvotes doesn't necessarily mean it's should be retained for posterity. So, the good intentions assumption here is that Tinkeringbell has had many discussions about deleting highly-voted posts on IPS and overlooked including the score because 100+ is what "highly-voted" means to her. – Catija Jan 23 at 17:01
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    This is probably tangential at this point, but I strongly disagree that the other two answers that were already present have the same meaning as Rosinante's. In fact, one of them seems to be saying nearly the opposite to me, and the other one is just kind of waffly. I do think that Kevin B's answer (which happened before Catija's edit) restored that missing viewpoint. – Josh Caswell Jan 23 at 17:44
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    @Catija Do you realise that some of us really don't like the way in which IPS is moderated and would rather not see it being taken as a model for other sites? – Massimo Ortolano Jan 25 at 6:39
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I'm probably one of the people who had to make a decision on it - and quite honestly, it was hard.

On one hand - yes, it was a historic post, and reflected the zeitgeist of the era. I found it funny. I felt it ought to have been kept (and other mods might have agreed). From what I can tell, the decision was by the community - and well, while I kind of liked the post, I also saw the other point of view, that folks might actually find being likened to the post-deceased bon vivant of the cranial chewing sort unlikely. I chose to leave it in place, another mod did not, and well I'm not inclined to violently disagree with her on that

Practically speaking - the COC never came into it. It was an answer with some historic context and humour some folks would get better than others.

In theory, we hate fun. Personally, I don't mind fun, but don't like it enough to officiously keep it alive. To borrow liberally from an old answer...

Answers on the other hand have some room for humour, especially used for what's called a teaching moment. I've slipped in memes (which some users flagged. On a site where I'm a mod, and I chose to let someone else handle it - question deleted, for unrelated reasons), and done other funny stuff but even then no noise is good noise

So, we hate fun where it's in the way of the primary role of the site.

So in leaving the deletion - I was looking at whether there were any better answers, and whether the loss of the answer would cause any dramatic loss to the broader collective knowledge of the community. I looked at the fact that it was a historic answer, but whether it would encourage others to do so. I tried to decide if folks would really massively mind.

So today? Similar answers would likely get downvoted to heck and deleted. That one gets a senior citizen card and is allowed to shout at clouds apparently.

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    -1 Unless the answer is unsalvageable, you should not delete it in the first place, as the 180+ score is a great indication that many established SE members have found it valuable. – Meta Bug Wizard Jan 23 at 2:41
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    Would saying that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater (which it seems happened here) be considered rude? – Charlie Brumbaugh Jan 23 at 2:59
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    "Similar answers would likely get downvoted to heck and deleted" Is that actually true? Like many others I'd consider it a borderline case, and expect it would get close to as many upvotes now as it did. – curiousdannii Jan 23 at 4:42
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    I wouldn't be surprised - things have changed a lot and its my read of how I feel the community would likely react, over how it would happen. I could totally be wrong. – Journeyman Geek Jan 23 at 4:48
  • What about a historical lock? Could this be applied to an answer too? – MEE the sneaky user Jan 23 at 12:03
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    Questions only. Cat's edits feel like a good compromise tho – Journeyman Geek Jan 23 at 12:13
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    This CoC will bite everyone in the "ass" sooner or later. Be prepared for more posts from the past being dragged and flagged for lack of sensitivity and tact. – Mari-Lou A Jan 23 at 12:55
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    Actually no. I think things went pretty well - someone had an issue with a mod's decision we discussed it, in public in this case, we found out what happened, and we worked towards a alternative that was a reasonable compromise. Meta's literally working as designed. – Journeyman Geek Jan 23 at 14:25

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