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Staff are deleting dissenting answers on What is the network policy regarding AI Generated content?, with the justification that they "don't typically host answers on policy posts".

This question is intended to serve at a meta level as a place to discuss whether summarily deleting those answers is appropriate, separate from the core issue at hand.

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    starball's answer here touches on the apparent contradiction.
    – CDR
    May 30, 2023 at 23:16
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    I mean... that's precisely how we handle FAQ's on meta. Why should company policy statements be any different? They aren't there for discussion, they're there to present the policy.
    – Kevin B
    May 30, 2023 at 23:34
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    @KevinB well... because it's neither faq nor announcement in the first place? It's explicitly tagged discussion, which states as follows: "This tag is used for questions that ask users to discuss an idea, concept, or problem." May 30, 2023 at 23:36
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    @OlegValteriswithUkraine While also being tagged mod-agreement-policy which states "This tag indicates posts that are official Stack Exchange policy that moderators are expected to abide by. Answers to these posts are generally locked so only staff members can edit." I can quote tag descriptions too!
    – Kevin B
    May 30, 2023 at 23:37
  • @KevinB note how nothing says they have to be deleted :) And also "generally". I am honestly surprised that you chose to defend the company actions on the technicality given all that's going on. May 30, 2023 at 23:38
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    I'm most certainly not defending this policy, but i do find it quite silly to try to make an argument on a post that they're going to purposely bury rather than making a new one that gets to HMP and stays high scored.
    – Kevin B
    May 30, 2023 at 23:39
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    see my tangential post here. It should be made clear what is just an announcement and what is open to feedback
    – SPArcheon
    May 31, 2023 at 11:53
  • So, the problem with making everything so scattered (so many questions the last few days), is that's it hard to feature them. Which one should be featured? Which one should not? We're failing at making the community visible in this. May 31, 2023 at 17:59

8 Answers 8

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whether summarily deleting those answers is appropriate

Definitely not appropriate.

First of all, the post announcing the change is tagged with (rather ironically, given that it is a decree with no input from the community at large expected).

Secondly, the post has the "policy" lock applied to it, which explicitly allows answers and comments on such a post. Citing the official introductory post for this type of lock:

Answering, commenting, and voting will not be affected by this lock, though additional locks to limit these activities can be added to a post that already has a Policy Lock in place.

Lastly, even if all of the above wasn't true, deleting community responses under an extremely controversial policy opposed by a lot of moderators and dedicated users of the network is an utter failure to "read the room" on part of Stack Exchange, and can easily be interpreted as an attempt to silence dissent and make the policy appear to be faring better than it actually is.

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    On a tangent note (not sure it's worth adding it to the answer itself) I'd be less in favor of saying "definitely not appropriate" if the policy post was constructed as it usually is: a support tag, a full lock on answers (if possible?), and a link to a feedback post. Alas, it isn't (and no space for feedback was provided), and the post got several detailed responses by the time of their deletion. May 31, 2023 at 0:15
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Create a separate post for discussion instead

Policy posts are for documentation of what the policy is. Opinions on said policy, positive or negative, do not belong on the policy itself.

Questions that only exist for documenting policy are a weird use of a Q&A engine, sure, but Meta has always been a weird use of a Q&A engine. We make do with what we have, and it mostly works.

A policy post that contains both documentation of the current policy and opinions on (potentially outdated!) versions of the policy is just a huge mess that doesn't help anyone. This is especially true where the policy is especially unpopular, resulting in the actual policy being at the bottom of the page, below all the answers responding to it. It also ensures that discussion on an unpopular policy gets buried off the front page, as the question promptly gets downvoted into oblivion.

We've regularly removed attempts to litigate policy from Meta Stack Overflow posts describing policy, used comment locks, etc., and instead told people to post a discussion post if they want to discuss policy. Such a post can also be upvoted to ensure that the important discussion is visible to the community so that they are able to voice their opinions.

TL;DR: Staff should ideally post a discussion post alongside a new policy. If they don't, someone should make one.

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    I would also argue that the link to this discussion post should be in the Q part of the policy announcement. May 31, 2023 at 1:20
  • This answer would be clearer if you were to specify that a "policy post" is indicated by the 'mod-agreement-policy' tag. Or, if that is not (necessarily) the case, to specify how else it can be told from a post. That way there is an objective method to tell "policy posts" from "posts that contain policies".
    – Joachim
    May 31, 2023 at 13:03
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    There is definitely precedent for this, e.g. meta.stackexchange.com/q/336364/369802. I think a separate post (and prominently linking it as in that precedent) definitely makes more sense than having discusson on the policy post itself.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 1, 2023 at 8:35
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Definitely No.


Of course, a new policy to not allow answers on posts about policies can be now introduced (Too many policies, don't you think?). But this goes against my understanding of how communities here operate, and definitely against the best interests of the Stack Exchange community as a whole.

I also see deletion of posts in the -tagged policies (however, I would argue a particular tag here is irrelevant) as a gesture of a strict top-down approach: "We set the policy, we post it, you follow it. Dixi." Not how I imagine a respectful interaction should be framed.

The ONLY alternative is to create a separate post for the policy discussion (example) that is:

  • linked by a staff member in the original policy posting
  • is highly visible and not cluttered.

But even that should be justified by, say, necessity to post several answers to convey the policy details.

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Specifically on new posts made by staff tagged with , I think this is fine.

This has already been happening with all questions tagged with . There are three answers on When will CMs or moderators remove the [featured] tag from actively featured meta questions? alone that were deleted by staff (specifically staff, anyway - there are other deleted spam answers there). One of those was a garbage answer (i.e. spam or rude or abusive), but you get the idea.

Where we should get upset about censorship or the silencing of dissenting opinion is when questions about such posts are summarily deleted, or when answers to a feedback post for such changes are deleted without cause. I've yet to see this happen, so as it currently stands, I don't see a problem with this. Codifying moderator agreement policy in this way is fine...

... provided we're allowed a space to talk about it.

We were never provided a feedback post about such a change. From my understanding, moderators were told ahead of time, but the feedback that was given was seemingly ignored. The lack of a feedback post is the main annoyance here, and one that's fairly deplorable. It seems that, with this particular change, there wasn't even an attempt to care about feedback.

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    Moderators were not, as far as I ever saw, provided an opportunity to give feedback or participate in discussions prior to the policy being crafted. May 31, 2023 at 0:24
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    @ThomasOwens Right, my mistake on the wording. It does seem more like an edict than a.... Proposal of a policy change.
    – Spevacus
    May 31, 2023 at 0:52
  • Your edit is very consistent with what I saw. Again, I'm not sure if any mods were approached privately or if there were things that were not notified. But yes, the only push notification to mods was an early preview of the policy change. May 31, 2023 at 0:55
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    I don't think anyone was approached privately either, @ThomasOwens. They did that with the new CoC, but those who were approached later had no issue discussing that publicly, and I doubt anyone would remain silent about it now given the outrage.
    – terdon
    May 31, 2023 at 0:57
  • The issue is that the description for the [tag: mod-agreement-policy] is as clear as a starless sky seen thru a glass of ink while being drunk. Currently trying to get it edited to be more explicit.
    – SPArcheon
    Jun 1, 2023 at 9:52
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Yes, it does a great job setting the tone.

Making a "question" labeled with the [discussion] tag that is not locked to comments only, and then deleting all the answers (while still leaving it unlocked even, so that new posts can be made and then summarily deleted!) is a very effective way to convey how much they care about our feedback.

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It ensures only one opinion, the one of the company, is accessible at that moment. If they need to feature their own answer, they can already use the "accept" button. This leaves no reasonable space for a discussion and responses to their policy. There's a lack of precedent of banning answers to posts labelled as policy and discussion, and in addition, they're asking us to create new question posts instead (see linked post). This scatters and shreds the discussion, ultimately putting a barrier to access that which is not theirs. If you land on a policy page, the new norm is that you only get to see that which was approved by the company, and nothing more. Discussions are disincentivized. This is effectively censoring the immediate access to opinions of an opposing kind. This is similar to a government-controlled newspaper presenting the propaganda of the government on the front page, and hiding away the responses and opinions of the opposition in small sections over a few pages late in the newspaper; those that aren't read by most people.

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    It would be censorship if they went on and deleted every post we make about the policy, that hasn't happened yet.
    – Kevin B
    May 30, 2023 at 23:41
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    There is no precedent of this. No precedent of "dissenting" answers being removed? You, sir, must be new here I'm afraid. May 30, 2023 at 23:44
  • @FrédéricHamidi I have edited to clarify. I'm definitely not new here. I know they have deleted lots of content they don't agree with, in the past. Is it clear now, or do I need to clarify it further? May 30, 2023 at 23:46
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    @Andreas, well, it makes it clearer that you consider the introduction of the [policy] tag as a kind of game-changer, which I... don't understand why exactly. SE-the-company has always reacted in the same way to dissenting answers under their announcements ^W edicts in the past, and I personally see no reason for this to change, now or in the future. May 30, 2023 at 23:51
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    Intentionally obstructing clear access to information, by increasing friction, as to make it harder to access information, is a form of censorship; however, I'm leaving that bit out of the answer, as some people seem to be against the notion of labeling things censorship. May 31, 2023 at 0:00
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    correction, "that hasn't happened yet with this policy" 😉
    – Kevin B
    May 31, 2023 at 0:06
  • @FrédéricHamidi My brain apparently shut down, and I'm unable to process anything further today, so I'll have to revisit this tomorrow. May 31, 2023 at 0:23
  • Re "Intentionally obstructing clear access to information, by increasing friction, as to make it harder to access information, is a form of censorship": Yes, Mr. Dent experienced that. Jun 1, 2023 at 1:18
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Maybe?

  • The answers are not answering the question
  • We need a "policy" post to point to, even for awful policies.

Bad as this new policy is, we need a place where it is officially announced. If only to know where to point users when they ask us why we left the network. If we all go and post our own answers, the official one will be lost. Especially since the official one will be heavily downvoted, so all of the others will appear before it. So in this case, I can understand why it would be better to open separate posts to discuss this aberration of a policy instead of posting answers on the main one.

In addition, the announcement was posted as an answer to a question. So the normal rules should apply: only post an answer if you are answering the question in the OP. In this case, none of us are going to answer the question. If we did post an actual answer to the question, perhaps our own interpretation or understanding of what the policy means, that could be different, but so far, all the answers posted have been answering the answer and not the question.

We are all, correctly, furious with SE for breaking their own rules and their own sites. Let's not do the same thing. Answers that are not answering the question shouldn't be posted as answers. I would rather have the local mods and/or community delete them, but I don't see why we should change the rules for this particular post and allow non-answer answers. No matter how much I happen to agree with what these answers are saying.

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  • quoting my own comment: "If you want to put an announcement where it won't get downvoted into oblivion in the answer section, put the policy in the question post.". See also my post here. Of course, it'll get downvoted out of the front page, in which case see also this feature request May 30, 2023 at 23:52
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    I agree with this. The major issue here is staff's failure to read the room, but that is not the basis of a sound policy. It is reasonable to separate the feedback from the official announcement. As was noted by Kevin B, this is how we handle questions tagged faq on per-site metas, so whether there's the precedent for it here on MSE with staff announcements that was claimed or not, it is a reasonable policy, notwithstanding the emotion of this particular situation. May 30, 2023 at 23:53
  • @starball yeah, had the policy been posted as a question, there would be far less justification for deleting answers. On the other hand, I admit that the one thing I like about that horror of a post is that it was actually posted as a proper Q&A. Yes, I know I am clutching at straws. But since it was posted that way, I can see how answers aren't really appropriate.
    – terdon
    May 30, 2023 at 23:54
  • Yeah, @starball, I don't understand why the announcement doesn't go in the question itself. But that's not really germane to whether answers should be permitted that criticize the policy that is being officially announced. May 30, 2023 at 23:54
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Yes.

The purpose of these posts is to matter-of-factly present the policy. Discussion of the policy should occur elsewhere, preferably on a post that the community has more control of. The company of course can take action on any post they see fit, being the owners of the community, but at least if we're handling the discussion ourselves it'll be crystal clear what's going on if anything gets deleted.

I know it's uncomfortable and sometimes infuriating to have your content deleted. However, if you want to make an argument against a policy or toward a change in the policy, you need more space than a single answer can provide.

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