-18

Stack Exchange is a great Q&A site and often provides satisfying answers in a way that other curated platforms, such as Wikipedia, cannot. Underpinning this platform is a community. Community members have different reputations and members with more reputation earn the power to downvote and then delete questions or answers they do not like.

(Just to be clear, the following case study is provided for context and is not the issue that we're trying to address here. Let's define the relevant behavior as "Those who are deemed to have written content contrary to the community's dearly-held beliefs experience negative consequences.")

Recently a contributor (author of this post) who has been on the Space Exploration platform for about 5 years answered three questions in one day. In those answers, he linked a video that, among other things, provided evidence that launch costs are not falling rapidly (most people believe that since the Space Shuttle was retired, launch costs have been falling rapidly, thanks to SpaceX's successes with reusable rockets).

Some members of the Space Exploration site downvoted the contributor's answers, while others worked with the author to try to improve them (for example, by asking for more evidence). In the community's defense, the author's tone was somewhat acerbic, which likely did not help. Initially, he linked his video in all three of his answers and one member said that it looked like he was trying to promote his video. The author worked with the community to address this concern (and others), such as by linking to an alternate video authored by someone else and by removing the link to his own video. For more information, this is the link to the discussion on Space Exploration Meta: Link to Meta Discussion on Space Exploration

Even after these actions were taken, the members still downvoted and then voted to delete two of his answers (it only took three votes to delete each answer). When the contributor appealed to the community for help, a moderator labeled his third answer as spam and deleted it too, in the process wiping out the contributor's reputation.

(end case-study)

Some members of this community strongly disagreed with some of the things that this contributor wrote.

However, the contributor was using an evidence-based approach to combat misinformation. If a community on Stack Exchange believes strongly in an idea, (such as a belief in falling launch costs) and if that idea becomes a core belief, central to their identity, then they may feel threatened by conflicting information. This can lead to unconscious biases that affect their decision making.

Only people who are less invested in the belief system of the community can be impartial about whether the contributor's work is being deleted for legitimate reasons (such as being poorly researched, poorly written, prioritizing quantity over quality to rapidly build reputation, etc.) versus invalid reasons, such as the answers conflicting with the groupthink of the community's majority.

One solution to this problem would be to provide a mechanism through which Stack Exchange members from an outside community can be called in to help arbitrate. They could organize a conference call and encourage a fruitful discussion between the members with conflicting views. This conference call approach would have the added benefit of discouraging a single individual from creating multiple accounts to increase their influence.

The impartial outsiders (trusted members on unrelated sites) would help ensure that the evidence supporting both (or all) points of view is fairly represented in the questions and answers provided on our site and that no one is unfairly punished because their information threatens the community's belief system. Having impartial outsiders step in to arbitrate once in a while, would help to ensure that the community is fair and accepting of contributors with minority viewpoints that might potentially trigger the community's unconscious biases.

Has this idea been considered before?

Are there any precedents?

Are there any opportunities for members of the community to make a more formal inclusive-culture proposal, such as at a Stack Exchange Annual Conference?

4
  • I think you may have misunderstood. I don't have multiple accounts on SE and I don't know if anyone else does either. But what's to stop someone from creating them? My point is that if we were to hold conference calls occasionally, it might discourage people from creating multiple accounts.
    – phil1008
    Dec 2, 2023 at 12:08
  • 1
    @F1Krazy There's no such thing as an objective Q&A site unless everything is backed up from first principles, which it isn't, and upvoted or downvoted based on the quality of the evidence, which it isn't. Most upvoting and downvoting happens due to agreement and disagreement.
    – user253751
    Dec 2, 2023 at 12:34
  • 4
    That you are one of the titular "Contributors Who Fairly Challenge a Deeply-Held Community Belief" is a big assumption, and you show no evidence of that having happened. The removal of the words 'cancel' and 'cancel culture' also invalidates part of my answer and some of the comments, which is something that edits should definitely not do.
    – Joachim
    Dec 2, 2023 at 15:16
  • Feel free to treat the case study as a hypothetical situation if that helps you to focus on the question that is being asked. Again, this question is about mechanisms by which different stack exchange sites support each other to be objective when there might be deeply held beliefs or unconscious biases in play. A hypothetical situation might help here. Suppose that 90% of "Fusion2030" members believe in commercially viable fusion in 5 years. Someone posts evidence that it's 50 years out. The post gets downvoted and deleted. You are not part of "Fusion2030". Does this bother you?
    – phil1008
    Dec 3, 2023 at 0:18

4 Answers 4

13

I believe the role you're describing is already taken on by the Community Manager.

One of the things they do, as described here, is that:

They review moderator actions, offer advice, resolve disputes.

Bringing it to the attention of one of the active CMs would be a next step you can undertake. You can ping them in a chat room, or even in a comment on a post, but the better option is to use the 'Contact' button you can find at the bottom of all sites on the network.
The post I linked to has a list of all the Community Managers.


As a side note, I see no reason to call this 'cancelling', or refer to it as 'cancel culture'. Like the word "toxic", its meaning has become diffused through popular use. Cancelling in that sense of the word is used to refer to shunning or ostracizing people on "socially or morally unacceptable" grounds, while in your situation, based on the information presented here, it looks like your contributions were simply not appreciated by others. Don't get me wrong, I am against cancel culture without exception, and don't know the details of what occurred here so can't speak to its seriousness, but this wording seems too strong for what took place.

5
  • Thanks for your reply. It looks like "Community Manager"is not a member of the community, so they would not share any unconscious biases with the rest of the community. Wikipedia defines cancel-culture as "used to refer to a culture in which those who are deemed to have acted or spoken in an unacceptable manner are ostracized, boycotted, or shunned." Can we use this definition? To say something that defies a closely held belief of a community will be considered by some members to speak "in an unacceptable manner." I like this answer.
    – phil1008
    Dec 1, 2023 at 21:28
  • 5
    @phil1008 I saw that definition, too, but if you look at the origin of the word presented there, it will become clear that it is used under far more specific circumstances, and, as Karl Knechtel points out in their comment, the percussions are usually a lot more severe.
    – Joachim
    Dec 1, 2023 at 21:45
  • Well, yeah, alright, I can agree that the word is too strong relative to other past events in, say, politics, that have been similarly labeled. I can edit the question to put the Wiki definition in - would that help?
    – phil1008
    Dec 1, 2023 at 21:50
  • Doubtful. While it's certainly true that the wiki definition fits well to describe the general practice of removing content that isn't acceptable on a given platform, it does nothing to help your case.
    – Kevin B
    Dec 1, 2023 at 22:49
  • @KevinB Please let me know if the new title and rewrite help to address your concerns better.
    – phil1008
    Dec 1, 2023 at 23:41
17

A few general notes:

  1. That specific case isn't for MSE to address. Specific per-site issues should be addressed on your Meta - we [generally] don't impose the will of MSE upon one answer on a site.
  2. Stack Exchange sites are not forums.

Regarding your more general point, users are [typically] discouraged from opening a profile page and then going through and analyzing (and voting on) each post by a user. There's a handful of exceptions, but broadly, it's true. For example, if someone's a spammer, we might check their posts to see if any others are also spam. But... if someone finds a user that they think is posting low-quality answers, it isn't automatically wrong for them to do some investigating and bring it to the attention of a [diamond] moderator (or CM, in some more extreme cases).

The system for outsiders to intervene here would probably be Meta. If a post (by you, or someone else) was handled in a way you disagree with, you can raise the discussion there and other users will likely take a look. You also can contact SE to appeal... but seeing as a diamond moderator already responded to your post on your Meta, I wouldn't suggest it.

If one tries on Meta, aim to present your evidence clearly and nicely. I'm not saying you did, but more generally, posts that are well-written and clearly present their case tend to do better on Meta in my experience.

Without seeing your answers, if you post a bunch of links to a YouTube channel, that can get spam flags, especially if it isn't a well-known and/or reputable source*.


*Remember, I haven't looked at your answers, so I don't know about the specific channel you linked.

3
  • 1
    Thanks for the reply. I would like to clarify that this is not meant to be a discussion about resolving the specific case that I described, but rather a discussion about how to prevent unconscious biases and cancel culture from developing within a community. I agree that Stack Exchange Sites are not a forum, which is why I suggested a conference call mechanism since hashing out disagreements on the site itself would not be ideal.
    – phil1008
    Dec 1, 2023 at 19:58
  • 7
    One missing piece: If a site's moderation team is egregiously violating the site's ToS (for example, by flagging non-spam as spam, and refusing to remove the flag when this is brought to their attention), then you can contact support under the "Trust and Safety" category, and ask the CM team to override the moderator's actions. IMHO this should be used as a last resort after you have exhausted all avenues of discussion with the site's moderation team. I take no position on whether SpaceEx moderators have violated the ToS in this fashion.
    – Kevin
    Dec 1, 2023 at 19:59
  • 1
    Thanks. I suspect that such an action would just serve to ossify the site moderator's views. If there is an unconscious bias in play here, heavy-handed tactics are not likely to resolve it.
    – phil1008
    Dec 1, 2023 at 20:05
4

What I learned by asking this question was interesting, so I would like to provide an answer of my own.

I figured out how to start a chat and one of the members who voted to delete two of my posts responded. I learned that he (or she) was upset by the fact that my answers seemed to be "promoting" the very thing that I happened to be an expert in. Because I went looking for questions related to my field of research to answer, and because I answered three in one day, I upset the community. What I did looked like self-promotion to them, which they frowned upon. In fact, I would go so far as to say it's considered a major sin within the Space Exploration Community and likely other communities as well.

So, it is quite easy to run afoul of suspicion and mistrust if you move too fast within a community that you're not sufficiently familiar with.

So my advice to people unfamiliar with a community? Tread carefully - as if you were an unarmed diplomat whose plane just crashed into the middle of an undiscovered village deep in the Amazon jungle. Avoid making aggressive moves.

Advice for people already in the community? Be patient with people who you think have committed a transgression. Explain clearly what it is they did wrong and what they need to do to fix things by providing actionable feedback. Don't say "I just don't think this is a good answer to the question as posed" when what you're really thinking is "putting links to your paper and presentation without disclosing that they're yours is spamming". I would not recommend communicating with the down-vote button and vote-to-delete buttons. Just say, "Hey, I think you should delete this answer, review the community guidelines on XYZ, and then come back and take another run at it later."

As for Intercommunity Mechanisms, I have no idea if they exist, but I would be willing to take a look and weigh in if anyone out there feels like they have fallen victim to unconscious bias. Maybe there are other people out there, like me, who would be willing to help out in the same way.

Maybe that's what's going on, or maybe it's something else entirely...

2
  • 9
    In that case, it seems the only real problem would be that you didn't disclose those sources were yours. On this page these things are all pointed out, and should be the same for all separate communities on the network. I think your conclusions might be a bit too generalized, and once again it boils down, for new users, to "get to know the community you are part of": read the documentation, look at other users' activity, ask, communicate, learn. Obviously, this indeed goes both ways.
    – Joachim
    Dec 2, 2023 at 13:42
  • 1
    Personally, I don't think that failure to disclose is the only real problem here. But certainly unconscious bias isn't the only real problem either. Lot's of good advice in your comment though - thanks!
    – phil1008
    Dec 3, 2023 at 1:43
2

I can't see the posts, so I'm just thinking based on the information as presented:

  1. If there were three question posts where basically the same non-generic answer would be appropriate, I have to question whether you should have dup-flagged any of them or not. See also Is it acceptable to add a duplicate answer to several questions?.

if that idea becomes a core belief, central to their identity, then they may feel threatened by conflicting information.

Valid concern, but if it's actually leading to abuse of privileges like deletion votes (I'd probably need more context to understand why people were casting delete votes)- and note that people can vote however they want unless it's serial voting / voting fraud- then you should be able to resolve this by the usual means: take it up on meta, or use the contact form.

Only people who are less invested in the belief system of the community can be impartial about whether the contributor's work is being deleted for legitimate reasons (such as being poorly researched, poorly written, prioritizing quantity over quality to rapidly build reputation, etc.) versus invalid reasons, such as the answers conflicting with the group-think of the community's majority.

For one thing, I challenge the claim. I think you're comparing apples to oranges. Deletion reasons have to do with core platform beliefs- what is the platform's goal? How does it seek to achieve that goal? What rules does it lay out for how to use system privileges in accordance to the goal and the way it seeks to achieve that goal? You then compare that to beliefs about a network site's subject matter.

I agree that someone less tied to the site's subject matter can help judge whether platform / system privileges are being misused, but I don't agree that someone having less understanding about the Stack Exchange platform and its way of doing things would be more qualified to judge that.

And ironically, it sounds to me like you don't really understand how privileges are supposed to be used. I'm not aware of any of the examples you listed being valid reasons for deletion.

One solution to this problem would be to provide a mechanism through which Stack Exchange members from an outside community can be called in to help arbitrate.

How can they be a member and yet be "from outside"? You mean from a different network site? If so, then see what I said above. I kind of agree. And you can use the contact form.

They could organize a conference call and encourage a fruitful discussion between the members with conflicting views.

If I have to agree to potentially having to join calls as part of using this platform, bye.

This conference call approach would have the added benefit of discouraging a single individual from creating multiple accounts to increase their influence.

Why?... is this worth mentioning? What does this have to do with this?

The impartial outsiders (trusted members on unrelated sites) would help ensure [...]

Just use the contact form if you think this is needed and you think talking on your network site's meta has failed.


Also, your question post smells AI-generated.

1

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .