It seems there's been a lot of discussion and controversy lately over how moderators should (or should not) handle answers that stray from the question being asked (including "frame challenges").

Granted, I have not been active in the past year, but I have been here for some of the rather unfortunate incidents that have resulted in undesired drama, hurt feelings, and lost users over controversial issues.

For years, the accepted opinion was pretty clear about what was or was not "allowed":

  • For disagreement is over an objective, verifiable fact:

it is best to use comments or editing to correct the questioner (politely!).

  • For disagreement is over a subjective issue, such as a cultural difference, or over an issue of fact that remains controversial in the field that studies it:

it is best for the offended party to pass the question by.


  • Most importantly, it is never appropriate to post an answer that does not directly answer the question asked.

That's all well and good, but what happens when people don't follow those guidelines? What, if anything, should mods do to address this?

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    I've posted a few possible answers. Alternatives are welcome. – user420 Nov 19 '15 at 0:41
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    Most people who've used the site for a while agree with your post. The problem is with hot network questions which bring in many people from other sites. Your suggested answers don't address that audience, & without a good method of telling those users what's expected I believe we're still going to have occasional drama. – DanBeale Nov 19 '15 at 9:05
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    By having this meta question, we can readily link to it (e.g. in a comment on a problem answer) and say "look, here is our local policy" and discuss from there. Earlier meta established a "guideline" but not really "policy" (e.g., it isn't necessarily clear what users can expect to happen if they don't follow policy, or what enforcement is appropriate to respect both Question and Answer OPs). – Acire Nov 19 '15 at 9:11
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    @DanBeale Hot network questions have indeed always been a problem for us. I simply don't have a good suggestion for dealing with that. Previous discussions indicated that most people just felt votes from regular members would be sufficient in those cases. I don't think that works, but again, I don't have a better suggestion. – user420 Nov 19 '15 at 11:32
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    Note when voting: A comment would be helpful for me, particularly downvotes. Understanding why a particular solution is (un)popular will help guide moderation; also, if there's substantial disagreement, e.g. +10/-8, that bigger picture of how opinion is running could be developed into a more targeted meta question if needed. – Acire Nov 19 '15 at 15:16
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    Additionally, if none you feel none of the answers merit an upvote, please suggest an alternate. Downvoting every suggestion, and not upvoting or suggesting any alternative solutions, is not terribly constructive. – user420 Nov 19 '15 at 15:27
  • @Erika having it in 1 place is excellent point – DanBeale Nov 19 '15 at 17:55
  • just for clarity: I have upvoted some items; I haven't downvoted any. – DanBeale Nov 19 '15 at 17:56
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    @DanBeale I assumed you had upvoted the two you commented on. Honestly, I don't care if any of the answers get downvoted. This is meta, and the most heavily downvoted answer I posted is one I'd downvote myself. – user420 Nov 19 '15 at 20:40

Moderators should leave comments guiding visitors to what they believe should be the correct action, and also edit out any content that is not directly addressing the question, up to, and including deleting entire answers.

Per DanBeale's suggestion, this is a mix of two other answers.

If I could vote on my own answers here, this is the one I would choose.

  • I think this is the way to go. Not only does it enforce policy, but those comments can teach anyone who sees them what is and isn't appropriate. – user11394 Nov 22 '15 at 4:15
  • I would add something to this, though, as I've given it a little bit more thought. If the answer because valid simply through changing the question from "How can I?" to "How can I, and should I?", then perhaps it'd be best to also comment on the question asking whether or not the OP would like to have "And should I?" included. Then, if they want that kind of answer, the offending content becomes acceptable and gets rolled back/undeleted. – user11394 Nov 22 '15 at 4:30
  • I believe this is what should be done, but I believe it should be staged. It should be up to the user to edit content first and, given a reasonable amount of time, have the content removed if consensus can't be reached. Deleting on the spot without giving the user a chance to reconsider their post is quite unwelcoming. – corsiKa Dec 1 '15 at 22:02
  • @corsiKa I agree letting the user edit first would be ideal. What would you suggest a reasonable amount of time to wait should be? – user420 Dec 1 '15 at 22:34
  • Firstly, I'd suggest moderators not "go back" after the time threshold, but if they're brought back after the threshold because of flags on other answers or they happen to see it, then they should act. Just so it's not like "okay, 2 days from now I have to go back to this to see if he changed it"... because that's an unnecessary burden on the moderators. If they come back after a day or two and nothing has changed, then they should consider acting. On SQA I usually act after 3 days, but that's just my personal taste. – corsiKa Dec 1 '15 at 22:48
  • @CreationEdge I'd assume for the purposes of just this meta question that the OP has asked the question in the form that they want. In actual practice, there should be a multi-pronged approach that includes editing or even closing a Question that is likely to attract argue-with-the-premise answers; however, keeping things tightly focused at the moment will likely get us a more coherent meta policy :) – Acire Dec 2 '15 at 12:25
  • -1. It's often a matter of opinion as to whether an answer addresses the question. I don't remember if it's happened here, but on other sites I've had people comment that my answer doesn't answer the question, then had my answer selected by the asker, making it clear that my answer actually did answer the question. Moderators should not be deleting answers on a matter of opinion. Downvotes are sufficient for those situations. – Warren Dew Jan 13 '17 at 4:06
  • Also, no one should ever edit a post in a way that might change its meaning. Editing is to improve posts; improvement means it should say what the original author meant, but in a more effective way. If you disagree with an answer, post another answer that you agree with. – Warren Dew Jan 13 '17 at 4:08

Only flagged content should be moderated. Let the community decide what is or is not appropriate.

Non-moderator users are encouraged to edit or flag anything they feel is inappropriate. The community will have to trust that moderator actions are resulting from flags.

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    I disagree with this, because it makes the community, in effect, the sole moderators, and puts a burden on flagging to enforce general policy. Flags don't equal action taken, either. The moderators still have to go by site policy and make an informed decision. So, I would downvote this, but still encourage users to flag answers that don't directly address the question. – user11394 Nov 22 '15 at 4:17
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    @CreationEdge Yes, it does. That's the core of Stack Exchange's model. Users are the moderators. Diamond mods are supposed to be exception handlers (where user flags are raising exceptions). Generally, a moderator should not take moderator action unless it's been raised by a user, found in the review queue, or it's a no-brainer. This prevents moderators from defining site policy (not their role) and instead brings them to enforcing site policy (their role). – corsiKa Dec 1 '15 at 21:43
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    @corsiKa The users have already chosen policy by meta. Policy isn't decided or chosen by flagging. And when our most active users are also our moderators, it gets even more convoluted. Should they flag as users then moderate their own flags? I agree with the Theory of Moderation, but if users aren't flagging per Meta, exceptions aren't raised. I concede though that I have no idea how often things are flagged by users. I do know that it seems like a lot of things I've flagged ended up as whole ordeals and separate Metas. – user11394 Dec 1 '15 at 21:54
  • @corsiKa if the community has defined a policy (as is the case here), then it is automatically a "no-brainer" for a moderator to step in once that policy is violated. From experience, the "moderators should sit quietly until a user tells them to do something" model would result in far more drama and conflict than I think you might expect. In this site in particular, unless it has changed, flagging can be very slow. – user420 Dec 1 '15 at 22:31
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    Flagging is comparatively slow on Parenting.SE. (It's faster on very obviously bad things like spam, but for more mundane things, no.) I'd be happy to deal with more flags, but I can't make people flag things -- getting our site to a healthier level of community moderation is a long-term concern, and probably beyond the scope of this question. – Acire Dec 2 '15 at 12:34
  • I agree with the bolded part but not the rest of the comment. In particular, StackExchange has a policy that edits should not change the meaning of a post. That's why the original poster gets to revert edits on their own posts even if they don't have editing privileges yet. If you disagree with the meaning of a post, you should leave a comment, and in the case of an answer, leave an answer you agree with, not edit the comment you disagree with. – Warren Dew Jan 13 '17 at 3:55

Moderators should leave comments guiding visitors to what they believe should be the correct action, but that's it.

A standard template might be appropriate.

  • A mix of this answer. – DanBeale Nov 19 '15 at 9:07
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    Anyone can do this. That kind of defeats the purpose of having moderators. – 200_success Nov 29 '15 at 9:33
  • @200_success There's nothing wrong with moderators doing things that other users can also do. – Warren Dew Jan 13 '17 at 4:09

Edit out any content that is not directly addressing the question, up to, and including deleting entire answers.

The rule should be enforced before the issue becomes too contentious.

  • I would prefer a mix of this answer and... – DanBeale Nov 19 '15 at 9:06
  • This answer is wrong because it can be entirely appropriate for an answer to address related issues that the original poster might find useful. An answer should answer the question, absolutely, but in some cases it can also be useful to make the case that the question is the wrong question, and then answer the question that should have been asked. – Warren Dew Jan 13 '17 at 3:59

Another view:

If an answer to the question does not support the premise of the question and provides justification to an alternative answer (which does not otherwise violate community standards), the mods should leave the answer to the voting of the members.

However, if an answer is solely in opposition to the premise and a suggested alternative with its own rationale is not provided, then the mods should feel free to act to guide the respondent to a more productive response.

  • Can you expand on "provides justification to an alternative answer"? Answers that argue with the premise often do have a reasonable explanation; one possible example is "when should I teach my child to shoot" being answered with "the answer is never, because guns are dangerous (statistics, research)". – Acire Nov 24 '15 at 21:52
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    In a not uncommon example, people are attacked for their religious beliefs. Many users think teaching their child about God is tantamount to child abuse and have no hesitation telling that to the OP, because they feel that not teaching the child is a justifiable solution, whereas I think an answer like this is not helpful to the OP (indeed, people leave after such receptions.) How does your suggestion help in this (or any other emotionally charged) situation? – anongoodnurse Nov 24 '15 at 23:44
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    The idea is that moderators should do as little as possible! Taking the argument by considering only the extreme cases misses the point. I see only attempts at deploying the argumentum ad absurdum. And, none of your extremes are what instigated the multiple Meta questions. – Sylas Seabrook Nov 25 '15 at 0:03
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    Extremes do happen, however. I'm simply looking for clarification on how to balance respect for an OP who may have an unpopular stance. – Acire Nov 25 '15 at 7:54
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    Ad hominem attacks don't fit in with the "be nice" policy, right? This conversation is all about whether the community should have its self-moderation denied and the theory on moderation answers that: only if necessary. Just leave the forum to the people and step in where appropriate. It's not about nuance; it's about good judgement. – Sylas Seabrook Nov 25 '15 at 8:06
  • Oh, to clarify, the first sentence/question was not saying your question was ad hominem, but the behavior you were asking about. :) – Sylas Seabrook Nov 25 '15 at 8:07
  • @Erica For a more in-depth discussion of this principle, please see this answer – Sylas Seabrook Nov 25 '15 at 8:15
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    I simply want to understand what "provides justification" means. If the goal of this question is to provide guidance for moderation and reference for users who are unfamiliar with Don't Argue With the Premise, clarity is highly preferable. I'm currently interpreting this as a variation of "do nothing", so please let me know if I don't understand that. Examples are not intended to quibble -- I tend to think better with concrete examples or analogies. To keep it abstract: how does this approach help the OP get a topical, respectful answer? – Acire Nov 25 '15 at 10:17
  • @Erica Tell you what. Give me a day or two and I'll provide a detailed examination and post it separately (in proper form). Just a bit busy right now, but I'm taking you on your word and hope to be able to help (at least in clearly sharing my view of things.) – Sylas Seabrook Nov 25 '15 at 13:29
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    I really don't trust the votes at this point to enforce the guidelines, and I feel that people will upvote a good answer to a different question, even if it doesn't address the actual question. If the site guidelines were changed in regard to arguing with the premise answers, then I think this would be a viable solution. – user11394 Nov 25 '15 at 18:26
  • I've proposed such a change to the guidelines which should help address a large number of questions, where the voting is clearly counter to policy. – user11394 Nov 25 '15 at 20:02
  • @CreationEdge Nicely done! Kudos. I have nothing to add to that. – Sylas Seabrook Nov 26 '15 at 0:17


This policy is outdated, and should not be enforced.

Only situations that violate other rules should receive moderator intervention (rudeness, excessively chatty comments, etc.).

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