Warning: This question is prompted by the recent events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. While it's not directly related to those particular events, but how we as a community can react sensitively to similar ones, it may nevertheless be distressing to some people. If that's likely to be the case for you, you may want to stop reading at this point.




Although I'm sure everyone here fervently hopes otherwise, it's likely that at some point during the life of politics.se, distressing events likely to cause emotionally charged political debate in the public sphere will occur.

Some political questions, as we're all aware, are the focus of very strong opinions on each side. As and when the site goes public, it will be challenging for our community as a whole, and our moderators in particular, to handle such questions appropriately, even at the best of times.

I'm not going to express an opinion on whether now is the right time for a public conversation in the United States about firearms law. I'm not a US citizen, and it's not my place to do so. I do, however, believe that politics.se is not the right place for such a conversation right now, if at all.

However, we do not exist in a vacuum. When a seemingly inexplicable tragedy strikes, people seek answers - and Stack Exchange exists to provide answers - which means that when people go looking for them, some of those people will find us, and, in their hurt, their questions may be awkwardly phrased.

The standard response of an SE community when a question is asked that we consider not constructive is to flag it as such - which normally works well - but when someone is hurt and seeking answers, being told that their attempt to find them is "not constructive" is likely to cause further hurt.

I'm not sure exactly what we can do about this, but I think we have a responsibility to consider how we can help, rather than harm, in such a situation.

I do have one suggestion on how we might seek to address this problem, but I don't know whether it's technically feasible, or for that matter whether it's how other members of our community would wish to address it.

It may be the case that Stack Exchange has a profanity filter. Since I've never to my recollection attempted to utter a profanity here, I don't know whether that's the case - but if it does, perhaps it would be possible, for a period following an event of the type I'm talking about, to modify it so that it catches the kinds of words and phrases likely to occur in a provocative (if most likely not intended to be so) question relating to the event in question, and displays a polite notice explaining that politics.se is not taking questions at this time on that subject, out of respect for those involved.

I know that many people object in principle to what might be seen as censorship (something on which I'm also not going to offer my own opinion right now), but it seems to me that a response along those lines might be one way we can reduce the possibility of causing further distress in times when that's the last thing any of us would want to do.

I'd appreciate any other opinions on this subject people have to offer. I'd also like to apologise if anyone finds this question inappropriate. I hope it's clear that that's not my intention.


2 Answers 2


Current events in general

The Stack Exchange platform isn't particularly suitable for questions that relate to current events, as they are usually time dependent (too localized comes to mind). The main purpose of every Stack Exchange site, including Politics, is to become a high quality canonical resource in its subject matter. Questions that relate to current events are incredibly hard to get right without deviating from that purpose. Simply put, if an issue hasn't settled, chances are a definitive answer doesn't exist yet.

That said, there is a rarely used post notice for current events, that reads:

Post is related to a rapidly changing event.

The post notice can serve as a warning to both readers and answerers that the question may change drastically, or soon become irrelevant, something that at least answerers should take into consideration before answering. The post notice can be applied by the mods, all you need to do is flag and ask for it.

Censorship in general

We have a set of rules and guidelines, and before you post your first question you are asked to indicate whether you accept those rules and guidelines or not. Past this point, your posts belong to the community, according to the CC-Wiki licence and the Stack Exchange Network Terms of Service, and you must be prepared to face the fact that the community might not accept your posts. Especially when it comes to questions, the asker is asking for free help, the community is under no obligation to provide it if it deems that the question doesn't bring much value to the site.

Most times I've seen people barking/crying about censorship in the various Stack Exchange sites I participate, the mentality seems to be along the lines of: How dare you paint over the graffiti I sprayed on your wall? Don't get me wrong, people argue against edits, closures, deletions every day in StackLand™, but most of them do it reasonably. And we already have good enough mechanisms and processes for people who are willing to argue reasonably and raise their concerns constructively, namely comments, chat and Meta.

Politics.SE is extremely young, but from all the other Stack Exchange sites I participate on I'm optimistic that the community would rush to help whoever brings up a concern constructively, be it censorship or anything else really. A good thing to always keep in mind is that almost everything (excluding certain rare moderator actions) is reversible. Mistakes happen, all the time, but for the most part the community can correct them almost instantly.

Emotionally charged posts

This is where it gets tricky, I think emotionally charged questions, answers and comments may vary wildly in tone and intend and should be examined on a case by case basis. I don't think we can or that we should establish a general policy.

To be perfectly honest, I can't quite comprehend why someone who is in emotional distress would turn to a bunch of random people on the internet for help and advice, but I've seen it happen. If (when?) that happens on Politics, and the post is truly outside our scope or otherwise problematic, I don't think any automated feature would do a better job than a personalized and polite comment explaining why the post doesn't work and how it can be improved (if it can be improved). Even in the highly unlikely case that there's a series of questions in a short timespan, I think it would be preferable for the community to use personalized comments instead of a canned message, however politely phrased that might be.

If the only problem is awkward phrasing, we can certainly deal with it through commenting and editing, and if not then I don't think there is anything else we can or should do, however sensitive, awkward or emotional the post's nature might be.

Profanity filter

There's no profanity filter, we are Politics' profanity filter, and this applies to all posts in general. You should feel free to edit out incendiary / provocative / abusive / offensive language, and if you are uncertain (either about the language itself or about your edits), you can always ask for a second set of eyes. Chat is great for such discussions and you always have the option to flag the post and ask a moderator to review it.

Keep in mind that every edit is reversible, my general advice would be to be bold and edit, except when you completely change a post's intend. If that's the case, again, drop the post in chat and ask for a second set of eyes.

  • 3
    ... if I'm a profanity filter, all is lost. I swear fluently and artistically in 2 languages and less than fluently in probably 5 more. +1 otherwise :)
    – user4012
    Commented Dec 16, 2012 at 18:20
  • should "rapidly changing events" be flagged for moderation. I'm a mod on a site that really doesn't use it much at all except when popes get elected, I was just about to flag a question here but figured I'd hit up meta first to see what the policy is. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 21:37
  • If you feel a question is time-dependent and may benefit from a "rapidly changing event" warning, feel free to flag it @PeterTurner.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 11:31

Your question is fully approproate IMHO, but I must admit that I don't see what the actual problem is with existing solutions.

  • We already have a mechanism for dealing with subjective or bad questions. Downvotes and close votes.

  • Also, don't forget editing. A posted question may have subjective/incendiary wording, but underneath it all contain a legitimate answerable on-topic question. That even beats downvoting and closing.

  • As usual, we don't have to be rude about it. Don't just close as "not constructive", explain politely WHY it is not constructive (can not be answered objectively, yadda yadaa template), and provide constructive suggestion on how to improve to get the question to become more acceptable (or as per above, just edit it yourself)

  • If someone has issues with our community rules, tough luck, sorry. We are not here to be social services, psychological support hotline, or comforters. We are here to answer questions that can be answered.

    As long as we are being civil about it, "likely to cause further hurt" should not be a reason to either wave SE rules, OR to institute special censorship.

    If they want to discuss things subjectively, or vent their feelings, they can go to politics.SE chat instead. Or any of countless thousands other discussion forums available.

Again, I don't see any need to ban any topics.

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