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The question and its edit war

So this edit war happened. Here's a quick recap:

  1. A poster asked a very clear question, two different ways.
  2. A user edited the question to eliminate the second phrasing.
  3. The OP added the second phrasing back in.
  4. A user who was subsequently elected to a moderator position after the edit in question deleted the second phrasing of the question.
  5. The original poster restored the second phrasing of the question.
  6. A moderator deleted the alternate phrasing again.
  7. The OP restored the alternate phrasing and posted a comment to the effect that he thought the alternate wording provided additional clarity into what he was was asking.
  8. A moderator deleted the alternate phrasing and locked the question to prevent any more revisions or comments.

What message might users discern from this edit pattern?

The first deletion by the moderator-to-be does seem like a legitimate attempt at improving the question. Everything should be as simple as possible, but not any simpler. I think we all agree with that.

However, the original poster apparently felt that the revisions made the question "too simple", i.e. that clarity was lost.

The question I ask here is, what message might question-askers take away from not being able to ask questions the way they want? Am I alone in thinking that question-askers might be irritated by repeated "revisions"? Perhaps the only thing OPs will be able to take away from situations like this is that they aren't in control of their own questions? Perhaps they may feel that this is a site where others presume to know their own question better than they do?

I don't think any of the moderators wanted to send messages like these, but I'm confident that these are the messages that are coming across. If this is what moderation looks like, I want to hear more about why its a useful strategy. Three lines of redundant content (note: whether the content is redundant is certainly arguable) don't seem worth worth fighting over to me. Wouldn't it make sense to either let the (arguably too verbose) original question stand, or at least to propose a "third-way" edit that provides a new possibility, instead of just repeatedly rolling back the OP's own question?

Why focus on the moderator behavior here?

Comments and answers to date have brought up the valid point that my summary mentions only the actions of moderators (or future moderators), not of all the question editors. I apologize for not making this clear in my initial post. Let me explain why I wrote this question here. First, I wrote this question when the post was locked. The link on the lock notice specifically recommends that people raise issues with a locked question here on Meta. Second, a very large number of the rollbacks were made by moderators or moderators-to-be. I recognize that editing questions is not specifically a duty of moderators, but of all high-rep users. However, I do believe that moderators are (and should be) held to the highest standards and in general should serve as exemplars to the community. This question was in my mind a rare example of (some of) the moderators not meeting this admittedly lofty standard. I do think it is worth examining how we can avoid situations like this in the future.

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    $\begingroup$ I left a very nice comment explaining why I made the final decision. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Dec 3 '16 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ (probably worth noting that the question is locked for a maximum of one week, I did not lock it for only a day because I did not want to start this process over again tomorrow if it wasn't resolved within one day. In reality, it can be unlocked at any time) $\endgroup$ – jonsca Dec 3 '16 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ My apologies, I'm not a mod and I was not mentioned above, but I did edit the question. I edited the question when I saw that it was one of the most popular unanswered questions on Chem.SE. I just wanted to clean it up. I understand the user's interest in being thorough, but in this case I felt it was overly redundant. I will look more closely at the edit history of questions from now on. $\endgroup$ – Melanie Shebel Dec 3 '16 at 4:34
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    $\begingroup$ @MelanieShebel Not at all your fault. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Dec 3 '16 at 5:40
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    $\begingroup$ After some reflection on what you have had to say, I have decided that it would be more neutral to restore the user's formatting prior to the post being tweeted by the bot (which matches the original formatting when it was originally posted). I have, though, re-locked the question in the hopes that we can have a discussion about it here prior to taking any next steps. What I would urge you to do in return, Curt, though, is to edit the question to make it less about wanting heads to roll and more about how we can learn from all of this. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Dec 3 '16 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ (this is not to say that the edits that the users made are invalid, but simply to restore things to a point where they were before the most recent edits transpired) $\endgroup$ – jonsca Dec 3 '16 at 5:51
  • $\begingroup$ @jonsca thank you for your responses here. I have tried to edit my question here in line with your suggestions. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Dec 3 '16 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ And @MelanieShebel, many thanks for your query. I never would have known to look back at this question and never would have answered it, if it hadn't been for your query and post. That's the kind of thing I hope we see more of around here. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Dec 3 '16 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ Unlocked for good. Please flag the post on the main site if there are any more rollback issues. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Dec 4 '16 at 1:05
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I was involved in an edit war at EE.SE earlier this year, over this answer. The following meta discussion is here.

Based on this experience, IMO if a particular edit is rolled back once by the OP, no further edits in that vein should be made, ever, except by the OP him/herself (or by someone who has their unambiguous blessing).

The spurned editor then has three paths forward:

  1. Downvote
  2. Vote to close, if appropriate
  3. Invite OP to chat

If OP's are okay with the general thrust of other people's edits, they have the option of tweaking those edits by making further edits of their own. If an OP objects so strongly to the change made by an edit that they desire to rescind it wholesale, then courtesy dictates that one should not try to force that change into their post.

As an additional recommendation: Whenever I make what feels like a substantial revision to someone's post, whether excising a large portion or undertaking a major rewrite or whatever, I usually post a comment after I make the edit inviting the OP to review my edit and change anything they don't like, or roll back the entire thing if they wish. I do this to let them know that I know I've majorly changed their post, and that if they're not happy with what I've done, I won't be upset if they change/undo it.

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I thought long and hard whether or not I should comment, but because the post reads like that the moderating team enforced this edit war, which is simply not true, I think it is necessary to clear up a few things.

First and foremost I agree that this kind of disagreement over the state of a post should be avoided at all costs as it transports the wrong message about the community. However, blaming this on one party alone is certainly equally as wrong.

Now before you read my argumentation, you should know that I rolled back the post twice.

Let's take it from the beginning. The very first draft of the question did not have the redundancy, it was later introduced as a means of clarification upon request by a comment. It then underwent some formatting changes, in which the was introduced.

The original start of the dispute then removed the assignment like list, probably in an attempt to reshape the post as a terminology question. This was done by an at-the-time ordinary user.

The Op then reintroduced the second paragraph.

I somehow must have come across the post, and realised that it is the same question in different words. I had a look at the edit history and decided to roll back the edit that I was going to introduce myself. I always try to be as concise as possible, but that's my personal feeling about it, I am sorry that this was not the best choice here.
I usually don't think twice about a post after I roll back an edit. If the OP wants it different than the community, it's just so much easier to walk away. In this case the extra paragraph doesn't even hurt anyone. However, in this case some other circumstances led to it that the post showed up again.

Starting with that the Op then rolled back the edit.

I am not watching any of the posts, I treat them as they come along. I forgot about the post and couldn't have cared less. However, while checking the review queues (and I only do that if it is double digits), there was a suggested edit to remove the second paragraph. At the time it seemed like a good idea, hence it was approved by me and someone else, without a counter vote. I regret approving this without checking the review history and noticing, that this was turning into a content dispute.

The Op then rolled back the edit and commented

Hello community. Can we not remove the "In other words" part of my question? I know it is redundant. I'd like to state it twice in slightly different ways. Sorry if that irks those out there who like conciseness.

But here is what I regret the most: Not reading the comment when it popped up. Instead a day later I find this post in the close-review queue, with three "Homework" close reason votes already on it. Without (again) further checking the history of the post I rolled it back to the version of the post, that I previously approved as a suggested edit. I did this as a means to remove the "homeworky-ish" looking portion and keep it from getting closed. I further voted to leave it open end de-queued it.

Yes, I totally missed to inform the Op that the second paragraph might be the reason, why it is about to be closed and I also did not justify this edit further. I really should have done this, or maybe even better, just stay out of it from the start. I really regret this, and also not checking the full edit history of the post. Because of my failures, this eventually led to the dispute being carried on, while I was somewhat unaware about its long history.

The Op then rolled back the edit and commented

OK. this has become a challenge. Rolling back for the fourth time. I'll eventually wear out.

The post then had a flag on it, asking to roll back and lock it due to content dispute. And this is when another moderator stepped in, did that, and after a while this meta-post was opened. And here we are.
There were a total of six people and the Op involved in how this came about. Only two of them were moderators and the last one had to step up to resolve the content dispute.

I think we can all agree, that this outcome is far from desirable. Since I was elected as a moderator, this was the first time it escalated. It does somewhat show, that this is not the norm. Calling it absurd is probably legit, but not in the way it was presented here (and certainly not in the first version of the meta post).
I agree with Brian's (hBy2Py) answer how such things should be ideally handled (in the future). This especially means being a lot more thorough checking the posts before approving edits and also being more transparent and comunicative about edits. However, this is obviously no guarantee that things like this won't happen again. We are all human and we make mistakes. I apologise for the inconvenience this caused.

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    $\begingroup$ At least in this case it sounds like the conflict was mostly accidental. With mine, the other party had taken pretty specific exception to what I'd posted and the edit war took place over the course of just a few minutes. I could hardly believe the guy was being so intense about it. Of course, I had my part in it, too -- I should've taken it to meta a lot sooner. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Dec 5 '16 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for this Martin. The discussion that's ensued after I asked this question helped me realize that contrary to what a simple inspection of the edit log would suggest, that the repeated rollbacks may not have been coordinated, and moderators may not have been aware of each others' actions. I apologize for the initial wording of my question, and am glad for @jonsca's suggestion to edit it. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Dec 5 '16 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ The amount of effort here to improve the site blows my mind. Thanks Martin and @Curt F. . I believe you provided a good and accurate summary of what I intended. Much appreciated. One final note. I believe the whole firestorm was initiated because someone thought it was homework. Believe it or not, I've actually worked in a scientific lab for 12 years and it has been a long time since I've done homework :) I just have always been frustrated with these abbreviations. If I were again a budding scientist, I'd appreciate this SE question. Again, thanks for all the thought! $\endgroup$ – kdauria Dec 5 '16 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @kdauria On behalf of the rest I apologise for this incident. If similar things happen, please raise it directly to somebody either by custom-flagging for mod attention, or by pinging one of the editors in the comments. This helps to avoid the diffusion of responsibility which is partly to blame here (imo). Thanks! $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Dec 6 '16 at 5:20
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Leaving the tone of the question aside there is a series of misconceptions or misinformation that I wish to point out.

As a moderator, one might think that I am biased, but I will let the community judge what I write.


Here's a quick recap [...] A moderator deleted the second phrasing of the question.

(1) I was the first editor of the question. At the time I edited it (24 Sep '16), I was not a moderator (was elected 18 Oct '16). I am personally frustrated that I am being implicated as being complicit in "mod abuse" when I wasn't even a mod.

recap continues...

(2) The edit by Melanie was not mentioned in the recap.

The first deletion by the moderators does seem like a legitimate attempt at improving the question. [...] If this is what moderation looks like, I want to hear more about why its a useful strategy.

(3) Editing the content of posts is not a moderator duty. This entire post strongly implies that Martin and I were acting as moderators when we edited the question, and that deletion of this paragraph constitutes "moderation".

This is categorically false. Anybody over 2,000 reputation, moderator or not, can edit posts. Anybody below 2,000 reputation, moderator or not, can suggest edits to posts. The editing of content is a community job.

This is evident especially in light of points (1) and (2), where the editors were not moderators.


That said, yes, there is some fault, and the fault lies with the editors. The fault is that they were negligent in checking the edit history or the comments on the question. Martin has already talked about this. However, I insist on pointing out that it is a fault with the editors, and not the moderators.

To the community: in the future, if this sort of thing happens, regardless of who the editors are, please raise a custom flag for moderator attention (or ping us in chat if we're there). The most likely explanation is that we didn't notice something going on. We are always ready to accept community input, but at the same time that doesn't mean we're doormats, which is why I feel compelled to issue this rather defensive response.

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    $\begingroup$ Apologies @orthocresol. When I was reviewing the edit log I saw the moderator "diamond" and forgot that the timing of your edit was well before your elevation to moderator status. I've edited the question to note this specifically. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Dec 5 '16 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with you that editing post contents is not a moderator-only duty and is not even a primary duty of moderators. I focused my question on the moderators because an unusual number of them had collaborated on editing the question and I do believe that moderators should be held to the highest standard; in a way, they serve as exemplars to the community. (BTW I voted for you as one of our new moderators.) $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Dec 5 '16 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ It seems what has happened is that none of the folks doing the rollback revisions knew about or looked at the edit history of the post, perhaps just because tools for easily doing so are not readily available. My question here still stands, because I do think that users who experience repeated rollbacks to their question will be very discouraged for the reasons I mention in the question. So if this is just a UI problem, it's still worth thinking about, at least in my view. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Dec 5 '16 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you, Curt. I do see where you are coming from and there are definitely areas that we can improve on. On the moderation side, I think that a better choice would have been to lock the post as the OP's version, which jonsca later switched to. On the editing side, we (the mods) are supposed to receive an automated flag when the same user rolls back a question twice. Why that did not kick in here, I am not entirely sure; perhaps it was because Martin's rollbacks were not sequential, or perhaps because they were too chronologically far apart $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Dec 5 '16 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ [...] this is quite regrettable and I think and hope it will be an isolated incident. As far as I remember we have not had rollback wars (sans disgruntled homework-askers trying to vandalise their posts - which we clamp down on). On my own part, I will try to be more vigilant - I spend lots of time looking through the home page (it's kind of part of the job scope :D) and hopefully we will catch more stuff like this. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Dec 5 '16 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ Us mods have back channels to coordinate moderation efforts and if we notice any rollbacks going on, we will share it with the others, to prevent a repeat incident. Again I reiterate my last paragraph - if anybody notices this, please flag it for mod attention. We are very grateful for the flags that you guys and girls raise. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Dec 5 '16 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with your To the community message as well. Except that I think when the post was locked, it was impossible to flag the post. (That part might be wrong, but it was definitely impossible to comment on the post during lock-age.) And the lockout message specifically says to post here. $\endgroup$ – Curt F. Dec 5 '16 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @CurtF. Re this comment: "perhaps just because tools for easily doing so are not readily available." YES. THIS. I'm sure the SO gurus have good reasons for restricting the number of distracting clicky-bits on the review page, but the confined view that reviewers are given of the post really cuts down on the likelihood that any particular reviewer new to the scene will even check the original full question and answers in their entirety, much less the full edit history. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Dec 5 '16 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ @CurtF. "I do think that users who experience repeated rollbacks to their question will be very discouraged" Yeah, if mods aren't automatically notified about a sudden clump of rollbacks on a single post, they should be. Is a strong sign of a hot-spot in need of attention. $\endgroup$ – hBy2Py Dec 5 '16 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ @CurtF. Yes, once the post is locked, bringing it to meta is the right course of action. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Dec 6 '16 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ @hBy2Py I replied in chat. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Dec 6 '16 at 5:34

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