21

The question Did Benjamin Netanyahu say this about Christian Zionists? cites as the sources of the claim sites/blogs which are straight up from the darkest corners of the web. All those sites are antisemitic, they have claims that Jews rule the world, that Barack Obama is a communist coming to take the money and civil liberties of the American people. One of the sites even has a screen grab of Netanyahu "shape shifting" which means that they think he's a lizard person. One of the sources is a Facebook post, the comments to which are a strange religious argument between two people and the rest are "proofs" that Jews control the economy. And the profile that posted the FB post is just... wow... Zukerberg is a secret grandson of Rothschild, and uses FB to control something, and Jews faked the Holocaust to take control of the media.

The only non hate source is inspiringquotes.us which doesn't have a source or a date for the "quote".

We shouldn't allow the site to become just a dumping ground for racist and bigoted ideas.

If a claim was made (only) in a place where lizard people and Jews faked the Holocaust and 9/11, the post shouldn't just be considered an unnotable claim, but should be considered a racist post and deleted (and not just put on hold).

In this case it's a post regarding antisemitic, but the same should be done with other racist posts, such as "Are black people stupid" or "Is Obama a secret Muslim".

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28

There is a broad question here which has been touched on by meta-questions before, including another recent meta-question:

What is the best way to treat spurious claims from sources that regularly produce spurious claims?

Let me tackle that broader question, and present the arguments from both sides:

Why to ban such discussion:

There are many reasons to avoid allowing such claims to be introduced to discussion forum of all forms:

Distraction

  • Space travel forums have more interesting things to discuss than whether the moon landings were faked.

  • Epidemiologists can do far more good for the world, if they aren't bogged down explaining the autism is not caused by vaccines.

  • Biologists have better things to do work on than explaining, again, that evolution really is a thing.

  • Solutions for climate change would proceed faster if the climatologists didn't get bogged down repeating the same basic facts every time someone posted an ignorant comment.

If you want to have productive discussions on a subject, you need to staunch the flow of the constant spam-like attempts to disrupt the conversation with delusional theories.

Offensiveness

If a site frequently posts ignorant screeds about religions, races, genders, etc., we could expect people targeted by the screeds, and their supporters, to tire of the unrelenting offensiveness and move on to other sites where they feel less under attack.

Propagation

Suppose there is a false claim that few people have heard of, and we post it here - with no answer - and as a result more people hear it. This is a disaster - we become a vector for falsehoods, rather than a vaccine. [Hence one of the reasons to demand notability for claims.]

Similarly, there have been studies [citation-needed] that show that debunking a myth, poorly done, can actually reinforce the myth in the mind of the reader - who forgets the boring details of the debunking, but remembers the vivid myth. This should be a major concern for Skeptics.SE and all skeptics: if the science invalidates our approach, we need to come up with a different approach.

Why to allow such discussion:

We love mavericks

The concept of the lone maverick, sees that society's consensus view is poorly considered, who does the experiments to show the error, and then bravely stands up against "The Man" and improves the world's knowledge, is a key image for skepticism and science.

If we censor mavericks from proposing ideas contrary to our common consensus, we become "The Man".

We don't want idiots to become martyrs

By refusing to directly tackle bad ideas, we allow the proponents of those ideas to paint themselves as unfairly treated, and suggest that the ideas they have are so dangerously effective, the establishment is stopping them from sharing them.

By demolishing the ideas with evidence, we remove this opportunity.

We want the claims to be challenged

When someone naive tries to investigate these claims, trying to decide whether the denialists have a point, we want there to be Google hits to demolish their arguments. We want the aggrieved parties of the defamatory falsehoods to have a platform where they can present the evidence for the truth.

We are the fire-fighters

While the space-travel, epidemiology, evolutionary biologists and climatologists have important issues to discuss, and want to avoid being burned in the fire of false claims, we are here precisely the attack those false claims (and to confirm the correct ones).

While everyone else is running away from these flames, we are running towards them - armed with our hoses of empirical data, and protected with our suits of citation-needed. Perhaps I am pushing this analogy too far, but dramatic and patriotic music is playing in my head as I write this.

Stack Overflow questions are successful when they are found by people with a problem googling for an answer. Skeptics.SE is also successful when that happens, but for me a greater success is when some nonsense is posted on Facebook or Twitter, and one of the commenters simply posts a link to Skeptics.SE, where we examine the claim with care.

Spurious claims are time wasters. If we can spending the time to resolve a claim definitively, and that can be used to shut down the claim every time it appears, it is worth the effort. It brings down the per-person cost of fighting the lies that are frequently propagated.


In conclusion, I think we should maintain our current policies:

  • We have no taboos but we do expect claims to be written respectfully.
  • We demand notability references so we can see if this is a commonly believed claim, or just some drunk uncle spouting off.
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    Note that we do add "rel='nofollow noreferrer'" to all links in questions to avoid giving google juice to sites we don't know. – Sklivvz Jan 16 '17 at 1:42
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    Is this what Australians mean when they talk about patriotic music? (This is literally the second Google result for "australia patriotic music".) – SIMEL Jan 16 '17 at 9:23
  • I think the weak point here is in "notability". There are many sites out there which are far less reliable than some drunk uncle spouting off, and they can be used as sources for just about anything. – user34418 Jan 18 '17 at 21:54
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    @CPerkins: Just to be clear, we have quite separate demands of references in the questions and the answers. The questions generally come from unreliable sources - if we insisted that questions were only derived from very reliable sources, there would be no point to the site. If there are lots of people believing the claim, it is worth investigating, even (especially!) if it is from an unreliable source. Answers we expect to have reliable sources (policed via voting and comments). – Oddthinking Jan 19 '17 at 0:13
  • If your drunk uncle has a site where he spouts off and no-one listens, then it isn't notable and we can ignore him to focus on the real ills of the world. – Oddthinking Jan 19 '17 at 0:14
  • You're inverting my intent. I am not suggesting that the rules be changed to require that questions must be "...derived from very reliable sources...". I am suggesting that questions derived from very unreliable sources be bounced more quickly (and if you recall my previous suggestion, more clearly). – user34418 Jan 19 '17 at 14:37
  • This is a very good answer, but (like many great skeptics answers!) it would benefit from summarising the conclusion at the top, since at many points it appears to be leading towards a very different conclusion than the one it actually reaches – user56reinstatemonica8 Jan 24 '17 at 13:42
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    @Oddthinking To take a concrete example; is Hitlers Mein Kampf a notable source? Always, never, or depends on the claim? – gerrit Feb 28 '17 at 11:15
  • The cautious answer would be "depends on the claim" because I haven't read it, but I am going to get with "Yes. The claims in Mein Kampf which are (not merely were) believed (e.g. by neo-nazis) are notable." – Oddthinking Feb 28 '17 at 14:02
  • Rand's "The Fountainhead" would be a tougher one, because it is written as a novel, so the literal claims are intended to be fictional - not notable - while still trying to make you believe to broader message. – Oddthinking Feb 28 '17 at 14:04
  • I hear the music too. Lots of horns. Makes me want to stand and cover my heart. – frеdsbend Dec 30 '18 at 20:41
8

There's a very large grey line between a legitimate question and the trolling kind of nonsense you're talking about. Making a policy to try and weed out those trolling questions will create more problems than fix. After all the prime effort of trolling is to post something offensive while still obeying the rules.

Further there's no reason to be scared of these claims. If they are so outlandish then they should be easy to debunk. This site gives a platform to debunk these claims, not a platform to air them unvetted.

And as already mentioned in the other two posts, flagging and downvoting should be enough to let the community control what happens. A hard-line policy would usurp community control.

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    "If they are so outlandish then they should be easy to debunk." Not sure about that. – Trilarion Jan 18 '17 at 9:21
  • @Trilarion On this site, sometimes the rules won't let you. In reality, they're always easy to debunk or discredit. – frеdsbend Jan 18 '17 at 16:53
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    Yeah unfortunately we have an unresolved problem of how to deal with "not even wrong" completely wild claims that don't make any sense but nonetheless can't be neatly disproved. I can't find it now but there was a meta discussion after a question about a conspiracy theory that Obama was marking people's mail boxes with stickers so a kill squad would know to massacre them. Obvious nonsense (if they could find the houses to place the stickers, they didn't need the stickers...), but no-one could think of a way of proving what nonsense it was that was actually backed by proper references... – user56reinstatemonica8 Jan 24 '17 at 13:38
  • After something like 3 days on skeptics, my main conclusion is that people downvote with alot more energy than they put into debunking. When they do comment, it is fairly typical stuff with a clear mainstream stance. Not a lot of thought. – user56212 Jun 18 at 23:35
  • @BeepBoopBop You've asked some ... odd questions. I don't believe you're trolling, but I don't think you believe those claims, and they are quite absurd, so I don't think you're having a hard time convincing anybody to not believe it either, so why are you asking those kinds of questions? I don't usually downvote those kinds of questions unless they are political (like the absurd Obama mailbox thing mentioned one comment earlier), but I eagerly search for a reason to close them. – frеdsbend Jun 19 at 0:13
  • I don't see why it would matter what I believe. A question and an answer should be completely impartial and unbiased. I have only asked questions that are quite common rumors that have no resounding answer. I could see not liking the Trump question. This particularly gets the left, I find it telling that no good answers were presented though, just rubbish "it is clear from his tweets..." But the George Floyd question is a good one, and the satanic one, a legitimate one. I am saddened that just because people don't know how to identify a satanic ritual, they claim nobody can :S – user56212 Jun 19 at 0:21
  • @BeepBoopBop You're purpose in asking is how people judge whether you are genuinely participating. In other words, whether you are trolling. – frеdsbend Jun 19 at 1:25
  • I'm not at all surprised on the voting on your questions. The kind of reply to answer the Trump or Satanic Ritual question well is not really how this site has been set up. Appropriate replies require a lot of ground work defining terms and arguing that those definitions are fair (a great deal more work than clicking "downvote"). That has two problems: 1) Takes a lot of work, more than a few upvotes are worth to most people, 2) may run afoul the "no original research" policy. Then the Floyd/Mason one ... it's like the Satanic one, but even weirder. Why is that even remotely believable? – frеdsbend Jun 19 at 1:25
  • The Satanic one on the face at least looks to have elements of hollywood-type "satanism". The Satanism one may actually be a good question on one of the religion/philosophy/mythology sites. The experts there can give you what you'd really need to answer it well in the first place: What is Satanism and does it even have dances and rituals? The black rain question is just the right level of weird and answerability. – frеdsbend Jun 19 at 1:25
  • Of the other three, the Trump one is the only one of real consequence, because he's the President, but it's political so you'll get a lot of static there too. In my opinion, it's a great question, but as I said before, an honest and through approach is going to take many hours and dozens of pages. People spend hundreds of pages and hours talking about long dead people and their impact on history. Trump will be no exception, for perhaps many years. – frеdsbend Jun 19 at 1:25
  • This Skeptics SE site, and probably even the SE format in general, cannot adequately answer such questions. I closed as "not notable", but perhaps "too broad" is better, meaning, a reasonably concise and through/accurate answer are not possible. I did downvote because I think that is obvious. It should have been clear that no single post can fairly answer that question. – frеdsbend Jun 19 at 1:31
  • No worries, see skeptics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4577/56212, I am out ;) – user56212 Jun 19 at 1:49
5

Skeptics.SE, like a number of Stack Exchange websites, has roomba, which will automatically delete many low quality questions.

If the question is more than 30 days old, and ...

has −1 or lower score
has no answers
is not locked

If the question is more than 365 days old, and ... has a score of 0, or a score of 1 in case of deleted owner
has no answers
is not locked
has view count <= the age of the question in days times 1.5
has 1 or 0 comments

If the question was closed more than 9 days ago, and ...

not closed as a duplicate
has a score of 0 or less
is not locked
has no answers with a score > 0
has no accepted answer
has no pending reopen votes
has not been edited in the past 9 days

For really hateful questions, there's always flagging as offensive.

As anecdata: of 13 posts that I've flagged as rude or abusive, 11 of them have been deleted (the two that weren't are this, which is closed as a duplicate and this, where my flag was a bit of a stretch)

Addendum There's been comments that Skeptics.SE is "being used to promulgate [racism]", such as this comment. I'd like to argue that the person who asked the question referred to by Ilya, about Christian Zionists, is not intending to promulgate racism.

Mohammad Sakib Arifin has asked a wide variety of questions. This one is about Nordic nations, this one is about a claim African-Americans are discriminated against in the US, this one is about Saudi Arabia, and this one is about Islam in the US, and this one is about taxation. If he's racist, who is he racist against? Is he biased against Muslims as well? I doubt it.

Also, users who act in bad faith (and there have been a few on Skeptics.SE) tend to be argumentative and hostile towards answers which debunk a claim asked about in their question. I haven't seen such behaviour from Mohammad.

I acknowledge that there have been some problems on the site, as described in Permanently banning user/question? , but those questions tend to be flag-hammered into oblivion fairly quickly, and has nothing to do with Mohammad.

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    So basically non-notable closed claims have a high chance of getting deleted unless they were upvoted. So close voting and downvoting would be the preferred course of action to make sure, they get automatically deleted. – Trilarion Jan 18 '17 at 9:23
  • That means the spew is indexable for 30 days. 30 days of free advertising for lies and hate. – user34418 Jan 18 '17 at 21:51
  • @CPerkins only if it doesn't qualify for the 9 days criterion. – Andrew Grimm Jan 18 '17 at 22:22
  • Okay, so 9 days at the least. I can see the ad now: "come to stackexchange, for 9 days of guaranteed free advertising of your despicable lies". – user34418 Jan 19 '17 at 14:24
  • @CPerkins no guarantees, because there's always flagging. – Andrew Grimm Jan 20 '17 at 5:41
  • @CPerkins I've addressed some of the comments you've been making in this answer. – Andrew Grimm Jan 27 '17 at 12:26
  • In the past couple of days, that same user has posted links to Stormfront and the KKK. Is there a line? A point where we say that giving free advertising to hate groups is unacceptable? – user34418 Mar 7 '17 at 13:46
  • @CPerkins post an answer, not comments. – Andrew Grimm Mar 21 '17 at 8:31
3

In general I agree with you.

I'd like to point out that this should not be a unilateral moderator action, but a community action. we have 25+ users that can vote to delete questions. They should be doing so.

When moderators close posts, the community at large can still discuss and reopen. Deleting posts basically ends the discussion, beyond 10,000+ reputation users.

Since the criteria for deletion you mention is highly subjective, it's much healthier if the community contributes to the act. I can propose a couple of exceptions:

  • Mods might delete obvious crap, as usual, if they feel it's necessary. For example, the holocaust denial stuff that's been going on needs to go as fast as possible. Reserve flagging for these cases.

  • Mods might add their vote to the community, e.g. when a couple of votes are already there.

The community can use the high rep users tools to coordinate deletions.

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  • A. Why don't I see an option to vote for the deletion of questions? – SIMEL Jan 14 '17 at 12:17
  • @IlyaMelamed you need to wait 3 days from closure, unless you have over 20k rep. – Sklivvz Jan 14 '17 at 12:19
  • B. In the mean time, there is a question on the site that that has 6 linked sites which are not safe for human consumtion without even a warning. I have two issues with it, the first is that we wouldn't allow to post a nude picture or a link to one without at least a warning, and I sencirely feel that those sites are a whole of a lot worse. The second thing, is what prevents someone to just dump every not 100% crazy claim from storm front as questions to the site? – SIMEL Jan 14 '17 at 12:23
  • @IlyaMelamed there are also two reopen votes on it, though. We need to respect those too. – Sklivvz Jan 14 '17 at 13:22
  • I wouldn't have as much of a problem with the post if it wad just the inspiringquotes sources. Then it would be just not notable. But right now it links to antisemitic sites and is an antisemitic propoganda post. – SIMEL Jan 14 '17 at 13:36
  • @IlyaMelamed, not in the opinion of the people who voted to reopen. That's why we have voting -- by the way, if you really believe this is a bad faith attempt at antisemitism, you should flag as offensive. Enough flags and the post goes away (even without waiting). – Sklivvz Jan 14 '17 at 13:47
  • @IlyaMelamed Leave a warning as either a comment or an edit into the post – user22865 Jan 19 '17 at 20:50
  • @JanDoggen, a warning about what? – SIMEL Jan 19 '17 at 20:57
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    @IlyaMelamed not safe for human consumption; or maybe something like notoriously antisemitic site... – user22865 Jan 19 '17 at 21:02
  • @JanDoggen he did – Sklivvz Jan 19 '17 at 21:56

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