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I flagged the comment here: https://matheducators.stackexchange.com/a/13708/11 as needing moderator attention.

In case it is removed later, the context is that the question wants to know a better, more inclusive context for problems with pairs of objects instead of "men and women." The answer is to consider using "pets and owners." The comment is

And now you're excluding trans-species.

The comment links to an article. The article is discussing a group of people: "Adult men slip into leather dog suits and pretend to be puppies" and explicitly says that the reason to talk about this is "Remember when we said normalizing gay marriage was a slippery slope? I rescind that statement. It opened up the floodgates for all things gag-worthy." Please avoid discussing the topic of that article in this thread.


This specific kind of "edgy joke" is very dangerous, because it is dangerous to allow and dangerous to disallow. It is important to think about how, as a community, we will handle this kind of thing. The reason this is dangerous ground is:

  • It is dangerous to allow this kind of joke, because the joke and linked article explicitly attack the attempts of the original questioner to be inclusive. The thesis in the article is that the more inclusive you are, the more you are opening the door to the perversion of society. Even if the article is not linked, this kind of joke is a dog-whistle for supporters of this kind of thinking, and when you allow comments like this to remain highly upvoted, they give the impression that there is a silent majority who oppose the premise of the question.
  • It is dangerous to remove this kind of joke, because often the original poster of the joke has no ill intent, and does not understand that they are being uninclusive by posting it -- they are trying to be funny. Excluding their joke further radicalizes the person who posts it and emboldens other edgy trolls in the future, who will see a fun challenge in trying to find the exact line of inappropriateness that will be allowed.

I'm wondering what you think we should do in the future as this issue further infects the internet, and also if anyone has any good articles for me to read on the subject of moderating this specific kind of issue.

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    $\begingroup$ In my experience, any Stack Exchange question that involves gender immediately becomes a Hot Network Question, attracts arguments, has comments removed or moved, and sometimes leads to close/reopen wars. $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 4 '18 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ Will this comment pointing out that you referred to such a joke as a "dog-whistle" get removed? :-) $\endgroup$ – Brendan W. Sullivan Mar 4 '18 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ @BrendanW.Sullivan Sorry, not sure what you are saying :/ Do you think I should remove some of the content from my question? I would be open to that if you think it would help. $\endgroup$ – Chris Cunningham Mar 4 '18 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisCunningham: Just pointing out a funny (to me), linguistic coincidence, that the article in question is about dogs and you used the term "dog-whistle". Nothing more, nothing less. $\endgroup$ – Brendan W. Sullivan Mar 4 '18 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ How valid is the "but it was funny!" defense? Woof! $\endgroup$ – guest Apr 4 '18 at 21:34
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Allow me to say something about this question in general, as this question is particularly attractive for this kind of comment and I think it is a good idea to attempt to prevent these comments, precisely because, as @quid notes, they attract all sort of distractions.

First, note that the question, as originally stated, already contained a 'distraction': the explicit assumption that an alternative was necessary to be 'correct', right in the title! Now, it has become clear that this assumption didn't sit well with quite a number of people (be they regulars here, or 'tourists' from the Hot Questions, like me). I think that it was obvious from the start that the title is (likely unintentionally) provocative (even if you agree with the assumption, I think one can see this!).

My point is this: the assumption isn't required* to answer the question and is therefore a distraction, quite a big one, in fact. So, my suggestion is a bit stronger:

don't hesitate to remove distractions as these from a question as well.

(especially if they're already present in the title, as here)

I suggested a change of title in the comments, but I didn't suggest an edit because I thought it likely to be rejected on 'conflicting intent' (which it technically does). Even @quid hesitated to change the title. In the end, things are good, but it has been far too slow.

Therefore, I think it is worthwhile to decide as a community that we should remove such distractions from questions, so that we (i.e. this community) can do so swiftly in the future without hesitation. (or decide not to do this, I guess...)

(Full disclosure: I don't agree that an alternative is necessary, but I do see the value of having alternatives. More examples is always good.)


*: Yes, it is useful to know the reason why the OP doesn't like the current analogy. However, this doesn't mean that anyone has to state that change is necessary, which implies that people are 'doing it wrong' and hence all the fuss.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer. It will be tricky to figure out what qualifies as a distraction. For example, "As is necessary, I would like to include more women in my department's math major" is a question that will attract the same dangerous tourists, but it's difficult to get the distraction out of the question: "How can I attract more women to my department's math major" still summons them. Maybe a "distraction" is something that can be removed to keep trouble away without significantly impacting the question's ability to be answered? $\endgroup$ – Chris Cunningham Mar 12 '18 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisCunningham A distraction is not qualified by the response of some 'crowd'. It is simply unnecessary information that doesn't help in either asking or answering the question. Your first title contains unnecessary information which makes 'it isn't nessecary' a valid answer to the question! (in the eyes of the disagreeing person at least) For the second title, this is no longer a valid answer and if given it can simply be removed, as would all comments. $\endgroup$ – Discrete lizard Mar 12 '18 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ Completely removing a rowdy crowd is impossible, anyway. But by removing noise from the question one can at least be clearer what sort of answers or suggestions are inappropriate. $\endgroup$ – Discrete lizard Mar 12 '18 at 19:28
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I removed the comment to which my attention was drawn by your flag.

The main reason is it is a distraction.

As a rule, anything that is not of direct importance to the subject at hand might be removed.

Especially, if there is any concern that it could be perceived as problematic. Yet, it might even be removed if there is no concern, simply to avoid distraction.

In that sense there is no need to figure out if something is offensive. If it is not relevant, it will go. (Flag as "no longer relevant.") The flip-side is that something being removed does not mean it was in itself problematic. Maybe it was just not relevant enough.

Thus, first focus on whether the content is relevant to the subject at hand. If the answer to this is no, there is no further need for consideration. It should be removed.

It only becomes tricky if a relevant point should be raised that some still find problematic or it is made in a problematic form.

For the specific problem, if the poster meant to make a joke, that's just not what the site is for. If they have an actual problem with the answer for the reason hinted at they should articulate it more clearly.

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    $\begingroup$ +1: Chris' points about the dangers of removing or not, vis-a-vis opinions about the content itself, are fair. But, as you say, they are ultimately irrelevant because those points have nothing to do with the original question. $\endgroup$ – Brendan W. Sullivan Mar 4 '18 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ This seems like a nice answer that cleanly uses the unique purpose and mission of StackExchange to avoid the problem. $\endgroup$ – Chris Cunningham Mar 4 '18 at 21:43
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While it wasn't necessarily about jokes in comments, we recently had a meta question -

The Intent and Purpose of Comments

The larger focus of answers turned towards "answers in comments", but the larger point was the purpose of comments -

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

The issue of perceived censorship is easier to avoid if the joke tolerance is zero. Professional documents such as college textbooks or user manuals don't typically contain jokes. And too often, they can get misunderstood both by non-native language speakers or by those who simply don't get it. High rep members typically know to avoid this, tough to build high rep if they've joined just to be a distraction.

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    $\begingroup$ Similar issues have been discussed at rpg.se, e.g. rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1174/… $\endgroup$ – Tommi Brander Apr 26 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ I added that to my Meta post at Money.SE. Interesting to me how this issue needs to be addressed at each stack, and handled a bit differently at each one. Some members objecting to 'cleaning up' comments, saying they liked the discussion. But we are not a discussion board.... $\endgroup$ – JoeTaxpayer Apr 27 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ Though I think that some of what makes the various SE sites "fun" (if they are) is that people can leave comments not directly in one of these three categories. When the comments get distracting, they are moved to chat (or should be), but usually it helps lighten the mood a bit for an enterprise that otherwise risks devolving into Wikipedia editing police, which has been a real problem for the viability of that platform for new contributors. $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Apr 28 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ (And luckily, some college textbooks do include jokes, though sadly not enough.) $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Apr 28 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ I’ll give you an example. Question about a friend who is an accountant but with a bad credit rating, wanting to borrow money. A comment was “that’s like having a personal trainer whose obese”. Ok ha ha. The comment was flagged, as unkind and fat shaming. It’s too easy for these things to become a distraction. Your point is well taken, I don’t think I’d enjoy morphing into Wikipedia either. $\endgroup$ – JoeTaxpayer Apr 28 at 2:40

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