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I have a few questions.

  1. I flagged an answer which looked like a spam under this question. The answer (by fadumu shafic) was later deleted (I am not sure whether it was deleted by the poster or moderator), but my flag was declined with a comment "a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it". Does it mean my flag was declined because it was not a spam or my flag was not helpful? As far as I remember, it was a spam.

  2. I flagged this question to ask moderators to protect it with a comment, "This question needs protecting to prevent newbies from answering this question. I don't think there is any more valid answers to this question." And my flag was declined with this comment, "Questions are protected when there are many low rep users answering the question. That is not the case with this question."

  3. I flagged this question to ask moderators to protect it with a comment, "I think this question needs protecting to prevent newbies' answers as there can be no better answer than the answers already posted." And my flag was declined with this comment, "Two deleted answers in four years by low rep users is not sufficient need to protect a question."

I am not posting this question to dispute moderators' decisions but I want to have a discussion on how to stop newbies' answers to (relatively) old questions.

I have reviewed so many Low Quality Answers and Late Answers. But I have rarely found any good/acceptable/on-topic answers among them posted by newbies.

If protecting old questions could be considered as a reasonable defense/way against newbies' low-quality answers, don't you think it is a good idea to protect as many questions as possible? Especially those questions which have good-quality answers with a lot of upvotes. IMHO, it will do more good than harm to this community.

I would like to have your thoughts on this issue.

Edit: I am not proposing to ban or discourage newbies from answering all old questions. I am suggesting to protect questions that can't generate more better/on-topic answers than the existing ones.

Closing a question with five good answers could be an ideal solution, but it would be very controversial. Who judges what? I don't want to raise such an issue. I don't think we need to care about those newbies who choose to answer 4-year old question without knowing the norms and rules of this community like this one. I see (sometimes) existing members don't even follow the guidelines in our help center. Now, newbies have a place in new questions and new answers. There are plenty of them. If they get more than 10 reputation points, they can always answer those questions, even the oldest one hopefully after studying some guidelines of this community.

LQA=low quality answers

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    Whenever I see a bad Late Answer by someone with rep=1, I immediately protect the question. By answering a question, it has been bumped to the top of the list and so I want to prevent further similar poor responses. Which is what I interpret 'protect' to mean. I'm not a mod so I don't know what their reasoning is. – Mitch Dec 28 '15 at 20:07
  • @Mitch I am surprised to find that you are not a mod. I thought you were. :-) – user140086 Dec 28 '15 at 20:35
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    @Mitch poor responses usually accumulate when a question finishes in the hot questions list, not just when an old question is occasionally bumped in the front page by one response. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 28 '15 at 21:40
  • @MassimoOrtolano I don't understand what you're trying to say. Can you elaborate? How does that affect what we should do with choosing or not to 'protect'? – Mitch Dec 28 '15 at 22:30
  • @Rathony There are very few mods (6?), fewer that are active, but they are active behind the scenes rather than in your face. – Mitch Dec 28 '15 at 22:32
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    @Mitch I think that there's no need to protect an old question just because it has received a new answer from a newbie: an old question rarely goes again in the hot list, and the probability of attracting other answers looks typically low. And if the new answer is a low quality one, just downvote it and let if fade away. The old question shall quickly disappear from the front page too. – Massimo Ortolano Dec 28 '15 at 22:41
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    @MassimoOrtolano OK. Is there any harm to protecting? The situation you're mentioning, I hardly ever notice. The questions that show up on the multicollider are usually too new to be protectable. – Mitch Dec 28 '15 at 22:45
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    @Mitch Maybe not such a great harm directly, but doing this systematically would unnecessarily increase the moderation workload, especially if solicited through a flag. This faq on the main meta does not seem to suggest to protect a question just because it's an old question with a new answer. And suggests explicitly to remove the protection when it is no longer needed (and this also is extra work). – Massimo Ortolano Dec 28 '15 at 22:58
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    @Rathony - You use the word "newbie" eight times in your question (nine if you include the title). You might want to read this ELU question. I think "new user" might be more respectful and appropriate here. – J.R. Dec 29 '15 at 11:41
  • @J.R. One of the answers to the link has the definition. Newbie" probably owes much of its widespread use to Usenet, where it definitely had negative connotations. In general, yes, I'd say calling someone a Newbie would be negative. The implication is not just that someone is new, but that they haven't "done their homework". – user140086 Dec 29 '15 at 11:44
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    @Rathony - Feel free to emphasize the answer wherever you want to. I'd bold these parts instead: "...where it definitely had negative connotations. In general, yes, I'd say calling someone a Newbie would be negative." I also think this hit the mark: "if not derogatory then certainly condescending." – J.R. Dec 29 '15 at 11:46
  • @Rathony - Try reading my first comment as the helpful nudge it was intended to be, instead of as the insulting slight that you seem to have perceived it to be. I don't think you meant to be intentionally condescending toward ELU's newer users – and it would only take a minute to edit your question and use the more neutral "new users" in place of the more negative "newbies." If you did so, you would look better, and so would your question. As for why your other comment was deleted, it must have been deleted by either you or a moderator, so, if it wasn't you, that should tell you something. – J.R. Dec 31 '15 at 20:28
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    My edit Proposal to protect questions from LQA by low-rep users is there to "improve" the title, it was far too long, and too critical. Edits are made to help the OP and the community. – Mari-Lou A Jan 3 '16 at 8:12
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With regard to point 1, that may well have been me. Spam has a particular definition (it's advertising) and as it carries a large penalty, spam flags are really serious business. Please do not use spam flags for posts which are not spam. There are better flags (eg Very Low Quality) which put the post into a review queue where other members of the community can also vote on the post.

In that case, the entire content of the answer was

100/100 and it is the best game ever

and that cannot be spam; there's no advertising. It's certainly Not An Answer; it's probably Very Low Quality. In the end I agreed with two other users that it wasn't worth keeping, cast the third delete vote and it disappeared. Perhaps I could have treated the flag as helpful; but actually it didn't need a moderator's intervention on a high-priority flag — we have spam/offence flags highlighted in bright red — and it was definitely the wrong flag to use.

Have you read the Guidelines on flagging?

Flags are calls to action where urgent action is needed. Some flags — spam and offence — are passed directly to moderators, or cause the system to take action by itself. Most posts do not require this exceptional level of alacrity and should be handled by the community. Note that moderators are exception handlers. While we do take action unilaterally, particularly to close an obviously off-topic question, we don't usually do that in the case of answers; normally at least one user will have flagged NAA or VLQ and voted to delete before a moderator will cast a binding vote.

The Stack Exchange system uses votes to prioritise answers. If an answer is poor, downvote it. If you have the rep to vote to delete it, do that. You need 20k rep to delete answers; to delete questions it's 10k.

With regard to points 2 and 3, protecting is usually done retrospectively, and that can also be done by the system once a number of low-quality posts from new users have been deleted. Moderators do look at ELU questions which appear in the Hot Network Questions sidebar, and they might be proactively protected. However, protection is not usually applied to a question which has only garnered a few low-quality answers over an extended period; it's intended to protect against a flood of poor contributions (such as from HNQ links).

I urge users to vote early and vote often. If an answer is useful, upvote it. If it's poor, downvote it. If it's merely a comment, downvote it first and consider a flag as Not An Answer.

Downvoting poor questions and answers is the most important thing you can do to protect the site. Votes are used by the system to protect itself: if a user has two questions at −2 it can be sufficient for an automatic bar on posting any more. There are similar criteria for answers†. Multiple instances of closed questions or deleted answers are automatically flagged and will usually result in a mod message which might be accompanied by a suspension to allow the user and the site to recover.

Lastly, you may be interested in an earlier attempt to influence user behaviour: Where a question has an accepted answer, should we encourage new answers to be useful? That suggestion doesn't go quite as far as protection, but it's not a new sentiment that the site should do something about just anyone pitching in no matter how rudimentary their knowledge.

Currently, we have no option but to use the tools at our disposal.

  • Assess the usefulness of the answer and vote accordingly.

    Votes count toward answer bans.

  • If an answer can be improved by judicious editing, do that, and then reassess its usefulness.

    I would suggest voting before editing, and then retracting a downvote after editing, if you want, because that makes it more difficult for the user to get the Teacher badge.

  • Flag Not An Answer answers. Flag Very Low Quality answers.

    But use the right flag. Flags determine which review queue the post goes to.

  • Vote to delete where that option is available.

    And do continue to contribute upvoted material to gain the necessary privileges if the option is not available.


† The criteria for question- and answer-bans are not published and are more complex than simply two poor-quality posts. But that level of contribution has been enough to trigger a ban in the past.

  • On rare occasions I have flagged posts which were gibberish, or obscene only to find later that someone has rolled back the OP's edit. Do I flag the post a second time asking the mods to ignore my first flag? I don't normally do this and suffer in silence the "don't pester us with flags that are off-topic" tone, but it hurts! :) – Mari-Lou A Dec 30 '15 at 7:38
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    It's my understanding that spam and nonsense are pretty much the same. Consider the option we have when destroying accounts: "This account was created to post spam or nonsense and has no other positive participation". I tend to accept spam flags against nonsense posts as valid. My 2$. – terdon Dec 30 '15 at 11:15
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    If a post can be fixed, fix it. If a post can't be fixed, flag it. But although there are a variety of reasons conflated into one destruction action, it doesn't mean that each reason is synonymous or flags are interchangeable. – Andrew Leach Dec 30 '15 at 12:36
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The time to protect a question is when someone submits a new answer that is NOT an answer, but a different question. It's usually posted by a complete newbie to Stack Exchange, someone who thinks the Q&A website is a forum. They post a related question in the answer box, in the hope someone will answer. Whenever we see "non-answers" we should inform the poster that their post will be deleted, if they want an answer they should click on the tab Ask Question and rewrite their question.

If you don't protect the Original Post that newbie could post a second question, and a third, so it has to be nipped in the bud quickly. This protection can be undone at any time, by any user who has earned this privilege.

Other examples are when the poster's English is so bad, it's embarrassing; when the answer is clearly wrong, gibberish, or obscene; when it is unequivocally spam, racist, or sexist.

THAT is when you “protect” a question.

What is this “protection”? Basically a user must have earned at least 10 rep on the site before they can submit an answer. It's a very good deterrent against spammers, would-be-trolls, disgruntled visitors, and time-wasters; but it's not a guarantee against users posting low-quality answers.

But sometimes—and it happens every so often—a visitor will post a story; an episode that happened to a parent or a grandparent; a historical fact that sheds some light; some remarkable insight in the meaning of a word or its grammar that makes me stop in my tracks, and say "Wow! That is so new, and so interesting." Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10 that answer will have no supporting evidence, references or links, so you can never be sure if the answer is 100% accurate or truthful. But I still think those answers are important contributions, they are examples of attestations written in good faith that may reveal a completely different angle to a tired old question. How marvellous that somebody visiting this site finds a question so inspiring, they feel compelled to add their voice, however little it may seem.

I have seen more new answers to old questions that belong to the former category, but when I have seen answers that belong to the second, I am always thrilled. It's like finding a tiny new piece of a giant jig-saw puzzle. And for that reason alone, I strongly disagree that newcomers should be discouraged or banned from answering old questions.

There is always something new to learn, there's always going to be a new user who posts their first answer, and who's to say they have to answer only a new question?

  • By protecting old questions: don't you think it is a good idea to protect as many questions as possible? you are effectively discouraging answers from newcomers. You can call it protecting a question, you can call it "deterring spammers, trolls and time-wasters", but the ones who are most affected by this measure are newcomers. You asked the community to give you their thoughts, well this is mine. Or are you suggesting there should be more questions closed, so no one can post a new answer to an old question that already has five good answers? – Mari-Lou A Dec 29 '15 at 6:58
  • I don't see this huge influx of new answers to old questions, the vast majority of newcomers post new questions. The vast majority of newcomers leave once their post receives an answer or two, and some don't even hang around as long as that. You cannot tell people what questions they like or find more interesting. If a newcomer finds a 3-year-old question interesting and they want to contribute, most of the time it's not for rep, but because they have an opinion and they want to share it. – Mari-Lou A Dec 29 '15 at 7:04
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    @Rathony I suggest that you edit your post, the last comment seems more like a clarification. I really don't see this as a problem for EL&U, the biggest problem facing this site is Low Quality Questions. P.S How is one to interpret the following: I want to have a discussion on how to stop newbies' answers to (relatively) old questions. That sounds very much like preventing/banning new answers from newcomers. – Mari-Lou A Dec 29 '15 at 7:18

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