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Is there anything wrong with accepting an answer solely to place it at the top of the list for a while, with the intention of then unaccepting it?

Oftentimes there might be an answer to a question that comes a bit later than a couple of other answers. By the time this answer gets posted, the other answers are already firmly entrenched at the top of the list. What then often happens is that new readers read the first couple of answers and upvote them, and never get to the new answer. This is probably especially so on Hot Network Questions. This can lead to situations in which a fine answer is languishing at the bottom of the page with just a few upvotes, while the other answers are raking in the upvotes by the dozen.

By accepting the new answer you will be evening the playing field a bit. The new answer will have a chance to appear at the top of the page so all the new readers will see it, and it will get the upvotes it deserves. After a certain amount of time, or when the score has sufficiently caught up, you would then unaccept the answer and let things play out from there.

Is there something wrong with doing this?

A recent example of such a situation would be The Dark Lord's answer to my recent question. While it is as good as, if not better, than the other answers it is stuck at a score of 4, while the other two answers are nearing 20 and 30 respectively. The question was a Hot Network Question, and the answer was posted well after the other two.

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The help centre has the following to say on accepting answers:

What should I do when someone answers my question?

Decide if the answer is helpful, and then...

  1. Vote on it (if you have earned the appropriate voting privilege). Vote up answers that are helpful and well-researched, and vote down answers that are not. Other users will also vote on answers to your question.

  2. Accept it. As the asker, you have a special privilege: you may accept the answer that you believe is the best solution to your problem.

[...]

Accepting an answer is not mandatory; do not feel compelled to accept the first answer you receive. Wait until you receive an answer that answers your question well.

Help Center > Asking, Someone Answers

What does it mean when an answer is "accepted"?

When a user receives a good answer to their question, that user has the option to "accept" an answer. Acceptance is indicated by a colored checkmark next to the answer that has been accepted by the original author of the question.

Accepting an answer is not meant to be a definitive and final statement indicating that the question has now been answered perfectly. It simply means that the author received an answer that worked for them personally. Not every user comes back to accept an answer, and of those who do, they might not change the accepted answer even if a newer, better answer comes along later.

Help Center > Answering, Accepted Answer

From this we can see that the official standpoint is for accepted answers to be:

  1. Helpful to the OP
  2. The best solution/most helpful to the OP
  3. Works for the OP

These are general guidelines, however, and it is generally solely up to the OP to accept whatever answer helps them the most. Even looking at bullets 1 and 2 we can infer that it is generally fine to accept an answer that is helpful to you.

Why shouldn't you do this?

  1. It's not guaranteed to work. Whilst the answer could gain a few upvotes it could also gain some downvotes increasing the gap. Also if the question is about ready to fall off of the HNQ the gap is likely never going to be made up. Even on a fresher HNQ one but with a big starting gap it is unlikely to work.

  2. The acceptance/reputation switches can annoy the other users.1 When my answer gets accepted I feel quite proud that my answer helped the OP the most enough for them to change their acceptance. This is particularly the case when I answer an older question with an already accepted answer (for a recent case of mine see here). It isn't the best to have that changed back to the original accepted answer again.

    Then the "main" accepted answer user could get a bit frustrated to see the +15, -15 and +15 again on the same question. If it helped you the most why would you keep changing it from them? If another answer comes along later that you want to feature would you then take it away and reinstate again and again? This could be quite annoying.

What could you do instead?

Use a bounty, it is perfect for your use case here. In fact one of the bounty reasons even fits what you are trying to do.

Reward existing answer

One or more of the existing answers is exemplary and worthy of an additional bounty.

In the custom bounty message you can then state the answer you are bountying with a link to it and more importantly a reason why.

A bounty also has the added side effect that the question will stay featured for a week and so the answer is guaranteed at least a week in the spotlight whereas acceptance can't really guarantee any spotlight outside the question itself.


1. On a note here that this point will be quite subjective and vary from user to user so YMMV. Also note that I'm talking about people taking votes personally, whilst this shouldn't be the case in general people take them this was because it is human nature after all.

  • Note that bounties can't be started until two days after the question is posted, which in most cases will be after it has left the Hot Network Questions list. A day at the top of the page of a Hot Network Question will probably get it more upvotes than seven days as a featured question. Plus it's free. – Alex Jan 8 '19 at 17:16
  • @Alex But...isn't your whole point here about good new answers to older questions? If the whole question is just 2 days old, you oughtn't need to "level the playing field" anyway. If that is the timeframe you're concerned about here, you...might be getting a little too much into vote micromanagement. – TARS says Reinstate Monica Jan 9 '19 at 17:53
  • @TARS the case(s) I'm thinking of is a new question that became a Hot Network Question and has a several hour gap between the first answers and the last answer. By the time the last answer is posted the earlier answers can already have 10-20 upvotes, so there is virtually no chance of the later answer being displayed at the top of the page. Many viewers (especially those just stopping by from the Hot Network Questions link) will never scroll far enough down the page to get to the later answer. – Alex Jan 9 '19 at 17:58
  • @TARS We thus end up with a case where the scores are 39, 32, and 9, even though the last answer is just as good if not better than the other two answers. Accepting the later answer during the time it is a Hot Network Question, will help it get the visibility it otherwise wouldn't get. – Alex Jan 9 '19 at 17:58
  • Still, ignoring all the other reasons for that to look..."weird", it sounds like a mess of a job to keep synchronized on an hourly basis. Afterall, you wouldn't want the answer to get too much more attention than the others either, given that you don't actually think it's perfect already. ;-) – TARS says Reinstate Monica Jan 9 '19 at 18:04
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Acceptance is the OP's prerogative. Accepting a 'wrong' answer might attract more downvotes to it, but there are no real rules on what kind of answers you're allowed to accept. Do whatever you want.

Technically acceptance is a type of vote like any other, which should be based on the quality of the post itself rather than any more meta aspects. But you're allowed to set bounties for the specific purpose of rewarding one particular answer, so I guess acceptance could be (ab)used in this way too.

I'm not sure what you mean by:

After a certain amount of time, or when the score has sufficiently caught up, you would then unaccept the answer and let things play out from there.

What kind of "things" do you imagine playing out? Would you ultimately accept whichever answer is higher-scoring at the end of the day?

  • The "things" I imagine playing out are the regular voter tendencies. The question is mainly relevant to a situation where I probably wouldn't accept any answer, but all the answers are decent. I would just be trying to give the late answer a chance to make up for its unfortunate timing. – Alex Jan 7 '19 at 17:48
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    @Alex If it's a good answer, you can always say you thought it was good enough for acceptance and then changed your mind later ;-) Accepting a bad or wrong answer is what might get you downvotes. – Rand al'Thor Jan 7 '19 at 17:49
  • Yeah, if I wanted to I could probably get away with it without anyone knowing what I was doing (or at least not being able to prove it). I don't plan on accepting a bad or wrong answer. It's just that if a good answer is posted after other answers already have a bunch of votes, it becomes very hard for it to catch up even if it's just as good or better. By juggling acceptances I can contribute to giving it a better chance. But on the other hand it feels a bit weird to manipulate votes like that. – Alex Jan 7 '19 at 17:53
  • If you accept an answer that's palpably wrong, you're just as likely to attract downvotes to your question – Valorum Jan 7 '19 at 18:21
  • @Valorum I wouldn't accept one that's palpably wrong. – Alex Jan 7 '19 at 21:25
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    @Alex put a bounty for rewarding existing answer. That's the correct way to put a spotlight on that answer. – Andrew T. Jan 8 '19 at 9:18

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