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Question #59239 (spoilers for Deathly Hallows) has been the subject of back-and-forth edits over whether spoiler information (specifically, the death of a particular character) should be included in the question title, and to what extent the question body should contain spoilers.

There have been links to posts about spoilers elsewhere on Meta in the comments on the question, but the back-and-forth editing suggests that not everybody agrees (at least not for this particular question).

I know Meta questions are supposed to tackle general site policy rather than specific cases, but I feel like this one is getting out of hand.

Should the title of this question contain spoilers, or not?

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    I locked said question for now. Once there's some consensus here, any mod can unlock it. – user1027 Jun 14 '14 at 19:23
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    It seems quite a bad practise that the mod has currently edited and locked the answer in a state that is against the currently most reasonable consensus in the related meta post and against the original wording of the question. – David Mulder Jun 14 '14 at 22:50
  • Additionally I would like to point out that a consensus here on stackexchange is defined by what comes out of a discussion on meta. "the back-and-forth editing suggests that we don’t have a consensus" is simply not true, as this question is an exact duplicate of the other question on meta. (Although this one is slightly less specific, touching upon spoiler tags in the body as well) – David Mulder Jun 14 '14 at 22:53
  • @DavidMulder: I tweaked the wording slightly; perhaps “consensus” was the wrong word. And perhaps your comment would be better as an answer, so that people can vote on it? – alexwlchan Jun 14 '14 at 22:59
  • @DavidMulder: I’m not disputing that previous Meta posts aren’t useful here, but clearly it wasn’t convincing everybody on the original post. I thought this might be useful to unify the discussion on this particular question. – alexwlchan Jun 14 '14 at 23:01
  • @alexwlchan: Over at StackOverflow there are often users disagreeing with official policy. Even things that Jeff Atwood himself has declared law. That does not mean that for each of these cases a new meta post is opened, instead a mod comes in, enforces the meta policy and end of story. – David Mulder Jun 14 '14 at 23:22
  • @DavidMulder: We’re a much smaller site than SO, and I think we can take things on a case-by-case basis when the need arises. A mod has stepped in and said “Take it to Meta”. Here we are. – alexwlchan Jun 15 '14 at 6:13
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    I want to point out that how big the spoiler was to the series is also important: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/a/2362/2242 – Izkata Jun 15 '14 at 7:23
  • Regardless of the decision that is made, the current title of the question is wrong. It should be "Why is is important to NOT bury this character using magic?" – krillgar Jun 15 '14 at 12:58
  • @DavidMulder I did come in and enforce Meta policy. We don't put spoilers in question titles. – user1027 Jun 15 '14 at 20:58
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    @krillgar The title currently says "improper", not "important", so it's still correct – Izkata Jun 16 '14 at 4:37
  • Touche. Sorry about that. – krillgar Jun 16 '14 at 10:21
  • I don't mind spoilers in the least. I thought I'd put this out there because this conversation is being dominated by anti-spoiler POVs (which is totally fine -- I get why people don't want spoilers and I don't think they're wrong per se). Perhaps there are others at our site who don't mind spoilers. To me, considering the manner of burial (way less important than manner of death) of said character, in a seven-year-old book, to truly be a spoiler is absurd; YMMV. I was once reamed for putting info from Goblet of Fire in a question title -- at that time GoF was twelve years old. Srsly? – Slytherincess Jun 16 '14 at 20:01
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    Sorry for the second comment, but I missed the edit window. I think it's important that I clarify I personally do not think that my enjoyment of spoilers supersedes the disappointment another user might feel at being spoiled. I think common courtesy is a big issue when it comes to spoilers. Yeah, I have the right to post spoilers (until a rule is finalized directing us otherwise), but am I harmed by not doing so? No, I am not harmed. If I do post spoilers, someone else may feel harmed. That is not worth it to me. The question will always remain, though, what constitutes a spoiler? – Slytherincess Jun 16 '14 at 20:42
  • Shouldn't you just use a tag that says spoilers, people can read right. I was going to ask a question about creating a spoilers tag because I didn't see one. – Pobrecita Jun 16 '14 at 23:10
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Personally, I'm pretty anti-spoiler. I avoid questions on this site, since I'm watching the TV series Game of Thrones, and not reading the books. So many questions on the franchise are filled with things that are either spoilers for the TV show, or are details that weren't included in the TV series. I'm not interested in having future twists spoiled, or getting exposed to details that could spoil future events. If The Walking Dead was more prolific on this site, I'd probably avoid those questions too, since that show has a similar situation where the original source material is further along than the TV series.

Having said that, I don't think it's much of a sacrifice to make the question title less clear, so as to not spoil people who browse our site's content via:

  • The Hot Network Questions list
  • The /questions page on this site
  • The site's RSS feed or Newsletter
  • Links to this site via search engines
  • The site's main chat room, which has a feed of the questions posted to it.

Having no spoilers in question titles ensure all of the above are spoiler-free. I recall how in recent months, there were many questions that were posted that contained spoilers in the question title and body without any spoiler tags. The community cleaned each of those up quickly, I am amazed that it's such an issue with this question in particular.

In addition, our policy on spoilers is pretty clear on the subject:

Avoid spoilers completely in the title. This doesn't mean using [REDACTED] or silly things like that, it means coming up with another way to summarise the question.

We have spoiler tags for question and answer bodies, but we have no mechanism for question titles. Just make a vaguer question title, and leave it at that. Search engines index question bodies too, so people who seek the answer will still find it just fine.

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    This spoiler is relatively minor (and years older) compared to many of the others, that might be why it's become such an issue - which is why I brought up the other question in the comments – Izkata Jun 16 '14 at 4:40
  • I agree with you that the current spoiler policy, the fairly consensually upvoted answer by Tony Meyer you linked to and quote from, seems even more appropriate considering HNQ. I don't see how anything has changed, and don't see a need to reexamine the policy. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jun 16 '14 at 7:21
  • A question: At what point is a spoiler no longer worth protecting? Would a question about the end of LotR be problematic? The Wrath of Khan? Episode IV? Episode III? All the above? – Bobson Jun 16 '14 at 19:00
  • This answer seems to be the consensus, so I’m accepting it and we can leave the controversial question unmodified. – alexwlchan Jun 19 '14 at 19:46
  • I've always been on the other side of the spectrum for spoilers. But I do feel that “this character” is only a small step removed from the “silly things” that should be avoided. – user56 Jun 21 '14 at 8:10
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I agree with both sides of the argument in that post. That is, I agree that:

1) On a site where most questions will be directly about or directly dependent on plot elements, the user should beware and expect to encounter spoilers. Sometimes, it's just not avoidable. That said,

2) The person complaining in this particular question was especially upset that they encountered the spoiler in the hot questions sidebar on another Stack Exchange site. I agree with this user that one should not go to a programming site expecting to find spoilers about popular media.

And so as far as this particular site is concerned, I feel that questions should be allowed descriptive titles that don't awkwardly mask spoilers. But at the network level, this needs to be fixed. By the time you learn that you can encounter spoilers in a Stack Overflow sidebar, it's already too late. Old media or not, we should strive where possible and reasonable to allow folks to encounter these things fresh.

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The conflict that arises here came from the Hot Network Questions (HNQ) list. Personally I think the HNQ list is a useful feature, and that we want our questions to appear there.

I’m fairly sure it was introduced earlier this year (2014), after several of the major discussions about out spoiler policy, including those cited in David Mulder’s answer. So the HNQ list wasn’t considered as part of our policy.

Most users of this site (IMO) are aware that spoilers exist, and try to exercise due care when clicking links, reading questions, etc. In the case of older material (such as the Harry Potter books), we’re aware that we might see spoilers in question titles (although spoilers for new media are frowned upon).

But now users who don’t know (or care) about our policy are getting spoilers shown when they read other sites, which is a bad thing.

I think this particular question is better on this site with the spoiler in-title, but better in the HNQ list without. We can’t have two different titles, but I would propose the following:

Our existing policy stands for questions that don't show up anywhere except this site. If a question hits the HNQ list, then we should (temporarily) remove the spoiler from the title to be a good Stack citizen as part of the wider network.

I don’t know of a way to detect a question hitting the HNQ list with our existing tools without just seeing it there (can moderators see this?). But we already get “Most viewed”, “Most commented”, “Most edited” and so on, so perhaps we could add a way to see which of our questions are on the HNQ list, and react appropriately?

I don’t think this would be a huge change to our existing policy, but it’s something we can achieve on-site, without asking our SE overlords to add new features for us.

And as for what constitutes enough of a spoiler to trigger my suggested policy, I don’t know. “I’ll know it when I see it”? But enough people showed up to complain about it this time that I think it would have tripped this policy.

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    I think your idea is good, but I'm having trouble thinking of a way to automate it, and if it isn't automated, we're destined to fail. Maybe there's a way to require questions from this site be placed in a review queue prior to being displayed in HNQ? Maybe during that review process a mod ensures that the title at a minimum is spoiler free and that the question itself is uneditable while in HNQ? – Brian Warshaw Jun 15 '14 at 16:48
  • @BrianWarshaw: I don’t like the idea of forcing it all through the mods, because putting it all on them is unsustainable. A new category in the 10k mod tools is the best I can think of, but there may be better ways to do it. – alexwlchan Jun 15 '14 at 16:57
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    Yeah, that makes sense. Im just wary of manual intervention being necessary to remove something after it hits the list, because that means you end up with a period of time (however small) where the spoiler is still visible from network sites. Your solution is still better than leaving it untouched indefinitely, but we still run the risk that somebody gets unwanted spoilers while visiting a site of unrelated content. And while that doesn't reflect badly on this site, necessarily, it could make folks grow angry with the network as a whole or with the particular site where the spoil happens. – Brian Warshaw Jun 15 '14 at 17:05
  • FWIW, mods have no special tools or knowledge of if/when questions go to the Hot Network Questions list. We have no ability to be particularly helpful there. – user1027 Jun 15 '14 at 20:37
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    Hot network questions have existed for several years. What changed recently is that they used to be accessed through a menu (a tab in the multicollider accessed by the top left “Stack Exchange” button, alongside the inbox and the site list). When the top bar was redesigned, the inbox got its own button and the HNQ moved to the right tab. – user56 Jun 21 '14 at 8:08
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Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but to me, it's really a matter of common sense that being on a detailed Q and A site like SE is rather ASKING to be accidentally spoiled at one turn or another - especially when SE has sites for subject matters like... books, movies, and television shows.

Unless SE completely and explicitly forbids discussions on spoiler-applicable topics (like movies, books, etc) for eternity, there just ARE going to be some spoilers in question titles if only because many of these questions are related to various points of intrigue as applicable to the stories they originate from. Additionally, there will ALWAYS be SOMEONE out here on SE who has NOT read or watched or whatevered the latest whosit and whatsit and as such, even for an old book series like The Lord of the Rings, someone is BOUND to be spoiled 1, 10, even 20+ years later.

In other words, being spoiled here and there is an occupational hazard and that is how I treat the situation myself. I don't enjoy being spoiled, BUT I am NOT going to be up in arms if spoiler-happy questions pop up, either, and I personally don't support the policing of spoilers within question titles - even in the HQN.

Why?

  1. People complain all over SE metas about the lack of quality of the questions.

Forcing people to ask vague-er questions (or editing questions in the HQN to be more vague/less spoiler-happy) to help solve the spoiler problem isn't a positive step in addressing the 'low quality' questions issue. Additionally, encouraging vague question titles/editing question titles in the HQN to be more vague or whatever doesn't set and won't set a good example for new users and even goes against the guidelines of SE.

My own question regarding being reconnected with a book ended up being edited for specifics which I am perfectly fine with because... yeah. I was being too vague in my question title. But from that perspective, to see questions being edited to become more vague really seems to go against the spirit of SE and the community-wide 'be more specific and give lots of details and support your questions and answers' attitude.

  1. SE supports and emphasizes QUALITY of both questions and answers and this includes the inclusion of SPECIFICS.

Engaging in a Q and A session re: a very surprising plot twist in XYZ book or movie that needs some additional puzzling out, research, and/or brainstorming ought to be right up SE's alley in terms of 'quality'. Thing is, how in the world is someone to address this question in a high-quality way without touching on spoilers?

Most of the time, just by saying something like, "How, exactly, did this character die?" or, "How, exactly, does this late reveal of a character's backstory affect ABC?" is enough on its own to be a spoiler.

They're perfectly valid questions to ask and they deal with points of intrigue and mystery that - surprise surprise - could use a little clarification, depending on a person's understanding of the canon of the story world in question.

No spoilers in questions is just silly for that reason.

That is, unless SE wants to ban any and all spoilers AND make it an exception of a sort that question titles here (and in other sites where spoilers might become an issue) are to be vague (and poor in quality according to the rest of SE's standards) if they contain spoilers.

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tl;dr: There is a current problem with the Hot Network Questions showing titles to users who would otherwise wish not to use this site. This problem however is unrelated to the way this site should present it's titles. The current consensus regarding spoilers in titles is that they should be used for works that are not extremely new.

--

Regarding the question of spoilers in the title I will quote the current scifi.SE consensus:

Normally we operate on the assumption that certain things are too popular and old to be mass spoil-able. However, if you feel this isn't popular/old enough. Feel free to edit it yourself.

There are just some things that it is hard to ask about effectively without some small spoilage. We are, after all, a site dedicated to answering questions about plots, and the very nature of this is spoilerific.

Additionally, spoiling may not be the bad thing we've always thought it was.

(Source: DampeS8N on Is it okay to have spoilers in question titles?)

Then we have Is there a moratorium on some spoilers? asking whether spoilers get out of date at a certain point, where the highest voted answer states

It's up to the person asking/answering the question to decide.

And additionally quotes Jeff sharing his personal guideline which seems valuable to consider:

I also take the age of the work into account. [...] With TV shows, I try to spoiler big plot points from the current season, if practical.

Both movies and television are relatively easy [...] Books are a different story, in my opinion. Books don't generate nearly as much buzz upon release, so I tend to spoiler important plot points [...] for quite a while afterwards.

(Source: Tony Meyer on Is there a moratorium on some spoilers?)

Now, disregarding meta.scifi.SE discussions up till now presenting the rationale in favour and against spoilers:

Against

  • Currently popular question titles are broadcasted all over the network, thus forcing it upon people who would otherwise not use this site.

In favour

  • Questions should be searchable.
    • Even on scifi.SE itself when asking a slight paraphrase of this question it did not appear in the suggested question list (all other questions except one contained the word "Dobby" literally in their title and thus ranked higher).
    • Titles are predominantly shown on Google. The idea of SE is different to a forum or traditional Q&A in that it's meant to answer everyone's question, not only the person who first asks it. If questions can't be found or will be badly indexed this point will be lost.
  • A title in general should be representative for a question (that's the point of a title). Exceptions can be made in cases where a work is currently really popular (e.g. current season or e.g. 3 years or so for books). People who hate spoilers that much should not go to a Q&A site as this inherit to the nature of such a site.

Regarding the against rationale I would simply argue the following: This should not affect question titles and instead people who take issue with this should add a feature request regarding the filtering and/or hiding of HNQ on meta.SE and upvote it. This seems like a very valuable addition to the SE network that goes far beyond the issue of spoiler only.

  • For me personally this would work well because I like spoilers. I'm thinking, though, that the majority of users on our site do not feel this way. I'm in the minority on this issue and am going to have to accommodate the site as a spoiler-free zone. Not wanting spoilers isn't a problem on a user's part. We can prevent emotional harm by not posting spoilers, but there will never be a perfect system. Once a spoiler goes up, it cannot be unseen or undone. The onus is on us to be decent human beings and not post spoilers, not on SE to produce some complicated anti-spoiler system. :) – Slytherincess Jun 17 '14 at 22:27
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I agree with avoiding nasty spoilers in question titles ("nasty" being subjective, unfortunately). However, I find some spoiler-free ways of writing titles incredibly annoying and useless.

Some made up examples, though I'm sure you can remember actual examples:

"Why does this happen to this character from Harry Potter?"

"Why do these entities from The Matrix want to extract this thing from these mammals, and does this violate a certain rule of physics?"

I call these the "This Character" kind of questions, and I think they are incredibly useless. They aren't searchable, and it's a kind of pointless Taboo game (say something without mentioning forbidden keywords). The reason is that in a Q&A website, not being able to ask questions clearly runs counter to the format of the site.

So I always favor asking "Dumbledore's fate in Harry Potter and The Magic Broom" instead of "Why does this character die in Harry Potter and The Magic Broom". The first is relatively spoiler-free while mentioning enough keywords to be searchable and meaningful. The latter is pointless.

If you really cannot figure how to ask the question without running into This Character, then maybe the question shouldn't be asked at all; it's so specific that it cannot be asked without spoiling something.

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