55

[Edit: Richard is stepping down. This was NOT the desired outcome, here. At most, I hoped for clarified policies: a learning opportunity, not a blame-and-punishment game. I really hope this question was not a major part of the decision. If it was... I feel unable to ever question mod actions if the reaction against the mod is so heavy.]

Background:

Were the Moon landings faked in Interstellar? has been edited by Moderator @Richard, from "Is there proof that the United States land landed on the moon in Interstellar?" to "were the moon landings faked?"

Richard knew that this would be contentious and misleading, commenting

"I've changed the title. You'll get more upvotes, but with such a provocative header you'll also attract some crazies. Flag anything that looks amiss :-)"

adding

"Per my message above, if you wish to discuss the title, please do so in chat. Further attempts to edit tags into the title will be frowned upon."

Since the only tag on the question was "Interstellar" this second comment was a clear threat of Moderator action to anyone editing the title to mention the word "Interstellar".

After the question hit the HNQ list, the question's OP, @PremierBromanov went to chat (http://chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/24365359#24365359), agreed that the mod-edited title is "misleading", but claimed it "an attention grabber, but in a good way", "good for attracting attention to our SE".

Can we have a definitive, clear ruling? Is it:

  1. Deliberately misleading clickbait for upvotes is OK and encouraged on this SE. The mods commit to defending these;

  2. The above is true, but it's only for the mods to make "lulz"y edits to questions: regular users will still get in trouble if exploiting the system;

  3. Something else? (what?)

[Edit, because I feel it's not very obvious from my probably-overly-provocative phrasing above: I absolutely believe that there was not one iota of malice or ill-intent in Richard's modding there, and that he acted with the interests of the SE in mind. I'm very confident that I'd make many far worse calls in his place.]

  • 6
    I also said "However, the context of the question (being on this SE rather than the space exploration SE or another NON FICTION SE) should make it really obvious that we're not talking about real life." which I think is relevant. – Premier Bromanov Sep 28 '15 at 13:41
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    I'd like to note that the same mod has edited another question to make it clearer and possibly less click-baity, from "Could I fake death to stop being choked?" to "Could I fake death to stop being choked force-choked?". – SQB Sep 28 '15 at 15:00
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    Relevant; scifi.stackexchange.com/posts/68005/revisions – Valorum Sep 28 '15 at 17:38
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    @Richard Relevant to how a mod should handle changes to his edits? Note how I didn't push the issue when the OP objected. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 18:35
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    @Kevin And it is appreciated. Note I was not upset by the edit, but just confused, and reading the comments here only made me more confused. If I'm overridden, and the decision is made (by mods, or by the community), that my title should be edited, that's fine, although I reserve the right to edit to maintain clarity while upholding the intent of the approved changes. For what its worth, I agree my title is deliberately sensational, but the only way I see it being improved would be something like "Which superhero's logo is on this underwear?". – Beofett Sep 28 '15 at 19:07
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    @dewimorgan - I don't take these things personally (/sniffs and goes off to cry in the corner) :-) – Valorum Sep 30 '15 at 7:57
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    Nobody's edited Does the Starship Troopers movie take place in an alternate future where the Nazis won? to "Did the Nazis win?" yet? Gotta get those tags out of the title. – Josh Caswell Sep 30 '15 at 19:58
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    Ironically, this has a clickbait title that should read "Do Sci-fi questions have the same standard as other SE sites?" – corsiKa Oct 1 '15 at 19:41
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    Clearly, you guys have never been to Arqade. – Chase Sandmann Oct 1 '15 at 21:20
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    -1 for click-baiting me. Crappy titles are the worst. – Mazura Oct 3 '15 at 1:49
  • @ChaseSandmann that was my first thought when I saw the title change, even before this thread was created. – LindaJeanne Oct 3 '15 at 15:24
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    Do poor standards on other SEs mean we should emulate them? – Dewi Morgan Oct 3 '15 at 18:06
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    The title of this post should be "Top 10 Reasons NOT to allow clickbait. You won't believe #6!" – JDB Oct 12 '15 at 1:32
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    Personally, I don't have an issue with clickbait titles, as long as it's not blatantly misleading. For instance, I would be fine with getting a site on building a CRT from scratch when the link says "Build a particle accelerator in a weekend". – Daniel Feb 25 '16 at 22:58
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    Also putting this here: Spock's wardrobe malfunction – Möoz Feb 9 '17 at 22:21
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Every community in the Stack Exchange network has a single objective: create the world's highest quality, most complete archive of information in whatever topic the site is about. The quality and integrity of the information compiled by this community is the reason this site is here.

Titles should be optimized for clarity, ease of understanding and accuracy. Not for catching eyeballs.

There are lots of places on the 'net where you can go to practice getting the maximum response possible from passersby, but that's not what Stack Exchange sites are for. They're for building a body of specialized, expert knowledge. This is consistent whether we're talking about SciFi & Fantasy SE, or Physics SE, or Stack Overflow.

Ultimately, as much as our unofficial motto is "We hate fun", we are one of the minority of SE sites that is purely recreational...we don't solve pressing, real-life problems. With that in mind, I don't think a little silliness is a bad thing at all.

This is true. Except fun isn't the goal unto itself here. It's a happy byproduct, and shouldn't be sought at the expense of the site's primary purpose.

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    Why is SFF being treated differently from Arquade as far as applying this rule? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 2 '15 at 13:58
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    @DVK Do Arquade's mods edit out "in X" from titles? I just went and looked, and there are plenty of "in X" their titles. There are a few potentially ambiguous titles ("What changes when I build a nuclear weapon?", "how do I get a perfect town?") but I'd argue they aren't ambiguous on the same scale, and none were made that way by a mod, no clarifying edits have been reverted by mods, and I'd bet no comments about their unclarity have been deleted by mods. We can clarify those posts without threat of admin action. – Dewi Morgan Oct 3 '15 at 5:27
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    Oh but this one's a beaut... gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/238114/… – Dewi Morgan Oct 3 '15 at 9:04
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    @DewiMorgan - trust me, that's far from the best one. I think they have a full list someplace, curated. Frankly, I'd be far more sympathetic to the brouhaha over Richard's admin action if far worse actions by other mods on this site weren't fully ignored. By comparison, Richard didn't do anything majorly objectionable, even if on absolute scale I disagree with some of his approach here. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 4 '15 at 14:08
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    @DVK I'd call out those other instances you speak of, too, if I saw 'em. I am uninvolved in the SE adminning subculture, so can only call out those I encounter. Things don't get better by saying "Well, OK, I disagree with some of this, but I'm sure I can find worse examples." Taken to extremes, you can always Godwin any complaint: that doesn't make any complaint invalid, though. As a programmer, I record all bugs, and deal with the highest priority ones first. I wouldn't NOT record a bug just because it's not a priority-1. – Dewi Morgan Oct 5 '15 at 19:05
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    @DVK Bit of a necro, but since no one seems to have posted the link in this thread, and you have a point about it being relevant here, meta.gaming.stackexchange.com/a/2196/99431 is Arqade's semi-official list of their best/worst question titles. – Ixrec Jan 3 '16 at 18:34
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    My chiming in didn't seem particularly helpful a few months back but, since Ixrec revived the thread...@DVK if there are issues with actions any mod has taken, always let a Community Manager know. We promise to at least look into it, thoroughly. That's one of the things we're here for. – Ana Jan 7 '16 at 15:58
27

Personally, I reckon:

  • This is SE, not a clickbait site like Buzzfeed.
  • Titles should be as clear and searchable as possible.
  • Clickworthiness is no valid criterion for question quality.
  • There's no rule against tag info in titles.
  • There's no such thing as "misleading in a good way". Misleading is bad, always.
  • The amended title is deliberately, consciously bad.
  • Bad titles cause off-topic arguments, comment deletions, reversions, and upset users.
  • Bad titles should be fixable without fear or threats of admin retribution.
  • When a clickbait title gets to the HNQ list, it makes this look like the /b/ of SE.
  • Clickbait cheapens upvotes, and cheats those who post proper content.
  • The amended title has twice been good-faith fixed by editors of far higher rep than I: @Gilles and @lightness-races-in-orbit - would likely have been more, but Richard put the threat in.

I do not feel that either option 1 or option 2 good options, as I do not feel that Mod-defended clickbait titles are good options.

The only good option 3 I can think of is a promise not to do it again, and a removal of mod-protection and threats from the bad question title.

[Edit: Interesting! I see comments questioning whether what appears to me to be an obvious threat, actually was not a threat.

Could this be a regional thing? Because it was that threat -- a mod menacing the community against changes to his pet edit -- that really raised my hackles. Without it, I'd just have shrugged and moved on.

The phrase "will be reverted" would not have been as menacing a threat, and would be essentially the same as locking the topic. But the vague and unrestricted "will be frowned upon", from a mod, IS a clear threat of moderator action above and beyond mere reverting. Not sure how this is even questioned.

If my boss said "any employee doing X will be frowned on", I don't think anyone would reasonably claim that meant that if I do X, I will merely be scowled at as the boss undoes X.

This might be a regional thing, though? **/edit]

[Edit2**: this seemed an interesting enough possibility that I took it off to it's own question on English Stack Exchange

I've noticed in discussions about authority statements that in-group people are often blind to official-voice and threats aimed at out-groupers, because they can't feel the chilling effect. /edit]

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    "There's no rule against tag info in titles." Well, there is one rule around that. You can't just put '[interstellar]', it has to fit naturally into the title. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 12:50
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    the rule is more than just "has to fit naturally", IMO. It has to fit naturally and be necessary to make the title readable. In particular, just adding "in TagName" at the end of a title is specifically called out on meta.se as bad practice – KutuluMike Sep 28 '15 at 13:13
  • I'm not sure how Richard's comment constitutes a "threat", or how his actions can be considered "admin retribution." All he's done (or promised to do) is roll back some edits that he doesn't feel are useful (and which we are now discussing on Meta, which is the way things are supposed to work), and probably scowled at his computer screen a lot. I don't see a threat there – Jason Baker Sep 28 '15 at 14:35
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    @JasonBaker - There was a vanishingly small amount of scowling. – Valorum Sep 28 '15 at 14:58
  • Didn't even use his mod voice either – Premier Bromanov Sep 28 '15 at 15:55
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    @MikeEdenfield "in tagname" is perfectly fine for clarification if the title is otherwise too vague. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:08
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    Richard did use his mod voice, and it looked to me like he was using mod powers to have the final say. Even if he didn't, it looked like he did, and the appearance of fairness is as important as fairness itself. Also, I agree that misleading titles are never good (and Richard knew his edit was slightly misleading, likely to "attract some crazies"). I fail to see any redeeming value in the title edit, and I must agree with this answer. – Andres F. Sep 28 '15 at 23:13
  • Interesting that some are seeing "mod voice" and others not. Edited answer to suggest possible regional difference in meaning? I've experienced other regional differences in meaning with the word "frown", after all. – Dewi Morgan Sep 29 '15 at 1:12
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    @DewiMorgan I'm not sure what part of the world you're from, but in my experience (in Canada) a behaviour being "frowned upon" just means it's discouraged; it's not intended to suggest any kind of retaliatory behaviour, just another way of saying "you should not do that thing" – Jason Baker Sep 29 '15 at 1:28
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    @JasonBaker My memory may deceive me, and I have no patience to search the chat logs now (if Richard's original comment is even there), but I think it was worded more strongly than just being "frowned upon". – Andres F. Sep 29 '15 at 1:40
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    I also can't speak of chat. @JasonBaker It's clear that you are parsing "frowned upon" very differently indeed from the way I am, and that may be relevant. So, in Canada, how would you interpret a boss saying "anyone doing X will be frowned upon"? Does that mean you are freely permitted to do it, and that there will be no repercussions? – Dewi Morgan Sep 29 '15 at 1:56
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    @DewiMorgan I would say the implication would be somewhere between the two extremes; that the behaviour is bad enough that it's not desired, but not bad enough to warrant any real recrimination, unless you consider being frowned at to be real recrimination. I suppose it could have a more threatening implication, depending on the non-verbal context clues, but in a text-only situation it's generally one of the less-threatening ways of expressing displeasure – Jason Baker Sep 29 '15 at 12:16
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    @JasonBaker and there's the difference. If a person in power says in neutral tone "I will kill you if you do X", that comes across as a LESSER threat than "I will frown upon you if you do X" in the same neutral tone. And I think this - the power of understatement - is a thing which may vary regionally. – Dewi Morgan Sep 30 '15 at 6:45
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    @hobbs: Not sure which of the two beliefs you're speaking of as being "insane" to believe. To me, it seems almost beyond belief that one could interpret "be frowned upon" to be a literal description of the probable outcome, from someone in power. But I'm willing to believe that there may be regions which do not use understatement for emphasis in this way. – Dewi Morgan Sep 30 '15 at 6:48
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    @DewiMorgan this spinoff is pretty interesting, linguistically - like you, I would interpret that statement as threatening, especially coming from someone in power - who acts, even if the action (edits) are minor. A joke would have to be spelled out, and nonverbal doesn't work on a screen, so - "frown in your general direction", or "will be frowned at pointedly" or the "vanishingly small amount of scowling" from above. I might think it cultural rather than regional, the power of understatement. Something about direct or indirect speech, or high vs low context for power or fear. Not sure. – Megha Dec 21 '15 at 22:24
14

Disclaimer: I'm far from a regular visitor here.

I saw this question in the HNQ, and my interest was piqued, so I clicked on it. I imagined a Skeptics-style question, but in different context, but not so narrow as just Interstellar. On second thought, perhaps what I imagined as being asked would be more suited to World Building.

And then I saw it was about Interstellar. I felt deceived. I did go on to read the post and answers, but that title had annoyed me sufficiently that I didn't spend time voting. Yeah, not a big loss, given that I have made only 14 votes in total here.

It is acceptable that titles mean different things in the context of different sites. But this title was committing a lie of omission. Even knowing that the question is on Science Fiction and Fantasy does nothing to show that this question is about Interstellar specifically. Had it mentioned "in Interstellar" in the title as it does now, I would have remembered Cooper's dialogue with the teacher, and shrugged it off as yet another easy question going hot.

This title was clickbait. I don't need clickbait to visit this site. It's better than that.

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    FWIW, (1) This seems far more of an issue with SE hot-list design (unlike other means of vieweing a question, a top tag isn't automatically added to the title). (2) This is a well established practice on other network sites, especially Arquade. The goal isn't clickbait, it's increasing enjoyment of site community. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 2 '15 at 13:57
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    @DVK yes, a regular would have known. To non-regulars, it is clickbait. I have never visited Arqade. – muru Oct 2 '15 at 14:08
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    But that still disregards the point that it makes no sense for every question on this site to have "in <sff work>" in the title. Arqade is only mentioned because it has the same problem with "in <game>" instead. If this is misleading in HNQ, then fix HNQ to reflect how it should appear. We shouldn't have to add extraneous information to every title just to make the HNQ view look right. Note that this question wouldn't really fit Worldbuilding regardless. Perhaps "How would we have faked the moon landings?" but not did we. – Brythan Oct 4 '15 at 13:50
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    @Brythan And I suppose the question titles that get added automatically when you use links in answers should also get tags prepended? It doesn't have to be every question. If I ask, "Did R. Daneel Olivaw do X?", there's sufficient information to work out which body of work I am referring to without having to say, ".. in Asimov's novels?" (granted Daneel has appeared in other works). But if I asked, "Did a nuclear apocalypse really happen?" - that could apply to any number of works. Having clarifying information right in the title helps: "... in the Planet of the Apes?" – muru Oct 4 '15 at 13:55
  • What if it's Elijah Bailey instead? His name is more typical. Does it need "in Asimov's novels"? Or should "Why did Harry Potter win the Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award?" get a "in the real world" to differentiate that Harry Potter from the fictional one? Or what about "How did Jack Ryan become Vice-President?" If the real life Jack Ryan were to become VP would the answer change? – Brythan Oct 4 '15 at 14:05
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    @Brythan since this is Science Fiction and Fantasy, perhaps you could bring in better examples than real-life vs fictional characters? Or come to Science Fiction & Fantasy Chat. – muru Oct 4 '15 at 14:07
12

From what I can see, you really have two separate concerns:

  • Should question titles be "clickbait-y", with an eye towards improving view/vote count?
  • Richard's conduct

I have thoughts on each of these, but I'll handle them separately.

Clickbait titles

I don't see a problem with this; askers are welcome to choose whatever title they want (within reason). If an asker wants their question title to be in some way light-hearted, that's their prerogative and I see no reason to prevent them.

Likewise, I don't see a problem with users editing question titles to make them humorous. One of the few general pieces of guidance on the "edit" privilege is to improve the post. If the OP disagrees with the new title, they are welcome to revert it or make further changes; although strictly speaking all content on the SE network belongs to the community, we do generally respect the sovereignty of post ownership, unless there's a compelling reason not to. I don't think a funny question title is worth arguing over.

Another issue to consider is how we would police this. What is the standard for "too clickbaity"? Quickly skimming the list of top-voted questions, I can see a bunch that might be considered clickbait:

And on and on and on.

Every single one of those question titles accurately describes the question. So which ones are too "clickbaity"? Why? What would you change them to?

There's no reason we couldn't do implement a policy like this, but I don't think the administrative overhead is worth whatever questionable benefit would come out of it.

Ultimately, as much as our unofficial motto is "We hate fun", we are one of the minority of SE sites that is purely recreational; with a few exceptions, we don't solve pressing, real-life problems. With that in mind, I don't think a little silliness is a bad thing at all.

Richard

I'm not going to say I've always agreed with Richard's moderation decisions, and I think this is one of those times things could have been handled more tactfully, but on the balance I don't think his actions were that bad.

As I said above, one of the few pieces of guidance we're given on what constitutes an "appropriate edit" is that we improve the post in some way. Richard's comment (quoted in part below) would suggest that he believes this was an improvement:

You'll get more upvotes, but with such a provocative header you'll also attract some crazies.

It's worth noting that none of the further edits to the title substantially changed it. The only change that was made, by both two subsequent users, was to clarify in the title that the question was about the movie Interstellar.

Personally I'm not a fan of edit wars; I find them unproductive. If I make an edit and somebody else undoes it, I prefer to let it lie in most cases. But in this case, I don't have much of a problem with the edit. Although tags in titles isn't something we have a hard-and-fast rule about, personally I'm opposed to it. It seems silly to include that information in the title when, in many situations it will be put there anyway.

The main exception to that rule is the HNQ list, which puts question titles beside site logos, devoid of other context. That's a problem, but I don't think we should be basing policies around one feature of the network.


1 Disclaimer: I have the top-voted (and only) answer on this question

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    I disagree with your categorization of most of those as clickbait. Most of them are a completely accurate description what the question is asking; if someone clicked on them from HNQ, they'd get exactly what they expected. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 14:39
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    @JasonBaker They may be provocative questions, but the titles are exactly correct. The problem here is about accuracy. The issue is with titles is crafted to get views, not to describe the question. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 15:03
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    And to be honest, most of these questions you listed aren't particularly provocative or clickbait-y anyway. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 15:05
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    @Kevin Sure, but I don't think "Were the moon landings faked?" is inaccurate either. Yes, it's clearly designed to get views, but it also accurately describes the question. Are we concerned that people will see this question and get us confused for Skeptics.SE? That doesn't seem like a reasonable fear, to my mind – Jason Baker Sep 28 '15 at 15:30
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    @JasonBaker while not technically inaccurate, the title was edited explicitly to make it less precise so people would have to click on it to see what it was actually asking about. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 15:55
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    @JasonBaker Existing vagueness in titles shouldn't be taken as a policy that we edit titles to be more vague. If you see titles that can be improved, well, that's why you have the edit privilege. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:28
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    @JasonBaker questions in the "related" sidebar are also devoid of context, beyond that a not-particularly-advanced search engine thought it might be related. And if we're deliberately designing (poor) titles for HNQ, why wouldn't we take HNQ into account when determining policy around that practice? – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:40
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    @JasonBaker being designed for HNQ isn't bad per se. The problem is when perfectly good titles are edited to be poor and attempts to fix it are rolled back and rejected. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:56
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    I must agree with most of @Kevin's comments here, and must disagree with this answer. A couple of comments: "Who gave life to the dragons" isn't like "Were the moon landings faked" -- no-one, not even the crazies, will consider even for a minute someone is asking about real-life dragons. Similarly, most of the other questions don't seem even remotely clickbaity or crazy-attracting. – Andres F. Sep 28 '15 at 23:17
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    Also, I find all these memes like "Richard is wrong" or whatever seriously off-putting. I like scifi.se and I like participating/reading it, but I have no interest AT ALL in taking part of the "extended community" or spending too much time in chat or wherever you guys hang out all the time. Obviously, this means I'm unfamiliar -- and not at all interested -- in these memes. I think when discussing policy they should be left out, since they are not interesting to users like me, and only add noise as well as the faint notion that there is some kind of clique here. No offense meant. – Andres F. Sep 28 '15 at 23:20
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    (Another example of something I find cliquey and off-putting is when you guys are joking in chat and decide to ask a silly and obviously close-worthy question, and you know nothing serious will happen to the guy asking it because he is "one of the guys" -- aka 'Richard made me ask this!' -- whereas if it was a newbie, they would get their question closed, downvoted and deleted pronto, and in no friendly terms) – Andres F. Sep 28 '15 at 23:23
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    Here's the thing: unless I am a "crazy" (arguably not improbable, as I did write this question), the question misleads more than just the "crazies", and that term seems to be an effort at poisoning-the-well. Personally, I clicked the clickbait in the hopes of seeing some great and educational answers, the kind of well-researched conspiracy-squishing responses that legitimate questions on the moon landings often get. And instead, I found it was a mod clowning about on a question about a series I have no interest in, then threatening people who tried to fix it. Bait-and-switch is poor UX. – Dewi Morgan Sep 29 '15 at 1:27
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    Until I saw the question, I'd not noticed Richard before, and I was unaware of his alleged reputation of being consistently poor at the job until I read your answer here. Mentioning that seems like an effort to belittle the problem, trying to show me just piling on some meme, rather than legitimately questioning some real "WTF" mod actions. Also, since clarifying the question was about Interstellar is *the exact core of the problem here", subsequent title edits absolutely "substantially changed it". – Dewi Morgan Sep 29 '15 at 1:41
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    @Jason: The question was featured part of the HNQ feed, and the majority of readers of the question would be coming in through that avenue, as I was. – Dewi Morgan Sep 29 '15 at 1:43
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    @DewiMorgan My joke was not directed towards you or your complaint, but part of a general trend of good-natured ribbing towards Richard. I can see that my humour has distracted from the point, though, so I've removed it. If your issue (with the question title, not necessarily the resulting edit war) is that it wasn't sufficiently obvious that it was based on a work of fiction, I think that points to insufficient context in the HNQ list, and I'm opposed to making policy decisions around the limitations of our tools – Jason Baker Sep 29 '15 at 12:23
10

I think there are quite a few misconceptions around your question, so lets get to them:

  1. Your assertion that the title it "clickbait" is misleading. The generally accepted meaning of "clickbait" is a title that is designed to attract attention to a post at the expense of quality or accuracy. There was nothing inaccurate or low-quality about the post in question.
  2. The original title of the post did not mention Interstellar at all. The OP only added that in after prompting from well-meaning but, IMO, misguided commenters that he should. All @Richard did was revert the title to something much close to the OP's original goal.
  3. The OP's opinion was more than just "provocative == good". He specifically agreed with the assertion (which I also made) that this is a science fiction site. Any question asked here is implicitly about a fictional universe and should be read in that context.
  4. There's nothing against the rules about catchy or provocative titles, and certainly no rule that we need to go around fixing them.
  5. There is, however, a general policy that you don't try to force tag names into question titles just to "clarify" them. If the title is unreadable without the tag name, that's fine, but making an edit to a perfectly legitimate title just to add tag names is not something I agree with.
  6. Richard's threat was not merely "don't do this thing I disagree with." His threat was "this question is in dispute, stop editing it until we get the matter resolved".

Having cleared some of that up, are there really any issues here? There's a few things to look at:

Provocative Titles

IMO there's nothing at all wrong with provocative titles. If there is, someone should probably tell Arqade about it. They've got a long history of clever or unusual titles that make no sense out of context.

The cruz of the issue here, of course, is the Hot Network Questions list. That is the one place were titles appear almost entirely devoid of context (on Google, the tags are auto-inserted into search results, for example). And IMO, that's a flaw in the HNQ's that we shouldn't start making policy to fix.

Even without any other context, the site's logo is right there: it's a SciFi question, of course it's going to be about some science fiction book/movie/TV show.

The goal of writing good question titles is to attract attention. Once you have that attention, the goal of writing good question bodies is to keep that attention. As long as your title is not misleading* or offensive, I see no reason why it can't be amusing, intriguing, provocative, or whatever other technique you feel like using to get attention.

Richard's Actions

Had Richard merely asserted, by fiat, that he was right and you were wrong, apart from being business as usual for us, it would have probably been inappropriate. However, that was not the sequence of events.

The question was edited by a user to add the tag Interstellar into the title, because that user found the title "nonsense sensational attention-seeking". Aside from the personal judgement over whether this was an accurate assessment or not, there was a genuine dispute over whether this change "improved the question" or not. As such, the edit was rolled back. Another user came along later and made the same edit again.

At this point, the question was in danger of starting an edit war, so @Richard did the correct thing: reverted the last, controversial edit, opened a discussion on the topic, and pointed people to it. He also made clear that any attempts to edit the question in the meantime would be considered vandalism.

As far as I know, that's entirely appropriate action to be taken in case of an edit war. The only way the behavior could have gone badly, if is the decision had gone the other way and he had refuse to allow it. That's not what happened, though, so I see no evidence of abusive moderator behavior.

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    "... at the expense of quality or accuracy" the edited title is definitely less accurate and lower quality than most of the other titles on that question. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 15:13
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    "IMO, misguided commenters" Why do you think they were misguided? The original title doesn't say which universe, and it greatly improves the title to specify that. His second title was much better. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 15:15
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    @Kevin the quality or accuracy I was referring to was that of the post title relative to the post content... "clickbait" is generally used to mean "write a provocative title to get people to read an otherwise crappy post that has little to do with the title." The title clearly and accurately described exactly what was in the body of the question. – KutuluMike Sep 28 '15 at 15:19
  • also, I didn't see most of the comments before they were deleted, but what I did see were all people warning the OP "your title is going to attract people who think you're a moon landing hoaxer, you should change it." Since that's not what the question was about, I didn't think that was a good reason to change the title, so I consider that advice to be misguided. IMO. – KutuluMike Sep 28 '15 at 15:20
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    the comments were about Richard's clickbait title, not the OP's. And looking them over, there's no comments telling the OP he should add the movie title. Richard overrode the OP's own edit made before any comments were left on the question. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:06
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    Re: 3, sure, anything here should be about SciFi. But (1) people don't always check the site before clicking on HNQ; and (2) you should be able to tell which work/universe/author is under discussion without clicking through and reading it. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:13
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    Re: 4, there's nothing against provocative titles per se, but we (mods especially) shouldn't go making titles less descriptive just to get clicks. And there's definitely nothing wrong with improving titles even (especially) if it makes it less clickbait. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:16
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    Re: 5, note the second answer, especially "I would like to emphasize for those who are editing questions to remove tags from the titles that there is nothing wrong with including words used as tags in the title when they make the question clearer." And LRiO's title in particular sounded perfectly natural. We don't force tags into the title, but there's nothing wrong even with "in <work>" if it makes the question more clear. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:19
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    And about Richard, given that the whole todo was about his actions, he should have brought in another mod to deal with it instead of just forcing his title on the question. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 16:22
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    @kevin - I did. My original edit was flagged as not being appropriate. Another mod cleared that flag. – Valorum Sep 28 '15 at 17:06
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    @Richard Yes, after you rolled his edit back. And you rolled back another edit and rejected a suggested one after that. When you're involved like that, just stay out of it. – Kevin Sep 28 '15 at 17:15
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    I must agree with @Kevin here. If a mod is involved in an edit-war (and there is no clear policy they should be definitely enforcing), they must stay out of it. Otherwise it looks like using mod powers to have the final say. At least that's the vibe I got from this whole deal. – Andres F. Sep 28 '15 at 23:28
  • I agree about the "don't mod your own work" thing, but in the spirit of devil's advocacy: if a mod takes an action, and another mod then enforces it... wouldn't that then open them to accusations of "ganging up"? Is it just inevitable that mods will, by doing their job correctly, sometimes seem "heavy handed" or "biased", no matter how perfectly they try to approach an issue? – Dewi Morgan Sep 30 '15 at 6:17
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    For the Meta Stack Exchange post linked, one should also read the answer right below it: meta.stackexchange.com/a/179969/270345 – muru Oct 6 '15 at 9:46
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I think this question is kinda loaded, since I don't consider the title to be click-bait and only "misleading" as a sunday newspaper comic joke. That is to say, it's a slight misdirection, in that your first reaction to such a statement is to say "WELL OF COURSE WE LANDED ON THE MOON". This title plays on reactions, but isn't lying to anyone. The context is available to anyone that takes a single second to find out which stack exchange the question is on (Sci-fi) and what the question is about (Interstellar).

Can the title utilize "in Interstellar"? Sure. Does it need to? I don't think it needs to.

To me, this is less about titles and more about the fact that Richard edited my title to something more compelling, but also more concise. Something a lot of people saw as "clickbait". I think Richard knew this would happen, and so tried to nip the edit war in the bud. As the OP, I appreciate this. I don't like edit wars on my stuff. No one does. Since the sovereignty of ownership is generally respected, had I actually been online I don't think much of this discussion would have happened. In fact, when Richard edited it I saw the edit and had the opportunity to revert it, but I didn't. So really, all that's left here is to question Richard's mod decisions, not the title editing. And I think, again, that he forsaw the edit war and nipped it in the bud.

Regarding your actual question: 3)

There's an element of personal creativity that is and should be allowed on every stack exchange, especially one about fiction. Users are free to use whatever words they like, so long as the question's content is clear and it follows other guidelines. Users are human beings, after all, and constructing your title is as important here as it is with any story, article, document, movie, etc etc. There's nothing wrong with attention grabbing titles so long as it isn't lying and it is accurate to the question. It's actually a great strategy to make your question stand out, especially if you believe it's a good one.

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    I find it disturbing that Richard (who I normally consider a good user) decided to "nip the edit war in the bud" when he was one of the participants in said edit war. That lowers the seemingly altruistic peace-keeping side of it, and looks instead like a moderator abusing his powers in order to have the final say. It would have been different if another moderator had chosen to block the title edits. – Andres F. Sep 28 '15 at 23:08
  • As other users have noted, the edits were rolled back to the title that had no controversy surrounding it. There was no "interstellar" in the title before Richards edit or in his edit either. It was the subsequent controversy that surrounded the editing that required he lock it down while we figure(d) out what to do with it. – Premier Bromanov Sep 29 '15 at 1:12
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    I don't understand what you mean. Unless I'm reading the edit logs incorrectly (which is possible!), I see Richard rolling back every attempt to place "Interstellar" in the title, including your first edit of the title. Note I also consider your first title, "in-universe", perfectly acceptable and non-clickbaity. – Andres F. Sep 29 '15 at 1:33
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    perfectly acceptable, sure, but attention grabbing no. I think the title as is is perfectly acceptable. I think the only problem is the way Richard handled it, which I'm inclined to begin to believe that it was less than desirable, though not as bad as everyone is making it out to be. That is to say, I think his heart was in the right place, he just handled it rather poorly. Happens. It probably wouldn't have been mentioned if not for the title itself. The perfect storm! I don't think this much attention (ironically) is due to the title or Richard separately, but they're together so here we ar – Premier Bromanov Sep 29 '15 at 14:27
  • I agree: I absolutely believe that there was not one iota of malice or ill-intent in Richard's modding, there, and that he acted with the interests of the SE in mind. I personally feel that he made a poor call, hence this question. But, would I have made a better call, in his place? HELL NO! If anything, my post here proves that: the aggressive phrasing of my question would be ridiculously heavyhanded and awful from a mod, and I'm just lucky people took it in the spirit intended, rather than as aggressive trolling. – Dewi Morgan Sep 30 '15 at 6:28
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(I feel like my answer is more like a long comment, but I wasn't sure which of the other answers it would fit on.)

I think "Were the moon landings faked?" is misleading and it would be better if the title made it clear the question is talking about moon landings as depicted in a movie.

It's misleading because moon landings really happened (or were really faked...), so when you see just the title it's not clear the question is about a work of fiction.

There's a comparison in a comment to a question about dragons where the title doesn't specify which work of fiction it's about, but in that case it's clear that it's about some work of fiction.

Also, since discussion of real-world explanations for things that happen in an SF&F world are off-topic, I think a title that looks like it's asking about a real-world event is undesirable.

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    Nicely put. Spot-on regarding dragons vs moon landings. – DCShannon Sep 28 '15 at 23:00
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    +1 Fully agreed. The dragon thing was definitely a bad comparison. Most of the other supposedly "clickbaity" examples looked fine to me. And indeed, we do have cases of people trying to ask off-topic questions about real-world explanations, and the title as worded after the edit certainly looked like one of them. – Andres F. Sep 28 '15 at 23:30
  • I thought the SE and the tag were fairly good indicators it was about fiction as well – Premier Bromanov Sep 29 '15 at 1:11
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    @TomSterkenburg You'd be surprised. We get questions about actual real-world explanations, including about physics, from time to time. These are off-topic. When I saw the title "Were the moon landings faked", I noticed it was tagged [interstellar], but I still was sure I was going to have to VTC as off-topic. Then I read the actual question and saw it was on-topic, at which point I was annoyed at Richard's edit. – Andres F. Sep 29 '15 at 1:36
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Clickbait is a lot like jalapeños. It's good in controlled amounts.

Downvote me all you like - serial downvotes will be reversed. I like a healthy amount of clickbait in my *.SE diet. I love a good laugh. If a title writer is clever enough to come up with a good clickbait title, he deseves my upvote. It just shouldn't become everything.

  • I actually like this attitude best. Neither prohibitionism nor clickbait are generally helpful; but it makes sense not to have restrictive rules against something, unless the something becomes a common enough problem that it needs addressing. – Dewi Morgan Feb 26 '16 at 15:01

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