On Sec.SE, it is not uncommon for people to flag (and delete) posts that spout conspiracies and do not give a real answer. I came across a question like that here on Crypto.SE and flagged it. The result was "helpful". Later, I came across another answer in the same vein and flagged it as well. That flag was declined, pointing out that flags are not used for incorrect answers. I am curious to know what the difference between the two questions is. To me, it seems like an answer that posts conspiracies fits squarely under "not a real answer", at least if the core of the answer itself is a conspiracy (rather than an off-hand mention of one in an otherwise useful answer). Can someone explain the discrepancy in flagging results? At what point does a such a post deserve flagging?

Twofish vs. Serpent vs. AES (or a combo)
Reason: silly conspiracy nonsense, as well as not being a real answer
Result: helpful

Why was WEP apparently not reviewed by many cryptographers?
Reason: as mentioned in the comments, tinfoil conspiracy nonsense that doesn't answer the actual question
Result: declined - flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

First up: @SEJPM accepted that first flag. resulting in deletion of the answer, while I rejected the other flag when stumbling upon it (which is why @PauUszak's answer is still there). As a result, the answers provided here at Meta happen to represent two different moderator views related to a similar situation (which I think makes this Meta Q rather interesting for the community).

Two things to remember:

  1. Mods should intervene as little as possible… aka we do not decide if a wrong or conspirancy-loaded answer is an answer in the first place — that's the job of the community (they have down votes for that). This is underlined by #2
  2. Flags should not be (ab)used to kill incomplete or altogether wrong answers. Remember the mod flag rejection option that says something along these lines — which OP here points to too. Simply killing a conspiracy- loaded answer feels wrong as this somewhat contradicts what we usually do (and SE expects from us - as mods - in such situations).

    flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

To wrap it up, I disagree with the deletion of the first answer since flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer. The according flag should therefore never have gone through. Users have downvotes to handle such answers and that obviously works perfectly when I look at the downvotes those answers accumulated.

My view is (pun intended) that flags are not to be used to report wrong (or "conspiracy") answers, and handling such wrong flags by accepting them and accordingly deleting Qs or As is… wrong. Doing so seems to contradict SE guidelines, and it also fuels potential conspiracy thoughts — which is anything but constructive for our site.

As we know from the past, fueling conspiracy by abusing flags with the goal to suppress the related Q&As can and will result in weird suspicions targetted at Crypto.SE as a whole. We've been there before. Let's try not to reboot such drama.


Consensus

To get a consensus for us all (which will definitely help moderators to handle things the way the community prefers), please drop your votes here.

  • Heh, I just realized that that link is from the same person who posted the conspiratorial answer. – forest Mar 22 at 18:13
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    @forest Nice to notice you successfully connected those dots. ;) – e-sushi Mar 23 at 1:56
  • Yup. Said user also decided to randomly downvote my otherwise well-received answers (at least according to rep history), so it seems this meta post has not gone unnoticed! – forest Mar 23 at 2:41
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    Note that although I agree with the general consensus it seems that conspiracy theories should not be downvoted, I do note that changing the direction of votes can be next to impossible. There are many demonstratably wrong answers on crypto with next to or even over 100 upvotes on the Stackoverflow sister site; it's good to keep this in mind when browsing answers (although I haven't seen anything that bad over here at crypto. On SO: keep looking for that bold Warning comment that I sometimes drop. – Maarten Bodewes Mar 25 at 16:22
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    What I meant to say is that SE is nowhere near perfect; just relying on upvotes is not always the best idea so readers must keep an open mind. I agree still that there is no reason for mods to interfere with this and I have had flags declined in my earlier years. I.e. there must be a lot of insecure copied code from SO (but what else is new?) – Maarten Bodewes Mar 25 at 16:24
  • @MaartenBodewes Yep. Thank [enter-favorite-deity-here] we're not SO when it comes to that. Anyway, all that stuff is something mods can't (and shouldn't) influence. Mods exist to put out fires and to help when needed, the rest is "democracy" in the hand of voting users (read: community dynamics — with all the ups and downs that tend to come with it). – e-sushi Mar 26 at 3:54

TL;DR: I drew the line at "does the tin-foil hatted answer technically answer the question"?

I handled the first flag and followed its recommendation to remove the answer on the basis that the "answer" didn't actually answer the question. The answer essentially stated "this is an opinion, NSA made AES weak, longer AES keys would be better" which is indeed not an answer to the question

So I'm looking for an up-to-date answer about which of these is the safest encryption to be used, or rather most unbreakable?

Because it doesn't talk about Serpent nor Twofish nor about any combination. The fact that this answer is tinfoil-hatted nonsense didn't lead to deletion itself.

I also saw the the second flag first and brought it up in a private chat with my co-mods because there was a similar earlier flag, which was declined and because the "answer" technically did answer the question. @e-sushi then saw the flag and handled it.

The answer to the second flag essentially states "it was an NSA plot to not have any real cryptographers on the committee", which does technically answer the question "why were there no cryptographers involved".

This case lead me to think that we keep answers that technically answer the question, even though they may not be the most credible and that we leave them to downvotes and self-deletion at the discretion of the poster.

As we all in the mod team seem to have different opinions on how to handle these cases, I have created a Meta Q&A to collect and decide on a more consistent strategy for the future.

  • It doesn't seem like an answer to me. I feel like there's a point when an answer is so conspiratorial that it isn't even an answer. If the answer was "god wills it", would it not be deleted for not answering the question, despite that being technically an answer? – forest Mar 22 at 18:09
  • @forest Right now, it would probably be up to the mod who sees the A first. Depending on that an an answer "god wills it", would stay, would be deleted based on other criteria or would be outright deleted. This is why we have the other Q&A, so we actually have a guideline as to what to do and I think "god wills it" would fall under this guideline. – SEJPM Mar 22 at 19:24

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