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Recently, I flagged a two word answer from 2015. OP was asking how we know a cryptographic primitive is secure, and the answer contained exactly two words. In fact, the answer was so short that hidden MathJax had to be added to keep the system from rejecting it! The answer contained nothing but:

We don't.

While my flag was marked as helpful, no action was taken and the answer still remains. I imagine this is because the question had hit HNQ and such a "cute" answer got plenty of upvotes. However this is sending a bad signal as to the quality of the site. Is a two word answer really acceptable on this site?

Even OP had commented on it, calling it out as completely useless:

I just think it would be better if there was an argument, not just a two word answer. I get the impression that yyyyyyy was taking the mick. That's fine, but it ends up taking the mick out of not just the question, but the website and of you, because you think it's acceptable to post two words and add {}{}{}{} to pad the answer so it would be long enough to post and then get a gazillion votes because a lot of people don't want quality from an answer. I would expect this from Reddit.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree that this answer is too short. There are multiple indications, e.g. other answers trying to substantiate the claim. What does count for it is that the question seems to assume that e.g. EC crypto is safe and won't suddenly fail. This assumption is wrong, and this is indicated very sparsely in the answer. This is also likely the reason for the many upvotes. $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Feb 26 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ @MaartenBodewes Then shouldn't the answer specify that? As it is, it's so useless that even OP was upset about it and compared our fine site to Reddit. I mean, it's not as bad as comparing it with Yahoo! Answers, but still... it shows that the answer had no effort put into it and was of no use. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 1:26
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    $\begingroup$ We definitely can't be outclassed by Reddit. That would be the most undignified travesty! $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Feb 26 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ As an FYI: I handled the flag, didn't remove due to the precedent of a previous NAA flag having been declined back then and because this A technically answers the question (in my mind at least) and marked as helpful because it made me look and think and thus it was "helpful" whereas "decline" should be reserved for actually bad flags without any merit. (This comment is meant as an FYI, this Meta Q&A will probably override my previous decision) $\endgroup$ – SEJPM Feb 26 at 11:36
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    $\begingroup$ @SEJPM I understand, and the issue I see is not that it was marked as helpful without any action taken, but that no action was taken period, regardless of how the flag itself was handled. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 27 at 2:45
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I'd propose another solution: lock the answer. This is often done for questions that are historically significant and popular, but don't meet guidelines in the present day.

I'd also recommend either editing in, or deleting the existing comments and adding as a comment, a notice along the lines of the historical significance notice for questions:

Moderator note: This answer exists for historical significance, but it does not meet the guidelines for answering questions, so please do not use it as evidence that you can post similar answers here. This answer and its comments are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: meta.

(Note that while the system prompts mods to add a notice while locking, e.g. "content dispute", "offtopic comments", etc., the notice can be manually removed without unlocking the post.)

According to the FAQ on Meta Stack Exchange:

What is the purpose of a historical lock?

A historical lock preserves content that was very popular when it was originally posted, but is now off-topic or otherwise out of scope for the site it is posted on. Historically locking a post ends the debate over whether a question should be kept on the site or deleted.

While this post is an answer, not a question, I think the same gist applies here.


FWIW: I also flagged the answer, and it was also deemed helpful without any action.

Also, since the system is quick to identify me as a "new contributor", I should explain that I'm a mainly Meta Stack Exchange user who occasionally gets involved in per-site meta discussions, if I feel I can contribute something.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think a historical lock is the best idea because the answer did not adhere to site guidelines even when it was first posted. Remember, this was only 2015. Historical lock is usually used to prevent mass-deletion when rules change and posts that were acceptable no longer are, but that post was never acceptable. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 7:07
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    $\begingroup$ @forest Which part of the guidelines specifically does it not adhere to? It answers the question as posed and the guidelines specifically mention that "Brevity is acceptable". $\endgroup$ – Maeher Feb 26 at 10:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Maeher Brevity may be acceptable, but posting content that is so short that you have to game the system in order to allow it to be posted at all is questionable. $\endgroup$ – Ella Rose Feb 26 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ @EllaRose That some stack exchange developer at some point arbitrarily decided what the minimum length of an answer should be hardly seems like a good argument to me. $\endgroup$ – Maeher Feb 26 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ Although I personally disagree with this answer, I've marked it as accepted as this solution was the one which was implemented. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 27 at 9:57
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Solution

Include a post notice that says the following:

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

This is a built-in/pre-written notice that can be attached to appropriate answers

Problem(s)

None that I recognize - please comment if you see a problem with this solution

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this solution since it gives the answerer a notice that the post is not acceptable in its current form without startling them with deletion out of the blue. It also makes it possible to delete the answer later if necessary. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 2:01
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    $\begingroup$ I proposed an alternate solution to lock the answer, and either edit in or add as a comment a custom notice similar to the "historical lock" notice for questions. $\endgroup$ – gparyani Feb 26 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ This notice, when used on answers, is intended to be used when an answer can reasonably be edited quickly with additional context. It was originally designed for questions which are constantly receiving very terse answers. This isn't the case here, so I'm against this idea. (Consider this comment to be a downvote; as I have <125 rep, I can't downvote; the downvoting rep threshold was changed to 100 on MSE for this reason.) $\endgroup$ – gparyani Feb 26 at 7:15
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Solution

Mod-delete the answer

Problem(s)

The answer has been present for years and has ~50 up votes on it. The user that posted it stands to lose a significant quantity of rep from it being deleted.

Also, mod powers should be used sparingly and only when truly necessary.

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    $\begingroup$ Er, as it's been up for 60+ days, and has 3+ score, the author retains the reputation even after it's deleted. $\endgroup$ – gparyani Feb 26 at 5:43
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Yes.  ‍

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how I didn't see this coming. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ No hidden mathjax, either! $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Feb 26 at 1:14
  • $\begingroup$ Would I be voted up more if I just said ‘No.’? (Just trying to optimize my strategy for harvesting my magic internet points!) $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Feb 26 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ On meta, the votes are only used to indicate whether you agree or disagree, even if the answer is helpful (or so I've been told). I think that's why magic internet points aren't even assigned to posts on meta. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 1:21
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    $\begingroup$ We cannot distinguish between upvotes that like the joke and the actual voting for the answer to remain. To vote for the answer to remain as is please upvote this answer $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Feb 26 at 11:59
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More seriously, I tend to agree that it's worthwhile to ask people to give more information than a yes or no in answer to a question. On the few occasions where it seemed amusing to me to be a smartass about it, until the length limit bit me or a commentator asked for more detail, I suspect the result was better anyway,[cetacean needed*] like with the alternatives to the answer you flagged.

Maybe the real question here is: Should we fear trifling with the powers of HNQ hordes and the conceited inflation of value brought on by their multitudinous points, or should we impose the same rules for HNQs as we do for everything else? (Or should we band together to assemble an anti-HNQ horde like there seems to be on the meta meta stackexchange lately?)


* I would give examples, but I don't remember which ones and I don't know how to search for posts by length, especially not by length of older revisions.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the answer to that real question is that we should impose the same rules for everyone. HNQ should not be an excuse for low quality. If anything, we should ensure HNQ questions receive our very best! $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ Personally I don't care a single iota about the HNQ hordes, to be honest. Removing 55 upvotes from a respected member of our own community - that's a different question. The answer has been flagged multiple times before. $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Feb 26 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ @MaartenBodewes Most likely they hit the rep limit quite quickly and so did not get much rep from it. I don't see any reason why they couldn't edit it to conform to community standards and have it undeleted (instantly restoring the votes and rep). It's not like deletion is necessarily permanent. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ It may blemish one's pristinely preened pride to have one's rightful magic numbers revoked from under one's beak, even if they were only imaginary magic numbers that don't actually contribute toward real magic internet points. $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Feb 26 at 1:39
  • $\begingroup$ @SqueamishOssifrage Sure, but as I pointed out, it's not a permanent revocation of magic internet points. If other members of the community have already flagged it and are indicating that it does not adhere to site standards, shouldn't it either be edited or deleted (or deleted, then edited, then undeleted)? $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ @MaartenBodewes on the first day, 190, second day 170, third day, 4th 40, 5th 30, 6th 40, 7th 10, 8th 10 9th 10 points earned. So, in 9 days 500 pts without hitting the limit. $\endgroup$ – kelalaka Feb 26 at 7:10
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    $\begingroup$ @kelalaka The point is moot since the magic points do not get revoked for 60+ day old answers with a 3+ score, as pointed out by another comment on another answer. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 7:22
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Solution

Have the user edit the answer and provide worthwhile substance.

Problem(s)

In general, making significant edits to the content of an answer after it has received a non-trivial number of votes and/or been present for a non-trivial amount of time is frowned upon.

Otherwise someone could post an answer, accrue lots of up votes, then change the answer to mean the opposite of what people voted for.

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    $\begingroup$ We cannot vote on what the author is going to do, so I'm kind of glad that this is still on neutral. Not an option. $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Feb 26 at 11:55
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Solution

Do nothing. Leave it to the community to vote on the answer.

Problem(s)

A highly upvoted answer can serve as an indicator for how to answer, and it may encourage more answers like this to be posted.

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Solution

Have a mod leave a comment that this is not a good example of an answer in general, regardless of how many up votes it happens to have acquired.

Problem(s)

None that I recognize - please comment if you see a problem with this solution

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    $\begingroup$ I think the problem with this solution is that it does not solve the problem efficiently. If the user never acts, then the site will retain the low quality answer. A mod notice on the post (as you suggested in another answer) would be better since it also warns that the answer may be deleted. It's also more visible than a single comment. $\endgroup$ – forest Feb 26 at 2:05
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Solution

Have the user self-delete the answer. We cannot force them to do so, but we could attempt to convince them this is the right thing to do.

Problem(s)

Peer-pressuring users into self-deleting answers is not the most positive way to deal with issues.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that there has been a long list of comments that requested this already, including one by the OP. $\endgroup$ – Maarten Bodewes Feb 26 at 2:01

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