# We should blame new people less and look more at our own faults

I read posts about how we can harder punish people for "abusing" the system, as if all people around here are intrinsically bad. They abuse the system so we need to punish them harder and all problems will disappear.

But here is my claim. People often don't know why they get downvoted. I once got downvoted when I was new without knowing why. I thought I wrote a bad question (too trivial) but this was actually not the case. I didn't know I needed to show the work I had already done on the website, because I assumed that most people here would like to answer questions to earn points. A similar person that made this assumption can be found here, and I could give a long list of examples. If you start talking with them, you see that in at least 50% of the cases they really want to do effort, but fail for a diverse set of reasons: don't speak language well enough, didn't know they should have shown their effort while they actually did effort, some didn't know that lazy people where not allowed on this website, ... .

If we make clear policies and really punish the lazy people that should be punished, we will be more effective. We should make clear policies in order to prevent people from answering questions from people that showed no effort, because people tend to believe here that this is the reason why they keep coming back (and there might be some truth in this for the big abusers). However, so many people really want to collaborate and learn but don't get proper reasons why their question got downvoted so they think they wrote bad trivial questions which is often not the case.

I want to introduce a system in which new people get better information about what they should do when posting there first post. They should press a check mark that they have shown enough effort (in the form of saying what they already tried, thought of, where they are stuck, ...) when posting their first post AND important, write that their question WILL NOT BE ANSWERED when they fail to show effort. Of course it can be that in reality some persons will still do this, but over time, this amount of people that answer questions with lack of effort will decrease. Especially people from the post-caution banner era where they needed to check a mark, will not answer those questions because they know it violates the rules. You should not blame people for breaing the rules, if the rules are somewhat hidden.

We should blame ourselves for not showing enough effort ourselves to make the rules clear to new users, and fail to warn them for the consequences of abusing the system. We should blame ourselves, not the new users.

I believe we should give this idea a try. Believers in the idea really believe that this will reduce the amount of questions with no effort shown drastically, if the policy is correctly implemented (> 50% reduce in bad questions). To those initially opposed to the idea I would say, we can always give it a try. We have nothing to lose with this policy, only to win. If it works, and we truly believe it will, this will reduce the amount of posts which show a lack of effort drastically. I can't imagine that anyone can be against a policy that at it's best can have a huge positive impact but by no means have a negative impact on the community.

• I have read a few of your post here on meta and don't disagree but helping new people understand via positive examples isn't well received. For example, I suggested an alternative to triage that would show new user well written question here but the reception was not great. I was surprised but then I realized many people are glass half empty on SE and steady of half full. – dustin Mar 15 '15 at 14:27
• "write that their question WILL NOT BE ANSWERED when they fail to show effort" An issue, the issue perhaps, is that we can write this, it'd be a lie though. – quid Mar 15 '15 at 14:53
• I don't understand why people helping understand via positive examples isn't well received. The only explanation I can think of is that the meta people, should, in general, be less well behaved than the average new poster on this website. As long as no proper argument is given against these proposels, I need to conclude that not the new people are intrinsically bad, but the majority of meta people (to use their wordings and method of thinking) – Pedro Mar 15 '15 at 14:53
• @quid indeed it can be a lie, however we can fight against this in other to let it become a truth and not a lie anymore. – Pedro Mar 15 '15 at 14:54
• Just FYI, the linked example is now deleted, so visible only to 10k+ users. Only the good version of that question remains. (Which is good for the asker.) – Daniel Fischer Mar 15 '15 at 14:57
• The point isn't to "punish" people. The point is to control what gets posted on here to improve the quality of the site. – Qudit Mar 15 '15 at 15:13
• @Qudit Why is the only thing you can think of controlling? What is bad about guiding people? You cannot controle an immense flow of posts of new users that join this website every day, believe me. The only thing you can do is inform them, and show them the consequences of not following the rules (e.g. not getting an answer). If people still answer you need to "control" the answers and downvote people that answer to questions that have neglected the given rules. I truly believe that my way of controlling is more effective, and in the end leads to less spam on this website. – Pedro Mar 15 '15 at 15:19
• @Pedro I never said I was against giving new users more guidance in addition to controlling bad questions. It's the responsibility of new users to make an effort to acquaint themselves with the standards of the community before posting though --- not the other way around. – Qudit Mar 15 '15 at 15:25
• You are overly optimistic Pedro... People who have a lot of reputation got there by answering tons of questions, often regardless of the quality of the question. Some of them even answer closed questions in the comments to bypass the system. The result? Math.SE is known throughout the internet as the place to get other people to do your homework for free. Users sometimes literally post a blurry picture of their assignment taken with their phone and still get an answer. And why shouldn't they? The end result is a complete win for them. – Najib Idrissi Mar 15 '15 at 15:27
• @Pedro It's expected in most communities that one should read the FAQ and other documents before posting. This isn't something unique to Math.SE. – Qudit Mar 15 '15 at 15:30
• But "we" cannot agree, Pedro. It's been discussed many times, and the result is always the same. These users don't care. They answer terrible question, they knowingly answer duplicates (sometimes they literally copy their previous answer, letter for letter!), they answer closed questions in the comments... (But as I was typing that I saw your newer comments, and this discussion is starting to get completely derailed, so I'm not sure if I should continue) – Najib Idrissi Mar 15 '15 at 15:36
• For whatever interest it may add to the discussion, I wrote a query to find the first posts of new users; sampling the results a little, it looks to me that about half of new users* actually do get the point on their first try - it is clearly not so unreasonable to expect that people actually read the existing documentation before posting as enough people live up to that expectation. (*Extrapolating from a sample $n=4$. Don't ask me about confidence intervals or $p$ values, please) – Milo Brandt Mar 15 '15 at 18:26
• @Pedro I think you'd have a lot less opposition/downvotes to this if you didn't use language like "We should blame new people less and look more at our own faults", "We should blame ourselves for not showing enough effort ourselves to make the rules clear to new users, and fail to warn them for the consequences of abusing the system" and "Or wait, maybe you want a system where older users can abuse the system, and is this the reason you don't agree? Just wondering." This is without even bringing up the other two posts you deleted. – Qudit Mar 16 '15 at 0:04
• As I read the comments, what I see here is an attempt to paint with a broad brush "older" users who are bent on suborning cheating in order to fatten their already generous reps. I call bullshit. There are people who are so desperate for rep that they temporarily lose judgment and help cheaters. But you'll also find that people with large rep earned it by numerous positive contributions to the site. – Ron Gordon Mar 16 '15 at 2:34
• Something like this should also be implemented on meta posts: users should not be able to post proposals without passing a 30 question test to prove that theey have read all the relevant past meta posts on the subject at least twice... The level of noise would be improved muchly! – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Mar 16 '15 at 3:11

"I can't imagine that anyone can be against a policy that at its best can have a huge positive impact but by no means have a negative impact on the community."

The arrogance of this statement reveals the naïveté of its creator, however well-intentioned. What in the OP's experience makes him believe this with such certitude? Part of the reason that Math.SE has grown the way it does is the opportunity afforded to both those who answer those who ask questions, however bad. That growth has afforded Math.SE investment in the site to make it better. Less questions, however bad, means less answerers, less growth, and less investment. There's your means.

That all said, I sympathize. We have created a nasty little prisoner's dilemma with regard to answering questions on the site. (Hey, nobody should answer this horrible question showing zero effort, but I know that so-and-so is going to answer and get the +15 acceptance for little effort, so why shouldn't I?) Nevertheless, the system as we have it works as well as any other. In short, rather than change the system, put the onus on those who think they will profit from answering such questions. They should know better.

Some thoughts:

• It is not our job to enforce any school's honesty policy, although we are also not other peoples' slaves. So some schmuck answers a ZEQ (Zero Effort Question) because...rep. I think the community tries to make it not worthwhile for such a person to answer them in the future. People who answer clear ZEQs may score an acceptance, but with that they quickly get downvotes. I have seen this and it is the correct response. Whatever gain in rep obtained will be more than offset in the loss of upvotes in the question tags. (Protests that the answer is useful ring hollow because they contribute to lower standards for the site.)

• Not all apparent ZEQs are pleas to do homework, but are just hard problems that the OP would like to see done. This is especially true in the , , and tags. Such questions are welcome here because they bring in a lot of traffic and spur interesting discussions.

So, yes, let's look at our own "faults." In short, self-policing is how the community thrives, and I think we do a pretty good job of it. Sure we get a lot of bad questions and answers...but this is, you know, the Internet. The downvote and comment tools are our means of maintaining quality. Use them.

• Thank you for this in-depth answer. I was probably a bit naive also. And as you pointed out, actually we do a pretty good job at self-policing, and maybe I should have given meta more credit for that. I am also happy that new users are now better guided due to the new tour page. – Pedro Mar 16 '15 at 12:03
• @Pedro: Thanks for taking the blunt remarks with good humor. Not everyone can do that. – Ron Gordon Mar 16 '15 at 12:09
• @RonGordon You make some good points, but I think the proliferation low quality copy/paste questions on this site shows that current efforts are not sufficient. As for answers to such questions being downvoted, I don't see this happen often. It seems to me that the questions are what gets downvoted. In fact, answers to such questions are often upvoted. Part of the problem is also that every upvote is worth 5 downvotes, so it takes a lot of downvotes to make it not worthwhile to answer. – Qudit Mar 16 '15 at 12:38
• @Qudit: The reason we don't see more of it is that people may generally be unaware when a ZEQ gets answered. Of course, we can vote to close faster. But when people are aware of an answer, there are downvotes. And rest assured, those downvotes hurt. Let's say the answerer got an accept and an upvote from the OP, +25 rep. Maybe he gets away with it. But if he doesn't, then there will be three, four downvotes. Yeah, the guy got a +17 rep, but is that really worth a glaring "-3" next to your answer, along with a few hostile comments? I doubt it. – Ron Gordon Mar 16 '15 at 12:41
• @RonGordon That's a good point about the disapproval implied by downvotes. I definitely agree about downvotes being painful since I have received them myself when I wrote bad answers (not to ZEQs). However, I think that answers to ZEQs are rarely downvoted. Answers are usually only downvoted if they contain glaring inaccuracies based on what I see. – Qudit Mar 16 '15 at 13:03