We were talking about this in chat, but I do think moderators should be doing something exceptional with low-quality answers.
Low-quality answers add nothing to the site, and given our influx of users from various promotions that do not understand or care to understand how Stack Exchange works or how to give a good answer, act as broken windows and invitations to post more answers like them.
Stack Exchange is supposed to make the internet a better place by providing high quality content. How do the low-quality answers on honeypot questions do the internet a solid? What is the defense for keeping these around to stink up the place?
You mention the following as being the main reasons why one ought to flag an answer as low quality or not an answer:
- Answers that are new questions, or just re-asking the same question as the author
- Answers that are commentary, discussion, or conversational responses to either the question author or one of the other answers
- Snide pseudo-answers which only pretend to be answering the question, usually to make some snarky quip
- Poor posts that can be formatted and grammatarized
But these are open to interpretation, and, speaking from experience, having a different interpretation of what constitutes a commentary answer and an answer that's just incorrect results in declined flags—even if it's obvious the answer is terrible and adds nothing to the site—because moderators err on the side of "moderators don't handle flags on answers, ever".See addendum
On "A Theory of Moderation"
The canonical article on how moderators should act, "A Theory of Moderation", states the following:
Even with active community self-regulation, moderators occasionally need to intervene. Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt — if you don’t have human exception handling in place.
Based on this, an intervention should occur when the following are true:
- When something that should not normally happen does
- When that something can bring your community to a screaming halt
Taking the first condition, unless a case is being made that we should welcome and encourage the persistence of low quality answers, it should not normally happen. Users technically do have a means to deal with that without moderator intervention: users with 20k+ rep can vote to delete negatively scoring answers. Great!
Except are only 12 non-SE users who have the necessary privileges to delete negatively scored answers, half of which are moderators who won't act.See addendum 6 people to handle all the answer deletion when 3 have to work in concert (since it requires 3 votes to delete) is untenable.
To the second condition: when we start getting an influx of new users from a new game (coughfezcough), they overwhelm the front page, suggested edit queue, and 10k flag queue. People waste tons of time suggesting edits, commenting, voting, looking at flags on low-quality stuff that adds nothing to the site: duplicate answers, half answers, speculation, answers that demonstrate only a cursory understanding of the English language, and so on. That's time people can be focusing on the actual business of the site: asking and answering high quality questions.
And this happens every time we have a promotion or a new, popular game comes out: Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, League of Legends, Fez, etc. The site stops being a bastion of high quality content while we slowly attempt to absorb the influx of new users who don't get or care to get what Stack Exchange is about. And most of the time we fail: the questions in skyrim are full of just junk content that doesn't help anyone, but sits there because we can't delete it.
Moderators should be intervening to quickly and comprehensively remove this stuff as part of their exception handling, but they don't because of this "no flags on answers" rule1. This rule doesn't make the site, or the Internet a better place and it violates the spirit of "A Theory of Moderation".
Objections and concerns
I don't understand the basis for this rule, but:
- If it's a problem of manpower, please recruit more moderators.
- If it's a problem of ambiguity, we can come up with a rule of thumb like if it's -1 for more than a week, it's low-quality and should be deleted.
- If it's a problem of logistics, we should look to sites that have similar policies like Skeptics.SE and Programmers.SE.
- If it's a problem of ideology about not deleting answers no matter how bad they are, it's incompatible with Stack Exchange's slavish devotion to quality.
If it's something else entirely, we should be able to address it: let's work through the details of what it means for moderators to delete low-quality answers. But a blanket rule on not deleting answers is not helping our site at all and it needs to go.
After discussing with moderators and Grace Note, I think everyone's in agreement that deleting posts that are unequivocally not answers is good, and I don't mean to suggest moderators aren't handling those flags.
Instead, the "no flags on answers" policy I'm referring to is declining flags on posts that answer the question, however remotely or tangentially, even if they're junk and add no value to the site. While downvoting is important and people should do it (if only to allow 20k+ users to delete those answers), it's not enough and moderators should be helping the community take out the trash.