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Motivating example: This suggested edit removes the name of a public figure (a mayor) accused of forging the signature of another councilmember on a bar receipt. It lists the mayor's full name (which I won't include here), the name of the other concilmember whose name was allegedly forged on the receipt, and an image of the receipt (all of which are removed by the edit). The names seem to be relevant to the question, but not essential, as the edited version is understandable.

At least before the edit, the Law.SE post was the first hit on Google Search for "[mayor's name] receipt."

Should such edits be approved? If so, under what circumstances?

For example:

  • Is it relevant that the mayor is a public figure?
  • Is it relevant that it discussed a matter of potential public concern?
  • Is it relevant that the personal information was relevant to the question?
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Since the names are not relevant to understanding the situation, the personalised information should be left out.

When in doubt the rights of others should be respected.

Since there is no way to verify the truthfulness of the OP claims (and in this case they are nothing more than that), such an approval avoids the misuse of the site to spread (possibly) false information (that are not needed to answer the question) due to google search results.

should be the guiding factor in such situations.

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Yes, such edits have historically been approved, and I would further encourage posts that include gratuitous specific details unnecessary to the legal question be flagged for moderator attention so that a moderator can redact the earlier edits if appropriate. (Stack Exchange policy detailed on Meta here and here.)

Stack Exchange is not for doxing. The fact that a post with those details ranked #1 for a Google search on the person's name is a good indicator that those details have crossed into the "doxing" domain.

Obviously explicit references to "Trump" or other "very public" figures here don't constitute doxing. And such references to such public figures and associated facts might allow for more concise questions and make them easier to find.

IƱaki's answer correctly notes that any person who holds public office is a public figure, and there is a legitimate public interest in shining a light on their behavior. He is also correct that, at least for now in the U.S., any adult develops a "public record" if they are arrested or if they are listed in public court papers. These are the standards that journalists and other abusive operations tend to apply when dragging an otherwise private person into the public light. In contrast: the E.U. has explicitly moved in the other direction with its declared "right to be forgotten." Relevant Q&A here: What information about a person are private and what are public?

But Law.SE is for questions of law, not for search engine optimization or abuse. In cases like the post referenced in this question the inclusion of names was gratuitous and did not inform the legal question.

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Should such edits be approved?

No. It's a matter of author's discretion. If anything, awareness that those details are relevant to the question should particularly dissuade others from suppressing or altering what the author wrote.

Oftentimes the inclusion of such details can (and does) enrich other contributors' thoughts insofar as it provides further context. Were it not for that additional context, educative and important considerations of law are likelier to be left out inadvertently.

Lastly, if a public figure gets himself or herself in legal trouble, it is not our job to dissimulate the deplorable conduct at issue. Court opinions (which are readily available online) don't suppress the name of public figures who indulge in unlawful conduct, and there is no reason why we should do otherwise by means of censorship.

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  • 1
    Courts are authorized to make a determination of guilt, afterwhich they may make the name public. A radically different situation to the author that is making nothing more than a claim. Since 'Justice is blind', the names alone should not lead to another conclusion. – Mark Johnson Nov 1 '20 at 14:49
  • @MarkJohnson More often than not, the name of defendants/public figures in court proceedings are publicly/widely known well in advance of trial. "names alone should not lead to another conclusion", but names are often associated to caveats and circumstances that can certainly prompt contributors and the audience to weigh on relevant ramifications that otherwise would not have occurred to us when thinking about the question. – Iñaki Viggers Nov 1 '20 at 15:26
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    But this site is not part of that publication process. ; Then the question is badly written. The names were unknown to me, the terms mayor and city councillor were sufficient t make the implications clear. Extras such as '"a mayor, that outside the city is a well known personality..." can be easily added making the situation clear to a wider audience to which the personalities are compleatly unknown. – Mark Johnson Nov 1 '20 at 19:22
  • A Moderator should encourage the OP to do this. – Mark Johnson Nov 1 '20 at 19:28
  • @MarkJohnson "this site is not part of that publication process". My point is that we should not be expected to practice stringent anonymizing than not even courts do, especially in regard to a public figure. "the terms mayor and city councillor were sufficient t make the implications clear". Not necessarily. The individual's specific name might remind us of --and make us think of-- additional ramifications that are not applicable to all mayors or to all city councilors. – Iñaki Viggers Nov 1 '20 at 19:39
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    The main goal of this site is to ask about legal situations, not to serve as an alternative justice or news system. If a Moderator gets the impression that the site is being misused, they should react. If the goal of the OP is to make such information publicly available, then a news organization is an more appropriate place to do so. – Mark Johnson Nov 1 '20 at 20:17
  • @MarkJohnson "not to serve as an alternative justice or news system". And I nowhere purported that this is an alternative justice or news system. All I have been saying is that the person's name (or any other identifying information) might be attached to particularities that bring to [contributors'] mind legal ramifications which are inapplicable to most public figures of similar rank or environment. Incorporating those legal ramifications that do apply are likelier to result in a less generic, more on-point answer. – Iñaki Viggers Nov 1 '20 at 20:36
  • You have been implying that if a court can do it, so can this site (by allowing the post). But this is not the case. If proven to be false, this site could be held accountable. This is an aspect that a Moderator must take into consideration in a case by case situation. In the original question, the removal of 'a mayor in state X' was anonymous enough and therefore no need for it to remove it existed. The actual name of the mayor is another case. – Mark Johnson Nov 1 '20 at 20:47
  • @MarkJohnson "You have been implying that if a court can do it, so can this site". Yes, which is different from your depiction of alternative justice or news system. "If proven to be false, this site could be held accountable". Of course not. The defamer would be whoever authored the defamatory falsehood. Otherwise sites like Youtube would be liable for defamation left and right. And actionability of a falsehood depends --inter alia-- on whether it sufficiently identifies the person, not on whether the publication is worded in terms of "a mayor in state X" as opposed to mayor's name. – Iñaki Viggers Nov 1 '20 at 21:17
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Mark Johnson Nov 1 '20 at 21:19

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