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Today, several questions had rollbacks to versions that were 100% different to the question it was turned to by the OP. As reason "New questions should be asked as such. Total rewrites are not acceptable." was given, but there is no such policy to be found on META.

In one case, the rollback invalidated an answer that was given relying on the new question:

The rolling back person did comment:

Before answering, you should first check that the question makes sense. Total rewrites to avoid a question suspension are not acceptable, and should not be rewarded by answers.

I do not agree to this sentiment that an answerer has to research the question history. Questions are to be answered as they are found. The dilemma was enhanced by that answer having been accepted - making deletion of the now wrong answer impossible. Following, the rollback was reversed by Moderator.

Hypothetical example to clarify what is asked here:

Assume the original author asked about (the right to have banana trees) and then - presumely breaking the rules - rewrote their question to ask about (the obligations of owning the yellow brick road), and someone answered... may you rollback to the old question?

Which version of the question is to be kept: (Banana tree owner rights) or (Yellow Brick Road Owner Oblgations)?"

Policy demand

What shall be the formal policy about total rewrites, especially since it is not visible from the questions themselves that they have been totally rewritten and "recycled" by the owner compared to normal edits?

  • Can you just tell one thing what is the problem in rewriting if m the question does not have any prior answers?It will make a better question. – ask Dec 7 '20 at 12:27
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    @ask look at the answers to this question here: If it's a bad or poorly written question then delete it and ask a new one. (And if you can't ask new questions because your question record is so negative that you have been temporarily suspended from asking, then trying to circumvent that suspension by rewriting existing questions will result in a longer suspension.) – feetwet Dec 7 '20 at 14:41
  • On most sites, complete rewrites are only acceptable in private beta, where the scope is still in flux. – Mast Jan 17 at 7:13
  • Would the Title be better with "Self-vandalism"? – Ray Butterworth Jan 20 at 14:37
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As a matter of policy we have the following reasons for rejecting edits to a post – from the Suggested Edits review process:

Edit rejection reasons

Policy

Questions should not be edited in a way that significantly alters their meaning. If someone wants to ask a meaningfully different question they should post it as a new question.

Practice

If the original author benignly edits a question into something completely different it would be better to point the author to this policy, and to the ability to delete the original question. Using a rollback to correct a violation of this policy on an unanswered, unvoted question might set a good example, but in practice it's not as instructive to the user as a helpful comment pointing to this policy.

(If there is some other nefarious behavior afoot then it should be flagged for moderator attention so that it can be properly investigated and handled. In such a scenario a rollback will likely serve only to obscure the matter.)

I see two scenarios in which corrective rollbacks (and even locks) are necessary:

  1. The question has a positive vote score before the "rewrite." In that case the integrity of the votes has been violated because they applied to different content.

  2. There is an answer to a different version of the question.

A helpful answer trumps the other considerations

If a user takes the time to write a helpful answer, that effort and content should not be lost due to misbehavior of other users. The question that was answered is the question that will be preserved.

Moderators will do whatever we can to preserve the work of authors of helpful answers.

(Granted, if things get messy the best solution for answer authors – which does not require moderator tools – might be to separately post the question that was answered and then the answer that was written.)

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    Sometimes users editing others' questions are too stringent and end up removing relevant details. After this event, when needed in my answers I cite the revision history of the question in order to avoid edit wars and to highlight the harm of misusing the edit functionality. But reason 2 for corrective rollbacks is appreciated because, once we answer a question, we don't –and shouldn't be expected to – keep track of subsequent changes thereto. – Iñaki Viggers Dec 7 '20 at 0:02
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This is not something we need to argue ourselves. Stack Exchange already has established etiquette and ground rules, if not formal policy on this.

Edits should be used to improve the question. They are not for completely rewriting the text, especially when done to attract significant attention using one topic before changing to another (bait-and-switch tactics) or to avoid the consequences of a history of low quality posts (such as question suspensions).

If a user has a new question, they should ask a new question. If they cannot do so, the system is working as intended; abusing the system should be met with warnings or suspension, not support and enabling.

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    I agree in principle, but you do not adress the elephant in the room: The questions OP made deleting the answer impossible by accepting, and the revert made the answer not applicable. – Trish Dec 6 '20 at 19:49
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    There's no elephant at all. The question should have been deleted because it was junk, it's both frustrating and disappointing that a moderator chose enabling over discipline. – Nij Dec 6 '20 at 20:00
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    Had someone been able to do a rollback of the question before it was answered, I would agree with you entirely. However, we should not invalidate answers with question edits, even to correct rulebreaking by askers. Moderators have other means, including suspensions, to enforce the rules. – Ryan M Dec 7 '20 at 1:49
  • The answer was invalid before it was posted, because it should not have been posted to that question. The question edits themselves caused the problem, and are what should be fixed. If someone has a great answer to a question that hasn't actually been posted yet, they're more than able to write and self-answer it. – Nij Dec 7 '20 at 1:55
  • @Nij ehhh... no. The question was turned from the CEO one to the Postal one within the first hour. I answered some hour later. – Trish Dec 7 '20 at 2:23
  • All three of the questions you refer to were posted on November 23, and first edited on or after December 6. That's two weeks, during which the OP asked on meta how to get out of a question ban and whether it was okay to do exactly what they tried. So what "first hour" are you talking about? – Nij Dec 7 '20 at 2:30
  • First hour of it being altered. – Trish Dec 7 '20 at 10:11
  • Well yes, it would be changed very soon after being changed. What exactly are you trying to say or suggest, then? That it was edited and you answered soon after? That doesn't make the edits reasonable or acceptable still. – Nij Dec 8 '20 at 3:33
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    @Nij however, it doesn't make your rollback, which invalidated the answer ok either – Trish Dec 14 '20 at 1:12
  • wut.. the answer was never valid, because it was posted to a question that was about a different subject. The edits should never have been made, so the answer should never have been posted there. Maybe you can learn from this to check the question before answering, and not support users to abuse the system? – Nij Dec 14 '20 at 1:55
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  • Pointing to a site-specific policy that didn't exist until after you created the issue, by ignoring long-standing general network policy? 😂 – Nij Dec 17 '20 at 21:15
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One of the reasons (besides the site's policy) why questions should not significantly differ from the original author's intent is that all of the content is licensed to the site, by the authors, under the Creative Commons license.

The license allows derivative work and distribution, provided that

  • original authors are given attribution;
  • attribution is not made in a way that suggests the the original author endorses the derivative content.

Despite the fact that edit history is available, the fact is that the original authors' names remain on all questions and answers. This may create the impression that they endorse the new phrasing. Which clearly may not be the case.

Edit. Thanks to Trish's comment I see that this didn't quite address the question here. So I'll add the following.

I think the original author's intent should be preserved.

I do see that feetwet's answer seems to disagree. But an answer, even a good one, could inform the question author that what they asked is, in fact, not what they meant to ask.

Asking another question which is different, but similar enough, can bring about a "duplicate" designation and take away the author's ability to refine their question to ask exactly what they were curious about. Rather than rollback the question, maybe alternatively a note should be attached to the answer saying that it addressed the question before it was revised.

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    it was the original author who re-wrote their question, which is why I said "non-vandalism". The point of the question was: "if the author asked about (the right to have a banana trees) and then - breaking the rules - rewrote their question to ask about (the obligations of owning the yellow brick road), and someone answered... may you rollback to the old question? Which version of the question is to be kept? (banana tree owner rights) or (Yellow Brick Road Orner Oblgations)?" - I another words: you miss the mark, but your answer is still valid for vandalism-rewrites. – Trish Jan 19 at 9:03
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    That is still different from what is asked here: OP asked "What laws regulate banana trees". OP turned his banana tree-question into "What am I obligated to do if I own yellow brick road". Someone answered the latter, OP accepted the brickroad answer. Someone reversed the queststion to the banana tree, turning the answer orphan but undeleteable as it as accepted. The question was specific about "Which question version to keep: the banana or the answered road? – Trish Jan 20 at 10:17
  • Why is it different? I am saying the version that the author of the question wants to keep is the one that is valid. But the answer may need a note attached to it, so that it doesn't appear that the answer's author misunderstood the question (when in fact they were answering the banana-trees question rather than the yellow-brick-road question). – grovkin Jan 21 at 3:08

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