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If someone posts an answer that is essentially "In my opinion,...", should I flag the answer, or just downvote it and move on? And if I do flag it, should it be "not an answer", "very low quality", or a custom flag?

Examples:

  • 1
    Yes, there has been something of an epidemic of such answers recently. I'm not sure whether these warrant deletion. If they do, then a flag is appropriate. Otherwise a vote is the correct action. For reference, pending consensus or policy on this: I downvoted one and added a comment saying, "If you mean that's just your personal opinion about the way things should be, it has no value as an answer here. This site is about what the law says." – feetwet Jan 21 at 16:13
  • I don't think this is something that's unique to Law; I think there's a network-wide prohibition about the answers simply being opinions, although I don't recall a specific rule of how they should be dealt with. – cnst Jan 26 at 18:21
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There is a difference between a lay opinion and an expert opinion on this site just as there is in a court room.

Of course, we do not have the power of a court to decide who is and who is not an expert and, even there, experts make mistakes. However, we do have the ability to express our opinion (expert or otherwise) by voting, commenting and posting other answers.

Opinions on unsettled areas of law where the person knows what they are talking about (which may be made explicit or inferred from context) are probably fine. Similarly, where the law as applied to the facts as given fall within the triers area of discretion then an opinion on the more likely outcome is probably fine too (e.g "Will I get arrested for [definitely illegal but trivial act]?".

Ideally such opinion should be clearly stated with reasons but as on all stacks, you get what you're given.

Of themselves, opinions, good or bad, should be handled by voting. Bad answers (in a quality sense) have value in that they can prompt other users to post better ones.

Moderator intervention should be limited to answers that break the site’s rules, not just those of poor quality.

  • 4
    While I agree, this doesn't solve the problem, because we do not have a reliable way of indicating users who have expertise. For example, those of us who have been here all along know that you have a̶ ̶l̶a̶w̶ ̶d̶e̶g̶r̶e̶e̶ legal experience. But your profile doesn't mention that. Your superlative site rep is an indication you might have expertise, but that is not so reliable an indicator across Stack Exchange. – feetwet Jan 23 at 18:10
  • Further to this problem: I have dismissed many flags against your one-line answers because I know you are an expert. I wouldn't know what to do if the exact same answer were written by a newer user with unknown expertise. – feetwet Jan 23 at 18:11
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    @feetwet I’ve elaborated. By the way, I don’t have a law degree - I’m an engineer and a scientist. I am a qualified arbitrator, adjudicator and mediator which has given me expertise in deciding between conflicting things that people with law degrees say. – Dale M Jan 23 at 20:12
  • Oops ... corrected my comment. The years dim my memory :D – feetwet Jan 23 at 23:36
  • So answer quality is determined by who wrote the answer, now? No justification is needed for an answer because the moderator has some secret information, when the same answer from anyone else would be removed? – Nij Jan 25 at 21:01
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    @Nij No it’s decided by the voter (moderator or otherwise) and what they know which may include things other people don’t know. My position is that poor quality is NOT a reason for deletion - breaking site rules is. If the mods get to decide if an answer is “worthy” why are the rest of us here? – Dale M Jan 25 at 21:42
  • Well clearly this is happening, if flags are being declined purely because the moderator happens to know something about the user, instead of the post content itself. Votes and flags are completely separate things, why are you conflating them? – Nij Jan 28 at 1:25
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    While I actually agree that a utility of bad answers may be that they prompt better ones from other users, this would only be useful if there were a pool of users who provide answers and the answers (the "bad" and "good" or just the "good") were not released until those who provide answers had had the opportunity to do so. As it currently stands, an OP or anybody viewing a question and answer(s) are potentially exposed to bad answer(s) until a better one is posted or may never see a subsequently posted better one. Bad answers should be absolute be removed. – A.fm. Jan 31 at 14:07
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    @A.fm. That is a problem with low site usage only. "Bad answers" are a hallmark of the StackExchange network. The point is to have questions, and answers, and people voting on them. On sites/questions with high traffic the bad answers receive far fewer votes than "good" answers. But bad answers get to exist. Their existence helps makes it clear which answers are held to be good and which are not. There are some "fastest post in the west" issues with the current structure, but that's not germane to this matter. – zibadawa timmy Feb 14 at 0:11
  • @A.fm. One problem is that every now and then, although not terribly frequently, we will get an answer from a new user or user with very little rep who happens to chime in on one or two questions about a narrow topic which that user has special knowledge (e.g. patent law or the law of India or Germany or a local government or particular government agency). We don't want to keep those answers out and while they are rare their value to LawSE as a whole is pretty great. – ohwilleke Feb 14 at 1:18
  • Fair points^. What role, if any, do you see for the Comments section following a given answer in determining or designating it as a "bad answer"? – A.fm. Feb 15 at 19:29
  • So do we downvote this answer or flag it? ;) And @feetwet, 53K rep from 17 answers (total??)? Sounds more like popular questions than great contributions. (Or how else could it be interpreted?) Answering any question (or even asking) will easily give 20k rep 10-12 years later. Steady trickle. Anyway. – Henrik Erlandsson Feb 18 at 20:08
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    @HenrikErlandsson: Meta Q&A is different from main site Q&A. Opinions welcome here. Rep shown here is from the main site. – feetwet Feb 18 at 23:12
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I would reframe the question as a speculative question regarding what moderators should do. If moderators should delete certain questions, users should flag them; if moderators should not delete the question, we should not flag those questions. Given that there is little issue over spam and abusive answers, that leaves us with "low quality (content)" and "not an answer". Supposing that we can correctly identify "comments" and "edits", that leaves a couple of ways for personal opinions can be flagged. I don't like the "low quality" delete-reason because it does not fill a clear lacuna.

My opinion (which I am entitled to give on Meta) is that personal opinion answers (and questions) are an abomination and should disappear from LSE. However, there are two kinds of "opinion" answers. One is an apparent opinion that states a fact, specifically when the claim is correct but it is written without any factual support and reads like a personal opinion. Such answers clearly should not be deleted (by any means save author's choice). The other is normative declarations (with or without supporting documentation). These are the answers that start "In a just society, this should be the case". I support deletion of such answers (likewise, questions that are normative declarations with a question mark).

In a certain answer about whether something is a crime, it is not clear to me whether the answer is a normative answer or an unsupported statement of fact. This raises the question whether very low quality non-opinion answers should be deleted. The answer is not clear, but in such a case I think deletion is appropriate in light of the fact that the author had time to tune up the answer, but didn't.

Ultimately, the question that should be considered w.r.t. questions and answer is "What harm could this Q / A do to LSE if it remains?". I find that personal opinion questions are highly harmful, and ought to be scrubbed.

I agree entirely with jimsug's comment. There is a fatigue point that one can easily reach where it becomes tiresome to prove simple claims. But if LSE is to be better than a person opinion blog, "being right" has to count less than "showing that you're right". You should not accept a factual conclusion based on the stature of the person who sets forth the conclusion, you should accept it based on the strength of the evidence for the conclusion. When no evidence is given, it's a disservice to standards of scientific evaluation to accept an unsupported assertion. I understand that in practice one probably has to have a degree of faith in the underlying knowledge of an expert. But it should not generally be too hard to point to evidence, at least when the question is a factual one. There is a class of question which usually cannot be supported with facts (though sometime can be), namely the "how often does X happen?" question.

  • 1
    I'm curious about the first type of "opinion" answer... of course, those who are already versed in legal matters will know that it's correct, but without supporting references it might well be wrong. This is okay as long as we have an active, engaged user base voting questions up and down based on their correctness. My preference would of course be for answers that are both correct and supported by reference to some kind of legal authority. As for normative declaraions... I tend to agree that these are more suited for a personal blog or social media account than for a Q&A site. – jimsug Jan 25 at 20:47
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    "One is an apparent opinion that states a fact, specifically when the claim is correct but it is written without any factual support and reads like a personal opinion." FWIW, I not infrequently will initially provide an answer like that, and then circle back when I have more time to flesh it out and/or support it later. A related kind of answer is one about which there is little formal legal authority but has an answer widely known by people who participate in legal proceedings of a particular kind (e.g. the role of a division clerk for a specific judge v. a clerk for a whole courthouse). – ohwilleke Feb 14 at 1:23
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There have been a number of well-written responses to this question, and I'd like to offer comment on them, as well as the original question.

If someone posts an answer that is essentially "In my opinion,...", should I flag the answer, or just downvote it and move on? And if I do flag it, should it be "not an answer", "very low quality", or a custom flag?

To answer the original thrust of the question, if the answer is entirely an opinion and is not the legally correct answer then it should at least be downvoted. Of course, this introduces a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem for users who are unable to discern the "correct" answer. Fortunately, I believe we have an engaged user base who are able to do so.

In the event that the answer happens to be correct while appearing to be an opinion, comments encouraging the provision of sources should be added, or even a comment adding the reference which would support the answer.

In the event that the answer truly is an opinion with no legal merit, the answer should be treated as low-quality, downvoted, and if it does not attempt to answer the question, flagged.

Dale's answer refers to a problem which we have had since the site's inception: we do not have a way to distinguish expert users from non-expert users. Fortunately, in my opinion, that is not necessary. As also pointed out, upvotes and downvotes from users on the site should be used to distinguish the correct, well-written answers from the incorrect, well-written answers.

user6726's answer alludes to the problem I mentioned above: that there are two types of opinion answers: one which is legally correct but doesn't cite any sources to support this, and the other is just a statement normative declaration. Again, here, the problem of distinguishing these answers should be taken care of by voting and flagging as appropriate.

Iñaki Viggers's answer seems to mischaracterise the purpose of the site. I cannot say it clearly enough: this is not a site for personal opinions. It is a site for questions and answers about the law. There are any number of sites which are suited for discussing opinions about the law; this is not one of them. I suggest looking for a social media platform on which to voice such opinions.

While answers should not be flagged just because they are wrong, I would almost go so far as to say that if they are purely opinion and wrong, they should be flagged.

I don't even know what "unsubstantiated" means with regards to voting on this site, nor how one would come to that conclusion, given the votes are also anonymous? I favour writing a comment, but in some cases, a comment is not needed, or has already been made; in that case a vote on the comment would also be helpful.

Marcus Potter's answer is pretty much on point, except that answers that don't attempt to answer the question should probably be flagged. Moderators do not look at how often flags happen, we just look at the post and consider whether it should be removed or edited. A "boy who cried wolf" scenario will not happen.

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    A related question: is it problematic for mods if there were more answers flagged as "not an answer" when the answer is an expression of personal opinion of what the law should be (or a wingnut-theory of what the law is where "the law" is defined as "whatever I find to be socially just")? I.e. what is the nuisance value of flagging (thus to be avoided)? – user6726 Jan 27 at 15:20
  • @user6726 it would depend, but if we developed norms where we agree that answers of that kind were not an answer and should be deleted, the flagged posts would be sent to review queue where they might be handled without an increased burden on diamond moderators (that is, any extra workload would be distributed). Even if it weren't though, we have the ability to request an election for additional moderators, should the need arise (and so whether or not you flag should not be concerned with moderator workload). – jimsug Jan 27 at 15:28
  • "if there were more answers flagged as "not an answer" when the answer is an expression of personal opinion of what the law should be" I think this makes sense and is a good norm to develop. Law.SE should be descriptive and not prescriptive. – ohwilleke Feb 14 at 1:42
1

The question "what should be done" on public websites like this ultimately boils down to who decides. Answering this question is not a matter of justifying what is right and what is wrong thing to do. It is just a matter of finding out what the, so to say, law is around that. If the Terms of Service say what should be done, that is the answer. If they do not, then it is your personal choice and, therefore, this question cannot be given an answer that is right or wrong — it can only be given an "In my opinion" kind of answer.

So, the places to look at for signs of an answer to this question are:

  1. Help Center > Privileges > flag posts
  2. Help Center > Privileges > vote down
  3. Acceptable Use Policy

It does not look like flagging or voting is regulated by the Terms. Instead, the site makes voting and flagging self-regulated: the number of flags you have is limited, and downvoting slightly pushes your reputation down. You therefore make flagging and voting decisions sparingly and wisely according to some rationale. There is no "should" here: the rationale is your choice. You can pick one from the answers here, or you can make one up yourself, perhaps looking at what the Help Center says:

When should I flag?

If anything happens on our site that makes you feel uncomfortable or that, in your opinion, clearly does not belong here, please flag it and bring it to our attention!

When should I vote down?

Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect.

My rationale for flagging

Answer needs to be flagged when I want it edited or deleted for whatever reason and I think I can convince the moderator(s) to do so.

My rationale for downvoting

Answer needs to be downvoted when I know it is wholly (or sometimes even partially) wrong and I can show why. Providing an explanation comment when downvoting is a must: silent downvotes leave the author unaware of what is possibly wrong with their answer.


Finally, applying the rationales above to what you are asking about — "In my opinion.." questions. Merely stating that an answer is a personal opinion does not say anything about whether it is right or wrong. One could do a whole lot of legal research and present one-line answer prefixed with "In my opinion". If I think that is bloody correct like 2x2=4 I would upvote it. Another could attempt to show that his answer is objectively correct by quoting/linking a number of statutes and legal principles, but if I see a serious error in that, it will be downvoted. "In my opinion.." does not matter here at all.

  • This is a helpful answer, but I want to clarify two possibly incorrect premises: First, opinion answers are generally welcome on Metas. (This answer is even better because it looks for precedent and authoritative "correct" answers elsewhere.) Second, I don't believe the problem in question here is the literal use of phrases like "In my opinion..." in answers. That is an explicit example of the problem, but the far more tricky ones are answers that are in fact (explicitly or not) nothing but a statement of uninformed opinion. – feetwet Feb 9 at 20:05
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It should just be down-voted. Excessive use of flags will just take away their meaning much like the boy who cried wolf.

  • Not sure that this is always true. Factual/legal assertions framed as opinions aren't much of a problem, but opinions stated as factual/legal assertions can mislead and be a problem, particularly when it goes to a one-off issue unlikely to recur about which few users know much can do real harm without generating many down votes. – ohwilleke Feb 14 at 1:38
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Should personal opinions posted as answers be flagged, or just downvoted?

Neither flagged nor downvoted. What matters is whether the personal opinion is well premised, thought-provoking, or informative (be it regarding what the law says or how it is [mis-]applied).

A policy for flagging personal opinions is only going to exacerbate intolerance and censorship from some users who dislike that we don't sugarcoat evidenced instances of malpractice and judicial unfitness. Those users forget that issues on "Dealing with legal professionals" are literally on topic. Furthermore, we are here to inform the audience, not to cater to the legal "profession" or to blindly cheerlead for the judiciary.

Flagging and downvoting oftentimes reflect the flagger's/downvoter's incongruity and a lack of self-restrain. See, for instance, one user who posted his answer and two minutes later announced that he had just voted to close that question. That is quite an arrogant way of saying "Only I am entitled to post an answer. The rest of you are not".

I would argue similarly against downvoting because it is anonymous and almost always unsubstantiated. Mere disagreement with someone's arguments is not a good reason to downvote an answer. If a user has a genuine reason to downvote, then he should instead be able to articulate his "reason" by clicking on "add a comment". In fact, that would allow the audience to ponder both sides. Oftentimes the downvoter is plain wrong (provided that he bothered to articulated his downvote via comments).

As an example, somebody asked whether involving an attorney was worthy. I was able to answer before the question was put on hold. The question got closed as "off-topic" even though the question fits the on-topic category of "Dealing with legal professionals". Although the OP accepted my answer, so far two users (presumably lawyers) did not like that I discouraged the OP from involving an attorney for what he had in mind. We will never know for sure these two downvoters' motive, though, since neither articulated the reason of their dislike.

In light of these and akin gestures of arrogance and animosity, stackexchange sites should not foster new pretexts for suppressing answers/posts.

  • Apropos of the anonymous & unsubstantiated downvoting (count says 3 downvotes so far). – Iñaki Viggers Jan 23 at 13:14
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    @feetwet Thanks! Both links are interesting (each one in its own way). I perceived this question as a witch-hunt in the making, but I was unaware of profiles as the one from the 2nd link. I must say that some answers in the 2nd link are tautological enough to cause laughter. – Iñaki Viggers Jan 23 at 21:15
  • I'm a bit concerned that you'd accept answers to questions on the basis that they are thought-provoking. This is a site for questions and answers about the law, not for opinions about the law, or for discussion. Sorry, that's not what we're here for. If a user would like to start a discussion about the law, there are any number of social media sites where that is appropriate. Normative declarations about the law (I refer to user6726's characterisation of opinion answers) I think fall into that class of material. – jimsug Jan 25 at 20:51
  • @jimsung By "thought-provoking" I don't mean it as purely "inventive". That would belong in Worldbuilding SE. But, for instance, I think it is legitimate for an informed answer to (1) underline inconsistencies or archaisms of law which for whatever reason have not been mended, and (2) reflect the author's position by calling such things a nonsense or an archaism, accordingly. Frowning upon an answer merely because it also does (2) sounds in fanaticism. – Iñaki Viggers Jan 25 at 22:51
  • @IñakiViggers agreed on 1 and 2. I suppose I read your statement as indicating that a post that is only thought-provoking could be a valid answer - I would strongly disagree. The post must also answer the question, as a bare minimum for it to be considered an answer. – jimsug Jan 27 at 15:31
  • @jimsung Ah yes, addressing the question is prerequisite. The idea is that the OP actually gets something (whether a starting point, an insight of how things are in real life, etc.) from an answer to his inquiry. – Iñaki Viggers Jan 27 at 15:43

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