In this question, I made an edit to change the formatting because I thought it was inappropriate (related meta discussion).

The author swiftly reverted my edit to restore the original version, without waiting for further opinions. Is this the appropriate behavior?

I believe that when we notice a conflict of this type, the proper procedure would be either alerting the moderators or opening a meta discussion. Reverting edits is OK for vandalism, or in cases in which an edit contains an honest mistake (for instance, changing a notation wrongly). But when there is a clear conflict of opinions, I would prefer if unilateral changes were avoided.

Something similar happened in this controversial question. I edited it to remove out a part that I considered inappropriate on this site; another user disagreed with me and reverted the edit without much discussion. Later on, in the meta discussion a vast majority of users agreed that my deletion was appropriate (+21/-4 votes as I am writing). The question still stands in its original state, by the way.

In both cases, the authors were trying to attract more attention to their questions; so I believe that if the question stays in its original state for a long period of time, especially in the first days while it is new and active, the 'harm' has already been done and they have achieved their goal. So we should err on the side of the editor in this kind of conflicts, not on the side of the author (contrary to what has happened in both cases).

What is the opinion of the community and of the moderators on this issue?

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    $\begingroup$ Could we tone this down a bit? Writing "But when there is a clear conflict of opinion just saying "my opinion is more correct than yours and it is the one that deserves to stay" is simply arrogant" (the user didn't say that, did he?), and "the users tried to attract more attention to their question by misusing this site" is really adding fuel to the flame. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Oct 18 '18 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @ToddTrimble Done. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Oct 18 '18 at 13:06
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    $\begingroup$ Are you actually asking about protocol or writing a callout thread? I think that when users disagree on the way a question is presented a calm discussion in meta is a good place for it, and that this is what has usually happened. In any case, I do not agree that one edit each constitutes an "edit war". $\endgroup$ – Mike Miller Oct 18 '18 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeMiller I already opened another meta thread (linked) to discuss the content of the issue. The same thing happened twice already, and I am writing to ask what I should do if it happens a third time. I believe that the timing of the edits and reverts is important here (as argued in the question), so it would be good for me to have a policy on what to do in future. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Oct 18 '18 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ I realize that it is difficult (for me in the first place) to keep the discussion on this incident separate from the general "what to do" question. My proposal is that I let it cool off, and one week from now I try to write a completely new meta question that tries to be detached from this issue and describes the problem a more general setting. I have voted to close this question as "unclear what you are asking". (I didn't even know the author of a question could vote to close it!) $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Oct 18 '18 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ It was my intuition precisely because of the other thread that the purpose of this was to double down and fan the flames, as posting the other thread already seemed to be "proper protocol" to me. However, I take you at your word that it was not (and apologize for the accusation). I think that a more general question would be of use to this website as a pointer for future conflicts and look forward to it. $\endgroup$ – Mike Miller Oct 18 '18 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ If you will forgive the irony, I applaud the idea of waiting a week, then editing the question to include your meditation that week on the pertinent issues. Most of us will be here to help after a week. Gerhard "Does Gazing At Other Navels" Paseman, 2018.10.18. $\endgroup$ – Gerhard Paseman Oct 18 '18 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ There is a FAQ post on this meta: Editing etiquette. Todd Trimble wrote in his answer: "If simple polite communication doesn't work and you find yourselves at an impasse, you can flag for moderator attention to help resolve the dispute." If there are many edits on a post, mod-attention flag is automatically raised: Put an end to rollback wars and What causes a post to be auto-flagged for many edits more than once? $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 18 '18 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Federico Poloni: From what kind of 'harm' are you talking? What's bad if a question gets attention? $\endgroup$ – tj_ Oct 19 '18 at 4:59
  • $\begingroup$ @tj_ It's not creating attention from nowhere, it's taking it away from other posts. It's the same kind of 'harm' that ads and sponsored content do, in my view. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Oct 19 '18 at 7:20

As a longtime Wikipedia contributor who has been around a lot of truly crazy edit wars, my advice is: never revert more than once even if the other person's edit is terrible. Instead leave a comment explaining your objection, and flag the post or open a discussion on meta. There is an official 3-revert limit on Wikipedia but in practice it's preferable to stop at 1. There are exceptions (like if the edit could do someone real harm if not reverted, e.g. it contains bad medical advice) but they're less likely to come up on MO.


Disclaimer: I'm the author of one of the questions under discussion, so clearly I'm biased.

I think this has spiraled a bit out of control, and I'm surprised by the strong feelings. I think it will help to explain what things look like from my end:

  • I write question. It is unfortunately quite long - necessarily so, in my opinion - and so I make the question itself a bit more visible and add some linebreaks. (Note that all of this occurs inside the body of the question, so I'm not tricking anyone into being interested in the question who wasn't already.)

  • Someone objects to my formatting, but doesn't say anything beyond "Remove various abuses of Markdown/Mathjax for emphasis" in the edit note. I don't see what harm it's causing, and I prefer the way it looked originally, so I revert. In the comments I basically say that I actively wanted it to look like that; from my perspective, I'm just clarifying that I do have a non-negligible preference.

  • The editor then opens multiple strongly-worded meta questions, and seems to feel I've acted out of malice. This annoys me, given the effort I've put into my question, the actual reason for my formatting choices (not to attract attention, but to make it easier for someone already interested to find the precise question and decide if they're actually interested enough to give it a stab - since all my objectionable formatting choices are contained inside the body of the question itself and not visible from the outside, analogies like "one is not allowed to write the title of their paper in a larger font so that it is more visible than the other articles in the same issue" misrepresent the situation), and - if I may say so - my actual good faith.

  • But then it turns out the editor has a really good point (arguably multiple): they mention a problem that my formatting caused which is clearly a Bad Thing, namely that it can mess with screen readers. That totally hadn't occurred to me, and even if one leans on the side of authorial freedom over format restrictions (which I do to a mild extent) this objection is unquestionably dispositive. And so I've reverted my prior reversion (and will do further edits later today when I have time to make my question more readable while not messing with screen readers).

I don't think a policy like this question proposes - "we should err on the side of the editor in this kind of conflicts, not on the side of the author" - is justified (in fact, personally I strongly disagree), but more than that I don't think it's needed, at least not in most cases. I think that when an editor and an author turn out to disagree over a formatting point or similar, it's reasonable for the editor to give in if they don't feel strongly, and if they do feel strongly to explain why (in a bit more detail than just declaring the author's choice a Bad Thing). I suspect that this will in most cases forestall edit wars and generally keep the "temperature" down (I'll admit, I wrote a couple drafts of this answer which were a bit angry). I do think there will still be cases where the author and editor disagree - in particular, as I said above I think I lean more towards authorial freedom than the OP - but those cases will be relatively rare, and my question isn't one of them.

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    $\begingroup$ I apologize also in this thread for my strong tone. Some of the reason I got heated is that I saw something similar (in my eyes) to the previous incident, in which the author got some additional visibility out of MO inappropriately due to the way the edits and reverts were handled. (This does not excuse the behavior, I understand). This is why I opened this second question specifically. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Oct 18 '18 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ Noah, I'm not convinced that your question is necessarily long. Your posts seem to have more digressions than most posts in lo.logic....and you could instead focus on one question, avoiding other questions or issues. I think you write in a mathematical style that is natural to you, but that is a choice, and with a different choice the skimmability of your questions might not be an issue. $\endgroup$ – Matt F. Oct 19 '18 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ Quick remark: my edit note was "Remove various abuses of Markdown/Mathjax for emphasis", not the one quoted in this post. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Oct 19 '18 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ @FedericoPoloni Oh crap, when I was writing this I must have not managed to get straight in my head whether I was quoting or paraphrasing. Also, my paraphrase was really rude, and I'm sorry. Fixed! $\endgroup$ – Noah Schweber Oct 19 '18 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ @FedericoPoloni I'm increasingly unhappy with the tone of my answer; would you mind if I deleted it? I think none's answer captures the point. $\endgroup$ – Noah Schweber Oct 20 '18 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ No problem from my side --- if you prefer to delete it, I won't object or complain. You have all your right to make your point and explain your opinion, though. I can relate, I am also increasingly unhappy with the way I asked this question. $\endgroup$ – Federico Poloni Oct 20 '18 at 15:40

I find the post title mildly inflammatory, but effective, so I will resist the temptation to edit it.

I think there should be no edit wars, and thus do not see the need for a protocol. In cases of disagreement, I like to leave a comment suggesting the author make the change. Leaving aside obvious (to the community) cases like spam, I almost never act independently or call in the moderators; I prefer to encourage the individual instead. I think you have the right idea, but a different modus operandi: for serious (to you) cases you start by asking for help on how to proceed, through meta or through moderators.

While I understand 'harm' or 'damage' might be useful word in this discussion, I think it may help to rename the problem and talk about 'impact' instead on the community. I think if a well-intended edit gets reverted that is a signal to ask about what is going on, and seek advice. Egos can be repaired, and they are usually the primary victims in many cases.

Gerhard "Does This Signature Have Impact?" Paseman, 2018.10.18.


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