I realize this is a touchy subject. I don't want to start a dumpster fire of politics, but I think it's something we should (and can!) civilly discuss. Politics right now is a little nuts. No matter what you believe, and (almost) no matter where you are in the world, I think we'd all agree on that. And I'm not going to say any more about it than that.

We've gotten a couple puzzles so far that touch on politics. One of them, I removed quite a while ago because I didn't feel it handled politics in a particularly... respectful way. This isn't the first time something like that has happened, though, and I distinctly remember several cases over the past few years. But they've been relatively rare. However, since the recent U.S. election, we've gotten another handful posts that have... made me/us a little uncomfortable. Not inherently bad, but just... rubbed me the wrong way.

I don't want Puzzling to become political. We're here to be friends, and have fun solving puzzles with each other and for each other, learning how to do that better all the while. I'm worried that recent events will inspire an increasing number of politically-oriented puzzles, and I'm worried that this is going to have a negative effect on the site long-term.

Is this something we should allow?

We've got a couple options. We can head off the issue entirely, right now, playing it safe, and say that we don't want to accept puzzles that touch on politics at all. Or... we can wait and see whether or not they even become problematic and divisive at all. The line of thought here might be that we don't have too many examples of this right now, meaning a preemptive decision isn't warranted. The counterargument would be that if we wait, it may become divisive, and before we know it we'll be stuck with a longer-lasting and harder to fix problem.

I personally lean towards just saying "please don't do it," and removing posts that do touch the political - not just party politics, but all politics - with a friendly comment and a gentle reminder. We've got a good thing going here, and I'd hate for politics to get in the way of... normal positive site interactions.

But this isn't the sort of thing I'm comfortable acting on unilaterally as a general rule without some form of meta agreement. What are your thoughts?

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    $\begingroup$ Should we penalise people who think that Gary cannot be a women's name as being politically incorrect? Of course not! Puzzling is, more than anything, a community, so we should all be allowed our own views. $\endgroup$ – boboquack Feb 7 '17 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ I was going to answer to air my view that good puzzles should be based on facts rather than opinions and beliefs (i.e. steer clear of religion and politics) but then there are all those alternative facts to consider... $\endgroup$ – Gordon K Feb 7 '17 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ @boboquack I'm not really talking about penalizing people in some way; it's more of a cultural and social question. We're all still allowed our own views either way, and I'm quite deliberately neutral here about which ones I hold. $\endgroup$ – Aza Feb 7 '17 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ Links would help here, so that we have some specific posts to look at and discuss. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Feb 7 '17 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ (Was going to be part of an answer post but I didn't want to chance offending anyone.) What an exquisitely difficult question! At best, perhaps, some thoughtful answers here (two already spotted!) can be pointed to in comments when puzzle posts offend someone: 1) How to improve posts that are accidentally offensive (could be anything - I recommend pathological optimism as a coping mechanism.) 2) How to defuse/disarm posts/posters that/who are deliberately offensive. $\endgroup$ – humn Feb 7 '17 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ @GordonK I object to your "i.e." - politics can be based on facts too. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Feb 7 '17 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ @rand I left out links because I don't want anyone to feel like I'm targeting their questions specifically, especially when it comes to politics. $\endgroup$ – Aza Feb 7 '17 at 13:21
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    $\begingroup$ @humn 1) is a good thing to bear in mind - some puzzles in which the political content is more flavour text than inherent to the puzzle can simply be edited to remove anything offensive. 2) is a problem for the moderators, not us. (I've already addressed both of these issues in my answer below.) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Feb 7 '17 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ What's old and evil and never dies, feeds on whimpers, groans and cries, rarely thinks and often stinks, cares not the answer of the sphinx? Politicians! So who cares...? Also, excellent question that's sparked some facinating discussion. Love the points made by @humn $\endgroup$ – Brent Hackers Feb 9 '17 at 14:13

Provided they don't violate the Be Nice policy, what's the problem?

Just as there's a difference between discussing politics disrespectfully and discussing politics at all, there's also a difference between offensively political puzzles and any political puzzles.

If someone posts a riddle like this:

His name sounds like a card game,
His mother came from Scotland,
He's a modern-day Adolf Hitler
And should totally be shot.

... then regardless of my own political views, I'd flag that as offensive and would have no issues with it being deleted. (See also Does the Be Nice policy require SE users to "be nice" to people who are not SE users (e.g. public figures)?) Politics-related Be Nice violations should be penalised just as much as any other Be Nice violations. That's a given.

However, if someone posts a riddle more like this:

His name sounds like a card game,
His mother came from Scotland,
He's talked about building a wall
And created a ban on entry.

... then I don't see any problem with that. These clues are all factual statements, and stating facts shouldn't be offensive to anybody. I'd feel pretty uncomfortable with a site where some perfectly valid topics are banned from discussion just due to a vague fear that they might become uncivil. If we do get uncivil questions or discussions on a topic, deal with them because they're uncivil, not because of the topic. You're talking about throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.

There's nothing wrong with the topic itself, only with the way some few people approach it.

Look: I don't like questions. I have zero interest in or knowledge of video games, and I don't like to see questions that I can't appreciate, evaluate, or answer. But I don't vote to close them - I accept that video games are a valid topic around which a good puzzle can be made. So is politics.

How about religion? Are we going to ban all questions about religion just because some people are unable to discuss religion civilly? Should any question mentioning God be summarily deleted, just to ward off potential flame-wars between people of different religious leanings?

Have a little faith in your users here. Most of us are able to discuss even hot-button topics without flying off the handle - or if we aren't able to, we'll discuss them somewhere other than Stack Exchange. And if a particular topic causes particular people to act badly, then that's a problem with those people, not with the topic. Don't take the toys away from all the children in the world just because one or two can't play nicely - weed out those one or two and deal with them.

So what should we do, in practice?

Admittedly it may sometimes be hard to know where to draw the line. If we had a question where Republicans all tell the truth and Democrats all lie, I'd probably want to see that edited to two fictional parties instead, so as not to offend anyone or make real-world political statements. (If the OP rolled back such an edit, then it might be time to call in the mods.) But I don't see anything wrong with a question like this, for example. Even if the choice of words is a reflection of a real-world politician's publicly expressed views and statements, what's wrong with that? Again, it's factual rather than partisan. In fact, that might be a good litmus test for whether or not a political question is appropriate.

Yeah, there's going to be a grey area, and some questions where you'll likely have to make a judgement call, trying to be as unbiased as you can, about whether or not it's respectful enough. But hey, you're a mod - this is what you signed up for! :-) And in the worst case, there's always meta. Just as you've posted now about the general issue, you could post to ask the community whether we feel a specific post is appropriate or not.

Inspired by my own analogy of video games above, I'd also suggest a tag to be added to all such questions (including retrospectively). We have precedent for this with tags such as , , and . That way, anyone who doesn't want to see political puzzles can put the tag on ignore, while those of us able to cope with them can continue to post and solve such puzzles just as we do with puzzles about geography, history, or whatever else.

  • $\begingroup$ A lot can happen, even from very nice people, to establish a culture that's inadvertently toxic to others. And while I agree with Be Nice, I don't think it applies - a lot of that cultural backbone can be changed by thoughts and actions that don't cross the Be Nice line. It helps, don't get me wrong, but it's not the complete picture here. I also think this post may be hyperbolizing the extremes a bit too far to make a point... I understand what you're saying, though, and I'll definitely think on it some more. $\endgroup$ – Aza Feb 7 '17 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul I hyperbolised a bit at the beginning just to demonstrate two examples that everyone could agree on, but I did also discuss some greyer middle-ground examples later on. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Feb 7 '17 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ (FWIW, even the first example isn't entirely hyperbolic. I've actually seen the views in both the 3rd and 4th lines expressed publicly by SE mods.) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Feb 7 '17 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this viewpoint, mostly. One word of caution, though: "These clues are all factual statements, and stating facts shouldn't be offensive to anybody." ...It is not only possible, but prevalent, to exhibit bias by picking and choosing which facts to present. I think dcfyj's answer on this point is more to the point - puzzles, or really any reasoned discourse, should not assume everyone agrees with the viewpoint or slant of the speaker(s) or writer(s). "Factual" isn't enough. "Unbiased" - or at least without intentional bias - is the real standard to measure up against. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Feb 7 '17 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ I for one wish we could flag things as 'offensive but hilarious'.... $\endgroup$ – Brent Hackers Feb 9 '17 at 14:19

There's nothing inherently wrong with political-themed puzzles, so they should be allowed.

Can there be bad political questions? Absolutely, just like bad riddles and ciphers. Suggesting the removal of any puzzle which might involve politics as a theme would be like banning all sports questions because you don't want to put down a specific team. If a sports puzzle is demeaning the Chicago Cubs, then we deal with the specific question. If a puzzle is poking fun at Trump, deal with that specific question.

Also, some people could probably find issues in just about any question. For example, random question posted a short while ago about blind mice. Part of the puzzle goes "Hack tail off", which I imagine some animal lovers would disagree with. Or, take the first sentence, "Free blind mice with spirit are bound", which is clearly alluding to how the current political powers are binding our free spirited individuals! </sarcasm>

Sure, politics is currently a bit more of a hot button issue than normal, but that's not really a reason to ban anything remotely political. If a specific post is causing problems, address that post. Comments continue to not be for extended discussion, and if users want to talk politics, they can go to the Politics.SE chat room.

  • $\begingroup$ I promise there are no political references in that puzzle :-) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Feb 7 '17 at 15:44

Personally I think that they should be allowed, but with the stipulation that they remain in neutral light.

I'm sure some people will make puzzles about politics so that they can vent (nothing wrong with that), but that doesn't mean it should be done negatively or positively.

Having your own opinion about a certain situation (political or otherwise) is quite reasonable, but that doesn't mean that it should be thrown out there as a "Look at this great thing that was done by such and such political figure" or "Look at this horrible thing that was done by such and such idiot political figure".

Keeping it neutral, I think, would help maintain the focus on the puzzle rather than the subject of the puzzle. We are, after all, a puzzle website and that, I feel, should always be our focus.


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