I believe we have a user posting questions based on the plots of soap operas that are not broadcast in the US or Europe. Several of the questions have been popular though not really believable. Is there anything we can/should do?

Is this a green light for me to post questions as though I were Leroy Jethro Gibbs, or maybe McGee?

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    Are the questions good questions?
    – Nicole
    Commented Nov 6, 2013 at 23:20
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    @NickC I am certian I can craft some really entertaining questions that would look like good questions. I personally feel like the questions are pollution. I think if the site fills up with them people will stop coming here. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 2:44
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    3/4 of my questions are not based around a real problem I was facing. Their average score is +23.25, but more importantly they generated good (and a couple of great) answers. Just saying...
    – yannis
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 13:59
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    @Chad: ...Head off the flood of questions about situations that only occur on TV. Which ones are those? The ones that occur on Star Trek? Even Game of Thrones includes situations that would make for good questions on TWP.
    – Jim G.
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 15:50
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    "I work mostly from my Malibu Beach house, this worked well for me until my brother and his kid moved in with me. Now it seems like all we do is get into one hijinks after another and I am not getting work done. What should I do?" Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 15:52
  • @Chad: OK. Fair point. I would vote to close that immediately.
    – Jim G.
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 16:05
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    Yannis the problems were not your problems but they were real problems. And I do not have a problem with those type of questions. Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 17:00
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    Some days I wish I could use Jethro or Duckys management style at my last gig there where a few that needed a head slap :-) Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 22:51
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    As the real world is far more bizarre than fiction, disbelief is rarely a good indication of falsehood. Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 13:03
  • The issue of people making stuff up will ultimately spell the demise of the site if something is not done .The site means a lot more to others than it means to me but I would like to see it as a credible site .I dont know how to stop fiction on the site .If I thought of anything then I would say.
    – Autistic
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 22:42

6 Answers 6


It is possible that someone might post a question about a problem that they aren't personally facing. But I don't recommend it unless it's based on a real problem. I have seen this done before, but it's incredibly rare and difficult to pull off without there just being something off about the post.

Steer clear of fake problems

When it comes to workplace problems derived from soap operas, comedies, or other forms of entertainment, the problems faced are entirely fictional, grossly overdramatized, or don't accurately reflect a situation that would present itself in the real world. The only exception might be documentaries or works based on non-fiction. To allow such questions on our site might cross a line that may do more harm than good.

If you believe a question is actively harmful to the site, please flag it using the other (needs ♦ moderator attention) flag option, and describe the situation.

A Problem doesn't have to be yours, if you're careful!

Note that this doesn't necessarily mean the question has to be your problem, it should just be a real problem. Here's something Jeff Atwood ♦ told the Project Management SE community during their early days to help attract more experts to their site:

A few ideas:

  1. Invite notable bloggers to weigh in on 'best of' interesting PM questions. "We're not sure how to answer {question link}, do you have any advice?"

  2. Ask PM questions on their behalf. If they write a blog entry or ask something (on their blog, twitter, or facebook) that contains a question -- actual or implied -- post it as a question here. Wait and see what kind of response it gets, then bring it to their attention. "I thought you brought up a really interesting question, and it got some interesting answers here {question link}."

See Helping The Experts Get Answers for more details.

Health/Stats of The Workplace SE

As for our site's health, take a look at this Area 51 snapshot taken just six months ago on May 6th, 2013:

May 6, 2013

In May, our stats showed 2,909 visits per day. However, fast forward to today, November 6, 2013, and you can see we have a whopping 8,028 visits per day!

November 6, 2013

With such phenomenal growth, this means that what we're doing is working! People are using our site as a resource, and we even have people with success stories to tell.

The last thing we want to do right now is trade our quality for quantity and try to game the system, especially when our community has worked so hard to create such a great resource of knowledge that is actually helping people be more successful in their careers! Let's keep doing what we're doing, and look out for more Workplace SE success stories.

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    +1 for "The last thing we want to do right now is trade our quality for quantity and try to game the system"
    – jmac
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 4:00
  • Going to start not answering this users questions. I am sure they won't care, but I will feel better.
    – Neo
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 23:23

This is a simple question to me.

"Does a posted question benefit Workplace.SE?"

If yes, then I'm ok with the question. If no, then I'm not. The problem with many of these "soap opera" types of questions are that on the whole they negatively affect Workplace.SE in my opinion.

I really have no problems with questions not being real so long as they are good for the Workplace overall, which means they are on topic and appropriately scoped for the site, containing a real question.

(note that most soap opera questions we've seen here have been "tell me what to do I'm not sure what my problem is!")


Executive Summary

A good question is a good question. As long as the questions follow the site guidelines and are "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems" I think they should be welcome.

Wait, you left something out!

Yes, the actual phrase from the help center is: "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." I left out the last part above because it isn't relevant to whether or not a question is good.

For instance, I had no need to update my resume when I asked this question, but with nearly 50,000 views over the past 8 months, I would hope that asking it made the internet a better place:

How Should I Indicate Language Proficiency on my Resume?

The Big Picture

Questions are meant to frame a problem. Whether or not it is framed based on a circumstance I think I'll have in the future, one I had in the past, one that my friend had, or yes, even one from a soap opera, so long as the problem being framed is practical and answerable based on problems people actually face, it should be welcome here.

For instance, let's say I'm a manager, and I see two members of another group having a row over some issue. Their manager handles the issue in a top-down style, but I think it could have been handled between the two members themselves (and that the other manager was premature in acting). If that person posts a question saying, "When should inter-personal conflicts be brought to a manager?" despite it not being an actual problem they are currently facing, we should encourage it.

It is not our responsibility to determine the veracity of a problem being relevant to the person asking, only to decide if the problem is practical and properly framed so that it will get good answers and provide value to future visitors.

So we should all post soap-opera based questions?

Only if you think it's a good practical and answerable question that people will likely face. Asking "How can I deal with my father's first wife marrying my boss while I'm having an affair with him?" should probably be closed in a heartbeat. But if you're watching a Law & Order episode about the 'Blue Code of Silence' and decide to ask, "What is my responsibility to report someone taking responsibility for the mistakes of a coworker?" you may help the many people out there dealing with that type of situation if you frame the question well (using the episode as inspiration for the concept, rather than the details).

Common Sense + Community Moderation = Success

Use common sense, and trust in community moderation. So much of what we do falls under the "I know it when I see it" principle that a blanket ban is probably going to prevent some good along with potential abuse.

If there are specific concerns with a particular user making strings of questionable questions (based on soap operas or otherwise), flag them for a moderator to handle if it is causing the quality of the site to suffer.

In the meantime, Vote Early and Vote Often, and help shape our community with feedback on top of that moderation.

  • +1: Yep. Pretty much the same point that I was making. Thanks @jmac!
    – Jim G.
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 3:37

Should anything be done about a user posting fake questions

If a question is a good fit for the site, I would do nothing and allow it to stay.

  • A fake question that is a good fit for the site is a good fit for the site.
  • A fake question that is not a good fit for the site can be addressed as any other question that does not fit the site. (Edit, close, down vote, ...)

Is this a green light for me to post questions as though I were Leroy Jethro Gibbs, or maybe McGee?

Yes, I think so. (Those are fictional characters, right? Not impersonating real people.)

If you are posting questions that are truly a good fit for the site, then those questions would be both good for the site AND entertaining.

Is that a bad thing?

  • As long as questions aren't obviously fake, it should be okay. Thus, there'd have to be a huge degree of seriousness to such an approach. On a site for people to find solutions about real problems they're facing, questions that aren't of a serious nature may negatively affect how the outside world views our site, making it less useful for solving problems.
    – jmort253
    Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 3:22
  • @jmort253 I completely agree. I would think the questions you describe would fall under "not a good fit for the site". Commented Dec 6, 2013 at 11:55

not really believable

To me, above indicates a problem, no matter if the question was copied from plot or not. When I sense it, this is usually a good reason to vote down.

If, in addition, I can spot and spell what exactly feels not really believable, it's a clear case to add a comment asking to clarify it and cast a close vote / "Unclear" (of course, assuming further reopen after asker adds a satisfactory clarification).

You see, it looks more productive to focus on "unbelievable" aspects of the problematic questions. Vote these down and close appropriately - which will in turn (not coincidentally) inhibit undeserved popularity.

If the original plot happens to be sufficiently realistic and detailed for a real question, and if asker will be able to reproduce it correctly, so be it. Unless of course asker reveals enough details to let one discover a source plot - which would make a case to flag / meta complaint about unattributed copying and quite likely even a good reason for deletion.

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    None of the questions alone from this user really raised my spidey-senses until the last one. But when you string the questions together, it is clear that they are coming from somewhere else solely because of the variety and the lack of continuity. I am not sure if I should be the arbiter of believability across questions though if each one, self-contained, is a good question.
    – jmac
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 12:22
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    @jmac well, as long as these are indeed OK self-contained, the only way to expose the issue is probably to find out the original source and raise complaint about unattributed copying. BTW if the guy is in the racket of IT PM trainings, this may also explain variety and the lack of continuity - one of my friends is a trainer and he's got a lot of war stories collected at clients he did trainings for - much much more than anyone can get through the individual career
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 12:26
  • Given what I've seen in RL, it is extremely difficult for me to assume anything to be fiction. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 21:10

Good question.

First of all, take a look at @Michael Grubey's appeal. Then consider @NickC's comment.

As I write, Beta.Workplace.SE is currently trending at a mere 4.7 questions per day. This is unacceptable. At this rate, the site will never graduate. We need good questions! If you see a workplace dilemma in a movie or a book, then consider submitting a representative question to Beta.Workplace.SE. You can submit it with either your "normal" Workplace account or a throwaway account.

Second, please consider what @jmort253 had to say about taking the "real problem" standard too literally:

While it's quite possible this is not a real, actual problem the asker is facing, we shouldn't take this too literally; it is a real, actual problem someone might likely face or perhaps a problem the asker may have even faced in the past or will face in the future.

  • Hi Jim, you made a great point about how problems don't have to necessarily be one the asker is specifically facing, so I updated my post to differentiate between fake problems we should steer clear of and real problems that may not necessarily be our problems. It's still important we stay focused on quality though and not get too lost in the allure of quantity, especially since we've experienced 100% growth on our site in 6 months. Our site is doing well! :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 4:10
  • @jmort253: Thanks, jmort! Keep up the good work.
    – Jim G.
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 4:19
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    your note about never graduate doesn't make good sense to me. Based on my observations, it looks most likely that Workplace will graduate the day (maybe week) after we build 3K question backlog - at 4.7 rate, this is going to take 4-5 months from now. Worth mentioning that having 3K backlog artificially bumped up by soap opera garbage looks a recipe for disaster: questions asked after graduation will carry a risk of following bad examples from backlog
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 9:00
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    "As I write, Beta.Workplace.SE is currently trending at a mere 4.7 questions per day. This is unacceptable. At this rate, the site will never graduate." It's neither unacceptable, nor a sign that the site will never graduate. Don't get stuck on the A51's stats, they don't tell the whole story and are not binding. Skeptics, for example, graduated with ~2 questions/day (and is currently at 2.2 questions/day). There are quite a few other factors SE will consider when they discuss graduation and most of these factors are only available to them. That said, we can always use more (good) questions.
    – yannis
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 9:42
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    @Yannis: Thanks, Yannis. Please see my revisions, inspired by your comment.
    – Jim G.
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 12:41

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