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Programmers.SE, we need to talk.

We've had a rough couple of years, what with being originally a place to ask anything and everything and having to shape up. I get that it's annoying to still see off-topic question or questions that are unanswerable day in and day out.

But that's no excuse for the excessively rude and offensive comments and answers that currently happen on questions like these. Questions like that aren't great: they're probably off-topic. But when we have users with literally thousands of reputation leaving comments like the now-deleted:

No thanks, I'm not your [expletive deleted].

And answers like this that link to extremely condescending and overtly hostile GIFs like these, we have completely lost our way.

This isn't an isolated incident, either: hostile comments and answers like these happen all the time, and what appears to be increasing frequency, from people with enough reputation to know better:

Let me be clear: we make the internet a worse place when stuff like this happens. We make our site look like trash.

Please, stop it. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything. Vote to close, flag, down-vote, or leave a polite comment explaining to the user where they went wrong and just move on. If you find yourself unable to resist leaving a snarky or hostile comment on a question or answer you don't like, I humbly suggest you do what I did: take a break from the site. It'll still be here when you come back.

More reading:

  • 2
    I've deleted the answer, for those with less than 10K it was just the GIF... – yannis Jul 28 '12 at 7:35
  • Couldn't agree more on this . – Geek Jul 28 '12 at 9:16
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    @gnat I purposefully left the question undocumented because this isn't about the question: this is about overly hostile responses to questions people don't like. There is no question bad enough to warrant this type of vitriol. – user8 Jul 28 '12 at 13:27
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    Taking a break from the site is a great suggestion and does wonders for one's mental outlook. – Walter Jul 28 '12 at 14:07
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    Related post from Gaming's Meta: meta.gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/5045/… – Ben Brocka Jul 28 '12 at 16:31
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    @JimG. Both the answerer and the commenter Mark is referring to are senior members (by reputation) and regulars on both the main site and on Meta. – yannis Jul 28 '12 at 17:50
  • @YannisRizos: OK. Good to know. I can't see those because I have less than 10k of reputation. – Jim G. Jul 28 '12 at 18:09
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    The "IMHO" one sounds offensive out of context but it's really not if you actually read what it's talking about. It's not saying "you're stupid for asking this" it's saying "the interviewer asked a stupid question" – Ben Brocka Jul 30 '12 at 18:31
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Responding negatively to those folks who copy paste their homework assignments is just a waste of time.

These people don't care how you react; they're looking for the one guy that will actually do their homework for them (some people will). Consequently, your negative comment will have no effect on the OP, and will only succeed in irritating your fellow community members and alienating new visitors to the site.

A better response is to downvote the question, and cast a moderator flag with a custom explanation, like this:

Request for speedy deletion: this question is a copy-paste of a homework assignment, with no effort on the part of the OP to do the assignment himself.

As an example, I cast a flag with this exact wording on the copy/paste homework assignment originally linked. Yannis deleted it (see his answer).

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    Nobody deserves this kind of abuse, and it's frankly quite shocking a moderator would even consider it to be okay in any circumstance, much less something someone "deserves". This isn't about what does and doesn't waste people's time: it's about treating people like human beings. – user8 Jul 29 '12 at 8:20
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    @MarkTrapp: I've removed the first sentence in my answer. But nothing demonstrates contempt for the community members more than copy-pasting homework assignments. It's an affront to every educated person who actually had to do some work to get through school. I'm not saying the community response is appropriate, just that it's not surprising. – Robert Harvey Jul 29 '12 at 14:43
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    @RobertHarvey If copy-paste homework questions personally offend you, you've lost all perspective. Do you really think people do this to piss off people like you as a sign of contempt? They're just people in the wrong place. – user8 Jul 29 '12 at 19:15
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    Is there a right place? – Robert Harvey Jul 29 '12 at 19:55
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    I'm quite certain that none of those people will do their students' work for them. – Robert Harvey Jul 29 '12 at 20:04
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    No, but they'll take a student who comes in with a homework problem and help them work though it: when I was a TA, students coming in with just "This is the homework problem I have. Help!" was pretty standard. We don't help with that here, but we don't have to be jerks about it when someone makes that mistake. – user8 Jul 29 '12 at 20:18
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    Not everyone who posts homework is trying to be a cheater. Most are probably young and don't have the real world experience to understand the rules of asking for help on a site like this. I do agree with Mark, we shouldn't make assumptions about people's intentions unless there is evidence to demonstrate he or she should know better. – jmort253 Jul 30 '12 at 3:27
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    @jmort253: From about 4th grade on, I understood what cheating was, so I'm sorry if I have no sympathy for these folks. In case you missed reading the original question, it was a verbatim copy/paste homework assignment, without any apparent effort whatsoever from the OP to solve it himself. Be as polite as you want to these folks, but these kinds of questions should be deleted on sight. – Robert Harvey Jul 30 '12 at 3:31
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    Can't see it anymore unless you go into the revision history, gnat tried to edit a hardcopy in Mark's question but Mark deleted it, not sure why... Anyway, I agree with you 100% that the question has got to go, but there's no reason to post rude material. That just encourages more rudeness in areas where it's not really called for. The world sees what's posted here in comments, so it should remain positive and professional. For clarity, deleting someone's post isn't mean, it's not rude, and I am in no way suggesting we tiptoe around these issues, just be professional, that's all. – jmort253 Jul 30 '12 at 3:42
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    "These people don't care how you react; they're looking for the one guy that's stupid enough to post an answer" No, most users actually do care about the reaction and comments they get. They think this is a Q&A site for programmers, so post their question in hopes of getting an answer from a programmer. They don't understand the site rules, SE question guidelines, or know that they should read the faq before asking questions. They simply have a question, and see this as the means to get an answer. And users that bother answering them are typically not "stupid" - they just want to help. – Rachel Jul 30 '12 at 16:15
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    @Rachel: I am speaking specifically about people who copy-paste their homework assignment directly out of their textbook, and don't even bother to ask a specific question about it. You're right; they don't understand the site rules. They don't care about that; they just want an answer to their question. I know that because they had to click an "I Understand the Rules" checkbox when the site rules were presented to them before they asked their question. These folks don't deserve your rudeness, but they don't deserve one iota of sympathy either. – Robert Harvey Jul 30 '12 at 16:19
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    @gnat: I don't think anyone will have a problem with you flagging those comments. Comment flags do not affect flag weight, AFAIK. Some of the comments have already been removed. – Robert Harvey Jul 30 '12 at 21:34
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    @NickC: You're confusing someone that's asking for help with someone who's too lazy to do their homework and wants someone else to do it for them. Anyway, my personal feelings are not relevant; I'm not advocating a rude response, nor is anyone else. I'm merely stating that these questions should get deleted as soon as they are asked. But, you already knew that, since you actually read my answer, right? – Robert Harvey Jul 30 '12 at 22:35
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    @Robert - I read your answer, read the history, and read all the comments. My comment above is relevant to this comment and this comment. I just don't share your feelings of thinking these people are insulting (or demonstrating contempt for) the community. – Nicole Jul 30 '12 at 23:04
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    @gnat: I cast a flag with this exact wording on the copy/paste homework assignment originally linked. Yannos deleted it (see his answer). – Robert Harvey Jul 31 '12 at 14:48
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Thank you for bring this up on meta.

I am constantly seeing rude, snarky, condescending, and even hostile comments like these all over Programmers, and appreciate you taking the time to bring this issue to everyone's attention. Its not all users, but its enough users to make a noticeable difference in the site.

I couldn't agree more with this

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything. Vote to close, flag, down-vote, or leave a polite comment explaining to the user where they went wrong and just move on.

If you're actually interested in helping the user understand their problem so they can correct it, that's fine. But if you want to comment just to make a point and never see the question again, refrain from commenting altogether.

In addition, here's another bit of advice stolen from Arquade's Meta post on rude comments:

How should one react to rude comments?

Don't engage. Don't upvote the rude comment. Remember even if a rude comment is funny to you it may be irritating to others. Telling off the rude user will only make matters worse. If the rude comment also says something useful (e.g. "Hey stupid butt, your question is off topic") consider adding a polite comment that contains constructive information instead and flag the rude comment for removal.

And a comment below explaining why you don't upvote rude comments:

"Don't upvote the rude comment." I feel this is really important. When we do that, we're pretty much giving tacit approval to whatever has been posted and sending the message that the community approves of this type of behavior

The majority of people I see posting questions on here are asking for help, and I hate seeing them turned away with sarcasm, rudeness, and a condescending or elitist attitude. I don't think SE would succeed if it wasn't for the millions of people that volunteer their time to help others solve their problems, and having these sort of comments all over the site, with frequent upvotes, is a good way to make volunteers think this site is not for them, and to leave the site.

Also stolen from Arqade's post:

Is there anything I can do to get rid of rude comments?

Just flag them; there's a little flag icon to the left of a comment. Click it and select "rude or offensive" in the menu that pops up.

enter image description here

The comment will be flagged for moderator attention, a moderator can remove the comment if they agree the post is rude/offensive. However if 3 or more users total flag the same comment as rude, it will automatically be deleted (see this comment for the formula). If the comment is very high scoring it might take a couple extra flags to automatically delete, but it only takes 3 flags to delete most comments.

Note that nothing bad can happen to you or even the poster of the rude comment when you flag. These flags are anonymous. By flagging a single comment you're not getting anyone into trouble, you're just helping keep the site a clean, civil place. If you feel someone is being persistently and problematically rude, flag one of their posts/comments (or one of your own posts) with an "other" flag and explain the situation; a moderator can privately contact the user about persistent rudeness.

tl;dr

  • If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all
  • Don't upvote rude comments
  • If you see rude comments, flag them as rude/offensive for removal
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    Your answer seems to suggest that the community needs even more explanation and hand-holding over this issue than has already been offered in the FAQ, two blog posts, and on several meta sites. Note that the comments that motivated this post were made by high-rep users, who are already very clear about how all this works. – Robert Harvey Jul 30 '12 at 15:15
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    @RobertHarvey High-rep users are not the only ones who will see this post, and are also not the only ones I see making rude comments. I think its important to make this question and its answers useful for everyone, not just specific users. – Rachel Jul 30 '12 at 15:19
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    Why does the existing material not satisfy this need? Can't you just point people to the FAQ and the other available resources, instead of writing yet another treatise? You're not saying anything people haven't heard a dozen times already. – Robert Harvey Jul 30 '12 at 15:22
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    @RobertHarvey The existing material doesn't exist on the Programmers site, and currently all the existing answers suggest that this is a very localized problem with specific users or comments. I do not want someone finding this question because they have the same opinion as Mark and me, and seeing all the top answers are saying its a one-time thing and dismissing the issue. I want it to be clear that the Programmers community is aware of the problem, and that we do not condone such behavior and actively work to get rid of it. – Rachel Jul 30 '12 at 15:27
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    Nobody condones this behavior. I don't, Mark doesn't, and Yannis doesn't, and we've all made that very clear in our answers, downvotes to the contrary. The people reading our answers and downvoting them are simply not reading. I'm probably getting downvotes because I sympathize with users who get irritated when some new user blatantly throws spaghetti against the wall without even bothering to read the site instructions, but that doesn't mean I endorse uncivil behavior, only that I understand why it sometimes happens. – Robert Harvey Jul 30 '12 at 15:29
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    @RobertHarvey The upvotes on the many rude comments that exist on Programmers suggests otherwise, which is why I felt the need to make our stance clear on the issue in its own answer. I understand the commenter's point of view, but that is not the type of behavior I want to see on the main site and will not promote it by publicizing it. – Rachel Jul 30 '12 at 15:36
  • @Rachel - I was thinking you could urge people to talk about rude comments in chat. It could help them get flagged faster if you get people in the room involved. – jmort253 Jul 31 '12 at 3:39
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    -1 you saw rude comments but didn't flag them. Rudeness thrives in an apathetic community... You only need to flag, we'll take it from there. Even now with this discussion going on, there isn't a single comment flag... – yannis Jul 31 '12 at 12:03
  • @YannisRizos I flagged a few of the comments in Mark's example as rude/offensive. If there are no comment flags now then I'm guessing they attracted the 3 flags needed to get auto-deleted without a moderator needing to get involved, or another moderator took care of them. – Rachel Jul 31 '12 at 12:16
  • btw both my comments arent really directed at you, personally, but to all senior regulars. I'd be more than happy to delete comments and dispense candy, if you just let me know... Cant follow every single question. – yannis Jul 31 '12 at 12:18
  • @rachel Cool, thanks for flagging and please keep doing it. If the problem isnt as isolated as I thought, the sooner we put an end to it the better... – yannis Jul 31 '12 at 14:31
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TL;DR: "Summer of Love" tries to solve not simply the wrong problem (very rare really bad comments are already self-policed well enough by community, and mildly rough ones more likely than not apply to content that is bad and should be deleted in the first place); but aims to offend and punish people who are trying to solve the right problem (Q&A vampires). If you want to solve the problem of people posting "We don't do homework" comments, the only sustainable solution is to contain/eliminate the content asking to do homework.


I will try to do something which IMHO @Robert Harvey tried to allude to.

There is a reason why some people feel strongly negatively about people posting "Do my (home)?work for me" "I didn't bother with any effort myself" questions.

Moreover, some people (myself included) feel that such questions (or more importantly, Q&A vampires who produce them) are a significant negative - not just to SO/PSE site, but to, as Joel likes to put it, "Better internet" - or more specifically, "better life and work experience to genuine software developers". They are a LOT bigger negative than even the mildly rude "LMGTFY" or "What have you done" comments.

  • Please note that I don't advocate outright crude language or "you are stupid" type insults. But most of the huffing and puffing issued by those pushing for "Summer of Love" seems to be over relatively mild comments only offensive to those looking very hard to be offended.

    In the grand scheme of things, "Here's my homework copy/pasted" is a lot more evil than "We don't do homework for people" comment; while the actually problematic "You are dumb/imbecile" is a very rare occurrence that already doesn't stand much of a chance of not being deleted shortly.

Why are they are a LOT bigger negative?

Giving those Q&A vampires an ability to leech off of the community allows them to inflate their grades in school - frequently (given their skill) enough to allow them to graduate with CS degree they don't qualify for. I've interviewed enough of them.

Then, when they get hired as cheap resource by management, they create significant drain on life, time, effort and soul of those of us who are forced to "team up" with them; when it takes more time to explain every single task to them than to do it yourself; and any failure to "help them succeed" is seen by senior management as your failure, not theirs. And they always look JUST competent enough to avoid the sack, since SO allows them to "do their work" (by outsourcing it) well enough to justify their comparatively low salary.

Those of you who only work in a small company/startup may not necessarily grok this problem. Those who work for a large company more likely will.

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    We're a community of people who volunteer our time to help others. Some of us don't mind helping people understand their homework questions. If you don't like homework questions, don't answer them. Leaving dismissive comments like "No I won't do your homework" just makes the community look bad, particularly if the question might not actually be a homework question. It can drive away users who might one day become good contributing community members. I participate in SO to help people, and it doesn't matter if it's helping them understand homework problems or fixing their application. – Rachel Aug 6 '12 at 19:56
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    @Rachel - I may not have been clear enough, but your statement is the same as responding to people asking not to feed wild bears raw meat near their house with "well, I like to feed animals. I don't care if they get into the habit of raiding your house for food because of me and later kill you for meat". – DVK Aug 6 '12 at 20:29
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    @Rachel - Also, I keep hearing about these wonderful new members we run off with rudeness, but after decades of dealing with all sorts of programmers of many levels, I have yet to see a single Q&A vampire turn into a " good contributing community member". Please note that there's a difference between "clueless" vs "want to leech off others". Someone who just didn't know better would NOT be run off with 1 rude comment out of 3-4 polite but firm "here's the right way of doing it". And someone likely to become a good community member is likely to read FAQ before posting in the first place. – DVK Aug 6 '12 at 20:30
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    It's not just the OP, but also users that come across the question in the future. I've seen comments on both meta and the main site where people call out others for rudeness or hostility, and say they don't think this site is for them. It's gotten better the last few months, but it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the barrel. – Rachel Aug 7 '12 at 11:17
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    @Rachel - I'd love to see an example. To be honest, anyone who can be turned off of an incredibely useful content rich site by seeing a rude response to either a vampire or a total moron would be totally unable to work in any normal workplace. Again, the question to you and Joel is, do you want to self-select for people who root for the evil guys who bring nothing to the table, or people who fight the evil guys AND contribute? Nobody says rude comments are a good thing. But are they nearly as bad a thing as what they are aimed at? – DVK Aug 7 '12 at 13:27
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    Maybe its just me, but I don't see evil people anywhere. I see people seeking help, and volunteers providing help. SE is simply the framework that brings the two together. Turning away people with negative comments and by calling them vampires or morons is the sort of attitude that will turn away both types of people. Some people never get to the "incredibely useful content rich site" you speak of because their first interaction with the site was very negative, and this is not just the people who post questions. – Rachel Aug 7 '12 at 14:07
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    @Rachel - the problem with help vampires is not that they drive away newbies asking questions. The problem is that they drive away experienced users who would answer those questions. As I said to Joel, you need to treasure the latter (and worry about the threat to them) a lot more than the former. – DVK Aug 7 '12 at 14:53
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    @Rachel - First link was a guy throwing around generic perjoratives towards entire community over one guy in the comments. "elitist", "snobby", "nerd ego". perhaps HE should be the one taught not to be rude and not those of us actually contributing to the community? Second one seems like a legit data point. I haven't left because of vampires, but I definitely had longish periods where I didn't feel like bothering to answer questions because of them. Luckily for Joel (j/k), I'm too much of a gamification-rep-whore to quit cold turkey. – DVK Aug 7 '12 at 16:13
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    @Rachel - the last comment is the most relevant and valid as rebuttal to me. Again, while I'd prefer good-intentioned newbie users didn't leave, if I have to choose between a newbie leaving because it "feels unfriendly" and someone with 1000+ answers leaving because it is a morass of false feel-good moralism and a bunch of vampires, I know where my choice would be. The way it feels right now is that the top brass is not at all worried about the second possibility, which sends a clear signal. – DVK Aug 7 '12 at 16:38
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    If Joel framed this as "yes, we have a problem with vampires, this is how we are dealing with it. While at it, can you all very well intentioned folks please change the tone and wording of how you are on your own fighting against the problem - which efforts ARE appreciated - we would also avoid a different problem of scaring possible new users by harsh language that they may not realize was deserved by problematic posters" - THEN me and many others would have happily oten on the bandwagon. We are not FOR rude comments. We just want the reason for the rude comments to be prioretised a lot more. – DVK Aug 7 '12 at 16:43
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    @Rachel - Again, nobody is arguing that being rude about vampires is a GOOD or desired thing. All that's being said is that people posting rude things about vampires aren't the main problem you have - it's that they are forced to post ANYTHING. Also, my definition of a vampire seems to be different than yours. Someone posting a single easily googlable question is not in and out of itself a problem (heck, I've done that on occasion). Someone demanding answers to cut/paste work/homework questions is; or someone posting a flood of easily googlable questions. – DVK Aug 7 '12 at 17:20
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    I guess my whole point was that I disagree that "help vampires" are a worse problem then "rude/dismissive comments" :) The comments not only give the user a negative experience with the site, but also make the site look bad to other users that come across the question, particularly since you're right that everyone's definition of "help vampire" is probably a little different. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but I think its important to keep in mind the SE sites exist because of people volunteering their time and knowledge to help others :) – Rachel Aug 7 '12 at 17:35
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    @Rachel The problem with help vampires is that they suck the life out of our regular contributors. None of us wants to be rude, it's mostly fatigue from having to deal with the same crap every day. Granted that's not an excuse for being rude, but it's an explanation, and I honestly believe that if we find some (magical) way of getting rid of the help vampires, we'll all revert to our usual nice & constructive selfs. Please note that I'm not implying noob == help vampire, I'm talking about the actual vampires... – yannis Aug 9 '12 at 1:20
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    @gnat - Again, the fixation is on the wrong thing. The main enemy is not the rude commenters. It's the vampires. The way Summer of Love is structured, it's reversed 100%. – DVK Aug 9 '12 at 13:28
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    @Rachel: If you want to tackle rudeness, you have to tackle rude questions as well. "Here's my homework, now do it for me" is a rude question, no matter how it's worded. People like me answer questions here because we care about the profession, we want to help people who show a passion for learning these things, and many of us are terribly busy. By not taking the time to do a little research and put in some minimal effort, such askers waste valuable time, which I have to agree with DVK is way more harmful (and rude) than a little harsh or maybe even offensive comment. – tdammers Aug 17 '12 at 14:45
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I think you, and a lot of the others focused on the "summer of love," are suffering from confirmation bias. You believe there is a problem with rudeness, so you go out of your way to find it. There is always going to be a handful of rude people among the many, nothing can be done to stop that. This "rudeness epidemic" is something that should be handled by the moderators on a per user basis, creating some big community with hunt of rudeness will not end well.

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    Moderators should be exception handlers, not janitors. SE sites are meant to be community-run, and the community needs to take some responsibility for the content that is posted, including flagging rude comments. I have seen many comments that are rude, sarcastic, elitist, condescending, etc, but usually don't make a big deal out of them other than flagging the extreme cases. The SE "summer of love" put a spotlight on this behavior, and users are now openly speaking out against such behavior. I would like to see this continue. – Rachel Jul 30 '12 at 16:20
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    @Rachel the rudeness is an exception. – Ryathal Jul 30 '12 at 16:49
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    That first line was mostly in response to the comment "This "rudeness epidemic" is something that should be handled by the moderators on a per user basis, creating some big community with hunt of rudeness will not end well". The community should be mindful of rude behavior and flag to delete rude comments when they see them. Most comments can be auto-deleted without any moderator intervention after 3 rude/offensive flags – Rachel Jul 30 '12 at 16:54
  • Glad to see that this has +3. – Jim G. Aug 19 '12 at 15:58
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What kind reaction would you expect to a post looking like this?

This question would surely be considered off-topic, but... A friend of mine who lives in France is going to marry soon. And we (his friends) are looking for a nice place to make a geek party somewhere in Central Europe. If someone has had an experience like this please let us know.

Downvote, close-vote, flag for deletion? Yeah I did all that, yeah post closed, flag is marked helpful now guess what?

http://i.stack.imgur.com/EcH5u.png

Guess what? Post still hangs there, right at the front page. Guess what? it even attracted an upvote. Next thing would probably be some kind soul going to suggest something helpful in comments.

You know, I spend some time at Programmers, studying questions and answers. I learn a lot and where possible, I try to teach others by answering, I gain a reasonably high rep and I am proud of that.

I use every opportunity to refer colleagues to particular Programmers questions that relate to our day job, especially when there are my answers (for comparison I rarely did so with programming community I participated in prior to SE). By doing so, I hope they get impressed by my contribution and in particular with the fact that it is done in high-quality, high standard,

professional looking environment

 
Now, next guy I point to some valuable answer, reads it, gets impressed, clicks QUESTIONS to see what else is there and what they see is...

looking for a nice place to make a geek party

 
Would you expect me to complain seeing snarky comments on a visible post like that.

Give me a break. Give me a freaking break.

The guy I mention above -- that colleague I pointed to some good answer -- would better see that community has low tolerance for garbage like that.


I would sure worry about snarky / unprofessional stuff in reasonably (even remotely) appropriate posts - even downvoted, even not too high quality - exactly for the reasons explained above. I want others I refer to Programmers to see it following high professional standards. In that sense, your heads-up would be helpful if it was accompanied with relevant examples. But it isn't.

Ultra low quality posts used as examples here are whole another game to me. These posts damage site image no matter if there are snarky comments there or not. Such posts should be quickly deleted.

All eight example questions that were referred to since revision 6 are currently removed. If you worry about snarky comments in posts like that, well the real solution is simply to delete these posts - the sooner the better. Whatever comments are there, will be deleted along the way, making it not an issue.

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    The geek party question would be a good use case for the "speedy deletion" flag. Too late now ;) – yannis Aug 19 '12 at 15:35
  • @YannisRizos actually, my speedy deletion flag was there for 2 hours (dismissed as helpful pretty quickly after I submitted it) – gnat Aug 19 '12 at 15:41
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    I just noticed that, obviously I didn't handle the flag. All I can say is that it's extremely annoying the question got an upvote, the community could have handled such questions swiftly, five downvotes and it's off the front page... – yannis Aug 19 '12 at 15:45
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    @YannisRizos well I would also expect mods to be able to recognize such a blatant mis-content for speedy deletion. "quick, competent and independent judgement of a situation", stuff like that – gnat Aug 19 '12 at 15:50
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    Yes, but deleting a question minutes after it was posted always runs the risk the OP not getting the message and just re-posting it - I'll chat with the mod that handled your flag, I can't guess what he was thinking at the time. However, the main problem here is more that this blatantly off topic and useless question wasn't downvoted to oblivion, and someone even thought it was a good idea to upvote it... – yannis Aug 19 '12 at 15:54
  • @YannisRizos well if the intention is to make sure that poor soul doesn't miss the message, why not to take equal care of other users as well? Moderator could post a comment like this post will be deleted shortly, we keep it for a while to give OP chance to read this message - that way would let guys like me know why it's still there. Oh and of course locking the post wouldn't hurt either - to prevent silly upvotes and all kinds of garbage advice – gnat Aug 19 '12 at 16:02
  • That was a guess on my part, as I already said I don't know what the mod who handled the flag had in mind at the time. Fast deletions is something we generally avoid for a variety of reasons, crap questions like this one are supposed to be handled by the community, not by the moderators. But obviously that question hanging around didn't really benefit anyone... – yannis Aug 19 '12 at 16:06
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    @YannisRizos crap like this supposed to be handled by community are you sure about that? handled all the way in a civil, polite manner, by all community members who happen to stumble across it? You know, to me this sounds a bit like "hey here's Pandora Box, please hold it for a while..." – gnat Aug 19 '12 at 19:10
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    I meant through voting, and more specifically downvoting. These questions should disappear out of view quickly, and when that doesn't happen it's a problem. Or perhaps an exception... – yannis Aug 19 '12 at 19:15
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I'd like to suggest that the most ubiquitous excessively rude comment on Stack Exchange is built into the software itself: It's branding someone's honest attempt at soliciting help to improve their programming skills as "not constructive" simply because it doesn't fit an increasingly (and, let's face it, unintuitively) tight set of rules about the desired scope of questions on the site.

The most context-appropriate definition for constructive that Webster's gives is "promoting improvement or development." Which is a perfect description of what any newcomer who comes here to ask a question is looking to do. To respond to someone who came here because they feel they need help by immediately shutting down their question and branding it as "not constructive" is an incredibly brusque slap in the face.

And the delicious irony is that this rather harsh label largely serves as a catch-all phrase for a whole host of reasons that are not actually the same thing - the question is too open-ended, the question is scoped too broadly, the question is poorly worded so nobody's quite sure what's being asked - is not constructive. (And what it's almost never used to flag is questions that don't have anything constructive about them.) It provides the person with a slap on the wrist, but little useful feedback about what could be done to improve their attempt at asking for help.


I can think of a few things to suggest that might help.

First is to break add a few more labels. Right now the "not constructive" flag is serving as a catch-all for a whole host of completely orthogonal complaints, such as "too open-ended". This would help cut down on the use of a phrase that can have rather insulting connotations, and also generally increase the constructiveness of the feedback provided by the type of flag.

Another would be to require someone to include an explanation, in their own words, of why they chose to flag the comment in that way. For preference, some constructive advice on how to improve the question could also be included. At the very least, this might help cut down on how frequently people like me come to the Meta site to air their genuine confusion about why all these questions are getting closed.

Finally, what about encouraging people to first try advising the questioner about how to improve their question before flagging it? This site's primary focus is Q&A, and to that extent it seems like it should mostly be here for the newbies, and to that extent being able to flag a question without really having to engage or the person who's asking it first seems to run counter to what the site's culture should really be about. And the more skilled people are presumably mostly be here to share their skill with others. One extremely useful skill to share is how best to seek advice.

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    are you aware that re-opening closed questions is considered respectable and welcome at SE and at Programmers in particular? That's why advising the questioner about how to improve their question is best done after flagging and closing it, not before. That way, question gets protection from getting irrelevant answers piled on it while it's being edited into the shape. Protection from answers also adds more flexibility to improve by helping to avoid roadblocks like "oh <that edit> would be great but it invalidates <this great answer> so please roll it back" – gnat Aug 3 '12 at 15:32
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    No, I've never really seen any indication that is how things are supposed to happen. From what I've seen advising the questioner about how to improve the question doesn't really happen much. Instead, questions tend to just get zapped as "not constructive" in a sort of drive-by fashion that almost seems to be specifically designed to shut people down and send them away. What you suggest certainly sounds like a much more constructive way to handle the situation, and it'd be great to see some steps taken to encourage senior users to do it that way in the future. – Sean U Aug 3 '12 at 15:41
  • well there is even dedicated SE Network wide feature request related to this: Add a “Review posts with reopen votes” review task? - the basic idea is when some senior (high rep) user finds question worth reopening, to make it easier for others to join – gnat Aug 3 '12 at 15:45
  • All interesting, but tangential to the proposal I'm making, which is that the process of branding questions as "not constructive" is itself rude an unconstructive, and could stand to be fixed. What happens after that is certainly interesting. . . but still after. – Sean U Aug 3 '12 at 16:04
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    closing questions is a fundamental part of the SE model that makes these sites what they are. – Ryathal Aug 3 '12 at 18:11
  • @Ryathal Absolutely. And if you re-read my comment, you'll see I never suggested that SE should get rid of closing posts. What I suggested is being more constructive about it. – Sean U Aug 3 '12 at 18:22
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    I proposed changing the not-constructive close title to something else on the main meta site a while back, but it wasn't that well received. Its too bad, because I agree that "not-constructive" is a very unfriendly label to what is often a constructive question - It just isn't constructive for SE's Q&A standard. – Rachel Aug 3 '12 at 20:12
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    Perhaps part of the issue here is use of committee jargon outside the committee. SE has come up with its own very specific meaning for the word 'constructive' for use in rules discussions. That was perhaps necessary for the process of figuring out what the Q&A guidelines should be. But it should be presumed that people who aren't immersed in that conversation are going to assume the vernacular meaning for the word, not a jargon definition they haven't previously been exposed to. And in the vernacular, the phrase "not constructive" has very negative connotations. – Sean U Aug 3 '12 at 20:56
  • @SeanU this is why the not constructive close reason contains a definition of what is meant, if people stop at not constructive and not even bother to read our given definition there is no helping them. As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance. – Ryathal Aug 6 '12 at 20:49
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    @Ryathal - There's nothing in the text of the "not constructive" close reason that makes it clear that that is what is meant. It looks for all the world like a generic blurb. Which, incidentally, is exactly what it is. One can't expect everyone to readily infer what you're suggesting from that blurb any more than one can expect everyone to not be feel put down by what anyone who's familiar with English language idiom would immediately recognize as a put-down. And, for that matter, writing people off by saying there's "no helping them" is not terribly constructive. – Sean U Aug 7 '12 at 1:20
  • @SeanU "As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format." I think that sums it up nicely, it means nothing more than that, and even links to the FAQ for further reading. "Not Constructive" is only offensive to those not interested in being a part of the community stack exchange, those actually interested would take the time to read the faq learn the rules and if they still didn't get it, the faq points them to meta, where I've yet to see a new user ask for help and not get it on meta, sadly few actually ask. – Ryathal Aug 7 '12 at 12:21
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    . . . or perhaps go to ask and get discouraged when they see that previous askers often just get an "RTFF" or some similarly dismissive response. Perhaps consider the possibility that the poor relationship that you seem to suggest P.SE has with its newbies might not be entirely because of the newbies. – Sean U Aug 10 '12 at 13:08

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