Meta Stack OverflowWhat's with all the rude comments recently?
[+156] [14] tvanfosson
[2009-08-18 12:26:47]
[ discussion comments ]

Maybe I've led a sheltered life until recently, but it really seems that comments are getting ruder and ruder. I've seen on questions by new users (rep of 1), particularly those for whom English is a second language, that people are really quick to put in a comment like: "Worst question ever" or "Let me google that for you" or "Why bother, no one's going to use your application anyway". And other people upvote it!

Can we return to some semblance of civility? At least, until the person has a track record of inviting abuse?

I would really like the ability to downvote these comments just to show that I don't agree with the behavior. When does rudeness rise to the level of being offensive enough to warrant intervention by the moderators?


Here's a couple of examples. Note both were asked by a new user with rep 1. I fixed the first one up a little since, while I understood what the OP was asking, the language was imprecise. We can quibble over whether the questions are good, bad, or otherwise. What really bothered me though was the tone of some of the comments. My rule of thumb -- would I be willing to say it in person to a co-worker (or my wife)?

How To Prevent Duplicate Email Addresses on a User Registration Form? [1]

What is an SDK? (C++) [2]

Update 2

The questions referenced above have had the rude comments deleted -- perhaps as a result of the flagging that happened in response to this question. One result of this question is that I now feel much more free to flag rude comments.

I would upvote this question if I could :o) - wcm
(101) Worst question ever. - Hilarious Comedy Pesto
(1) @wcm: associate accounts on your user profile, àccounts`tab - Ladybug Killer
Darn, I meant accounts tab. - Ladybug Killer
(5) @Pest: sorry, too obvious, even for you. - Ladybug Killer
@John: wcm's accounts are associated, but for whatever reason, he didn't get the Meta boost. - Eric
(2) @John: Too obvious like your face! - Hilarious Comedy Pesto
@Pesto: better, but you still have to warm up! - Ladybug Killer
@Eric: than he has to mail the team. - Ladybug Killer
(2) You got any examples you can link that are offensive with a lot of upvotes? - cletus
Welbog is going to come in here an one up every offensive answer in one comment...just watch. - Troggy
Tag Added for effect. - Chacha102
(3) Note that currently this is the only question tagged 'Worst-Question-Ever', so it must be the 'Worst Question Ever'! - Chacha102
(3) Good update, thanks for the examples. I am ashamed by those users. - jjnguy
(2) Eternal September effect. - Paul Nathan
Thanks for the links. It's probably worth quoting the comment though since linking them probably results in them quickly getting flagged. :) - cletus
One of those was: "When you Googled C++ SDK what did you learn?" (S.Lott, 4 upvotes). Now gone it seems. - cletus
I'm curious - the x-ref'd questions seem to be devoid of the acerbic comments that clearly provoked discussion. Does that mean that the moderators did some cleaning up, or that the commentators realized the error of their ways, or was the commentary really as benign as what is left suggests? I suspect a clean up of some sort, but the case is not made by the evidence now available (2.5 months later). - Jonathan Leffler
(1) @Jonathon -- yep, they've been cleaned up -- probably as a result of this question. I'll update. - tvanfosson
Glad those got wiped; needed to be. Don't ever hesitate to flag. I think I'm going to remove the now-obsolete comments. - Andrew's a Unitato
[+63] [2009-08-18 12:30:58] fretje [ACCEPTED]

Just flag them for being offensive. A moderator can (and will) remove them.

(40) What kills me is that they're being upvoted -- sometimes a lot. Community-minded people ought to try and improve the question not insult the OP. - tvanfosson
(3) wow: you were talking about the comments being upvoted!?! Serious? WTF? Is this the beginning of the end? - fretje
(23) No, it means that there is no single moron, but a bunch of cooperating morons. - smok1
(20) 2 things: 1. I love that fretje is treating tvanfosson like a newbie. 2. I love that fretje's comment ironically underlines tv's point. - Eric
(11) Worst observation ever, Eric! :) - Jonathan Sampson
(2) @Eric: I know @tvanfosson isn't a newbie. Why do you think I'm treating him like one? (I know he probably knows he can flag the comments, but I'm answering the question for real newbies who end up on this question ;-)) - fretje
@Eric: Also: I don't see why my comment would be offensive (apart from the WTF in there, but if you can't say that anymore...) - fretje
@fretje: Wasn't offensive, only funny and ironic. I approve :) - Eric
(3) @Eric: Ah ok, misinterpreted your comment then... sorry for that ;-) - fretje
(1) I've seen abusive comments from moderators on rare occasions: I wonder what happens when an abusive comment from a moderator gets flagged. Does the moderator get to review their own comment, or does it get reviewed by another moderator? - Anderson Green
@tvanfosson Unpleasant comments still retain their upvotes because Stack Overflow doesn't allow users to downvote these comments, no matter how disheartening they may be. - Anderson Green
[+36] [2009-08-18 12:31:32] Eric

Completely agree. I had edited a question the other day, only to find when I had done editing it, a user had commented, "What's the question?" The OP had replied, "Your ugly face." I don't really get attitudes like that.

Moreover, I've seen an influx of users who are now guessing as answers. "Well, I don't know, but it may be ." It's rather aggravating, to say the least.

Have we hit the critical mass where we're now just bringing 4chan frequenters, or something to that effect? Because I'm with you, we've lost a lot of civility 'round these parts. The best we can do is just flag comments and downvote answers/questions, and hope for the best.

(18) Worst Answer Ever. - Chacha102
(7) Yes - downvote and/or close. It's one thing if a question is badly spelled, or poorly formatted - you can fix that. But when the asker is too lazy to include crucial details or bother explaining their situation, there's just no point - close it before it becomes a target. - Shog9
I think the mods give too much freedom in the comment sections. So it starts out with innocent things like :-) and 'LOL', then it's veiled insults, and finally insults - puk
Answers which are guesses are not bad. In the absence of a correct and comprehensive answer, a (inspired) guess can help get people to investigate things that they might not otherwise have thought of. I don't see how sharing ideas can be a bad thing (especially when they are clearly marked as being guesses). - Mankarse
[+24] [2009-08-18 18:09:46] tomjedrz

Jerks aren't welcome here!

The fact that one thinks a question (or answer) is horrible, incorrect or useless does not provide an excuse for insults or rudeness. Ad-hominems and insults have no place here; they are unprofessional and reveal only the lack of maturity of the person posting the nastiness. Feel free to ignore a question, fix it, make suggestions, or vote it down, but leave the nastiness for MTV.

I would like to see a reputation penalty assessed by the moderators for rudeness, ad-hominem statements, insults, offensive behavior, and a lack of civility. I would like to see accounts suspended or removed if the behavior continues.

(3) I find so many of those people. I ended up removing an entire question and answer I had posted because I couldn't deal with the flood of rude comments coming from a particular user, especially in comments. - JasonMc92
[+21] [2009-08-18 14:20:23] Marc Gravell

Flag them. I haven't seen any moderator flags highlighting such comments, but I don't mind getting my hands dirty destroying comments and/or users (where necessary). We've suspended and/or kicked people in the past for abusive behaviour, and I can't see that changing any time...

(1) Slam that mod hammer down Marc!!! - jjnguy
(5) One concern I have is inundating you with nitpicky stuff. Send me a note if you feel that's happening. I think -- based on the feedback here -- that I feel a little more free to flag comments that are simply rude but not patently offensive. - tvanfosson
(4) Agreed with tvanfosson, I have generally reserved flagging for the most egregious of cases but, if the shoe fits... - Robert Harvey
(4) Simple: we reserve the right to assess the situation, note the behaviour of the individual, and decide no action is necessary yet (but perhaps next time). You'd be amazed how quickly I can take no action ;-p But it also helps simply to have visibility/awareness of repeated infractions... - Marc Gravell
[+11] [2009-08-18 12:50:37] Jonathan Sampson

In all honesty, if I were the SO Czar, any consistent (like 2 or 3) commenting like this would be grounds for instant banning. I'm more of a zero-tolerance type of guy. If you're being playful, that's another issue. If you're just being rude for no reason, you don't deserve to have a voice. All I could suggest is to flag the comments - that's what I do. I wish I could downvote, vote-to-delete, or edit comments.

(2) I thought Jeff implemented that penalty box. Why do all folks want to ban people? Give them a second chance and then kick them! - Ladybug Killer
(1) How can you tell if someone's being playful? - devinb
@John: Everybody loves the Ban Hammer. Don't fight it, embrace it. - Eric
@John, I agree. Two or three chances, but then you're gone :) - Jonathan Sampson
(1) This type of behavior is akin to trolling and as such, the comments should be removed from public viewing but be visible to the commenter and mods. Swinging the ban hammer is asking for more alts and attempts to game the system. - Rob Allen
(2) @Eric: If I can swing that hammer, then it's a totally different scenario :) As long as I'm a nail, I vote for second chance... (Dark side is only fun, if you have force) - Ladybug Killer
I think I would be banned... - jjnguy
(3) Actually @Rob's suggestion is really good -- if the commenter can see the removed comment but no-one else can, s/he still thinks his "voice is being heard" and won't be motivated to create alternate accounts. Mods could even "auto-silence" a user after some number of transgressions... Less gratifying than banning but surely more effective? - j_random_hacker
[+10] [2009-08-18 13:20:00] Kev

I agree with you. What I especially can't abide is rudeness to folks for whom English isn't their first language. Why not just spend time tidying the question instead of moaning about it and generally being an arse in the comments.

Also there's a lot of folk out there who just aren't pre-disposed to write a good question [1]. It's our job to help these folks and edit their questions into better shape instead of bumping our gums and filling the comments with pointless attacks on the OP.


(4) The problem I find is that some of the questions that are the most unclear, are the ones where I really can't guess what the OP was actually asking. That doesn't stop people from answering based on wild guesses, or from closing the question too quickly for the OP to have any chance to clarify. - John Saunders
(2) @John - I agree, folks should be using the comments to try and get the OP to clarify the question instead of jumping on the zomg!-wagon. - Kev
(2) @Kev: on the other hand, there's a subset of these who post the question and then don't come back to clarify, even if asked. - John Saunders
(1) @John - this is true, but there's still no need to pop a vein in the comments. - Kev
[+7] [2009-08-18 12:33:17] smok1

As I have been watching various social web sites, as the user number grows, more morons come. This is, sadly, inevitable. In addition, I am afraid we will need some system-level solution or more moderators’ effort (maybe increase number of moderators?).

(3) Moderators only have one pair of eyes each. If a post offends, flag it. We aren't psychic. - Marc Gravell
(4) Man, they should let me be a mod because I am psychic! - jjnguy
We could have moderators of moderators of moderators of the sites? haha. - Troggy
@Marc: You don't have any one-eyed moderators? - David Thornley
[+7] [2009-08-19 11:29:06] cletus

Well, it seems S.Lott is a prime perpetrator here:

What is an SDK? (C++) [1]

When you Googled C++ SDK what did you learn?" (S.Lott, 4 upvotes)

(now gone)

and just now in Generating PDF’S dynamically in servlets? [2]:

When you Googled for "creating PDF from servlet" what did you learn? – S.Lott 44 secs ago

and what are the 4th generation languages? [3]

When you queried wikipedia for "fourth-generation programming language" what did you see? – S.Lott 51 mins ago

Honestly I have no time for this. It's just completely unnecessary.


That's a lotta crap. Just flag the comments. By the time enough of us flag them, they'll go away. - Eric
(7) Actually, I don't consider those to be particularly rude. If he feels that the person should google first, he's entitled to his opinion. I wouldn't equate his statements with "Here, let me google that for you" on the rudeness scale. His statements are much less condescending. A little more oblique than I might be, but not particularly insulting. - tvanfosson
(4) The fact is that suggesting google is not in line with the original intent of the site (which is to be what google points to), but that's the sort of thing that can get lost in audience expansion. - David Thornley
(3) I had a look at S. Lott's recent behaviour. It's not any better. - Andrew Grimm
(1) My concern is that the tone sometimes sounds (to me at least) like the person is being called an idiot. I reckon people should be given the benefit of the doubt, and we should encourage everyone to keep a positive and welcoming tone on the SO sites. - Craig McQueen
[+5] [2009-08-18 15:19:07] Troggy

As people have said, just flag any comment or answer you find offensive. All of the mods have a serious and dedicated side to them about keeping this site organized and well maintained. They do spend a chunk of their free time on this site. This doesn't mean though they don't like to have fun, but they do realize when people are serious.

On meta, things are a little more laid back though.

[+5] [2009-08-18 16:15:17] Diago

Having a look at the samples I find it interesting that the commenters rarely have high reputation or have themselves asked some really mudane questions. I have noticed a trend of "Google it first" members appearing more and more often, and we have these on Stack Overflow at the moment as well.

Personally I think the fact that Google is the Stack Overflow homepage is missed by many and the reality is that unless you're part of the beta groups, and know Jeff and Joel and the history of the Trilogy, you will not understand why Stack Overflow exists, and the more people become members the more these problems will occur.

The moderators are there to deal with these, make use of them. People seems afraid to make use of the flags that have been made available. There is quite a bit that can be done by the moderators to deal with users like these without upsetting the whole community.

[+4] [2009-08-21 11:49:46] Michael Stum

At some point, this is to be expected and perfectly in line with John Gabriel's Greater Internet F***wad Theory [1]. I think that also Elitism plays a role. Sure, for most people, the meaning of an SDK is obvious, or what a database is. I mean, I guess that a question like "What does SDK mean?" is like asking "What does House mean?". Also, there is this continuing questions about what type of questions should be on Stack Overflow.

Luckily, we know the stance of Jeff and Joel on this, and that is: We want everything that's programming related, no matter how simple (Listen to Joel in the podcasts).


[0] [2009-08-21 10:34:01] Peter Mortensen

Here is another example of rude comments, including "There's a button on the front of your computer, press that.":

Update: that particular rude comment has now been removed.

(2) Update: that particular question has now been removed. - Andrew Grimm
[0] [2011-05-26 02:22:09] Mark Tomlin

And so this continues [1]. I never expected rude comments from this community and it's the first questions I've asked here in a long time.


(1) Man, if I were a mod I'd just go in and clear all the comments on that question - Mark Henderson
(1) And that's what happed. Thank you to whom ever did that. - Mark Tomlin
[-2] [2010-12-28 16:05:11] bobobobo

When a user has a comment of his flagged as offensive, and it subsequently gets mod deleted, then that user has commenting privileges suspended for a short amount of time.

Any reference for that? (As an aside: over a year ago Jeff wrote there is/was no penalty, and that comment flagging is/was handled kind of automatically. Too bad nowadays moderators have to step in then?) - Arjan
I've never heard this either. Anyone want to be a guinea pig? - mmyers
@Arjan: Flagged with super-duper insta-removing mod flag powers. Try now. - mmyers
@Michael just flagged (and hence deleted) my comment but after that I could still post new comments (even after only 2 minutes). Maybe things are different on non-Meta sites, or when a comment has multiple flags, but this quick test did not show any suspension. - Arjan
I was only suggesting this idea. This isn't an already existing rule. - bobobobo