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Is there a useful, concise way of communicating community standards relating to personal behavior on SO? One that outlines what is expected, what is inappropriate, and what is not allowed or severely discouraged?

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If it's offensive or abusive, flag it. If a user receives enough flags they get temporarily banned. If they come from a "rough and ready" environment, they will be fine with learning appropriate behavior on the fly with such flags and temp bans. For those on the line, feel free to comment and direct them to the FAQ where it says, "Be nice." I don't think that we need more than what is already provided. – Adam Davis Feb 12 '12 at 5:44
Adam, I know that. That's what I said in the comments. What I was looking for was something (in an answer on Meta is where I thought I would find it) that provided more narrative on those things that you learn over time and through interaction. There's lots of expository content on how to ask better questions, but not a lot on "this is what's considered an appropriate way to act". (And I did flag the original comment.) – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 5:48
That trolling comment would be at least slightly acceptable if the question at least indicated as much. It looks like OP is the victim of a cruel, evil-genius practical joke—a joke I'll have to put in my back pocket in case anyone ever makes me very, very angry – Adam Rackis Feb 12 '12 at 5:56
@AdamRackis Ouch. I hope never to cross paths with code you've modified as a joke... ...starts considering adding a pre-compile check to build process that spits out an error if a code file contains bytes > 0x7F... – Adam Davis Feb 12 '12 at 6:46
I suppose the downvotes on the question have to do with disagreeing with the topic? – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 8:23
I hope this doesn't come across as too simplistic: Respond nicely, or flag, or both. Seeking out rules to inform other users of is fairly pointless if you are dealing with an already-grumpy person. – NickC Feb 12 '12 at 8:32
I've never gotten four downvotes on anything, question or answer, I've had on any StackExchange site. Sigh. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 9:22
@Jared Farrish: Welcome to meta. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 12 '12 at 12:49
@BoltClock'saUnicorn - Thanks! I think. :P – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 12:51
@AdamDavis even that wouldn't keep you safe from, say Lower Case l Looks a Lot Like the Digit 1 – AakashM Feb 14 '12 at 15:53
@AakashM I use console fonts (consolas is good enough, but I use programmer's fonts when I can) which make the difference between Il1, O0, B8, etc quite clear. These fonts also don't have values up above 0xFF... – Adam Davis Feb 14 '12 at 16:23
up vote 13 down vote accepted

The code of conduct is "Be nice."

There are reasons that this is not explained further:

It's up to the community to define it

The community is in charge of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable. We've been provided the tools to set the definition, and further we are allowed to move the line as the community adapts. It's changed significantly since the first year, and if we had set up specific rules then, they would be woefully out of date given the stronger international and cultural presence, and the much, much, much larger audience.

Any rules we set now, assuming we could craft a perfect set of rules, would, and must, change over time.

Defining it fully is impossible

We can't possible enumerate every bad behavior. We've also found in the past that by giving very specific "lines" people can use to determine if their behavior is bad, rather than using them as a guideline to stay away from, people start to run as close to them as possible. If a parent says, "Don't call your brother stupid" then the perpetrator will end up checking the thesaurus and calling their brother everything but stupid.

Trolls are great at toeing the line, and if we give them a line they will successfully craft posts and comments that we cannot punish them for because they are technically within the line, even though everyone agrees that they are obviously showing patterns of abuse. In addition this cycle leads to more rules, the rules have exceptions and complications, and eventually you end up with a rulebook that is impossible to read, and still doesn't define everything.

The act of definition would create an open wound that would never heal

Once we open the floor to writing a set of rules that can never be fully defined, we create a boiling pot of flaming tension which is never resolved. It will always spawn new suggestions, complaints, and arguments about what is largely subjective - what is good/professional/appropriate/offensive/trolling/etc behavior. It would never end. While I don't think it would engulf meta, let alone the network, it would be a continuing source of unhappiness and disagreement. There would always be several active topics about it.

I know it's frustrating, as programmers, not to have a well defined set of rules, but it's better to give the community the freedom to adapt and change over time, and to manage issues on a case by case basis.

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As an aside, the example given "This is a troll" is hardly offensive. You'd have to show much more egregious examples where such a rulebook would work to demonstrate that we need a rulebook. – Adam Davis Feb 12 '12 at 6:58
Thank you for your insight into what's currently in place (whether it's official or not, it makes sense). I'll just make two points about the question I've asked: 1. I was not intending for an "Official Code of Conduct"; I even considered leaving that statement out altogether. 2. The reason I used the trolling comment as an example is precisely because it's not a worst-case-example, it's a (potentially) flippant comment that could be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Nonetheless, I think this answers the question and will accept it as the answer. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 7:08
And as far as "egregious examples" of trolling, there's one member, let's call him/her "Col. Mustard", who has baited people into arguments or aggressively attacked people on several occasions. The only reason it stops is because this person gets banned after awhile. The frustrating part is that the member is obviously very knowledgeable, but takes the "Eastern Bloc ruler to the knuckles" approach to correcting perceived inaccuracies. This person wouldn't benefit at all from a CoC or a helpful article. But I wasn't thinking about this type of user either with this question. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 7:33
This is the kind of post which should provoke instant promotion to moderatorship... – Benjol Feb 14 '12 at 7:46

I don't think you're going to find a question on meta that dissects every possible aspect of what it means to "be nice", and I'd guess that pointing rude users to it wouldn't be very effective - it would probably be taken the wrong way.

The best way to communicate the expected behavior and etiquette on SO is to exhibit it yourself.

While I didn't find the comments in this case as offensive or unprofessional as you may have, I'll still say that you did a good job of responding to it. When you stoop to their level, we all lose.

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What I'm thinking about is something like this, only in the context of SO. Something that a long-time SO user could put to words. Something like a new employee would here from an old pro when they're pulled aside after that meeting when they made that comment that made everyone groan. More or less a heads-up. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 6:35
The site FAQ covers everything in a concise way so that people will actually read it.What in particular upset you about the user's comments? For example: what would you add to the etiquette guidelines to address it? – Wesley Murch Feb 12 '12 at 6:40
It also doesn't help that people act like clowns on meta, which is supposed to be the source for in-depth stuff about SO, including how to behave. Although I don't agree that the particular behavior in question is inappropriate at all, I don't disagree that a more official etiquette guideline could (maybe should) be created. – Wesley Murch Feb 12 '12 at 6:44
From the link: Please do not act like a jerk. Think about the possible reactions and consequences of your actions. It takes less than five seconds, literally. Things come across differently in text on a screen then they might with a wink and smile in person. Sometimes it's good to just say "Consider..." and then make some concrete points. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 6:47
Well as you can see from our discussion, the boundary of "acting like a jerk" is debatable. I don't think the user is being a jerk, I took it as humor, and I don't pick up any rudeness or unprofessional behavior in your exchange either. There's a side effect of very clearly drawing the line on acceptable behavior: the kind of users you're worried about will try to get as close to it as possible without crossing it. We have community moderation, so this is not an issue in my opinion. – Wesley Murch Feb 12 '12 at 6:54
And [off-topic] I don't think anyone likes being accused of trolling, jest or not, so I thought it appropriate to mention to the member that they should be more considerate when making those types of statements. I agree, it's a minor offense that could have (should have) been left alone after a statement or two. I certainly didn't think I needed to say anything beyond the first comment under the answer, but it evolved from there. I'm easy to engage sometimes. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 7:00
I think that "Be Nice" covers "Please do not act like a jerk". I think the user was probably sincere that he thought the OP was trolling, which you correctly pointed out to be irrelevant. I have to admit, if it was trolling it was pretty clever, but if it had been a troll post, would you tolerate it? If anything, the user was looking out for the best interest of the site, just not in the way that a responsible, experienced, or courteous user would have. – Wesley Murch Feb 12 '12 at 7:06
I was thinking more about the OP, who I've seen and had interactions with before; that person is not a troll AFAICT. The last sentence in your above comment, to me, describes the mentality I was thinking about, and was hoping somewhere somebody had written about that mentality. This wasn't meant to be about rules or officially sanctioned statements. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 7:17

In my opinion—and I mean this sincerely; this isn't intended to be an ironic trolling answer to your question—any person who would be willing to read documentation of our community standards, and adjust their behavior, probably wouldn't have been acting like this in the first place.

As great as the internet is, for some people the anonymity allowed causes them to act like asses, and there's little we can do. Just flag it, and move on. If it becomes a recurrent problem, then, well, the mods are superb at banning people.

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While true, I'm not worried about the real troublemakers; it's the ones who have learned behavior or are just ignorant and would benefit from some direction. I think in this case the person in question falls in the latter group. It's for the ones who care and can reform I would like to be able to provide the information to when needed. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 5:59
@Jared - you're a much more optimistic person than I -- I hope you're right :) – Adam Rackis Feb 12 '12 at 6:16
I come across misguided new users all the time. I can count on one hand the number of what I would call real trolls I've come across. I can't explain why, but I think it has something to do with the caliber of people who participate, which provides downward pressure on bad behavior. What I was looking for was something that distilled that sense of personal responsibility into text. I've seen things like it done, and thought I had seen SO/Meta have something like it. Maybe I'm not expressing it right. – Jared Farrish Feb 12 '12 at 6:23

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