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On June 29, 2012 Jeff Atwood wrote a blog about PHP which a lot of people saw as another language bashing blog. Whether it is or not is not really my concern with this question but, more so, the aftermath. Many replies¹ (mostly counter-rants) were written and a great bit of this talk gets filtered back into various chatrooms causing unnecessary offensive and ineffectual arguments².

This isn't the first time that language flame wars have taken place on SO and I am sure it will not be the last unless there are repercussions. While some of it is constructive, I am willing to throw out a random number and say that 9 times out of 10 the my language is better than yours or this is why [language] sucks arguments turn ugly.

I personally believe this behavior has no place on SO (chat or site). Is there a probable solution to prevent these conversations from taking place on SO?

[ ¹ ]- let's mock PHP users, The True Problem With PHP, PHP is much better than you think

[ ² ]- most recent argument in chat

Disclosure/TL;DR: This question is NOT about the current language rants going on, but how to prevent arguments stirred up by language rants on SO (mainly chat)

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You don't have to participate or observe. if you don't like it, don't be there. –  slugster Jul 12 '12 at 0:41
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Chat is a very different animal and I don't think artificially limiting what people are allowed to talk about is going to happen. Why does this need to be treated differently than anything else? Off-topic, inflammatory/offensive, and otherwise unconstructive comments can be, should be, and are removed. –  Matthew Read Jul 12 '12 at 0:53
    
@MatthewRead Because these arguments have heavy repercussions on the SO community. I mean why not just let people troll in comments if we are going to allow it in chat? Explain to me what the difference is. –  Carrie Kendall Jul 12 '12 at 0:58
    
@Carrie Discussion on programming languages is programming-related, and fits chat pretty well. Flags are available if any comments are actually inflammatory –  simchona Jul 12 '12 at 1:01
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@CarrieKendall Can't do much about it as is, but if Jeff posts one of his anti-PHP rants on Programmers, I promise I'll suspend him... –  Yannis Jul 12 '12 at 1:02
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If people are being total jerks in violation of the be nice rule, flag them; whether it's a post, comment or chat post, that rule applies everywhere. If the arguments are that bad we have existing tools and policy –  Ben Brocka Jul 12 '12 at 1:04
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@BenBrocka: It's usually not a single post that's an issue, but a thread or series of posts. While we could flag every post in the series, it will lead to other issues where users in other rooms will see some seemingly innocuous posts flagged, and deny them. Leading to all sorts of issues (that we've seen before with other rooms). Right now, the only thing we can really do is bin the convo and ping a mod... –  ircmaxell Jul 12 '12 at 1:10
    
@ircmaxell How often does it occur? –  simchona Jul 12 '12 at 1:11
    
@simchona: not often enough where it's unbearable, but often enough where it's annoying. In our room it's pretty stable now, as most of the riffraff has left, but we still have small to medium issues perhaps once a month or so. But there was a point in time when it happened much more often (a few times per week or more). As a side note, one of our biggest offensive members has really turned a new leaf. He can still be a d%ck from time to time, but he's become a lot more productive and contributes a lot more now... –  ircmaxell Jul 12 '12 at 1:15
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@ircmaxell if that's the case, use a mod flag and explain the situation. Normal users can't dismiss mod flags –  Ben Brocka Jul 12 '12 at 1:20
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@simchona Don't know about SO and Chat.SO, but on Programmers holy wars was one of the reasons (the main?) we consider "what language you should learn next, including which technology is better" questions off topic. –  Yannis Jul 12 '12 at 1:21
    
@YannisRizos I'm no expert on SO (I haunt ELU), so maybe I'm unsure of how these 'holy wars' play out. I'm not sure why, however, the usual mod actions aren't enough when they spill over from constructive to all out Game of Programming Thrones –  simchona Jul 12 '12 at 1:24
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@simchona It typically starts with a "java/c/c++/c#/php/python sucks" comment, and then, 20 minutes later you have a full on comment war going on... We catch them pretty quickly, though, and I usually opt to just purge the whole thread and forget about it... –  Yannis Jul 12 '12 at 1:26
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I don't think there's a need to "make X conversation a punishable offense". Does anyone really think we need to single out topics of conversation? If the users are getting out of hand, regardless of whatever the conversation is about, use the tools available to stop that. If you think the tools available are not enough, there are already several posts about that here on MSO, so go upvote/post stuff on them. –  R. Martinho Fernandes Jul 12 '12 at 1:34
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It wouldn't devolve so quickly if some users were better at constructing counter-arguments. Like, you know, in a discussion. –  Cat Plus Plus Jul 12 '12 at 10:24

3 Answers 3

When it comes to chat, the rules are rather relaxed. As long as the discussion in any given room at least loosely relates to the topic of the parent site and people are having a good time, all is well.

The chief indication that all is not well is a steady stream of flags emanating from a particular room. No matter the topic, if a room does little more than create work for moderators it will be frozen or shut down completely, without hesitation. Some additional tolerance is afforded to long running chat rooms that have a large, healthy community behind them. However, if a room appears out of the ether and does nothing but generate noise, it's not going to last very long.

Given that, I don't see that we need to come up with an exceptional way to deal with chat rooms of this type, or any other specific type. If you think that a given room is a horrible, scary and hostile place - flag something showing why for moderator attention (use the 'other') flag. If a noticeable amount of users are saying the same thing, it's very likely that we will take action.

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In general, chat doesn't follow the normal rules of SO regarding non-constructive discussions... So the argument that it's non-constructive doesn't really apply much. But the argument that it can be taken as offensive does definitely apply...

With that said, I think this is a valid concern to bring up. I think it actually hits on a larger problems of the limited authority of room owners. Right now, if a conversation is getting really out of hand or someone causes a problem, the only things we (as room owners) can do is either ping a mod, or put the whole room into gallery mode.

I'd like to see some limited OP (channel operator in IRC) privileges added to the room owner. Such as:

  1. The ability to temporarily ban an individual from a chat room (up to 24 hours would suffice). Anything longer would require a moderator intervention.
  2. An "authoritative" flag. Where content flagged by an owner causes the message to be removed automatically.
  3. Etc.

It's not critical that we get these features, but it would make managing the rooms from day to day easier (to some extent at least)...

Full Disclosure: I've been one of the room owners of the very active PHP Chat Room for quite some time (over a year by this point).

References:

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I am willing to throw out a random number and say that 9 times out of 10 the my language is better than yours or this is why [language] sucks arguments turn ugly

Just how ugly could it really get?

The PHP and Objective-C fanboys probably laugh all the way to the bank.

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Just how ugly could it really get? We are talking PHP levels of ugly, man, it's scary... –  Yannis Jul 12 '12 at 4:31

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