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Context:

I was answering this question on SO, and have run into a rather sticky situation.

The question was a pretty trivial one, but the asker introduced some edge case conditions after I had posted my answer, and it took me a while to figure out a solution that fulfilled that requirement. I finally got to an answer that worked, posted it, and all was well in the world.

Problem:

Except that another person had arrived at a similar, (although more thorough) solution while I had been fiddling with mine. This person then left a comment accusing me of ripping off his answer. I realize that I have nothing but my word to give, but please believe me when I say I did not even look at the other answer before posting mine. It was simply a logical progression of what I already had.

I have failed to convince this person that I did not copy the answer, and the simplest course of action would be to simply delete my answer and move on, reasoning that I don't need the trivial amount of rep I was getting from that answer anyway. But it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth that I should be guilty until proven innocent. What is the correct course of action in circumstances like this?

EDIT 1:

Evidently the other user has deleted their answer while I was typing this. I am not sure whether it is appropriate to name them.

EDIT 2:

To make this question more general than just me having hissy fit about being called names, here is what I would like to know, specifically:

  1. If you are accused of plagiarism, should you just delete your answer and walk away?
  2. Are there any repercussions to such accusations that you should worry about (disciplinary bans or restrictions etc.)
share|improve this question
3  
This is pretty much a moot point given that the accuser has deleted his answer and all of his accusatory comments are now gone. Given that there are only so many ways to skin a cat with regexes, coming up with identical ones isn't unexpected here. The both of you need to grow thicker skins. –  Charles Nov 25 '12 at 19:52
    
@Charles I already know that the approaches will be similar, I am not claiming the other user copied my answer. Also, the comments/answer were still present while I was typing this question. –  Asad Nov 25 '12 at 19:55
    
If someone beat you to the same answer (regardless of whether you saw theirs before posting), the gracious thing to do is to remove your answer instead of insisting that both should co-exist. –  Aaron Bertrand Nov 25 '12 at 22:43
    
@AaronBertrand 1) Our answers weren't the same. My original answer was sufficient for solving the problem, and it was only when the OP changed the question that I made several changes, one of which the other guy thought I stole. 2) The other answer was not by itself complete. It addressed only the edge case, without actually solving the original problem. –  Asad Nov 26 '12 at 6:12

3 Answers 3

up vote 24 down vote accepted

I suggest that the Internet is full of people saying crap, and sometimes that crap isn't true, and if you get worried about it, you'll go crazy.

Ignore it and move on.

share|improve this answer

I'm surprised no-one said this, but even if you implied the other posted first, my advice for the future cases is to check the timestamp.

Men lie, women lie, numbers don't!1

If you hover over (eheh) the "posted 1 hour ago" message, you'll see the exact timing. Here's a screenshot:

Numbers don't lie

If the difference is little, that is proof. If you posted after and we're talking about a while, well, then the best strategy is to answer politely in a comment along the lines of:

I'm sorry you think I stole your answer but I got to this solution by myself.

If the accuser continues in a bothering and upsetting way, flag the comment for moderator attention and briefly explain the situation.


1: Well, there's the 5-minute grace period so maybe the numbers in this case might not be completely reliable. :)

share|improve this answer
    
+1 for the polite comment tip, that's where I went wrong. Here's the thing though, all of my edits from the last five minutes got clumped into one edit, which the other guy assumed meant that I had given up on my answer, taken one look at his answer and copied it to mine. I had been making a series of changes moving towards the solution, but none of those were a matter of public record. –  Asad Nov 25 '12 at 21:06
3  
The timestamp isn't always a good indication. It's imprecise because of the five-minute window during which new edits are lumped with the original. It also doesn't say anything about whether the latecomer had read the answer from the earlier poster. –  Gilles Nov 25 '12 at 21:22
    
@Gilles and Asad Yes, true, there's the 5 minute grace period. Anyway, my comment was more to give an additional tool, which might not be 100% reliable but in some cases might help. I gave another advice too because of this. –  Alenanno Nov 25 '12 at 21:35
    
I added a note in the answer though. :) –  Alenanno Nov 25 '12 at 21:40

When it comes right down to it, there are plenty of people on SO who care just a bit too much about rep and being the one who is right. Then factor in a relatively new user who sees a high rep user with the same answer that changed (apparently) shortly after he posted his own answer. Since he is new, he might not be familiar with the fact that identical answers can appear at almost the same time, and someone can be editing an answer and be completely oblivious to other answers coming in. And sometimes, especially with RegEx, it is very possible to have 3 or 4 virtually identical answers.

In the end, it's not worth debating it because if someone took the step to call you out in a comment, most likely they won't listen to a counter argument or listen to reason. Seeing as someone else with a different answer was apparently debating with the same individual, I would say the answerer of the (now deleted) competing answer who was looking for a fight.

I would say in general, don't get into an argument and don't delete your answer if you think it is good. When it comes right down to it, while the rep is a nice bonus/measuring stick, most members of the community generally hang around here because we want to help people, so if you think your answer is helping the OP or a future user with a similar problem, then don't delete it because you are doing a disservice to the community.

However, if you feel the accusation will attract downvotes, then reply stating your own case, but don't respond further. I can't speak for the mods, but I can't see anyone getting suspended for having one angry person accuse them of copying an answer. However, I could potentially see them stepping in if 2 members of the community get into a name calling back and forth debate in comments.

Then just to keep the site clean, after a period of time (after tempers have cooled off), delete your comment(s) and flag the accusers comments for deletion so they don't stick around and create noise that future users don't need to see.

share|improve this answer
    
@jmort253 my bad.... I can't see it, but I saw the debate with a 500 rep user, I guess my answer is not very valid. Thanks –  psubsee2003 Nov 25 '12 at 20:16
    
No, what you're saying in paragraphs 2 and 3 are quite valid, just consider some editing. ;) –  jmort253 Nov 25 '12 at 20:16
    
@jmort253 No, definitely a pretty new user, I remember them being around 600 rep or so. The comment you have linked to is unrelated. –  Asad Nov 25 '12 at 20:20
    
Okay, now I feel dumb, or blind. Even the comment I link is from a 1K rep user, SimpleAsCanBe. Not sure how I misread that as Ted Hopp's comment. So, nevermind then, carry on. ;) ..... Still Asad, everyone here is right, your answers are fine! :) –  jmort253 Nov 25 '12 at 20:28
    
@Asad then I did read it right, I rolled back my answer to the original. And if I read the user's name correctly, it looks like even though he has ~600 rep, he's only been a member for 6 days, so he doesn't have much experience with the site. –  psubsee2003 Nov 25 '12 at 20:32
    
I thought he had 1049. There must be a couple folks standing around with torches and pitchforks then.... stackoverflow.com/questions/13554208/… –  jmort253 Nov 25 '12 at 20:34
    
@jmort253 Looks like you're a bit confused today, that conversation is between Omega and the OP of the question. :P –  Asad Nov 25 '12 at 20:38
1  
lol, yeh, I stayed up late baking chocolate chip cookies and am in severe need of caffeine. I think I'm going to stop for awhile. ;) Have a great day! :) –  jmort253 Nov 25 '12 at 20:39

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