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A friend of mine asked a question and, while he got some pretty good answers, there was an obnoxious commenter who asked a set of follow-up questions. I've checked the conversation and as far I can see, it's someone who simply doesn't have an answer but wants to sound important.

My buddy got downvoted and the question was closed. I would just tell him to forget about it - not everybody here is mature yet - but there was in fact other people remarking this. So I went and checked history of the said commenter.

My impression is that this person uses SO as a platform for filtering his own frustration and anger. We don't need such behavior in our community.

Should one report such incidents? Where and how?

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See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66444/… (I guess). –  Felix Mar 28 '13 at 22:31
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You can always flag for mod attention and use other in the description or you can email the stack exchange team. –  bluefeet Mar 28 '13 at 22:32
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I don't know if some comments have been deleted at this point, but I4V was not overtly aggressive, even if he was terse. Your friend on the other hand seemed to be fond of using exclamation marks, which can come across as hostile. –  Asad Mar 28 '13 at 23:07
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I don't think asking for a code sample or sample input was unwarranted. It makes it easier to visualize the setup to the question; it also makes it easier to paste into Visual Studio as a starting point for testing an answer. For someone asking for help, the poster comes across as mildly hostile. –  Tim Medora Mar 28 '13 at 23:15
    
Hehe, I think this was the last time I ever get involved in such a thing. I recognized the follow-up questions my friend got clearly showing that the commenter doesn't know what he's talking about (or didn't read the question). My friend should just have ignored him. And I should have got involved. Sometimes I forget that we're just humans... :) –  Konrad Viltersten Mar 28 '13 at 23:53
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@KonradViltersten: "I recognized the follow-up questions my friend got clearly showing that the commenter doesn't know what he's talking about (or didn't read the question)." Then you "recognized" the wrong thing. Those comments were entirely valid. –  Nicol Bolas Mar 29 '13 at 0:10
    
Seeing that this thread doesn't lead to anything good, I'm thinking of removing it. But I don't want the people with useful comments to loose the reputation gain. Should I proceed? Just leave it? –  Konrad Viltersten Mar 29 '13 at 0:22
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@KonradViltersten - I wouldn't suggest removing this. While many disagree that there was any abuse here, you created a meta discussion that will hopefully help commenters word their comments a little more carefully while also helping your friend, and others, understand why folks may ask for examples on questions such as the one your friend posted. In short, there's useful information here. Hope this helps! :) –  jmort253 Mar 29 '13 at 0:52
    
@KonradViltersten I don't think you can remove this. IIRC questions with upvoted answers can't be deleted by the owner. I'll see if I can find a Meta question about that. –  Asad Mar 29 '13 at 0:59
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@KonradViltersten Let me respectfully suggest that you change the title of this question. There seems to be a strong consensus that no bashing took place, and using the phrase "group bashing" makes it look like you're really overreacting. What's more, the answer should be obvious to anyone who has read the faq -- of course "group bashing" is not allowed. A less extreme title may help you better address whatever concerns you have. –  Caleb Mar 29 '13 at 2:27
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5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Asking follow-up questions is important in making sure that you're given accurate, detailed answers.

However, if they're rude comments, rather than valid clarifying questions, flag them for moderator attention and they'll be dealt with.

If your friend doesn't understand why his question was closed, he can ask about it here on meta. You/he will need to provide a link to the question you're concerned about, though, in order to get any explanation.

Closed questions can be reopened - it might just be in need of a simple edit. It might not be a good fit for the site, though, and may have been rightly closed by the community. It's impossible to say without knowing which question you're talking about though.

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Agreed on the purpose of the follow up questions. I didn't want to link to that question because I don't want to be a "nag". However, I'm curious if others agree that it's a perfectly valid and well-formulated question and that the commenter is just playing smart. Note that there were very good answers to that very formulation. –  Konrad Viltersten Mar 28 '13 at 22:52
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Hmm. You haven't picked the best example of "bashing", @Konrad. For what it's worth, I think the OP is being overly sensitive and accusatory. The commenter in question could have phrased things differently, but it's very hard to see how this rises to the level of abuse sufficient to warrant calling in mods. –  Michael Petrotta Mar 28 '13 at 23:00
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Agreed. My friend should have just ignored the comment that wasn't really constructive. And I probably just got tired of people who pretend to know stuff and make it sound like there's something wrong with the question. No point wasting life on this anymore, haha. Have a nice whatever part of the day there's at your location. –  Konrad Viltersten Mar 28 '13 at 23:57
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@KonradViltersten I see that you've been reading and responding to all of the answers and comments here. While I agree that this isn't really an example of people ganging up on your friend, you'll both be fine if you continue to try to have productive dialogues both on the main site and here on meta, and if you politely request a moderator's attention if things take a rude or offensive turn. Most issues get resolved in a way that makes everyone fairly content if all parties retain a cool head. :) –  Laura Mar 29 '13 at 1:58
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@KonradViltersten I won't press the matter if you decide you're done with the discussion, but a lot of people here have argued that the comment was in fact constructive. The takeaway here should be that there is nothing wrong with asking follow up questions, not that you should ignore problematic comments. If you see a comment that really is offensive, by all means flag it. –  Asad Mar 29 '13 at 3:31
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In general, if you see rude and abusive comments, flag them. If there's a larger pattern of people ganging up on someone, use a custom flag on the post and explain what you see.

However, I think I know the question you're talking about here, and I don't see any ganging up on someone there. One person posted a question requesting additional clarifying information. Your friend responded to that comment, and then this person left an answer attempting to solve the problem. Your friend's follow-on comment was misinterpreted as being a little aggressive, probably due to the punctuation used, but the response to that was still constructive. None of these comments were out of line.

We can debate whether that question needed to be closed, but I think some people objected to the open-ended wording of it. Even with that, it accumulated two upvotes and a series of good answers before it was closed. Given that the last three close votes came from people seeing it in the close vote queue, and I think people are being a little too aggressive in closing things there, I see no malice in any of this.

The question is now in the reopen queue, but I could suggest to your friend that they might tweak the wording of it to produce a better reaction from future readers.

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Lots of people see patterns of misdeeds in other users. Only some of them are actually right. In no way am I asserting that you are one of the wrong ones. But because there are plenty of wrong ones, and because your meta question raises some red flags, I'm going to play the devil's advocate, lest this meta question ultimately become the rallying cry for a small number of users to flag every post, comment, or chat message they ever disagree with.

First of all, it's not always necessary to know the answer to post constructive comments. It's possible to help troubleshoot a problem without knowing the answer. And it's possible to help clarify what someone is asking without knowing the answer; sometimes, this is possible without even knowing much about the topic being asked about. Asking "a set of follow-up questions" hardly sounds like an evil deed!

Nor is knowing the answer required before downvoting posts. Especially if all these incidents occurred in questions that shared a tag, it may simply be that an active user in the tag responded to multiple questions. If your friend's question was closed, that took action by five close voters (3000 reputation or higher), or by a moderator. Unless this user is a moderator, they did not get your friend's question closed all by themself.

Now, it's totally unacceptable to ridicule or attack people over their off-topic, not constructive, duplicate, or whatever-other-close-reason-applies questions. But it is acceptable to post comments that argue that a question should be closed, or explain constructively why it was closed. The standard for whether or not a comment is appropriate is not whether or not the author of the post being commented on is happy it was posted.

I don't know the real nature of what has happened, of course. I know that a lot of people get angry when people downvote their questions or comment to say that their questions should be closed. I am the target of that anger, sometimes. I have even often been attacked for downvoting posts that I never downvoted, because I commented, and someone else downvoted. For all I know, the person you're talking about could be me!

You say the commentator was "obnoxious" but all I really know is that this person has upset two people, who are friends with each other.

It's not that I distrust you. It's just that every active user who tries to be helpful is, from time to time, cast as the sort of villain you're complaining about. So, maybe you've thought through whether or not what they are doing is really inappropriate. Or maybe what they're doing is so clearly inappropriate that you're chuckling as you read this, knowing if that if I knew the details then I'd agree wholeheartedly and wish I didn't know them. Or maybe it's not so simple.

Whether all of what I've just written is something you need to read, I do not know. What I do know is that it is something many people need to read. (Not necessarily these precise words, but the general idea I am trying to express with them.)

How to flag a pattern of bad behavior by a user:

To report a pattern of bad behavior on the part of a user, flag one of their posts for moderator attention, and write a custom message. Your flag will be kept confidential (it will not be shown in the 10k tools, only to actual moderators who have agreed to respect your privacy). If the problem lies in comments, you can flag a question or answer that the comments have been posted on. This should also be a custom flag, and you should make clear that the problem is not with the flagged post itself, but with some of the comments on it.

For individual bad comments, you can flag them. But even if you custom-flag them, there is no guarantee that a moderator will read the flag, because with several flags from the community comments disappear. Custom-flagging a comment is good when it's wouldn't be clear from any of the other flag reasons why that one comment should be removed. Flags on posts should be used if you need to communicate something about a pattern that is occurring, or a user who is acting badly.

Before you flag to tell moderators about someone, please reflect to make sure that the problem lies (at least in significant part) with them, and not with others, and not with yourself. If you're a good custodian (which not everyone is), then most of the time, you can take the time to ask yourself this, and quickly you will see that in fact you are right and you should flag.

Finally, please note that sometimes, no one has acted in bad faith, but people still have managed to create a problematic situation. When this happens in comments, often the best solution is for a moderator to delete the whole big wall of comments. Comments are "second-class citizens" in the Stack Exchange system, and if they're not-constructive, rude, off-topic, chatty, or obsolete, they should be and (whenever people notice) are removed. Sometimes a conversation between good people who are all trying to help each other out starts out good and productive, but manages to end up being all those flaggable things.

So sometimes when no single side is specifically at fault, it's still worthwhile to flag, not to call upon moderators to investigate and deal with any specific user or users, but simply to clean up a comment conversation gone wrong so that a question can become productive again (or for closed questions unlikely to be reopened, so that it can at least rest in peace).

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This isn't really group bashing. This is several users coming together offering the original poster constructive criticism on how to improve the question, and the original poster is instead taking this as a personal attack. The problem here is simply a communication issue; a misunderstanding.

While outright rude behavior should be flagged for moderator attention, as others have mentioned, constructive criticism, downvoting content that isn't clear, and voting to close is not rude.

My suggestion for the original poster is to post an example of the code that doesn't work for several reasons.

Posting examples helps experts catch up faster:

While this may seem ridiculous to the original poster, he should keep in mind that he's intimately familiar with what doesn't work, while some other individual out there may have experience with the problem but has not looked at it in quite awhile and would appreciate seeing the issue replicated so they can have a good understanding of the problem.

Posting examples helps answerers focus on better answers instead of guesses:

Having a clear understanding of the problem will help possible answerers come up with a better, more clear solution that they're confident about, since that person is sure he/she isn't guessing what the problem is or having to spend extra time researching the issue when the asker could have helped by writing a clearer post.

With that said, I've voted to close, since it's not clear what the problem is. If the asker, or even someone who does understand the problem, can post an example of the non-working code, I'll be happy to help reopen the post.

Posts with examples are helpful to future visitors who may not fully understand the problem:

Consider that these posts should be helpful to future visitors, and if I don't fully understand the problem, the post may not be helpful to others in the future who search for it later down the line, once the dust has settled and all the folks involved in the post have moved on. Hope this helps!

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Some very good pointers. I'm taking a mental note to never, ever, ever comment on a negative post/comment/statement. I just realized that ignoring, although rude, is superior to annoying. –  Konrad Viltersten Mar 29 '13 at 0:50
    
@KonradViltersten - That's a good approach to take. We are on the Internet, and sometimes it's easy to take things out of context. Many times, people don't intend to come off as rude, but they do anyway and unwittingly because there's no body language or vocal tone to help convey intentions. :) –  jmort253 Mar 29 '13 at 0:54
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I think that you can do one of the following :

  • flag the specific posts that you think are inappropriate.
  • downvote if you do not mind loosing reputation points.
  • if you are not sure about a post, you can also ask a question on Meta and reference the concerned SO post.

All are pretty powerful weapons.

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You can't downvote a comment. This question is about comments that pretend to be an important follow-ups while in fact the commenter is just pretending to be skillful. In the meantime, others replied quite well. See for yourself. –  Konrad Viltersten Mar 28 '13 at 22:54
    
I see. That's true. –  Ales Plsek Mar 28 '13 at 23:06
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