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Edit 2:

Thanks all for answering/commenting, especially the ones with criticism and critique: those helped me best at getting a feel for how this should work.

I have upvoted the answers and comments that helped me in this, and accepted the answer that for me explained the human/communication aspect of it best.

Please also read Andrew's answer below, as he too clarifies his comment.

Edit:

Please read Eugene's answer below, as he clarifies his comment and makes his statement much more balanced.

Original question:

Somehow my answer on using Acrobat for handling PDF caused some stir.
With stir, usually comes downvoting.

Apart from the my impression that quite a few people dislike big name companies (Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle, even Google), and therefore might have downvoted my answer (hence the two edits of my answer to clarify it), the first comment on my question strikes me:

No idea could be worst than this. Acrobat is both monstrous and overpriced, not saying that Adobe's licensing and purchasing policy is next to useless in many regions (consider OP's location) – Eugene Mayevski 'EldoS Corp

Note the OP Jlouro is from Lisbon, Portugal, which is a developed country with quite a few very nice and very profitable IT companies.

I flagged this comment for moderator attention for a couple of reasons:

First of all, the language used in the comment is very debatable.
Personally, I find it rude and offensive, from any commenter.
But as moderator meagar pointed out, flagging is for "contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech" as quoted from this flagging post.
I'm not sure I'm a reasonable person for a comment from a generic commenter; others need to access that.

Second, and more importantly, this comment is from Eugene.
Usually, I highly value his comments and answers.
However, Eugene is CTO of Eldos Corp.
Their product SecureBlackBox contains package PDFBlackbox directly competes with Adobe Acrobat.
I think as a competitor, you need to be extra careful in commenting.
That is the true reason I find this particular comment offensive and needs moderator attention.

I think the 'thanks you for wasting my time as a 10k moderator' from moderator Andrew Moore is very much debatable too.
It is at least a very impolite start of a comment, clearly showing he did not do any investigation, and did not count to 10 before posting his comment.
For me, such a phrase, coming from a moderator, is on the edge of being offensive.
I didn't mark it as such, as I respect moderators, and want to keep some room for discussion before marking it.

So finally the questions:

  • What do you think of Eugene's comment?
  • What do you think of Andrew's moderator comment?
  • Did I react in the right way in this comment thread?

Thanks for your insight.
Even with quite some reputation, SO and SE keep to be a big learning experience for me.

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Interesting. Just for clarity, different from what he says, Andrew is not a moderator. He is just a user with more than 10,000 points, who can see flags on the tools page. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 11:01
    
Ah, I learned something new today: I was under the impression that 10k+ users automatically were moderators. Thanks to your comment, I found this link on 10k-compared-to-moderator: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/14457/… Don't you love lifetime learning. –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 23 '11 at 11:06
    
Talking bad about your customers is always perceived as a bad thing. And there is a reason. Agressivity is triggered either by (too) huge ego or fear. In the first case, it's to satisfy the ego that took the control of the person, in the second case it's a common (and natural) reaction to fear. Conclusion: talking bad about your competitors is a pretty good indication you feel (consciously or not) inferior to them. –  user150926 Jan 23 '11 at 11:20
    
@Pierre all true, but to be fair, it is arguably hard not to feel inferior to the empire that is Adobe :) –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 11:23
    
@Pekka: oh yes, humans not feeling inferior to other humans is very rare. I don't know any. But some humans can manage those feelings & emotions better than others. –  user150926 Jan 23 '11 at 11:36
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(Totally as an aside: I find the explicit line breaks very hard to read.) –  Arjan Jan 23 '11 at 12:21
    
(@Arjan: any FAQ on the usage of that? I kinda like them, but I can imagine people not liking them. Is there consensus on this?). –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 23 '11 at 13:12
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It's unrelated to Markdown or these sites, @Jeroen, but nicely explained by balpha in Why you should press Return key 2 times to insert a new line? –  Arjan Jan 23 '11 at 13:23
    
@Pekka: Every 10k user has access to moderation tools. My original comment was mis-written, yes... But the flag itself, plus the "I've flagged your comment for moderator attention" comment from Jeroen simply due to the fact that Jeroen didn't like Eugene's diverging opinion made me a tad irritated. –  Andrew Moore Jan 23 '11 at 15:18
    
@Andrew fair enough, I can understand that (especially if you use the tools a lot). –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 15:20
    
I explained my position in this answer... –  Andrew Moore Jan 23 '11 at 17:01
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@Pekka "He's not my boyfriend!" –  bobobobo May 16 '12 at 2:51
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8 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

What do you think of Eugene's comment?

IMO 'offensive' or 'hate' is more for when it's directed against a person than against some company.

Directed against a company, it might be called "flaming". If you are susceptible/vulnerable to being trolled then you might get upset when you read that kind of language.

I don't recommend using emotive language because IMO it has a low signal-to-noise ratio: it tells me more about how the speaker feels, and less about what the facts are; so off-topic perhaps, and it doesn't improve my opinion of the speaker, but I don't think it's what TPTB meant in the "offensive" category.

Did I react in the right way in this comment thread?

There's not a lot you can do with comments: you can edit other users' questions and answers, but not their comments (in the overall scheme of things I think that comments are less important than answers: someone new coming to the site might read the answers, might read the comments associated with an answer, and ought IMO to be able to ignore a comment if they think that the comment has low quality).

OTOH you can reply to other users' comments: you can say something like, "@Eugene I think that saying 'monstrous' is going too far", or "Note that @Eugene works for a company that might be seen as competing against Acrobat", or whatever else you think. So, you can disagree with someone, using your own words, inline; whereas "flagging" something is more like asking for a moderator to come and nuke the other user from orbit: more than just a little disagreement/edit.

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I can't comment on whether he's right - I know too little about the topic - but I think Eugene was well within the boundaries of free speech here. It is fair to criticize a software product in harsh words, even though to be taken seriously one would usually want to add some more background information. In any case, it is not punishment-worthy.

It would have been the classy thing for Eugene to mention that his company is a competitor to Adobe in a small field in the PDF area, but again, I don't feel he is breaking any rules by not doing so. In fact, the fact that he is working in the field might give his opinion even more weight.

So your flag was unjustified IMO; Andrew was technically right in pointing that out, but unnecessarily rude. I'm glad he's not the moderator he thinks he is! :)

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Thanks for your answer; in other words: I should have urged Eugene to come forward that he is a direct competitor in stead of flagging his comment, right? –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 23 '11 at 11:13
    
@Jeroen in my eyes, yes - or just note it in an aside comment (maybe something like "Eugene is entitled to his opinion, but it should be noted that he...."). There is a lot that can be challenged in Eugene's comment (More real-world info; Links to back it up; The line about Adobe's licensing policy in Portugal which sounds like B.S. to me, etc.) but that should be done in comments. People who see the answer will have the possibility to read the whole comment thread, and make up their own minds. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 11:18
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I explained my position in this answer... –  Andrew Moore Jan 23 '11 at 16:49
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Jeff has chimed in on self promotion, saying that disclosure is a must.

This feels like a form of reverse self promotion, thus the disclosure "rule" should have applied.

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I disagree. Eugene wasn't promoting the services of his company in any way. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 11:56
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@Pekka every competitor's lost costumer can become your own. Although I can see how "Disclosure: I work on a competitor product" could trigger people to click on his profile and his webpage to find out what other product it is he's talking about. –  badp Jan 23 '11 at 11:58
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@badp still. Eugene's company seems to be the size of an insect compared to Adobe, and is a competitor in an extremely narrow sub-field in the PDF market. Using your argument, Jon Skeet couldn't make a snarky comment about Facebook any more because he works for Google. This would be too restrictive. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 12:00
    
@Pekka I can see snarky, but there isn't much snark in this particular case. As usual, posts aren't troublesome until somebody complains about them. –  badp Jan 23 '11 at 12:03
    
@badp I symphatize with Jeroen because the number of downvotes on that is really unfair (and was most likely caused by that comment). He was treated most impolitely for no good reason, but I can't see a flag-worthy infraction, nor reason to penalize Eugene. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 12:12
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On the other hand, @Pekka, the first revision of Jeroen's answer was not that helpful at all, just linking to Acrobat. That could explain the downvotes (and pity upvotes) too. In the end Jeroen gained some reputation for a bad answer, in my opinion. –  Arjan Jan 23 '11 at 12:47
    
@Arjan you're right. I agree that the first revision wasn't very helpful in terms of looking for an API. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 12:48
    
@Pekka I really don't see why one would downvote a post because of a comment attached to it... –  badp Jan 23 '11 at 13:02
    
@badp it happens often: A user with reasonably high rep leaves a negative comment; people automatically downvote - sometimes wrongly. It has happened to me, too. But I agree that in this case it maybe was the incomplete answer that triggered the votes. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 13:03
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@Arjan: I agree, I assumed that people would know what Acrobat products and APIs were, and was wrong about that. That's why upon the first few downvotes, I edited my answer, and the next day edited even more. That's what SO is all about, right? –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 23 '11 at 13:14
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You are looking for the black cat in the room, which is empty, not dark. Acrobat is overpriced ($500+ per installation) and monstrous (you don't carry MS Office to type an SMS, do you?). And our product is not applicable in the discussed question, so I didn't mention it.

Update: (removed some stuff).

The rules say "if you don't like the answer, downvote and leave a comment". The problem ( I noticed it myself) that if you downvote and leave a comment, you get a negative perception from the answer's author. So it doesn't pay to comment. "Quiet" downvoting does.

As for acrobat - my downvote was not claiming that Acrobat is bad, but the advice to use it is bad, and the reasons are that it's too pricey and huge for most uses. This was not a declaration of quality, but explanation of my downvote. Now, as we have to deal with Acrobat to make our software compatible with it, I know a lot of it's technical downsides, non-compliance to their own standards (at least in digital security aspects) etc.; and also I know about troubles with licensing it in different countries. So this is my "expert judgment", not an subjective opinion.

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What I want to achieve is getting a feel on how these things should work. You know: sitting between keyboard and chair without secondary communication is tough. Actually, I credit a lot of your work on SO, so no offense. –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 23 '11 at 13:16
    
@Jeroen I think I know where the problem has arisen from, so I'll modify the above answer. –  Eugene Mayevski 'EldoS Corp Jan 23 '11 at 13:23
    
@Eugene: your edit makes your statement much clearer and much more balanced; please clarify that comment to my original answer, and I'll upvote that comment for sure. I have upvoted your answer here, and edited my question to direct people to read it. –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 23 '11 at 13:37
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"The problem ( I noticed it myself) that if you downvote and leave a comment, you get a negative perception from the answer's author. So it doesn't pay to comment." -- I expect that that depends on the nature/content of the comment that you leave. For example, adjectives like "monstrous" are quite emotive and perjorative (cloud people's emotions); and, specific positive feedback (e.g. "X is good") is often more helpful than negative feedback (e.g. "Y is bad"). –  ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 21:04
    
@ChrisW Maybe we have a different treatment of the word "monstrous". It has plenty of meanings and non-speakers usually don't know them all. My meaning was "of enormous size" (especially for the task). –  Eugene Mayevski 'EldoS Corp Jan 23 '11 at 21:16
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In normal usage, "monstrous" is invariably perjorative, and "large" is no more than part of its meaning: google.ca/search?q=define%3Amonstrous ... its meanings include threatening, cruel, callous, etc. –  ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 21:24
    
@Eugene: thanks for re-commenting on the original thread; I have upvoted your new comment. –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 23 '11 at 21:38
    
@ChrisW the first definition of the word, if I follow your link, gives "abnormally large" meaning, which is exactly what I meant to say. And as it's the first, I assume that this meaning is quite popular. "hideous" applies as well, but is more subjective, of course. –  Eugene Mayevski 'EldoS Corp Jan 23 '11 at 21:56
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"Large" is not a distinct, stand-alone meaning: it is, at most, part of the meaning of monstrous. If you only want to mean 'abnormally large', then say "abnormally large" ... or, "bloated" is an adjective (also perjorative) that's conventionally applied, to APIs which people think have become unnecessarily large. "Monstrous" is stronger (as you can tell in part from the OP's reaction), getting into Godwin/atrocity territory. –  ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 22:12
    
@ChrisW the question is whether we can call an enormously large thing as being "monstrous". If we can (and I assume that we do, considering translations and descriptions of the words in different dictionaries), then taking one meaning and call it offensive is not exactly correct as for me - it leads to misunderstanding. If we should avoid any word, which has more than one meaning, cause some meaning can be offensive, then, I am afraid, we would become dumb (in the meaning of "can not speak"). –  Eugene Mayevski 'EldoS Corp Jan 23 '11 at 22:18
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Many monsters are large; some are small. They're all (conventionally and by definition) 'bad'. Monstrous might imply 'large' but it certainly means 'impossibly bad'. As I said before, 'large' is not "one meaning of" monstrous: it is, at most, a part of the meaning; and there are other less emotive adjectives (for example, "large", "unnecessarily large", "complicated", "difficult"), which are available (so no need to "dumb"), unless you prefer to use 'colorful'/emotive language which evoke reactions like "I detest that." –  ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 22:29
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Something like the moon or the Eiffel tower might be large, but it's not "monstrous" unless it's also harmful and threatening or repulsive. Monstrous implies large but large doesn't imply monstrous: monstrous and large aren't synonyms. –  ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 22:36
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Also, I'm not saying that 'monstrous' is offensive (unless it's a word you're applying to a person). Instead I'm saying that it's emotive, it's language that produces (and which is usually intended to produce, and which is probably produced by) a strongly negative reaction/emotion. –  ChrisW Jan 23 '11 at 22:44
    
@ChrisW you probably know, that Eiffel tower was named threatening and ugly by many Paris citizens when the tower was built, don't you? –  Eugene Mayevski 'EldoS Corp Jan 24 '11 at 7:57
    
By the way I think that, in French, one meaning/usage of the word "monstrueux" is that it could be used of something like a building, to describe an aesthetic judgment (i.e. "it's very ugly" or even just "excessive"); whereas, in English, the word "monstrous" is more of a moral judgement (more like "it's evil"). –  ChrisW Jan 24 '11 at 11:42
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It is at least a very impolite start of a comment, clearly showing he did not do any investigation, and did not count to 10 before posting his comment.

It is true that I didn't count to 10 before posting my comment (which I since removed), and that I regret. My original comment was badly worded. Here's the point I was trying to make.

For one, every user at or above 10000 points gets access to moderation tools. Since I've hit 10000 points last year, I've made it a point to visit the moderation tools at least 3 times a day. It is a vital tool to keep the Stack Exchange websites as clean as possible.

Flags are the user's way to mark a question/answer/comment that is either spam or "contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech". By that, the SE team meant content that personally attacks or is derogatory towards the original poster or a replier.

Flags are not there to mark strong divergent opinions or to settle quibbles between two parties.

While I was doing my moderation run yesterday, I noticed a flag on a post which quite frankly was a bit strongly worded, but not insulting or offensive in anyway. That happens all the time, I usually read the context of it and move on. What irritated me though was Jeroen's comment:

@Eugene: I flagged your comment for moderator attention.

Quite frankly, that came out as uselessly confrontational and that pushed me off the edge and made me write my comment. To me, that was simply a polite way of writing the following:

@Eugene: I do not agree with your opinion. Please delete your comment at once or face the consequences.

The Stack Exchange website is all about finding solutions to problems and answering users' questions. There are bound to be different solutions to some problems and diverging opinions on the matter. Bullying a diverging opinion out is not a way to strengthen your own.

As for stating I was a moderator... What I really meant was that I had access to the moderation tools.


I work as a software consultant. I have a few publishing houses as customers and worked first hand with multiple PDF solutions. Acrobat, while being the solution which is the most complete, is indeed the most expensive solution with an API which isn't exactly developer friendly (user preferences on Acrobat having an effect on the API's outcome unless you set all settings programmatically, etc...)

So I did do research on the subject before replying.

While Eugene's comment was strongly worded, he was well within his rights to post his opinion. IMO, his opinion is right on the letter with mine.

On the matter of Eugene's employment... Not once did Eugene mention any of his employer's products in any comment or answer to the thread. On this fact alone, I don't think Eugene had to disclose his ties with a company that provides PDF solutions. His opinions were an opinion of someone who HAS WORKED with the technology, not an opinion of someone trying to push a competing technology (again, not one mention).


While my comment was out of line (and for which I am sorry), Jeroen's way of bullying a diverging opinion off his answer was absolutely wrong. The correct course of action here was to simply reply to original comment and voice your disapproval and the reason therein. Not to flag the post for moderation and then state that you did in an attempt to make Eugene's comment disappear.

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As said, I agree with you and I can imagine the frustration coming from unnecessary flags for someone seriously working with the 10k+ tools to keep the site clean. However, I think Jeroen's bringing this to Meta (and listening to people's arguments) shows he didn't really act in overly bad faith. I think we can close this particular issue as settled. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 16:36
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Unnecessary flags are far too common, but not frustrating. Users OPENLY using flags as leverage against opposing points of view... Infuriating –  Andrew Moore Jan 23 '11 at 16:47
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I don't think he meant it that way. He saw Eugene's comment as a genuine breaking of the rules (or at least something questionable), and said so. A misunderstanding that I think has been cleared up. –  Pëkka Jan 23 '11 at 16:52
    
Thanks for explaining your comment. To explain my flagging and the mentioning of it in the comment: it was my way of saying to Eugeue "Look, I think you made a really inappropriate comment, let the moderators decide if it is indeed a bad comment, then have them delete any inappropriate stuff, including mine". Bad judgement from me, and then the whole comment thread got a little bit freaky after that, so I took it to meta to learn from it. My intent never was to bash people, and I feel like the other commenters did not either. Like Pekka wrote: I think everything has been cleared up by now. –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 25 '11 at 14:30
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First of all, the language used in the comment is very debatable. Personally, I find it rude and offensive, from any commenter.

That comment was not offensive. Perhaps it could be considered rude, but I suppose you could consider vehement disagreement "rude". However an offensive comment would use strong, inappropriate language to attack you or someone else. In this case, there was no offensive language: None of "monstrous", "overprices", or "useless" are offensive. If his comment had been:

That software is total shit, the developers can go to hell, and anyone who uses it is a whore!

That would have been offensive. (I used the spoiler tag to prevent decent people from being offended, so hover over it is you want to be offended!) But he was expressing his opinion, and none of the language he used was offensive. It was also directed at the software, and your answer, not at you.

So in short, I think you're overreacting.

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Thanks for putting in another answer; even though Pekka mentioned earlier that all has been cleared up, and I already accepted an answer, your answer adds to the overall feel of how SO/SE should work, hence a +1 from me. –  Jeroen Wiert Pluimers Jan 25 '11 at 15:49
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Look, this was a comment, not an answer or a question. We don't accrue rep + or - on comments, and that's for a reason. If Eugene has entered an answer that directly or indirectly seemed to tout his offering, there'd be room for criticism. If my memory serves me well, Eugene in particular has been a bit of a small-scale lightening rod in this regard (? a 'shortening rod' ?), and has over time learned how to strike a balance.

You have to work fairly hard, in my opinion, to achieve 'offense' in a comment. Strongly-worded criticism of some company or another does not reach the standard.

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I followed this question. I disagreed with the opinions expressed in Eugene's comment, but I thought Jeroen completely abused the system with his disproportionate response.

Elaboration

I disagreed with the opinions expressed in Eugene's comment. But that's good! He was one opinion, I have another, Jeroen yet another and no doubt there are plenty more about. By arguing your point, everybody can learn.

But what Jeroen did was to try to block discussion and argument. Argument and disagreement are the lifeblood of human knowledge and scientific progress.

Where it would have crossed the line would have been if Eugene's words had been directed at an individual. That would have counted for hate speech. But that was not the case.

Anyway, that's just my opinion, and I don't mind if nobody agrees with me!!

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