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I recently saw a post where the OP was bemoaning the fact that it can be difficult to get a good look-in with answers in tags where there are users that are fast (FGITW), really on the button, and have high reps. Basically tags where a few users are all over them. Fair enough point for discussion.

However, the OP made what some saw as controversial remarks about these high rep users:

  • Repeatedly referring to them as 'answer "whores"'.
  • Speculating that they 'seemingly have no life (or job?)".

What did surprise me is that another user took it upon themselves to replace these remarks and sanitize the post based on the fact that he felt the remarks were insulting to the high rep users. This is way beyond correcting factual errors, or English language and grammar mistakes.

In my mind this is censorship and whitewashing. I think it is more useful for other users to see exactly these kinds of remarks and attitudes so that there is a true representation of the OPs post. If users disagree or find these remarks offensive they have the usual avenues to show their disapproval e.g. down-voting, commenting and flagging.

Is it counter-productive to censor posts in this way?

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The guy is a troll. That question should never have received that kind of attention either way. But I do agree with your viewpoint if it's a real trolling attempt (and not a legit post just using stronger language than is accepted on SO - censorship is fine for that, and works well) –  Pëkka Feb 4 '11 at 12:06
    
@Pekka are you campaigning against my reversal badge??? –  Trufa Feb 4 '11 at 13:40
    
@Trufa ahahahahaha! No, you have my vote :) –  Pëkka Feb 4 '11 at 13:41
    
@Pekka hehehehe Phew!! I was worried!! –  Trufa Feb 4 '11 at 14:22
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FWIW, the official policy on cursing, which is not a dupe but does give an indication of Jeff's philosophy –  Pops Feb 4 '11 at 14:58
    
Glad to see I've caused such a disturbance. :P I'm not going to post an answer, anything I would say has already been covered by my previous comments or other answers in this question, but thanks for bringing it up. I would like to see what the community thinks of this. –  Brandon Feb 4 '11 at 17:40
    
As an aside, some people have a hard enough time getting to Stack Exchange sites at work, even with almost everything being safe for work. Let's not make it any harder for them :) –  Tim Post Feb 7 '11 at 11:24

10 Answers 10

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Editing != Censorship

Really. There is an edit history, and a understanding that this is part of how the sites work.

Note that the owner can always revert the edit (unless the mods (not 10k's the mods) step in), as can other sufficiently high rep users.

That's all there is to say on that.

Are edits to remove insulting language appropriate?

On the content sites the answer is always a resounding Yes!.

On the metas the answer is still "Yes.", but with the reservation that leaving it in makes the point to future viewers that the poster is being a jerk (i.e not nice), and might be preferred.

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Regarding tone on Meta, see: Valid questions buried under personalities –  Shog9 Feb 5 '11 at 2:49
    
Several answerers suggest that in some way the question is questioning the fundamental ability to edit posts. It simply does not suggest this at all. I do not appreciate the insinuation (via the link) that if I don't like editing I should leave, especially as I have not made that point. I'm in no way condoning abusive behaviour, I wholeheartedly agree with:BE NICE. But in reply to the question, you make a very good point which supports what I'm really trying to get across. If a user is a jerk on meta I think it is worth considering leaving their remarks so that other users can easily see this. –  chibacity Feb 5 '11 at 11:02
    
@chibacity: The links were just to acknowledgment that I was late to the thread and thus wasn't the first to make those points here. –  dmckee Feb 5 '11 at 14:16
    
+1, this was a point I was trying to make, but you said it much better! –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 5 '11 at 17:46

Though I'm a very low rep user, I thought this was a very wrong idea (like 99.9% of the users) and, as you probably know, replied to the question.

I saw your discussion in the comments and with all due respect, it is my opinion that you have a wrong perspective here.

Why?

Because understandably this kind of "requests" makes you mad, because like any other user who goes to great length to provide quick excellent answers, you might feel offended when a user tries to undermine that.

The request is a NO.

By now you know the SOIS team will never accept any requests like this. Never ever. I'm sure they would kill unicorns before they do.

So..

If the team will never accept features like this, maybe we should close the questions as soon as they get to Meta Stack Overflow.

That is not the idea

The idea is not to close them as soon as they appear on Meta Stack Overflow, this would actually be censorship! We don't want censorship.

Then, if we don't close them?

We answer them, the best we can.

Why?

Because although we might never change this user's mind, we leave it for the next user, the one that will learn how this site works and appreciate the hard work of the top users.

We might as well close it as too localized then, because the question as is, expresses the users point of view, but probably only the user's.

So if it is not for the question asker...

If it is not for the one asking the question, it doesn't make any sense at all leaving the insults and the spelling mistakes there.

Spelling mistakes: Because the users aren't obliged to have a perfect written English, and this shouldn't undermine their idea.

Insults: Because they NEVER help, one way or the other, we are all* smart rational individuals, no need to insult. Being there, simply, has no positive effect on the site.

So, I say edit them.

Though I agree in this case the question was a perfect storm, I still stick to my argument.

The reason you should down-vote is because you don't agree with the idea, which we don't agree, we completely disagree, but we edit, for the next users, that might benefit of reading a clean/well described question without all the noise with it's corresponding answer stating a big black NO.

Conclusion

Like you I'm all against censorship, but this has nothing to do with it, we collaborate, improve the questions and answers in hope of them being helpful to, at least someone else.

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You make some very good points - cheers for the effort. I am not suggesting that spelling mistakes and factual errors are left in, far from it (I say this explicitly in the question). I do think it was a personal localized rant, and censoring it only served to legitimize it in my view and make it seem kocher. You can down-vote if you feel the question is not "useful" e.g. a personal rant. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 14:30
    
@chibacity no prob! I think we both agree in the basic concepts. Which is something like, best users should be penalized for being the best! That is what matters. To sum it up, I think our disagreement lies on whether that question is useful or not, and we simply disagree (which is a good thing) with this answer I just intended to give my point of view, I <strike>repsect</strike> understand yours perfectly! –  Trufa Feb 4 '11 at 14:44

Why in blazes would you think its suitable to assault any users of the stackoverflow site series* with stupid, unfounded, pointless, and unproductive comments like this.

  • "Rep whore"
  • "Has no life"

This is roughly equivalent to cyber bullying, except where a worm is doing it.

I say this should not be tolerated.

Hang him with a C# noose.

(*meta excluded)

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FYI, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/22232/… –  Pops Feb 4 '11 at 16:56
    
Please refrain from using profanity. –  Tim Post Feb 4 '11 at 17:10
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@Tim Euphemism inserted successfully. –  bobobobo Feb 4 '11 at 18:09
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-1 Cyber bullying has such a vague usage, that it is nearly meaningless. In some peoples perceptive even being slightly rude is cyber bullying. The use of assault also seems exaggerate a person being rude. I am not saying being rude is OK, just that, in my opinion, the words you are using make the crime seem a lot worse then it is. –  Zoredache Feb 4 '11 at 19:35
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Saying has no life is an insult. Here the person is, putting oodles of uncompensated time to provide answers for users on the site. And you repay him with saying "has no life"? –  bobobobo Feb 6 '11 at 4:27
    
@bobobobo: Wait, how is that an insult around here? That sounds kind of backwards... –  SamB Jun 9 '11 at 3:14

The point of editing questions goes beyond just correcting grammatical errors and factual errors. The point of editing questions is to make them better questions. StackOverflow is not a personal soapbox for users to say whatever they want and have no fear of censorship. StackOverflow is a collaboratively edited question and answer site for programmers.

The parts of the question in question added nothing to the site and were argumentative. In order to make the question better, they were removed. It's not censorship, it's collaboration.

The FAQ clearly states this also!

Other people can edit my stuff?!

Like Wikipedia, this site is collaboratively edited, and all edits are tracked. If you are not comfortable with the idea of your questions and answers being edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you.

To reiterate: If you are not comfortable with the idea of your questions and answers being edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you.

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Good point about a wider remit for reasons to edit posts. I strongly agree with this, have edited many posts, but I have failed to articulate this. However, this post is in no way questioning the fact that content can be edited, it is describing a type of edit and opening that up for discussion. Secondly, the faq entry you point out and insist on "reiterating" is aimed at users being comfortable with having their own content edited. This question is not concerned with how people feel about having their content edited, or wider issues of perceived ownership. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 19:47
    
The question was also intended to be aimed at Meta and not SO. I didn't make that distinction clear. Some people seem to think that Meta and SO operate in the same way. Doesn't look like it to me. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 19:50
    
True, SO and MSO operate differently, the primary difference being that MSO has it's own unique culture, and votes mean a very different thing on Meta. But aside from that, I believe the point still stands: buth sites are essentially Q&A wikis, and since everything is collaboratively edited, there is no censorship. What he said is still in history. I don't understand how it matters that you're uncomfortable with his content being edited. The FAQ entry could just as easily read ** If you are not comfortable with the idea of questions and answers being edited by trusted users [...]** –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 4 '11 at 19:54
    
The faq says what it says - let's not fool around imagining things it does not say. I do not appreciate the insinuation that I should leave if I do not like my content being edited especially as I have not made this point. Several users have posted answers that insinuate if I don't like the way things work I should sling my hook. The thing they have in common is that they are for reasons that have nothing in common with anything I have said. Maybe it is unintentionally hostile, but I do not appreciate it at all. –  chibacity Feb 5 '11 at 11:01
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It's not hostile. The site works in a certain way. We're explaining to you why it works this way. It's not censorship, it's collaboration. We're not telling you to leave, we're just saying that this is not the venue for one to speak freely with the understanding that they can say anything. What you say on these sites can and probably will be edited to fit in line with the nature of the site. If you want a place where you can say what you want and nobody can change what you say, then that sort of speech should occur on another site. That's all I'm saying anyway. –  The Unhandled Exception Feb 5 '11 at 17:45

enter image description here

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It's not censorship. It's making sure that people use reasonable arguments to discuss their position. Inflammatory words are, aside from not being nice, are counterproductive to the discussion. –  Adam Davis Feb 4 '11 at 16:34
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@Pol I am not "deaf". –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 16:37
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@chibacity No offense intended, I'm just a big fan of inset magnification - it amuses me to no end: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/43038/… –  Adam Davis Feb 4 '11 at 17:56
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So, what am I supposed to be focusing on in that image? –  gnostradamus Feb 4 '11 at 18:06
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@gno The fact that I used pixel doubling to enlarge it, rather than a more complex algorithm such as bicubic or bilinear, which, as you can see from the prior work I exhibited at the above link, may not be as attractive as the simpler method. While some might disagree, I find that the disjunctive perturbation of the purity of line notates the essentially transitional quality, although the aura of the facture threatens to penetrate the inherent overspecificity. –  Adam Davis Feb 4 '11 at 18:16
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@Pol Ahh, so that's why I feel like I have to see my optometrist. Well done. –  gnostradamus Feb 4 '11 at 18:19
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No fair. There's no way my answer can compete with freehand circles. –  Borror0 Feb 4 '11 at 19:56
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@Borror0 you could put your whole answer inside one. –  badp Feb 4 '11 at 22:37
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@pol: Wait... what's wrong with bilinear filtering? –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Feb 4 '11 at 22:38
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+1 for freehand circles –  Oystein Feb 5 '11 at 0:57
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@George If you don't know, then the terrorists have already won. –  Adam Davis Feb 5 '11 at 3:37

IMO, for truly truly obscene posts, censorship is fair and understandable.

StackOverflow != someBar

While I have not been on either the meta site or StackOverflow for long at all, I have noticed some who will even take offense in a similar way to :) and lol or even '...'. I actually can't help understanding these folks who to me, are rather overly stiff, yet I disagree with that view.

In the same vein, while I don't agree with insults, censoring mild wordplay seems overkill to me. Personally I also find some comfort in seeing the personalities of other programmers spurt out little bits of data =P There's always garbage collection though I suppose.

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Was this on a meta site or a 'normal' Stack Exchange site?

In either case, sanitizing it is appropriate if the name-calling in the post is detracting from the discussion. The old adage applies,

If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

That doesn't mean someone can't voice their objections, but ad hominem attacks are not welcome.

If it's a meta site, then there's a little more leeway. If it's a non-meta site, the Original poster should be admonished (privately) and his post publicly edited.

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It was on this site - so yes a meta site. I still think that other users should be able to make up their own minds and then act accordingly. I for one, don't want meta posts "spun" according to what some people may find offensive, I can work that out for myself. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 13:28

I've not seen the post which was the subject of your question, but just to add some perspective. The term 'rep-whore' is pretty common here, and isn't generally considered to be offensive, though it might be construed as mildly insulting - though not necessarily, because people do self-describe as rep-whores too.

I'd imagine that the person who edited that part out wasn't aware of this...

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@benjol Now that is interesting. I was not aware that it was culturally significant terminology. This again gives pause for thought when thinking about censorship. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 13:11
    
@chibacity. "Culturally significant", well, maybe. A pretty small sub-culture, I guess :) –  Benjol Feb 4 '11 at 13:19
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@benjol If it's being censored it's therefore a small sub-culture which is under threat! :) –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 13:20
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@benjol IMO the part about "seemingly have no life (or job?)" converts the tone of the "answer whore" term from possibly good-spirited adaptation of a common tongue-in-cheek term to mean-spirited insult. –  jball Feb 4 '11 at 16:27
    
@chibacity, I'm well aware of the term rep-whore. As jball pointed out, when the poster started calling out other users for having no life, it changed the tone and no longer seemed like it was in jest. –  Brandon Feb 4 '11 at 17:41
    
@Brandon Freudian slip? I saw your original comment. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 17:46
    
@chibacity, no I'm not accusing you of that. I meant to type 'the poster', and I recognized the error immediately after I posted it but then Meta went offline, so I wasn't able to correct it before you saw it :P –  Brandon Feb 4 '11 at 17:46
    
@jball, I think you're right. But there was always the off-chance that someone over-reacted because they saw 'whore'. –  Benjol Feb 5 '11 at 13:17

It's simple really.

If I have a complaint in the real world, and spend half the complaint even slightly insulting someone, I am not going to get very far with my complaint. If I get to the point of my complaint quickly, and stay objective, the problem is resolved quickly.

Furthermore, this leads to answers, comments and responses that very quickly spin out of control and the point of the topic is lost.

Questions, even on Meta, should be on topic and to the point. Spending time insulting or name calling others, doesn't make the question any better, and adds absolutely no value to the topic on hand.

If it is considered censorship to ensure that a questions remains on topic and objective by removing all the unnecessary fluff, then I for one is guilty of censoring posts.

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@Diago In the real world you are not censored, however, you will pay the consequences for insulting people. No-one comes around and whitewashes your statements. If you say something that is disapproved of, you get yourself a name and reputation for it. In the real world you have to exercise maturity and restraint, otherwise people lose respect in you. No-one goes around fixing this up for you. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 12:30
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@chibacity: Stack Exchange is not a place for real-world conversations, it is for targeted questions that have definitive answers. Offtopic insults or complaints have no value to later visitors who search for the solution to the same problem as the asker. People can look at the edit history if they want a record of the original wording. This is not censorship, it's keeping things focused. –  Brad Larson Feb 4 '11 at 13:44
    
@Brad I am not suggesting it is a place for real world conversations, I did not introduce that comparison, I was merely responding to it. However, from my limited experience of meta I find it to be less black-and-white (say compared to SO) than you suggest. If a user is responsible for questionable language, I want to read that, not go through edits. That helps me to make better informed decisions that involve that user e.g. if they at some point run for moderator. I don't want their personality to be "spun". –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 13:48
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@chibacity: Sure, Meta can be a special case where rules are a little more flexible. I guess my point is that Stack Exchange in general is different than the real world, with less of a focus on the individual and more on the content. We already sanitize language as a policy: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/22232/… to make content broadly acceptable, so people are already losing some degree of personal expression. We shouldn't care about the personality of the asker, just the question itself. –  Brad Larson Feb 4 '11 at 13:57
    
@Brad Again, I didn't introduce the point about the real world - so please. I think the personality of the user is important on meta, a lot of content is about user experience and users have discussions. SO is different, I know this and do not have a problem with the duality. What I do not want on meta is to read someone's post after it has been sanitized and think "what a cool dude and what a great point" when in fact I would not actually think that given the pre-edited content. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 14:03
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@chibacity: Why should the personality of a user affect the merit of a bug report or feature request at all? In general, the items that someone brings up on Meta should stand on their own, unless they are specifically about their own account or a problem involving them on another site. –  Brad Larson Feb 4 '11 at 14:57
    
@Brad Personality can help in evaluating a requirement, personas can be useful in designing user experience. I sometimes worry that there is no room for personality here, and people plain do not want it. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 15:10
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@chibacity. There is not place for personalities on SE, not even on Meta, because it is not about people. It's about the question, and it's relevant up to date answers. We rate questions, and in this case, feature request, on the merit of the request, not about who posted it, or even why they posted it unless it is to enforce whey the feature itself will have value. If your evaluating these based on the people posting them, your using Meta wrong. –  Diago Feb 4 '11 at 16:00
    
@Diago I am talking about meta, and I evaluate each post on its own merits. I do however think that sometimes a bit of personality is appropriate and very much appreciated in some posts. I find the opinion that it has no place disturbing. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 16:11
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@chibacity I find you throwing the word censorship so loosely around disturbing, but it's not the point I am trying to make. The point is simple, we will clean up posts, when we feel the fluff in the post takes away from the actual topic. Personal feelings, in that case, becomes irrelevant. Whether it is meta or an actual SE site, the same rules apply, and on meta, even more so. –  Diago Feb 4 '11 at 16:14
    
@Diago I get your point - there is no room for personality in any shape or form. –  chibacity Feb 4 '11 at 16:26
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@chibacity Also keep in mind, there is a big difference between personality and personal feelings. There is a lot of posts, on SE and Meta's, which show personality, but in no way are insulting, or even fluff. Those posts we will hardly ever touch. –  Diago Feb 4 '11 at 16:38
    
@Diago I guess when you said "there is not place for personalities on SE" I misinterpreted that. I understand what personality, ego and feelings are. I have also read and participated in many posts - mainly on SO. I am part of the "we". I apologise if you find my use of the concept of censorship casual and that disturbs you, I am well aware that it is a life changing reality for many people. –  chibacity Feb 5 '11 at 11:26

If the topic is worth discussing, then insults are what is counter-productive because they detract attention away from topic. Most points can be made without insults, so removing them is usually a net benefit. The only thing you misrepresent, here, is thus the anger of the poster.

The real question here, IMO, is whether it's best to salvage a question or to close and repost. Surely, a consensus on that has been reached in the past (though I can't find it with search).

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