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If a user is making a valid point but in a rather angry way, what can I do? I don't want to post something like 'please check the FAQ for how to provide a constructive answer' as that's just going to make it worse.

Case in point was Col. Shrapnel in this question. (My answer he took particular issue with, but also to others.)

He has a point, but is being very inflammatory when trying to make it.

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I don't think he is angry. That's normal behavior of him. –  YOU Apr 24 '11 at 14:54
    
@YOU Ah - he is well-known? I am fairly new. –  Blowski Apr 24 '11 at 14:56
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If find it odd that people consider short remarks to imply angriness, rather than first reading their own post and the manuals again. I am always very much triggered to first figuring out my possible errors, if they are pointed out to me, before even daring to respond. –  Arjan Apr 24 '11 at 15:13
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I won't go into this user's history, but suffice it to say he's toned it down about four notches recently. Unless there were numerous deleted comments (which I have no way of knowing about), this exchange is pretty tame for him. Anyway, the best way to respond to angry users is to simply not respond, and flag when their responses get out of hand. –  Robert Harvey Apr 24 '11 at 15:18
    
@Arjan I did read the manual - and copied and pasted it into the post. He said the manual is wrong but not why. At that point, I didn't know whether to leave it or push for an explanation. If the latter, the post is then incomplete as the most popular answer has a big 'this is wrong' on it, but if I respond, I get into a flame war. –  Blowski Apr 24 '11 at 15:22
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"What does one do with 'angry' users?" Mock them, of course. –  Adam Davis Apr 24 '11 at 16:00
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Shoot them at pigs. –  Rosinante Apr 24 '11 at 16:40
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@Rosinante .. Birds .. man .. birds ... I don't want users in my bacon, thanks :) –  Tim Post Apr 24 '11 at 16:46
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I think a part of the problem here is that saying "your description is wrong, go read the manual" is next to worthless. At the very least, there should be some explanation of how an answer is wrong, or a counterexample, a link, or some guidance on how to improve the answer. –  Justin Morgan Apr 25 '11 at 1:39
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@Justin: this. Yes, it's tedious to shoot down an inaccurate answer... but as this example proves, if you don't put the effort in up front, you'll end up doing so eventually anyway... And waste a lot more time in the process. –  Shog9 Apr 25 '11 at 2:03
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@Blowski, FWIW, this bit of horrible is why the good Colonel viciously attacks posts mentioning mysql_real_escape_string alone. Versions of MySQL prior to 5.0.77-ish are vulnerable to a well-crafted GBK exploit, no matter what other protections are in place. mres is not enough protection, and the manuals simply don't reflect this properly. It's hard to communicate this clearly, no less communicate it in a comment. Really, prepared statements are the only reliable defense prior to 5.0.77. (cont) –  Charles Apr 25 '11 at 3:33
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Anyway, I'm hardly making an excuse for the Colonel - there are a few deleted comments on my second link, and he didn't retract his downvote after I thoroughly researched the problem and provided more detail. I'm merely explaining this particular set of WTFery that's on display here. Also, if you can, you should probably begin recommending prepared statements when you see people struggling with the horrid mysql extension. </pseudo-derail> –  Charles Apr 25 '11 at 3:35

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Flag the post in question.

Some SO users are just quite ... blunt by nature while trying to be helpful. Think about it for a moment:

  • Some programmers have somewhat abrasive personalities
  • Some programmers speak English as a second (or third) language

When you combine these factors, you sometimes don't know what to think. In that case, involve a moderator.

Col. Shrapnel is making a very valid point in that discussion, and that's the only reason that I did not just remove the comments. Often times, people take meta code snippets as gospel and employ them, without actually understanding what they are doing. He's been screaming about this since he's been a member, and will continue to scream about it until he can't scream any more. In the scope of SQL injection, I tend to air on the side of caution. The comments weren't really that antagonistic and I'm not going to nuke a conversation over an answer to a security issue unless it becomes a ghetto.

I'm not digressing, I'm reinforcing my point. Let the site moderators help you when you think you've run into something like this. If you encounter someone with a high reputation score that is seemingly difficult, there's a very good chance that we've encountered them many times before.

Involve us as soon as you see things turning into a boxing match and stop interacting with that person until we intervene.

How to flag

Use the 'flag' link on the question or answer that contains the argument, and tell us what's going on:

how to flag

Give us as much detail and background as possible, then send the flag. We will look into it, we're here to help when these kinds of disagreements happen, preferably before they resemble a war :)

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I just knew, the moment I saw the orange bar, I should probably have just stopped typing... +1. –  user142852 Apr 24 '11 at 16:04
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+1 for mentioning screaming part. –  YOU Apr 24 '11 at 16:09
    
@TimPost OK, will do that in future. How do I alert a site moderator? I was genuinely interested in his answer, as I could see that he is a good developer, just not what he was referring to. –  Blowski Apr 24 '11 at 16:12
    
@Blowski - Just flag the post for moderator attention .. select "other" and tell us what's going on. All flags are confidential. Updated my answer with an image. –  Tim Post Apr 24 '11 at 16:15
    
@TimPost OK, will do. A big reason why I'm using SO is to improve my communication skills, and that often involves dealing with difficult people who disagree with you, but can't just be ignored (because they're right, higher in the foodchain than you, or some other reason). Hence, why I'm trying to find out how to deal with it, rather than just say 'whatever'. –  Blowski Apr 24 '11 at 16:32
    
@Blowski, If you find someone difficult to deal with, chances are, so will many other people. We really need to be alerted when this happens. At that point, don't fan the flames, let us deal with it. –  Tim Post Apr 24 '11 at 16:38

I truly think the answer to this is:

Stay cool.

If someone's having a bad day, week, life, whatever - there's not going to be much you can do to chill them out if they decide to take it out on the internet. You just want to avoid that bad energy altogether and not let it rub off on you.

Give them the benefit of the doubt at first, give some honest feedback, and if they aren't willing to listen or have an adult conversation, then just move on. "Don't feed the trolls" as they say.

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Yeah, the hard part is that Stack Overflow is aiming to be both a wiki and a forum, so if you leave a comment like that hanging it begs to be clarified. Who does that clarification? How do I bring it to their attention? Just flag it? Or attempt to answer? –  Blowski Apr 24 '11 at 15:33
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@Blowski if somebody makes a cryptic remark, and refuses to give a clarification even though you ask for it, you usually have little choice but to ignore it. If it's important enough an issue, it might be an option to ask a separate question about it, however –  Pëkka Apr 24 '11 at 15:42
    
@Blowski: Ah, but StackOverflow is explicitly NOT aiming to be a forum. In fact, it is perfectly legitimate behavior for the mods to erase a large chunk of comments if they are made obsolete by a change to the answer. For example, if I answer A, you comment that I should have mentioned B as well, we argue for a bit, and I change the answer to A+B, then all of those comments are ripe for deletion. –  jprete Apr 24 '11 at 16:19
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"Stay cool"; "move on"; that's my opinion, anyway. We're dealing with humanoids here; they aren't always rational or pleasant. I once gave a very detailed answer to someone explaining why what he was trying to do was impossible, explaining the theory, citing links, etc. He just ignored me...no acceptance, no upvote, not even an attempt to verify what I had posited with open source tools. I realized later I had burst his bubble: he had a whole business plan based on nonsense. Sometimes the truth hurts; I stayed cool; I moved on. :-) –  George Freeman Apr 24 '11 at 16:26

Be very careful about attributing emotions to other users. You're reading brief, hastily-written text, a medium not well-suited to the task of easily or accurately conveying emotion. For all you know, the user you see as shrieking mad may be writing his comments while lazily sipping iced tea on his porch swing, your conversation merely an idle distraction.

And yes, I realize the futility of bothering to write that. Upon seeing criticism of an answer you've spent time on, it's natural to become defensive, and take the worst possible view of whoever bothered to speak up.

Some users are reluctant to critique the answers of others, either via comments or down-votes, fearing the discord that so often results. The site is worse for it. It's often not enough simply to post a good answer; much can be learned from reading the criticisms of others.

If someone criticizes your answer on technical grounds, strive to ignore their tone and focus on the validity of their arguments. If they attack you for other reasons, do as Tim suggests: flag and move on.

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Some general points:

  • Not all users are native English speakers on Stack Overflow. So they might come across as blunt simply by the way they speak.
  • You don't have the added advantage of tone on the internet, so it is very easy for you to misinterpret another user or that other user to misinterpret you.
  • Sometimes brusque or blunt is the norm in academic and similar communities. Remember we have experts of all sorts of levels here.

So my general advice is try to go into every discussion with an open mind, try not to take offence if something seems rude (easy said I know). If you can, see the value in it.

If the discussion turns into personal comments, snide remarks and attacks without any useful content, flag it and walk away.

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I have almost two decades in the academic environment, and I'm far from being a native English speaker: the tone in those comments is not what I'm used to. That was rude, not blunt. Nevertheless, I do agree with you in the part "try not to take offence". It's just not worth. –  Aleadam Apr 25 '11 at 0:22
    
@Aleadam I tried to avoid commenting on the specific case/user in my answer and answer the question about dealing with angry users. Whether the line was stepped over is a call the moderators have to make, ultimately. Suffice to say, however, if I had an objection to an answer I probably wouldn't approach challenging it in quite the way that it was challenged here. –  user142852 Apr 25 '11 at 10:02

If you believe that person has a valid point, you can always reply in a polite way and ask to provide a thorough explanation or even invite that person to edit the answer to correct the mistake. That way you avoid the flame war, provide a better answer to the original question, and even learn something yourself.

If you believe you are right, you can add a formal proof in an updated answer or, if it's not worth, ignore. There will always be somebody wrong in the internet!

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There will always be somebody wrong in the internet! Sure, but it's never ME :) Hey, you can be angry and correct at the same time right? –  Wesley Murch Apr 24 '11 at 15:57
    
@Mad no, you're wrong! And this there a post in a blog that proves it! –  Aleadam Apr 24 '11 at 15:58

That user has an infamous history of being rude; he's not usually downright offensive or extremely rude, he's just borderline: the problem is that he's been that way for years.

I think we should ban him once and for all; even though he's an active member of the community who very often posts answers his rudeness brings more bad than the good of his contributions.

Note that none of his comments/answers warrant a ban on their own; it's the fact that he's constantly been borderline for over a year that does.

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In an office environment, he would be considered a problem - he is a great source of knowledge, but puts other people off from getting involved in the conversation. I have to say, had I not posted this question and heard that he is well-known, I could have been frightened off using SO. I don't want Google indexing my code as being 'obviously wrong', but nor do I want them indexing me having bun-fights. –  Blowski Apr 24 '11 at 18:27
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@Blowski: so don't get into a fight. Refute or address technical concerns, ignore the rest. –  Shog9 Apr 24 '11 at 18:38
    
@Shog9: I believe that on stack overflow users should have a right to ask for help and/or give help without being treated badly. Or at least, that's the kind of community I want the website to have. –  Andreas Bonini Apr 25 '11 at 0:40
    
@Kop: believe me, I'm all about good, friendly teats. ;-) And on Stack Overflow, I feel strongly that users should be able to both offer advice, and critique that advice, without encountering pointless abuse. However, human nature being what it is, conflict is often unavoidable - the important thing to remember in such cases is that this isn't your personal forum, wherein you must defend your honor; it is a public Q&A medium, and your words and actions matter in so far as they contribute to or detract from the goal of providing value to The Greater Internet. –  Shog9 Apr 25 '11 at 1:44
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@Shog9: Your reminder that it isn't "your personal forum" should apply just as much to Shrapnel. Why, exactly, is he allowed to run free attacking people and generally being an ass while everyone else is told that they should just not respond in kind? Why is it acceptable for him to be a jerk, but not acceptable for anyone else to be a jerk toward him? Why must everyone else be restricted to addressing technical concerns, while he is not? I know I frequently disagree with you, but the ridiculous tolerance of Shrapnel is the only subject on which I can't begin to understand your position. –  Nicholas Knight Apr 25 '11 at 4:11
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@Nicholas: what gives you the idea that he gets a free pass? Read Tim's answer - moderators can and do deal with users who cross the line into mean-spirited attacks. But stop and think: if you decide to jump in and "be a jerk towards him" in some misguided attempt at vigilante justice, then what's a moderator supposed to do? (hint: whatever it is, you'll likely find yourself on the receiving end of it as well). That's why I say, address technical concerns, ignore the rest. –  Shog9 Apr 25 '11 at 4:17
    
@Shog9: I think he gets a free pass because he's been at it for so long the predictable response is "that's just Shrapnel". In any real world environment I've been in, the first time that response occurred would be cause for immediate and serious alarm and soul-searching. I don't think people should be a jerk towards him or anyone else, but there don't seem to be any consequences for him being a jerk towards others, so either there is no serious interest in dealing with jerks (obviously untrue since others have been dealt with much more harshly), or there is a double standard at work. –  Nicholas Knight Apr 25 '11 at 4:43
    
@Nicholas: I think you're being overly-dramatic here; perhaps you've really never been in a "real world" situation where a request for clarification was met with "read the manual" but... I've a hard time believing you would actually react with shock and alarm. Reactions IRL tend to depend heavily on perceived attitude... and as I mentioned below, this is hard to judge (easy to misjudge) in text. As you note, Shrapnel has a history of inspiring bad reactions - if we can't work this out, you know how it'll end... In the meantime, "bun fights" don't help anyone. –  Shog9 Apr 25 '11 at 14:00
    
@Shog9: You have seriously misread my comment. I'm not referring to any of Shrapnel's statements, but to that of other people to complaints about Shrapnel -- "that's just Shrapnel" or "it's normal". It's a clear signal that the problem that has been allowed to go unchecked for far too long. And it's been a year already -- exactly how many more will it take before you decide it can't be "worked out"? I'd think it would be obvious from Shrapnel's own reactions to complaints, where it's clear he believes everyone else is the problem, that it's not going to be worked out. –  Nicholas Knight Apr 25 '11 at 14:04
    
@Shog9: Incidentally, though it was entirely orthogonal to my point, "read the manual" was far from the problem in this case. Blowski DID read the manual, and quoted from it, and Shrapnel simply mocked him and derided the entire community. –  Nicholas Knight Apr 25 '11 at 14:12
    
@Nicholas: He's one of the top PHP answerers on the site; that's going to make his actions stand out more than some random user. FWIW, I could point to another top PHP answerer who repeatedly abused the site, was suspended several times, and... finally got the message and shaped up (knocks on wood): point being, it's really not your concern how many chances are given - that's the business of the moderators (who, I can assure you, are keeping a close eye on such users). If you see something that offends you, flag it and leave it. Fights and back-room ban banter just add fuel to the fire. –  Shog9 Apr 25 '11 at 14:22
    
@Shog9: You have a rather screwed up definition of "fight" and "back-room". The only "back room" is the SE management that chooses to allow the community to continue to be poisoned, not community discussions on a completely public site. Since you truly don't care, however, you're right, this isn't helping anyone, and I'll leave it alone. –  Nicholas Knight Apr 25 '11 at 14:28
    
@Nicholas: in "fight" I'm referencing the "bun fight" comment Blowski made above. In "back room ban banter", I'm referencing Kop's answer. If you think either of these is a constructive use of the site, then it's my turn to be alarmed. If you would sooner see another user - who, near as I can tell, you don't even interact with regularly - locked out of the site rather than encouraged to behave in a more polite manner, that is very concerning. It's the sort of lynch-mob mentality that can end up thwarting any effort towards improvement. @Kop: was this your intention? –  Shog9 Apr 25 '11 at 14:37

I want to say it somes with the territory, but I hope that it is something rare and not a frequent behavior. Stick to the facts - people may have different opinions, but facts cannot be disputed. Be the better person and never add fuel to the fire.

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