Why is insulting other users and giving sarcastic comments such a huge part of the culture on SO? It's the complete opposite of projects like Wikipedia where everybody is exceedingly friendly and helpful.

For example: This response comes from a user with 13k reputation to a question about an interview problem:

There are a fair number of undergraduate CS students who can see this solution immediately, and it seems they were looking for those students.

If you have any ambition as a C++ programmer, and aren't already intimately familiar with the data structures and algorithms provided by the STL, you should learn them now. It seems your competition already has.

This was in response to a genuinely extremely difficult interview problem that did not even ask for a solution using the STL. This seems to me like an unnecessarily unfriendly thing to say. This is just one example of what I think is a major trend.

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    Any specific examples?
    – Arjan
    Jul 4, 2012 at 16:58
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    I liked joke about Wikipedia. Jul 4, 2012 at 16:58
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    @OlegV.Volkov that wasn't intended as a joke. I have been a participant in Wikipedia for a long time, and the people there are very friendly and interested in generating good content.
    – Daniel
    Jul 4, 2012 at 16:59
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    @Arjan: For example, new users are consistently criticized and downvoted to hell for not conforming their questions to the exact proper format. People should be helping them instead of giving unhelpful criticisms.
    – Daniel
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:00
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    Fcc@daniel IMO, SO is slightly overgrown in this aspect. A major chunk of the users (this includes high reps) don't know our basic policies (courtesy, link-only-answers, etc). So this is part of a larger problem, "We need to educate the masses". I have a few things in mind for that (involving lots of metaposts), but theres still time for it. Basically, this is a known problem with no easy solution :( Jul 4, 2012 at 17:19
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    I'm not saying this isn't a problem, but you try helping several dozen people making the same mistake every day and see how long you can keep it up.
    – Ben Brocka
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:20
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    @BenBrocka: Didn't that very sentiment lead to this answer?
    – Makoto
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:21
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    @Daniel: Only new users who ask bad questions are criticized, generally. It's not a matter of "conforming their questions to the exact proper format" - it's putting in some effort to ask a question in a sensible way. Most of the time, when I see a criticism it's because the questioner is showing a complete lack of respect to those who may answer, by failing to follow common sense about what should be in their questoin. Heck, you've seen that yourself in the question where you commented: "How can we provide you with an algorithm if you won't tell us what is important?"
    – Jon Skeet
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:34
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    @JonSkeet you are absolutely right, and I did on that question what I think people should do in general instead of personal attacks: flag the question for closing.
    – Daniel
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:37
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    @Daniel: Criticizing the post isn't a personal attack, and that's what I see most of the time. Personally I see a comment explaining how the question can be improved as more useful than just a close vote.
    – Jon Skeet
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:41
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    I think the problem is you fell into the C++ shark tank
    – Chris S
    Jul 4, 2012 at 19:12
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    I appreciate the concern, and civility is always enforced per the FAQ, but the comment you cited is hardly offensive. A bit blunt, maybe, but "sarcastic" or "unfriendly"? Have you seen the rest of the Internet? Jul 5, 2012 at 7:30
  • They have nothing better to do with their time and feel like they have no control in their life so they resort to "virtual power" to make them feel like a man, because they are a loser in real life. Apr 28, 2013 at 18:55
  • @user23948732856 AMEN! if they say theyr there to help , then do the job and quit tryin to be smart asses acting like only they deserve to know the answer
    – blahblah
    Mar 17, 2015 at 2:26
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    Stack Overflow has become (like every other stack exchange) an elite society with a huge working class of low-reputation newcomers who cannot ever break the question-downvote pattern Apr 18, 2018 at 3:25

4 Answers 4


Stack Overflow suffers just as much from insults, rudeness and sarcasm as the rest of the internet. Anywhere in real life too. You'll always get people on ego trips or too suborn to hear out anyone else's ideas.

It's our nature to be more bold when sitting behind the protection of our computer monitors and keyboards. If this is the problem you are talking about then I'm afraid IMO you'll get the same feeling anywhere you go at some stage.

What to do when you come across a comment/post that you feel is insulting? - Flag it!

We don't want that kind of offensive content on the site. I don't think any one wants it.

That said you have to realize that no matter who you are or how much reputation you have on Stack Overflow, sometimes you get frustrated and say things you might not have said waking up late Saturday morning with breakfast in bed... on your birthday... (when you are in a good mood if anyone missed that :)
Some one will come along and if it offends them it will get flagged and possibly removed.

Regarding the specific example you gave. I really think that you over analyzed it. Here is a 10K+ user making a comment. He is not attacking anyone he is not calling anybody out for an argument... He is simply giving his advice; Highlighting a certain aspect of C++ (of which I have zero knowledge) that he feels is crucial for someone who is serious about programming.

If these are the comments that disturb you then you haven't seen the worst...

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    +1 "I really think that you over analyzed it." Example in OP doesn't seem rude or mean to me. That being said I certainly have seen posts from time to time that do fit into this category.
    – FoamyGuy
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:27
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    fair points given +1 i agree with all Mar 19, 2018 at 7:32

The most unfriendly thing you can do to someone who shows up on SO is to not try to help them. That comment was abrupt, but in the context Jirka points out, it made perfect sense - this is a place to guide learners into the knowledge they need, not to reassure them that they don't need to learn any more than what they already have.

This is just one example of what I think is a major trend.

The most disturbing trend I've observed are comments that don't try to help anyone learn. I'd rather see a spirited debate over the form instruction should take than a single dismissive "go read all of Google and summarize it for us before you bother us" response. If the reward for a slightly thicker skin is valuable knowledge, then it's worthwhile; but if it's just more abuse, then there's no reason for anyone to stay.

  • effin AMEN bro! i dont speak da same language as nerds but i love programming and i just wana learn!
    – blahblah
    Mar 17, 2015 at 2:31
  • Ironic I don't see a lot of comments and answers from @shog9 helping new users find their way on Stack Overflow. I don't ever recall one so I needed to check the profile. It is September 23, 2018, and the last answer was August 13. And prior to August 13 it was May 20.
    – user173448
    Sep 23, 2018 at 20:07
  • Maybe the site rules need to be changed so we are authorized to take all dev-ops, desktop and server questions, including no-effort homework questions requesting the code and duplicates of previously asked questions. Without authorization to reject the off-topic fodder we will be required to answer them rather than closing them.
    – user173448
    Sep 23, 2018 at 20:11

The quoted text is not from SO but from one of the sister sites, and it seems to have been a response to

I personally think that this was very difficult question, almost impossible to do correctly on a whiteboard. How would you solve it on a whiteboard? How to apprehend this question without using a debugger?

I believe that the answer you quoted had attempted to challenge the idea that this was a very difficult question, beyond what any CS undergraduates would be capable of producing on a whiteboard.

The second paragraph may have been too personal, but again, you can read it either as a advice and challenge to acquire particular skills (STL and then other ones), or simply as a crude way of proposing that you should learn STL on a particular level if you want to work in that particular company.

Now to your question here. I think that whenever you have a choice between reading good intentions and non-trivial advice, or insults and patronizing, behind a particular post or comment, you should be looking for the former. When you feel you have no such choice, flag the post for moderator attention and swap the whole incident out of your head. There are millions of other posts waiting for you here, some of them really friendly and informative.

  • "The quoted text is not from SO but from one of the sister sites..." - Lol, nice misdirection on the OP's part.
    – user173448
    Sep 23, 2018 at 20:06

I'm aware that it doesn't look like a real friendly answer, but still... Most people would have this kind of reaction when they see some post asking things like "What is an integer?", "I don't understand how html tags work" or "what is recursivity used for". I understand we should help each others, but I don't think we should be THAT kind to people who are too lazy to google it and end on a page like "(something) for dummies". But yeah, we still could be more friendly.

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    Yes that's true, but the nature of the question which the person was responding to was not like that. It was a genuinely very complicated interview question which the guy basically claimed was trivial and anybody who is anybody should be able to see the answer.
    – Daniel
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:30
  • That is possible, I did not see the question at all... but it happens that questions are really simple. But you're right, in cases like this one it's inappropriate to act this way. I agree. Jul 4, 2012 at 17:33
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    @Daniel: It would be a lot easier for others to judge the question for themselves if you'd edit this question to link to it.
    – Jon Skeet
    Jul 4, 2012 at 17:59

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