I had an interaction today with a very high-rep user who posted a sloppy answer with both syntax and logic errors. I pointed these out (as I often do when I see code that won't compile or uses incorrect logic), and he got really angry, calling me a bad, bad word multiple times. He then told me he down-voted my (correct) answer, solely to punish me for being a bad, bad word. Screen shot of the comment from the answer he has now deleted (don't look if you have extreme sensitivities to mind-destroying and society-ruining vulgarity):

enter image description here

I don't really care that he down-voted me for the wrong reasons. But stating so in public is not behavior I expect to be tolerated.

I have a hard time not defending myself when someone calls me a bad, bad word for doing exactly what we are supposed to do here. This is the kind of crap that I refuse to put up with, and I don't think the community should either. It is childish and unacceptable and is going to drive users like me away from the site. This is especially true when it comes from a user with close to 200K rep. This is supposed to indicate a trusted and esteemed member of the community, but in this case this person is a very bad example of anything his rep is supposed to portray. If people can act this way unchecked I think the community is in a sad state.

I guess this is why we should down-vote anonymously, and not bother commenting. But when you don't comment, others may ignore the down-votes (especially if others have up-voted without seeing the flaws), and readers may take the answer as a good one. I have had a pretty consistent policy of commenting first and down-voting later (if the situation isn't corrected). Never mind that if nobody comments the OP doesn't learn why they got down-voted.

In the end, this incident is either going to change my views on my policy of providing constructive criticism instead of blind drive-by down-votes, or it is just going to make me find another venue where I can contribute. My question is:

What do you folks do to not let bullies get to you?

It's easy to say calm down, walk away, ignore, etc. But being called a bad, bad word is a bit much IMHO.

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    Minor quibble but conflating reputation with worthiness of respect/esteem is probably a mistake. I've seen several six digit rep users that act quite foolishly. – Daniel DiPaolo Sep 12 '12 at 22:08
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    Flag the comment and walk away. Don't waste your energy. – Bart Sep 12 '12 at 22:09
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    @DanielDiPaolo I know that and you know that, but low-rep users who only know about reputation from reading the FAQ... – Aaron Bertrand Sep 12 '12 at 22:09
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    Wow, I haven't seen anything like this from that particular user. I guess everybody has their days. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 12 '12 at 22:15
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    @BoltClock'saUnicorn This is my second such interaction with that particular user. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 12 '12 at 22:16
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    I just spotted another exchange between the two of you. That makes it your third such interaction now. Can you just leave him alone for once? – BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 12 '12 at 23:19
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    @slugster I thought the etiquette was to not call specific users out, which was why I listed details but no links or names. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 10:45
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    @prusswan I'm at a loss at what to do here. I'm tempted to obliterate slugster's edit - I explicitly left the PSA incomplete to not soil this guy's rep with everyone (though I knew mods would be able to put it together pretty quickly). My point here was not to rat him out but to seek advice on the type of situation in general. Now that slugster made the edit, it kind of makes it look like I did rat him out. :-( But I think enough damage has been done (now mods + 10K users see what he did). – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 11:14
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    @prusswan because, again, who it is wasn't the point. I'm trying to be the better person here, even though it doesn't always come across that way. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 11:17
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    @BoltClock'saUnicorn yep, I'll leave him alone. I should know better than to comment on why an answer is wrong; I should just down-vote and move on. I always thought I was being a conscientious user by explaining the problem instead of (or in addition to) down-voting. But it seems folks value a high-rep user's ability to call someone an asshole over improving the quality of answers. :-( – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 17:06
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    It's not that. It's alright to comment on your downvotes, but the way you did it seemed rather... passive-aggressive, for lack of a better description. Besides, you had a tiff with him just before, so he might have seen it as harassment causing him to react this way. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 13 '12 at 17:10
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    The etiquette is not to complain about users in a public setting. Flag and walk away. This feels like highschool. – Mike B Sep 13 '12 at 17:42
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    @MikeB if you review, please note that I tried very hard to not complain about a specific user. Others felt that it was necessary for "context." <shrug> – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 17:45
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    @AaronBertrand I just don't see the value in this question. What do you hope to take away from this? Do you REALLY need to be told not to act like a jerk in response and that the most effective way to stop being bullied is to not show the 'attacker' that they're getting to you (i.e. walk away)? – Mike B Sep 13 '12 at 18:04
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    @MikeB right, because there is so much fantastic feedback when you flag a comment. <shrug> – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 18:08

One thing I'd suggest in such cases is: never get to the level of your interlocutor. If others insult you, don't insult back. This will keep you in a pretty safe position, because:

  • others will see who is the troublemaker more easily;
  • usually when someone insults you they do it to provoke you, don't fall into the trap, stay cool, they will almost always get bored of it.

It's not necessary that you respond, and it's probably safer (as others will suggest too), but if you do, keep that in mind.

In case you don't to have anything to do with it, flag the comment using the Spam/offensive flag. If the user manages to delete it before you are able to flag it, flag the answer and choose the custom field so you can explain (briefly) the situation. Something like "Offensive user in deleted comments" might work, but that's just an idea. Moderators, and the team of course, can see deleted comments anyway, so they won't get away with it.

A high-rep user should know better.

Update: It seems that this user's reaction was after your first comment which was not that friendly. Now, I'm not saying "it's your fault, it's their fault", I am not getting into this. And I don't want to go into too much detail, the answer above works when you are in a situation where someone snaps at you, but maybe in your situation you could have seen it coming.

I had to add this update considering the new stuff that came out, but I'm neither a mod nor a 10K user on StackOverflow so I couldn't know about it. And for this same reason, I can't know about your history with this user either, so I apologize if my answer comes across as without context sometimes eheh... But as a saying goes, not all bad things come to harm: use this experience in the future to approach users in a softer manner. Otherwise no-one gains anything, you get a bad experience, someone else does too and nothing gets solved.

  • I'd flag with a mod attention flag so you can explain the situation if it's more than a single incident. Mods should be made aware of repeated abuse explicitly. This case sounds isolated though, so far. – Ben Brocka Sep 12 '12 at 22:37
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    @Ben this is actually the second time I've had a similar experience with this user. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 12 '12 at 22:40
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    But you went looking for that second time. – Henk Holterman Sep 12 '12 at 23:27
  • @Henk No, that was third time. First was in July. For posterity: i.stack.imgur.com/G6tBH.png – Aaron Bertrand Sep 12 '12 at 23:30
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    @Alenanno .. sorry i m completely disagree .. and i am disagreeing on the basis of experience .. this kind of users generally do it again and again and again ... ya i agree we sud not insult them .. but community sud do something for them .. i have not post anything on meta .. but have this kind of experience to me too ... and i dnt like it all – Dhaval Jan 16 '14 at 13:46

Takes two to dance, and you started up the band.

No, I caught that. But this isn't a "here's some pseudo-code I can throw up on you, it's probably pretty close" site. I didn't down-vote, by the way, just don't like when untested code samples are thrown up as a "solution."

Wait, lemme check the faq...

Hold on...

Nope, I don't see that anywhere.

If a user wants to help another user with their question, we do not require you test your code before pasting it into an answer. Pseudocode is completely acceptable when trying to help someone grasp an algorithm or to give them a push in the right direction.

I'm not sure where you got this Test Driven Answering idea from, or why you think that its your job to go around informing people that they are doing it wrong, but I can assure you that your services are not required.

Perhaps you should consider your own actions when you find yourself in the midst of an "interaction" again. You might have played a role in starting it.

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    Did you also look at the comments that were deleted before the answer was deleted? There were three problems with his answer. I mentioned two of them and didn't even get to the third. I understand it's not a requirement to post tested code, but should we really sit back and not say anything about answers that have both code and logic errors, as his did? I get what you're saying. From now on I'll down-vote anonymously so more people can complain that they don't know why they're down-voted. That's funnier than being called an asshole. My mistake was trying to explain. Thanks for your insight. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 16:58
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    @AaronBertrand: Your mistake was demanding-ish that he provide correct, tested code. Nothing was wrong with your pointing out what was wrong with his answer, or downvoting. That's all you needed to do. And, yes, I read all the comments, deleted and not. – user1228 Sep 13 '12 at 17:11
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    Yes, you are right, if we only consider the wording of the FAQ. But: the post in question starts like this: 'I am relatively new to writing SQL' Is posting not-so-pseudo code from a very high rep user a good guide for a person like that? I very much don't think so. – dezso Sep 13 '12 at 17:11
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    @dezso: That's why we have this "voting" thing. Solves issues like that with a click of the mouse. – user1228 Sep 13 '12 at 17:18
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    Yes, and then they bitch and moan because you didn't tell them why you down-voted. Then you tell them, and they call you an asshole, and that's ok. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 17:19
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    @Won't: It's nobody's job to "go around informing people that they are doing it wrong". It's nobody's job to go around and answer questions either. I find that paragraph extremely annoying and insulting. Perhaps your services are not required. (and I'm not assuring this, just my personal opinion). – ypercubeᵀᴹ Sep 13 '12 at 17:39
  • @Aaron Bertrand: For the record, it's never OK to call anybody an asshole in any circumstance, at least not on our site. I'm not sure why you think it is. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 13 '12 at 17:54
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    @BoltClock'saUnicorn When did I say it was okay to call anybody an asshole? I'm pretty sure the fact that I don't think it's okay is why I raised this question in the first place. What I'm saying is that the behavior seems to be deemed to be ok by several people here. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 17:55
  • @Aaron: Oh, in that case I misinterpreted your statement. Apologies. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 13 '12 at 17:56
  • @BoltClock'saUnicorn my bad, that could have been more explicit. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 13 '12 at 18:02
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    @ypercube: Yet that is exactly what he did. And if he left that comment on one of your answers you might find yourself annoyed and insulted as well. – user1228 Sep 13 '12 at 21:32

First, I am not trying to make an excuse for the bad language and inappropriate actions of the other user: considering the trail of the evidence, that would be pointless (the deleted comment is visible now). Behavior like that should not be tolerated on SO.

However, it is quite easy to see that you have started the exchange in a way that made him defend his position, with little room to escape. This often leads to confrontation, both in real life and especially online, with its higher sense of anonymity. Had you posted a more cooperative comment, the outcome might have been different.

One possible way to prevent confrontation is to suggest improvements to answers, rater than pointing out weaknesses in them. For example

Consider modifying your answer to check year in addition to weekno

will generally be viewed as a suggestion (a positive thing), while

you are considering weekno but ignoring year

will be viewed a a criticism (a negative thing). Yet they both are expressing essentially the same thought. This little trick works in real life, too.

Of course once the conversation gets out of hand, you should immediately flag, and let moderators deal with the situation.


I think it's important not to forget that this is one user (albeit high reputation), and one particular incident. Don't let this one bad incident prevent you from pointing out mistakes that have been appreciated all the other times.

What do you folks do to not let bullies get to you?

I walk away before they get to me. It's clear here that this guy got to you, and no doubt tempers would have been rising, and insults would have been flying before the comment that tipped you over the edge.

After your initial attempt to help them, if they continue to be a jerk, walk away. You're a internet apart, not across the room; what's the worst they can do? If it's gotten offensive, flag it accordingly. If you want to, delete your comments. Personally, I leave mine there; the community can judge what a jerk either of us have been for themselves.

It's easy to say calm down, walk away, ignore, etc. But being called an asshole is a bit much IMHO.

Yep, sorry, and don't take this the wrong way (hindsight is a wonderful thing!), but that's exactly what you should have done. I'd have walked away after seeing his comment:

@AaronBertrand: It's SQL. Sorry if I remembered wrong.

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    Possibly, but I don't think "Something like" is an excuse to post broken untested code, nor do I think it makes it ok for him to call me an asshole for pressing the issue (and explaining the reasons why). – Aaron Bertrand Sep 12 '12 at 22:17
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    @AaronBertrand: I completely agree with you. You were right to point him out, but as soon as he starts getting snide and trying to excuse his mistakes, it becomes clear that your attempt to help someone isn't going to be appreciated, and it becomes a one way street leading to... well, exactly that :(. – Matt Sep 12 '12 at 22:19

This is why commenting on down votes is such a stupid idea.

Down vote. Walk away.

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    Except he only commented and didn't downvote... – JNK Sep 13 '12 at 19:05
  • I didn't say anything about the OP downvoting. – GEOCHET Sep 13 '12 at 19:21
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    In that case your answer isn't relevant. It's the equivalent of asking "What should I do when my pen stains my shirt?" and getting the answer "Laser printers won't fit in your pocket". – JNK Sep 13 '12 at 19:26
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    Well you are certainly entitled to your opinion. – GEOCHET Sep 13 '12 at 19:27
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    This should be the accepted answer. – Shog9 Jan 16 '14 at 17:24

What do you do when you encounter such people in real life?

I make my feelings known, and I stop associating with them.

Interestingly, I'm not as good at that on SO or the internet in general; I spend more time trying to "fix" the (perceived) problem. This is partly because I believe the internet isn't "real life", communications in the ether are more difficult to gauge and moderate, and therefore further explanation is often in order.

As an asshole, a fixer, and a Buddhist, it's a constant test of my nature. I fail frequently.

  • Like you I have a hard time letting things go. My issue in this case was that the response (calling me an asshole for constructive criticism) was way above and beyond any reasonable response I should expect, particularly from such an esteemed user. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 12 '12 at 23:35
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    @AaronBertrand Meh--even the esteemed can have a crap day. Nor does esteemed mean !asshole... Look at Jobs or Wolfram: brilliant innovators, but you could power a small country with the motions of them patting themselves on the back, and don't get in their way. – Dave Newton Sep 12 '12 at 23:44

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