Maybe I've led a sheltered life until recently, but it really seems that comments are getting ruder and ruder. I've seen on questions by new users (rep of 1), particularly those for whom English is a second language, that people are really quick to put in a comment like: "Worst question ever" or "Let me google that for you" or "Why bother, no one's going to use your application anyway". And other people upvote it!

Can we return to some semblance of civility? At least, until the person has a track record of inviting abuse?

I would really like the ability to downvote these comments just to show that I don't agree with the behavior. When does rudeness rise to the level of being offensive enough to warrant intervention by the moderators?


Here's a couple of examples. Note both were asked by a new user with rep 1. I fixed the first one up a little since, while I understood what the OP was asking, the language was imprecise. We can quibble over whether the questions are good, bad, or otherwise. What really bothered me though was the tone of some of the comments. My rule of thumb -- would I be willing to say it in person to a co-worker (or my wife)?

How To Prevent Duplicate Email Addresses on a User Registration Form?

What is an SDK? (C++)

Update 2

The questions referenced above have had the rude comments deleted -- perhaps as a result of the flagging that happened in response to this question. One result of this question is that I now feel much more free to flag rude comments.

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    I would upvote this question if I could :o) – wcm Aug 18 '09 at 12:44
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    Worst question ever. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Aug 18 '09 at 12:49
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    @wcm: associate accounts on your user profile, àccounts`tab – Ladybug Killer Aug 18 '09 at 12:49
  • Darn, I meant accounts tab. – Ladybug Killer Aug 18 '09 at 12:49
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    @Pest: sorry, too obvious, even for you. – Ladybug Killer Aug 18 '09 at 12:50
  • @John: wcm's accounts are associated, but for whatever reason, he didn't get the Meta boost. – Eric Aug 18 '09 at 12:51
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    @John: Too obvious like your face! – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Aug 18 '09 at 12:51
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    @Pesto: better, but you still have to warm up! – Ladybug Killer Aug 18 '09 at 12:54
  • @Eric: than he has to mail the team. – Ladybug Killer Aug 18 '09 at 12:56
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    You got any examples you can link that are offensive with a lot of upvotes? – cletus Aug 18 '09 at 14:13
  • Welbog is going to come in here an one up every offensive answer in one comment...just watch. – Troggy Aug 18 '09 at 14:59
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    Note that currently this is the only question tagged 'Worst-Question-Ever', so it must be the 'Worst Question Ever'! – Tyler Carter Aug 18 '09 at 15:04
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    Good update, thanks for the examples. I am ashamed by those users. – jjnguy Aug 18 '09 at 15:38
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    Eternal September effect. – Paul Nathan Aug 18 '09 at 16:00
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    @Jonathon -- yep, they've been cleaned up -- probably as a result of this question. I'll update. – tvanfosson Nov 5 '09 at 12:04

12 Answers 12


Just flag them for being offensive. A moderator can (and will) remove them.

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    What kills me is that they're being upvoted -- sometimes a lot. Community-minded people ought to try and improve the question not insult the OP. – tvanfosson Aug 18 '09 at 12:32
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    wow: you were talking about the comments being upvoted!?! Serious? WTF? Is this the beginning of the end? – fretje Aug 18 '09 at 12:39
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    No, it means that there is no single moron, but a bunch of cooperating morons. – smok1 Aug 18 '09 at 12:41
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    2 things: 1. I love that fretje is treating tvanfosson like a newbie. 2. I love that fretje's comment ironically underlines tv's point. – Eric Aug 18 '09 at 12:44
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    Worst observation ever, Eric! :) – Sampson Aug 18 '09 at 12:48
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    @Eric: I know @tvanfosson isn't a newbie. Why do you think I'm treating him like one? (I know he probably knows he can flag the comments, but I'm answering the question for real newbies who end up on this question ;-)) – fretje Aug 18 '09 at 13:34
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    @Eric: Also: I don't see why my comment would be offensive (apart from the WTF in there, but if you can't say that anymore...) – fretje Aug 18 '09 at 13:35
  • @fretje: Wasn't offensive, only funny and ironic. I approve :) – Eric Aug 18 '09 at 14:23
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    @Eric: Ah ok, misinterpreted your comment then... sorry for that ;-) – fretje Aug 18 '09 at 14:27
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    I've seen abusive comments from moderators on rare occasions: I wonder what happens when an abusive comment from a moderator gets flagged. Does the moderator get to review their own comment, or does it get reviewed by another moderator? – Anderson Green Sep 6 '13 at 17:56
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    @tvanfosson Unpleasant comments still retain their upvotes because Stack Overflow doesn't allow users to downvote these comments, no matter how disheartening they may be. – Anderson Green Jan 13 '14 at 23:02

Completely agree. I had edited a question the other day, only to find when I had done editing it, a user had commented, "What's the question?" The OP had replied, "Your ugly face." I don't really get attitudes like that.

Moreover, I've seen an influx of users who are now guessing as answers. "Well, I don't know, but it may be ." It's rather aggravating, to say the least.

Have we hit the critical mass where we're now just bringing 4chan frequenters, or something to that effect? Because I'm with you, we've lost a lot of civility 'round these parts. The best we can do is just flag comments and downvote answers/questions, and hope for the best.

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    Yes - downvote and/or close. It's one thing if a question is badly spelled, or poorly formatted - you can fix that. But when the asker is too lazy to include crucial details or bother explaining their situation, there's just no point - close it before it becomes a target. – Shog9 Aug 18 '09 at 15:09
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    I think the mods give too much freedom in the comment sections. So it starts out with innocent things like :-) and 'LOL', then it's veiled insults, and finally insults – puk Nov 9 '11 at 13:27
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    Answers which are guesses are not bad. In the absence of a correct and comprehensive answer, a (inspired) guess can help get people to investigate things that they might not otherwise have thought of. I don't see how sharing ideas can be a bad thing (especially when they are clearly marked as being guesses). – Mankarse May 3 '12 at 16:34

Jerks aren't welcome here!

The fact that one thinks a question (or answer) is horrible, incorrect or useless does not provide an excuse for insults or rudeness. Ad-hominems and insults have no place here; they are unprofessional and reveal only the lack of maturity of the person posting the nastiness. Feel free to ignore a question, fix it, make suggestions, or vote it down, but leave the nastiness for MTV.

I would like to see a reputation penalty assessed by the moderators for rudeness, ad-hominem statements, insults, offensive behavior, and a lack of civility. I would like to see accounts suspended or removed if the behavior continues.

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    I find so many of those people. I ended up removing an entire question and answer I had posted because I couldn't deal with the flood of rude comments coming from a particular user, especially in comments. – CodeMouse92 Jun 15 '12 at 22:52

Flag them. I haven't seen any moderator flags highlighting such comments, but I don't mind getting my hands dirty destroying comments and/or users (where necessary). We've suspended and/or kicked people in the past for abusive behaviour, and I can't see that changing any time...

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    Slam that mod hammer down Marc!!! – jjnguy Aug 18 '09 at 15:22
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    One concern I have is inundating you with nitpicky stuff. Send me a note if you feel that's happening. I think -- based on the feedback here -- that I feel a little more free to flag comments that are simply rude but not patently offensive. – tvanfosson Aug 18 '09 at 15:39
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    Agreed with tvanfosson, I have generally reserved flagging for the most egregious of cases but, if the shoe fits... – user102937 Aug 18 '09 at 16:32
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    Simple: we reserve the right to assess the situation, note the behaviour of the individual, and decide no action is necessary yet (but perhaps next time). You'd be amazed how quickly I can take no action ;-p But it also helps simply to have visibility/awareness of repeated infractions... – Marc Gravell Aug 18 '09 at 19:24

I agree with you. What I especially can't abide is rudeness to folks for whom English isn't their first language. Why not just spend time tidying the question instead of moaning about it and generally being an arse in the comments.

Also there's a lot of folk out there who just aren't pre-disposed to writing good questions. It's our job to help these folks and edit their questions into better shape instead of bumping our gums and filling the comments with pointless attacks on the OP.

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    The problem I find is that some of the questions that are the most unclear, are the ones where I really can't guess what the OP was actually asking. That doesn't stop people from answering based on wild guesses, or from closing the question too quickly for the OP to have any chance to clarify. – John Saunders Aug 18 '09 at 13:52
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    @John - I agree, folks should be using the comments to try and get the OP to clarify the question instead of jumping on the zomg!-wagon. – Kev Aug 18 '09 at 13:55
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    @Kev: on the other hand, there's a subset of these who post the question and then don't come back to clarify, even if asked. – John Saunders Aug 18 '09 at 17:16
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    @John - this is true, but there's still no need to pop a vein in the comments. – Kev Aug 18 '09 at 22:22

In all honesty, if I were the SO Czar, any consistent (like 2 or 3) commenting like this would be grounds for instant banning. I'm more of a zero-tolerance type of guy. If you're being playful, that's another issue. If you're just being rude for no reason, you don't deserve to have a voice. All I could suggest is to flag the comments - that's what I do. I wish I could downvote, vote-to-delete, or edit comments.

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    I thought Jeff implemented that penalty box. Why do all folks want to ban people? Give them a second chance and then kick them! – Ladybug Killer Aug 18 '09 at 12:53
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    How can you tell if someone's being playful? – devinb Aug 18 '09 at 13:03
  • @John: Everybody loves the Ban Hammer. Don't fight it, embrace it. – Eric Aug 18 '09 at 13:11
  • @John, I agree. Two or three chances, but then you're gone :) – Sampson Aug 18 '09 at 13:15
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    This type of behavior is akin to trolling and as such, the comments should be removed from public viewing but be visible to the commenter and mods. Swinging the ban hammer is asking for more alts and attempts to game the system. – Rob Allen Aug 18 '09 at 13:17
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    @Eric: If I can swing that hammer, then it's a totally different scenario :) As long as I'm a nail, I vote for second chance... (Dark side is only fun, if you have force) – Ladybug Killer Aug 18 '09 at 13:22
  • I think I would be banned... – jjnguy Aug 18 '09 at 15:21
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    Actually @Rob's suggestion is really good -- if the commenter can see the removed comment but no-one else can, s/he still thinks his "voice is being heard" and won't be motivated to create alternate accounts. Mods could even "auto-silence" a user after some number of transgressions... Less gratifying than banning but surely more effective? – j_random_hacker Dec 29 '10 at 3:37

As I have been watching various social web sites, as the user number grows, more morons come. This is, sadly, inevitable. In addition, I am afraid we will need some system-level solution or more moderators’ effort (maybe increase number of moderators?).

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    Moderators only have one pair of eyes each. If a post offends, flag it. We aren't psychic. – Marc Gravell Aug 18 '09 at 14:21
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    Man, they should let me be a mod because I am psychic! – jjnguy Aug 18 '09 at 15:21
  • We could have moderators of moderators of moderators of the sites? haha. – Troggy Aug 18 '09 at 17:01
  • @Marc: You don't have any one-eyed moderators? – David Thornley Nov 5 '09 at 14:32

Having a look at the samples I find it interesting that the commenters rarely have high reputation or have themselves asked some really mudane questions. I have noticed a trend of "Google it first" members appearing more and more often, and we have these on Stack Overflow at the moment as well.

Personally I think the fact that Google is the Stack Overflow homepage is missed by many and the reality is that unless you're part of the beta groups, and know Jeff and Joel and the history of the Trilogy, you will not understand why Stack Overflow exists, and the more people become members the more these problems will occur.

The moderators are there to deal with these, make use of them. People seems afraid to make use of the flags that have been made available. There is quite a bit that can be done by the moderators to deal with users like these without upsetting the whole community.


As people have said, just flag any comment or answer you find offensive. All of the mods have a serious and dedicated side to them about keeping this site organized and well maintained. They do spend a chunk of their free time on this site. This doesn't mean though they don't like to have fun, but they do realize when people are serious.

On meta, things are a little more laid back though.


At some point, this is to be expected and perfectly in line with John Gabriel's Greater Internet F***wad Theory. I think that also elitism plays a role. Sure, for most people, the meaning of an SDK is obvious, or what a database is. I mean, I guess that a question like "What does SDK mean?" is like asking "What does house mean?". Also, there are these continuing questions about what type of questions should be on Stack Overflow.

Luckily, we know the stance of Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky on this, and that is: We want everything that's programming related, no matter how simple (listen to Joel in the podcasts).

  • I can perfectly relate to this. I definitely don't know what SDK is, or even what database is. Of course, I'm not a person really fit for a coding QA. ;) – Unitato says Reinstate Monica Jun 10 '17 at 15:42

And so this continues. I never expected rude comments from this community and it's the first questions I've asked here in a long time.

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    Man, if I were a mod I'd just go in and clear all the comments on that question – Mark Henderson May 26 '11 at 2:39
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    And that's what happed. Thank you to whom ever did that. – Mark Tomlin May 27 '11 at 1:46

When a user has a comment of his flagged as offensive, and it subsequently gets mod deleted, then that user has commenting privileges suspended for a short amount of time.

  • Any reference for that? (As an aside: over a year ago Jeff wrote there is/was no penalty, and that comment flagging is/was handled kind of automatically. Too bad nowadays moderators have to step in then?) – Arjan Dec 28 '10 at 16:09
  • I've never heard this either. Anyone want to be a guinea pig? – mmyers Dec 28 '10 at 16:19
  • @Arjan: Flagged with super-duper insta-removing mod flag powers. Try now. – mmyers Dec 28 '10 at 16:42
  • @Michael just flagged (and hence deleted) my comment but after that I could still post new comments (even after only 2 minutes). Maybe things are different on non-Meta sites, or when a comment has multiple flags, but this quick test did not show any suspension. – Arjan Dec 28 '10 at 16:59
  • I was only suggesting this idea. This isn't an already existing rule. – bobobobo Dec 30 '10 at 1:00

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