Please see my answer below. I have incorrectly applied my Wikipedia experience to Stack Exchange and based my assumptions on biased data, and I am deeply sorry for the controversy I have generated.

A follow-up to this question.

I find the attitude towards post-banned users to be very harsh, giving the message of "you're on your own" rather than "here are some suggestions on how to improve". Can we actually help users who are post-banned improve their posts instead of saying "tough luck")? Even if users are making low-quality posts, we really should be assuming good faith whenever reasonably possible, since these users generally aren't being malicious.

I hate seeing post-banned users crying "miséricorde" but not getting any mercy from the community. A lot of these users really want to and can improve. User behavior is not set in stone, and assuming that they can't improve is the wrong thing to do.

We should stop assuming that users know the rules or understand how to write better posts by the time they get post-banned. As Kyle Strand said in this answer:

We need to stop relying on our tools--the FAQ, the pop-up suggestions, and so on--to teach new users to become valuable contributors, and start teaching them ourselves.

  • 10
    The harshness is partly because we've probably tried several times. At some point you have to walk away.
    – djechlin
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 16:15
  • Although clicking your search link seems to tell a different story. +1.
    – djechlin
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 16:16
  • 17
    What sort of process would you advocate? I've tried explaining how this works to a number of banned users in the past, but I finally gave up. Users fall into this trap because they don't get it, and no amount of explaining or hand-holding seems to help them get it. It's not that we're being mean; it's that the task, for the most part, is hopeless.
    – user102937
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 16:35
  • @RobertHarvey: I think explaining why the ban happened is not enough. Quite often, the fact that the user is banned from asking or answering questions sends a clear message that something is wrong, and the user will often want to address the problem. That's why we need to assume good faith and help these users get back on track whenever it is reasonable to do so.
    – bwDraco
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 16:40
  • 14
    By the time a user has become question or answer banned, they have already failed multiple times. They failed to read the FAQ and How to Ask, they failed to ask a good question, they failed to realize that their question was closed because it was poor, so they do it again. And then they do it again. In most cases the questions are unsalvageable. People forget the time when the site was flooded with questions like this, before the quality filters and question bans were put into place.
    – user102937
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 16:44
  • 2
    That's exactly right. It's intended to prevent disruption. It does that by blocking people who are incapable of interacting with the site in a productive way. Our policy is the same as Wikipedia's; we don't use blocks in retaliation, to disparage, to punish, or where there is no immediate concern.
    – user102937
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 16:45
  • 3
    I deleted the comment. On afterthought, not that constructive. But still, is that the reason you're asking? Yes, I do feel somewhat offended by users asking how to have that ban removed when everything they need to know is already explained. What's the point in always discussing the same thing again?
    – slhck
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:08
  • 12
    "We should stop assuming that users know the rules or understand how to write better posts by the time they get post-banned" - sorry, can't agree. I'm fine with helping people who ask on how to get unstuck if they make a good-faithed question here though, and the people that do that properly already don't get hammered. Stack Overflow isn't a nursery. There's already tons of question-asking help available. People who can't bother reading that need a big clue-stick.
    – Mat
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:21
  • 11
    I don't think people are on their own. The canonical answer is long, but describes all we know. And when people really think the ban is wrong in their case, even then they should find the "If you really, really think the ban is an error" part. Many, if not all, posts I've seen here did not indicate people even read that. And these sites are not help forums. Do the posts of banned users even add some valuable Q&A content to these sites?
    – Arjan
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:23
  • 1
    @DragonLordtheFiery Huh? What? Wouldn't that guy rather be a point in favour of your aim? He was banned, he came back and contributed questions and answers, getting upvotes for both. By far the most who are banned don't manage to get the ban lifted. That has nothing to do with whether I believe they're trying. Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:29
  • 2
    Hum. I find it interesting that well over half of the questions returned by your search link have >=0 score. I'm starting to think you're the one making too much assumptions about our having too negative an apriori on post-banned users.
    – Mat
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:36
  • 4
    @Mat To be fair, the heavily downvoted "plz Halp unban" questions are deleted, so the surviving questions show a strong(?) bias towards the reasonable ones. Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:51
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    @DragonLordtheFiery I don't know how much time you spend on Meta. But have you noticed what happens after we tell users to read the exact message they are already linked to regarding their ban? In most cases we explain what they could already have read on their own to them again. And we go over their posts, explaining where they fall short. And moderators, when they see it, go in and undelete the salvageable content the users deleted, when they were told not to do so. We tirelessly help and explain the same thing over and over again. Most end up deleted, but we do help each and every time.
    – Bart
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:52
  • 2
    @TinSoldiersAndNixonsComin' There is nothing exaggerated about it. I am hard pressed to come up with a post-ban question in which not at least one of the Meta regulars steps in to explain the situation once again.
    – Bart
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 18:00
  • 1
    There's no need to strike out your original question entirely. We can all agree to disagree. I think it'd make more sense to put your new text below the original.
    – slhck
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 19:26

4 Answers 4


You are almost pretending as if none of this ever existed:

  • People leaving comments as to why questions are closed
  • People explaining their downvotes
  • The messages below closed questions
  • The message you get when a question doesn't meet quality standards
  • The message you get when you're banned from posting
  • All the examples of good content on the site
  • Editors who waste spend their time fixing posts for others

… and finally:

  • Meta, where you can constructively discuss your ban. Not in the way of "plz halp unban", but specifically asking about what and how to improve. But that only works if the users understood the message in the first place, and know what the goal of this network of sites is.

You're saying:

We should stop assuming that users know the rules or understand how to write better posts by the time they get post-banned

This has probably been repeated to death, but: By the time a user is post banned, they will have a clue about what is wrong, unless they're ignoring all the warnings they get—and be it just downvotes on their questions. What are we to do about this?

You cannot expect every single user here to hold new users' hands. Granted, there's no place for non constructive comments either, the "What have you tried?" epidemic being a good example, but even the fact that this kind of comment needs to be posted should get the OP thinking that something is wrong. And maybe, if they're a little attentive, they will think again before asking the next question, expecting the next comment that asks for what they've tried, and actually show their efforts in their question.

But honestly, by the time you have to tell a user for the third time how the code formatting works, that the "i" should be capitalized, and that questions should show research effort, how is that your fault if they get banned at some point? Why should we be the ones to take extra special care so as not to assume bad faith, when (most) users should have gotten clear messages about one or the other thing they've done wrong?

  • 5
    They why are there 85,000 questions that are closed or downvoted without any comments?
    – bwDraco
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:27
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    Did you never vote on, or vote to close a question without leaving a comment? That is precisely why we have tooltips and close messages, for the really obvious cases. I'm glad the team is improving the close messages though, as they definitely could be more precise about what's wrong with a post.
    – slhck
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:32
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    @DragonLordtheFiery 85,000 questions closed or downvoted without any comments? That's excellent! You realize that's 0.018% of SO's total questions, right? Also... sometimes... not posting a comment is the nice thing to do. You are assuming that commenting on a closed question is a good thing, but trust me it's not, not always.
    – yannis
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 17:57
  • That's out of 350,000 total questions that are downvoted or closed, or 24%. This means that feedback for closed or downvoted questions needs to be worked on.
    – bwDraco
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 18:04
  • 2
    Indeed, the entire point of the question ban is that the banned user has failed to regard any of the numerous warning signs along the road to the ban. To say that there should be a personalized tutor waiting at the end of that road is utterly asinine -- if we were going to provide individualized help, it should have been done long before the ban kicked in. Providing that kind of help is incredibly unlikely to be anything other than soul-draining drudgery, and the ban was instituted so that less of that drudgery would happen in the day-to-day of SO.
    – jscs
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 18:05
  • Coincidentally, at the moment of writing this, I'm actively discussing with a user who would like to have their ban removed, and they seem to want to improve, which is really a rare occasion though.
    – slhck
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 18:06
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    And that's another great point. The MSO community response hinges on how the user approaches the community. Users who say "hey guys, I f'ed up and I'm really sorry, what can I do to fix this" will get more love than ones that say "plz unban me@!!@!!!!@!@! this site sux@!@!"
    – jmort253
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 18:11
  • @DragonLordtheFiery You can't see, and therefore can't count deleted questions on StackOverflow.
    – user206222
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 22:58
  • @Emracool He ran a query. Look at the link in his comment.
    – Claudia
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 21:50

This isn't a complete answer, but it's worth noting anyway. For all of those questions, the users were given some form of help.

  • In this question, Harvey decided to undelete many deleted posts, allowing the OP to improve them.

    Your question ban is almost 100% due to self-deleted posts. You should try to improve questions instead of deleting them. I undeleted most that weren't closed first by the community. stackoverflow.com/q/*** stackoverflow.com/q/*** stackoverflow.com/q/*** stackoverflow.com/q/***

  • In this question, there is a +26 answer with a very clear guide as to how to become unbanned.
  • In this question, the user was informed that their edits to their questions are effective and beneficial, and it received a constructive answer.
  • In this question, the user was told by Atwood that their massive number of deleted questions resulted in a question ban.
  • In this question, the user was particularly close to being unbanned, and received a suggestion to post a couple good answers.

    It looks like you're close, have you tried also writing some helpful answers that also receive up votes?

Need I go on? We do help users become unbanned, when they show effort and clear thinking.

  • 2
    That last statement is pure, unadulterated horse hockey puck. I got question banned on meta by Morton's fork; stand idle and be repeatedly serially-downvoted into oblivion, or delete my own posts and hope for the best. (Onlly one person was in-astute enough to do a quad instead of a triple but the repeated volleys were identifiable, just not provable.) Yes, I raised a controversial question much like DragonLord's; then the senior members around here gathered up their friends and obliterated me for daring to be impertinent and heretical. Commented May 7, 2013 at 0:03
  • @Pieter While I don't have the means or authority to really investigate that, this is the first I've heard of it. I'm sorry if this is legitimate, but please understand my skepticism.
    – user206222
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 0:07
  • @PieterGeerkens, you're not the only one: Question banning Meta users is silly and broken
    – bwDraco
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 0:11
  • 3
    @PieterGeerkens - Utter nonsense. No one "gathered up their friends and obliterated" you. You ranted and raved and gave some very poorly received requests that were--rightfully--heavily downvoted.
    – user164207
    Commented May 7, 2013 at 9:21

I suppose that I am basing my assumptions on incomplete data. A certain level of competence is always expected, whether on Wikipedia or on Stack Exchange. While I still strongly believe that newcomers need to be treated friendlier than they currently are and should be more clearly warned when they do make multiple low-quality posts, this Wikipedia essay comes to mind. The real issue is not that we need to hold hands with users who are truly unable to meet the quality standards (and I now accept that not everyone can meet the standards regardless of good-faith effort). It is that users are not being warned adequately about the consequences of repeated low-quality posts. Stack Exchange lacks a uniform user warning system, leaving users unprepared and unwilling to correct their posts before it's too late.

The requirements of a high-quality Q&A system limit the amount of effort that can reasonably be spent on users who are posting low-quality content. There are some things about these types of users that could be done on Wikipedia but cannot be done here without interfering with the end goal of Stack Exchange. Wikipedia can tolerate a fairly high degree of nonconstructive editing and can be more open to rehabilitating users because improper edits can easily be reverted. The same cannot be done on Stack Exchange by virtue of its Q&A nature: whenever someone makes a low-quality post, a significant amount of effort is needed to handle it, and it is more difficult to engage in discussions with problem users. Stack Exchange is not a wiki and cannot tolerate continuous low-quality posts to the extent a wiki can.

As a person who always wants to assume good faith, I find it hard to accept that some users really can't meet our standards no matter how hard we and they try, but I've decided to swallow this bitter truth.

  • 1
    There are definitely some Meta questions about warning users who are heading for a ban. You may be interested to look through them: google.com/…
    – jscs
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 19:34

Here's a slightly different perspective: (from someone who votes the most - including downvoting and voting to close - on ServerFault, which is much "smaller" than SO)

For me, good faith or bad faith has nothing to do with it - I spend very little time handholding new users (any users, actually) because that's not what I want to spend my time doing.

I vote a lot because I think it's important to vote and it's something that seems to come easily to me. I read a bunch of questions and vote on them as I go; editing posts or writing comments would give more feedback, but it would take a lot more time.

I don't have any evidence, but I think that someone who can figure out how SF (or SO or any SE site) works - someone who can recognize that votes are feedback, even if they're downvotes or votes to close - is more likely to be a good contributor.

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