I am concerned about how the poster of this question has been treated.

The guy is 15, and has been treated appallingly. Is this how our SO community wants to be seen?

His questions as stated don't meet SO guidelines, and maybe he could be directed to a forum more suited to his needs.

Another aspect is whether SO should accept membership from 15 year olds. I realize that this is a tricky can of worms, but do we not have any duty of care to minors?

Will the SO leadership be taking any action?

  • 9
    IMO, while no one should be exceedingly rude, every question should be treated the same, regardless of the age of the asker. Some comments walked the line of "too rude"
    – ಠ_ಠ
    Aug 7, 2013 at 1:34
  • 7
    Whoa, -55... and the number/content of (some) comments... This probably should have been flagged for mod attention and the discussion moved here long ago.
    – Steven V
    Aug 7, 2013 at 1:34
  • 1
    -55 is more than most spammers and homework-posters get. It's a bad question But I do agree some of the comments are pretty rude. Aug 7, 2013 at 1:37
  • 10
    Are we sure they are 15? Is it possible the profile age is fake? Maybe they just don't know how to ask questions, that happens with people of all ages.
    – Taryn
    Aug 7, 2013 at 1:44
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    What I wonder with questions like these is why they aren't deleted earlier on by the community. It's a poor question, and the OP's other question isn't much different. But if it's so bad to warrant a -55 score, why doesn't it get deleted far before it reaches that?
    – Bart
    Aug 7, 2013 at 1:47
  • 1
    @Jan punish...meaning we have to read the terrible un-deleted question. But the OP really got punished with -55
    – Taryn
    Aug 7, 2013 at 1:53
  • 6
    With regards to the age thing though, I don't think we should take that into account. I take a bit of a "if you want to play with the adults, behave like an adult" approach to that. That said, some of the comments certainly fell short of that. Feel free to flag those that are unnecessarily rude. It has to be said as well though that there were some excellent comments to balance that out to some extent.
    – Bart
    Aug 7, 2013 at 1:55
  • 4
    That's what happens when you post a low-quality question in the [c++] tag... Aug 7, 2013 at 1:57
  • 2
    Well it was removed before I could see it but yeah I agree -- we shouldn't be "kinder" towards people who appear to be of adolescent age... should we also lower our vocabulary levels as well?
    – aug
    Aug 7, 2013 at 1:57
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    Considering the massive amount of downvotes(-55), I think more people were there to harass him than help him. It doesn't take -55 downvotes or appalling comments to tell an OP that his question needs work.
    – s0d4pop
    Aug 7, 2013 at 1:58
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    "Another aspect is whether SO should accept membership from 15 year olds. I realize that this is a tricky can of worms, but do we not have any duty of care to minors?" We only have duty by law to accept membership only from users who are at least 13 years of age due to COPPA. Besides that, our site strives to be family friendly and so anyone who is at least 13 is welcome to join. I'm not sure what you mean by "duty of care to minors" here. Aug 7, 2013 at 2:33
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    What I worry about is that the question has reopen votes. Yes, there are many closed off-topic questions out there who are being disputed with reopen votes. But this, this is clearly, undoubtedly and fittingly an off-topic one. Whoever voted to reopen on the question should re-understand what's off-topic and on-topic on Stack Overflow. Aug 7, 2013 at 2:40
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    @JasonC - It was tagged java too. c#, java, c++, c, loops.
    – Kevin
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:17
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    The tag team c++ and c definitely outrudes java, although I don't know how c# fits in. Maybe there's more unfriendly people interested in loops than we realize. @BoltClock'saUnicorn: It's on. I'll be right there.
    – Jason C
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:20
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    @MarkGarcia I'm a c++ guy too. Hang out in comp.lang.c++ for a while. Just remember to properly fasten your snark-proof vest before you go in.
    – Jason C
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:50

3 Answers 3


Here's the original question for everyone.

What does for i=0 or whatever it is mean?

Please explain how this works, when to use it, what it means, and why it helps. I know nothing about it and I figure I should know if I want to be a good programmer.

I think 15 is old enough to know that this is just a plain lazy post. The OP apparently gets that, since after the question was closed, he edited to include:

Edit: Okay, I realize that this was a dumb question to ask. It also got me question banned... I'm sure most of you will be happy about that. I've made one program before that didn't need a for loop. So I never researched it because I didn't need to use it. I'm only just starting out programming and I've learned quite a bit, just not this.

The question was then deleted, and it should have ended there. It was undeleted for some reason though (the OP cast the first undelete vote), and more downvotes and comments were piled on.

I do find the number of comments and downvotes excessive, but I don't see anything appalling about the reaction to such a terribly lazy question. The OP could have done any research at all to find an answer. The worst of the comments were along the same lines as "you should seriously reconsider programming as a career." Nothing blindingly rude or offensive, just "programming probably isn't for you."

You asked:

Another aspect is whether SO should accept membership from 15 year olds. I realize that this is a tricky can of worms, but do we not have any duty of care to minors?

According to the terms of service anyone 13 years or older is free to post questions on Stack Overflow. However, they need to follow the same rules as everyone else. I don't think we owe them special treatment.

  • I though I would add that it should be ok to ask any reasonable question, even basic ones (even if the answer could be found on other websites). It's pretty amazing the answers you can get on even basic questions that help me at least think about why the basics are the way they are. For example convert int to nullable int?. Aug 7, 2013 at 2:38
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    I taught myself this stuff when I was 9, and I didn't have access to a modem, let alone an internet. There was this thing called a library, which kids grew up knowing how to use. A 15 year-old these days ought to know you can ask Google just about anything, if you're prepared to subsequently engage your brain for learning. The question was exceptionally lazy by any standard. Maybe people are becoming lazy because they no longer have to ride a bicycle 10km in pursuit of knowledge.
    – paddy
    Aug 7, 2013 at 2:52
  • Has the OP in question been question banned? I certainly hope so.
    – user164207
    Aug 7, 2013 at 2:58
  • @Jack Maney: Yes, it says so in the edit note. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:11
  • @BoltClock'saUnicorn - Excellent! (I'm not at 10K rep in SO, yet, otherwise I would've looked.)
    – user164207
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:12
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    @paddy: I taught myself this stuff when I was 9, and I did have Internet access then. (Am I doing this right?) Aug 7, 2013 at 3:28
  • 2
    Great comment @paddy, I was about to write something similar.
    – slugster
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:44
  • 4
    I completely agree. I joined SO when I was 15 (3 years ago), and while some of my early questions are not terrific, they were at least things not immediately searchable and are potentially still helpful to others today. Aug 7, 2013 at 4:21
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    +1 simply for posting the content of the question for us unprivileged ones. Aug 7, 2013 at 6:08

I don't think that age should be a factor. Situations like this are a problem no matter who it happens to.

Just as a point of reference one of our moderators is 15 years old and apparently he has been on the site for more than 2 years.

I think a better approach is to try to put a stop to the feeding frenzy before it starts. Rather than loading on the downvotes and comments, vote to close or flag. When you see people taking it too far say something and flag the comments.

  • 4
    Feeding frenzy limiting strategy: raise the rep requirement for commenting on a heavily downvoted post. Aug 7, 2013 at 2:34
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    @Potatoswatter I've seen users with as much as 5k jump on the band wagon. I think you would have to raise the rep requirement pretty high.
    – apaul
    Aug 7, 2013 at 2:48
  • I said "limiting", not "eliminating." Most users in any bandwagon will have less than 5k or whatever. The goal is to stem the vitriol, perhaps not even to salvage the question (which, let's face it, seldom happens in practice, and tends to result from intrepid editing, not comment sniping). Hey, the corollary might be to simultaneously reduce the rep requirement for making an edit. Aug 7, 2013 at 2:52
  • Just make the voting cap an exponential function with respect to the number of downvotes: f(V) = 2^V where V is downvotes. That way the worst-case is Jon Skeet having the final say by placing the 20th downvote. If he downvotes, it must be bad.
    – paddy
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:41
  • @paddy "@jonskeet please downvote this question". PS: you spelt his name wrong. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:46
  • Whoops, good catch.
    – paddy
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:47

The question can easily be rephrased:

What does a for loop mean?

I have seen something like for ( i = 0 ). I'm new to programming but I know this is a loop. How does it work?

This is obviously a duplicate, but it's less inciting. Would it still be downvoted as fast or attract the negative attention? I think not. Could any average passer-by "fix" the question by rephrasing as such? I think so.

Looking at the history, nobody edited the question except the OP, when he removed the part about wanting to be a good programmer. (Eek.) And someone came along after it was undeleted and removed the humble apology.

If we want to direct the mob's attention positively, maybe close the comments completely and remove the rep requirement to edit the question. Alternatively offer an incentive bounty to improve it, so low-rep users are encouraged more even if not trusted more.

As for closing the comments, any potential signal is already drowned by the noise. They should have already been deleted by a moderator. Moderators are very effective at deleting back-and-forth communication between users, presumably because that is flagged automatically, but they won't remove genuine abuse because presumably it's not. (Moral: we need fewer robotic mods.)

  • "Alternatively offer an incentive bounty to improve it" How would such a bounty be awarded? Aug 7, 2013 at 3:12
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    "Would it still be downvoted as fast or attract the negative attention?" -- I'm pretty sure it would attract downvotes for laziness no matter how phrased. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:17
  • @BoltClock'saUnicorn One way is just to presume that nobody is maliciously trying to claim the bounty. I don't know enough about online behavior to say if that's a good idea. Another way would be to award the bounty only through the suggested edit system for low-rep users, and award it to an approved edit. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:18
  • I certainly would have downvoted and voted to close the rephrased question.
    – user164207
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:18
  • @JanDvorak Yes, but not as fast or as much. And it would more likely be properly closed as a dup. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:18
  • @JackManey Would you be less tempted to insult the OP? Aug 7, 2013 at 3:20
  • @Potatoswatter do you know of any such dupe? I'd be willing to read a comprehensive answer explaining loops or the for loop (if only in C-based languages) Aug 7, 2013 at 3:20
  • @Potatoswatter - I'd still berate the OP for laziness, if that's what you mean.
    – user164207
    Aug 7, 2013 at 3:21
  • @Potatoswatter I wouldn't be tempted to insult the OP either way. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:21
  • @JanDvorak There's stackoverflow.com/q/15189945/153285 . It's downvoted (unjustly, IMHO) but has a good answer. Anyway if there's no dupe it can be answered anew. Why be negative when you can be positive? Resources for newbies tend to suck; even if they can be found without much effort, SO can be better. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:24
  • @Potatoswatter the linked question is a debug request hiding behind an easily googelable question. It did gather more downvotes than I'd expect, but it's 3 months old, so... . The question in this question is far more basic and far too broad. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:29
  • 1
    @Potatoswatter even if you're looking for "something better than already exists" then "what's a for-loop" is a bit too broad IMO Aug 7, 2013 at 3:30
  • @JanDvorak Nevertheless the answers are the same and I got there by Googling "stackoverflow what is a for loop". I disagree that there's a limit to how basic a question should be, and it's not broad at all. There's a specific, straightforward pattern that for loops follow. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:34
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    I'd be willing to accept it's not too broad, but you need a little effort to transfer the message you're not asking out of laziness. Also, the wording you chose is not good. "I have seen something like for ( i = 0 )." - because we love vague questions. "I'm new to programming" - pure noise at best. "but I know this is a loop." - insufficient as a proof of competency. "How does it work?" - a bit vague. Not sure how to reword to not sound vague, however. Aug 7, 2013 at 3:40

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