A recent kerfuffle has made it clear that perhaps there is not enough clarity on why users are being boxed.

I know that the guideline is "Don't Be A Jerk" but that still doesn't help because there are so many different... jerk-thresholds.

Would it be possible for all the moderators, Jeff, and Joel to create a list of all the reasons that have caused users to be suspended so far?

It should be non-specific enough that it does not relate to specific incidents, and it can also serve as a rough guideline of possible actions which may also be disallowed.

Some things I believe have occurred in the past.

  • Creating a spam user
  • Sock-puppet user
  • Repeated abusive/offensive comments
  • Linking to hacking/warez/illegal websites
  • Abusing editing privileges
  • Conspicuous tag abuse

I have no certainty that any of these have actually occurred. But it seems to me that there should be a more official guideline somewhere on the site.

This would not be a full and complete ruleset. This is simply past reasons for suspension. The moderators would still have full discretion to suspend anyone for whatever reason. The only thing this would help is when a user does something which is already on the list. Then the moderator can point out the link to the FAQ that has the reason. I do think that there should be a final note.

Moderators are allowed to suspend any user for any of the aforementioned reasons as well as any new abusive behaviour which may come up

I'm not trying to take that away from them.

  • 8
    +1; this seems an appropriate and reasoned way to approach informing the users about why we may be binned. At least we can have some inkling of the guidelines, with the added benefit of not having to publicly shame/single people out.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 21:52
  • 11
    It's like the kid who wants to know where the line is just in case he has to toe it later. How about "Don't Approach Perceived Jerk-thresholds" :)
    – hyperslug
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:01
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    @Hyperslug, I have no intention or history of toeing or crossing any lines. But I'm a computer programmer. I crave specific, rigid rules and structure.
    – devinb
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:13
  • @John Rudy - I agree. I hate it when I get binned. Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:46
  • I'm not sure if anyone has been boxed yet for "Linking to hacking/warez/illegal websites" but it's definitely frowned upon. Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 13:01
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    @Bill, well I didn't know that. Which, I guess, is the point.
    – devinb
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 13:11
  • 14
    "Enumerate All Badness" is ... uh, a bad idea. Commented Sep 26, 2009 at 0:01
  • I've been called a "spam" user for making a well written non-offensive post about Meebo's utility in instant messaging, and how SO can utilize it. I am subject to be banned -- the post says closed for spam. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37482/… Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 20:44
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    @Evan: You are a spamful user because you won't quit suggesting that we make SO over according to your vision of a social networking site even though we've told you "No." repeatedly, at some length, and using short words. Worse, your little self-parody last night makes it utterly clear that you know you're being a jerk. Please stop. OK? Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:15
  • 2
    This kind of drama just shows how unsuitable the SO engine is for bug tracking.
    – Perpetual Motion Goat
    Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 6:53

8 Answers 8


Last night Rich B/Geoffrey Chetwood got suspended for a whole year. Extreme, don't you think? While some will surely not miss him, due to his confrontational nature, I'm a bit puzzled, but mostly worried about what happened.

Looking over his recent activity, I see no reason for such a suspension. Sure, people probably flagged him for simply being Rich B and answering back, but most of his comments and answers were tamer, more civil than his usual self. So why was he suspended? Shouldn't moderators see that some of those flags are unwarranted? I believe the system failed by suspending him without any explanations. What if you or I are next? It could happen; I'm sometimes more caustic than usual in the comments, some people don't like me and it's not that hard to get comments flagged.

The current suspension system is a black box. Input goes in, suspensions come out. What happens in between is a total mystery. This is in stark contrast to what you read when you first join the community. Here's what the Stack Overflow FAQ states:

Remember, Stack Overflow is run by you!

And the Super User FAQ:

Remember, Super User is run by you!

And the Server Fault FAQ:

Remember, Server Fault is run by you!

And the Meta FAQ, which is probably the most telling one:

At the high end of this reputation spectrum there is little difference between users with high reputation and moderators. That is very much intentional. We don't run Meta Stack Overflow. The community does.

To me, these were not just empty words, I actually believed in them. Now I don't. This is sort of a final nail in the coffin; I know I'm powerless. If Jeff wants a user off the site, no one can do anything about it, no matter how much "power" the community has.

I have one request. Make this suspension system just a little bit more open. Allow moderators to join in, have a vote. Let no one have complete control over what is probably the greatest power in the community. This would ensure that such decisions are not perceived as spiteful/vengeful/rash. Also, give clear reasons as to why a person has been suspended. There's no need to go into all the gory details, but a short sentence can sometimes be enough. Needless speculation is not what we want, neither is finger-pointing.

  • 14
    the more user flags someone generates on a site, the more likely they are to be suspended. After multiple cycles of warnings and suspensions, the timed suspension goes up exponentially, as previously documented here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/23661/… also note that all the really bad stuff gets removed from the system, because it's toxic. So you won't "see" all the badness that the moderators do. We clean that stuff up Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 22:46
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    @Jef: Previously documented? An hour ago? And I haven't read exponential... Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 22:53
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    @Jef: Yeah, that's my point. You added the plus one hour ago. Previously documented were 120 days. Nothing exponential... Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 22:58
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    I liked flagging a lot more when it was a way for the community to remove inappropriate content.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:03
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    @shog9 if a user is generating a lot of inappropriate content, every day, that's a problem. And if they keep doing it after multiple email warnings, and multiple timed suspensions, that's a really big problem. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:07
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    @Jeff: of course. A user who posts nothing of value is not worth keeping around. But of the users whose posts I've observed being flag-deleted on Meta recently, neither are currently suspended, while a user whose reputation history indicates no such flag-deletion is. Something fishy there...
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:16
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    I noticed that one of my comments was deleted on the name-changing thread, that went something like "FWIW, the name and gravatar changes have made me actually listen to RichB/Geoffrey Chetwood and I found that he often made sense...", which I think was a positive comment, but I find it's been deleted... surely one good word for someone is not worthy of deletion.
    – Ether
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:22
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    @Jeff: Of course, which is what has made me uneasy about this system from the start: it's almost entirely opaque. Maybe there was some truly horrific stuff posted, stuff that absolutely couldn't be left around to collect 6 flags... but I'll have to take your word for that.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:25
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    @shog9 we should leave toxic waste lying around, to prove to the community that it exists? That's a poisonous, community-destroying thing you're asking for. Rudeness begets rudeness; aggression begets aggression. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:39
  • 8
    @Jeff: Was it really so poisonous, so destructive that it had to be removed before anyone here could see it? So completely offensive to the senses that waiting for 6 people to come across it and vote would have been unconscionable? Or was it like the comments that were here a few hours ago... or the one that Ether writes about?
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:59
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    @shog9 this is the broken windows argument all over again -- and yes, calling other users in the community idiots gets removed immediately even when flagged by a single user and a single moderator sees it, and agrees. I'm just not going to let toxic crap like that fester on our sites -- and I won't apologize to you or anyone else for removing poison from our community immediately. If that is unacceptable to you, perhaps other sites on the internet might be more to your liking. Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 0:23
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    @alex said "What if you or I are next? It could happen..." I disagree. Tame your tongue, respect others, and it won't happen to you. I doubt that Jeff is arbitrarily picking people to ban.
    – Sampson
    Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 4:33
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    @Jeff after a good night of sleep I came back to my answer to check the new comments. Apparently, all my previous comments, most of them at +3 or more had been deleted. Well, now I'm worried. Were they flagged, did I piss someone off, did I offend the community? I have no idea. Transparency =/= deleted comments for no reason. So while you may talk about protecting the community from aggresive users, all I see is good stuff that people wrote getting deleted for no apparent reason. Thank you for removing the poison!
    – alex
    Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 6:29
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    @alex we regularly delete all comments when the comments get very far off the rails, with lots of petty bickering and low signal-to-noise ratio. Since you wanted an answer to your question, and I have the answer you want -- nobody else here was privy to the actual details -- I cleared out all the noisy, low-signal arguments in the comments and gave you your answer, right under your post. See my other answer to this question for more details. Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 6:44
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    @alex: FWIW, Rich just posted pastebin.com/m1021065a by way of full disclosure.
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 8, 2010 at 17:08

I disagree with the idea of having a required posting of reasons for boxing.

I've managed a handful of reasonably sized online communities (nothing near the scale of SO of course), and in my experience, the more specific you try to get with the rule set the more the mods will have to:

  • deal with people who like to get as close to the edge as possible
  • deal with defining and interpreting the rule set
  • deal with people claiming hypocrisy
  • spend time explaining themselves
  • allow malicious / disruptive users who are "technically" within the rules
  • spend time on complaints of unfair treatment
  • vindicate certain users who WANT the public attention of being banned/boxed
  • think of new rules to address people who slip through the cracks
  • deal with debates about why a certain rule is unfair in some scenario

Ultimately, no rule set is perfect, and it always comes down to judgement calls.

Be upfront about the fact that it's a judgement-based case-by-case decision.

Adding a list of reasons is just fuel for the disruptive fire of complaints and gives "jerks" a target that they can try to exploit/skirt.

Of course, the mods can choose to explain themselves as they please, and it's always good for the mods to be responsive to peoples questions/complaints.

However, I honestly think that creating a very formal rule set and process for boxing only increases the problems that surround it.

  • 7
    All that, and any set of rules which are implemented will contain holes. Trolls will eventually find the holes and exploit them. Then what? More specific rules, more holes, rinse, repeat.
    – BryanH
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:08
  • This is true. A concrete list is just a recipe for more definition, but I still think "Dont be a jerk" should be included as the catch all. haha
    – Troggy
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:16
  • If the person is a jerk and a lot of people are bothered by his attitude, consider putting him in the sin bin. It's as simple as that. There's no need to interpret everything to the letter; sometimes common sense is enough.
    – alex
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 5:53
  • Well, DUH! You can't start a website that has the word "community" all over it and then complain that you have to deal with people.
    – innaM
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 9:30
  • 7
    @Alex: Are you assuming that everyone has the same definition of 'being a jerk'? Because some people would put LMGTFY as being a jerk, and other people use it and don't consider themselves to be jerks. That's where the problems lie. When people have different interpretations.
    – devinb
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 11:47
  • 2
    @devinb: Perfect example. Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 14:51
  • @devinb even if you try to define "being a jerk" with some list, you still won't solve the problem of ambiguity and individual interpretation. There will always be jerk things you can do that aren't on the list, and there will always be things on the list that aren't always a jerk thing to do, or that some people don't think is being a jerk.
    – TM.
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 15:04
  • 1
    +1 I am copy+pasting this list in case I ever run a community.
    – Pekka
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 12:53
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    the general agreement (at least as a moderator) on "being a jerk" is how many flags your content generates on a daily basis. Everyone gets the occasional now and then flag, which is normal; people interpret things differently. But if you're getting consistently flagged every day like clockwork -- the odds of you being a jerk, as determined by the community, are high. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:14
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    this turned out to be prescient advice, by the way... Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 11:23
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    "I've managed a handful of reasonably sized online communities (nothing near the scale of SO of course), and in my experience, the more specific you try to get with the rule set the more the mods will have to:" If you are not going to have a posted set of rules then there must always be a specific warning prior to suspension and any subsequent suspension must be for that exact same behavior, not totally unrelated behavior. Also it would be much better is no one had totalitarian authority, ever suspension must have two concurring votes.
    – user520982
    Commented Apr 24, 2020 at 3:51

I don't like it. There are too many ways to abuse a system as complex as SO to list all of them.

The current approach to penalty-boxed users is subtle. I like that aspect. You don't get a "wall of shame" listing users in the penalty box, opening them up for mockery and abuse. Not that I haven't encountered instances where a past suspension is thrown out as an ad hominem attack in subsequent arguments, mind you... But you have to really dedicate yourself to holding a grudge for that - there's no visible black mark once the suspension is over.

Then you visit the profile of a suspended user, and things get creepy. You get a detailed history of questions and answers, a page listing recent activity including edits and comments, and likely as not nothing to connect the two.

Maybe you'll find a history of abusive comments, pointless edits, useless answers, and lazy questions... But chances are, whatever actually triggered the suspension has either been deleted or obscured. A suspended account filled with a history of good answers, helpful edits, and insightful comments sends a chill down my spine.

IMHO, moderators should attach a public comment to the account of anyone put in The Box. Doesn't need to be detailed; most of the suggested reasons posted here so far aren't detailed. Just let me know that there's some valid reason for what I'm observing.

  • I don't intend to list all of them. I was simply trying to approach a set of guidelines that might be a little more actionable than 'don't be a jerk'. For instance, I wouldn't consider posting links to a keycracker for windows to be a jerk move, I would however, consider it to be a suspendable offense.
    – devinb
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 11:49
  • 2
    (-1) As noted in my other response, I don't feel anything regarding specific users is appropriate.
    – devinb
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 13:14
  • 1
    @devinb: I would not have considered it to be either. If someone got binned for that, i would be shocked.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 14:38

Expanding this to a full answer from my comment.

The general agreement (at least as a moderator) on "being a jerk" is how many flags your content generates on a daily basis.

Everyone gets the occasional now and then flag, which is normal; people interpret things differently. No worries.

But if you're getting consistently flagged multiple times every day like clockwork -- the odds of you being a jerk, as judged and determined by the community, are high.

At this point you're causing discord in the community and occupying moderator time that could be used for more constructive tasks. This is when the cycle of email warnings, followed by possible suspensions, tends to kick in -- which is documented here.

  • 6
    I would also like to point out how exceedingly rare it is for any single user to generate a consistent stream of mod flags on a daily basis. It's VERY rare. So when it does happen, there tend to be serious underlying problems. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 23:56
  • 5
    When you say "multiple flags"... Do you mean multiple flags per post? Or single flags on multiple posts? Assuming the former, how many flags per post (on average) are needed to make you stand up and take notice?
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 0:12
  • 4
    @shog9 I generally find that flags tend to follow certain rare types of users like a dark storm cloud over their head -- flags on their comments, flags on other people's comments next to theirs, flags on the post itself, flags on the question it's answering.. etc. Generally a little localized storm of flags tends to appear wherever they participate. Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 1:54
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    Maybe that cloud follows them simply because the cloud already knows them. meta's a small community, it's not hard to figure out who Rich B is. So you become a bit trigger-happy: "did Rich B just insult me? i won't stand for this!!! I'll flag him. Also, a duel at sunset!", even though the comment might just say "the question's about this, not that". Preconceptions and infamy are hard to knock down.
    – alex
    Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 6:49
  • 5
    Or maybe the cloud follows them because they comment a lot. Comments cannot be downvoted, so someone who strongly disagrees with a comment is likely to flag it instead, whereas if they disagreed with a feature request or answer they would downvote it, but downvotes will not show up in your "who's been flagged a lot" search.
    – Perpetual Motion Goat
    Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 6:56
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    in the entire history of the Trilogy, there have been exactly two, count 'em, two, users who had the persistent community flagging storm cloud follow them around. And in both cases, I can assure you, it is not the community that was in error. These sorts of "exceptional" users tend to have "exceptional" problems. If you really miss these users, I encourage you to seek out the many other places on the internet where they are welcome. Commented Feb 6, 2010 at 7:52

Some people want hard examples...others point out that highly qualified rules will be abused. So why don't we get the best of both worlds? The rule being "Don't be a jerk...and here are some examples of things that would qualify as having excessive jerkitude."


I don't totally object to the idea of making a list of reasons people have been boxed in the past. After all, this could be useful as a list of things you definitely should not do. However, it should not be considered in any way a complete list of things you shouldn't do.

Some of you are very creative and I know that you will always come up with new ways of testing out how the system works. We're programmers, that's pretty much a job requirement. When that happens, the rules have to be able to bend and change too, so I don't think it's possible to ever have a complete list of all the rules you could break. I can say that most (unfortunately not all) of the time that someone has been boxed in the past, it was only after repeated warnings.

  • 2
    job requirement for good programmers ;P
    – bananakata
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 7:53
  • 1
    Yes, I do not want this to be a list of all the reasons you could be boxed. Simply some of the reasons which have been causes in the past. Some of them would be vague, like 'repeated complains regarding abusive comments.' That is vague because repeated could be any number over two. On the other hand, some of them could be very specific such as "Creating a sock-puppet user". I don't mean this to be the set of rules, just that there are some things to avoid.
    – devinb
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 11:52

If they provide a list of behaviors that are considered "being a jerk", then people will just start looking for loopholes. Then once Jeff comes up and says "I've gotta box you cause you're being a jerk", they'll say "but it's not on the list of jerky behaviors!" (because that's the kind of thing a jerk would say).

I think "don't be a jerk" is intentionally vague to allow them to make judgement calls, and most reasonable people can generally tell when someone is being a jerk, and most people know when they are being a jerk.

  • 3
    Exactly my thoughts... "no footwear" is a better rule than "no dirty shoes", even when the only purpose of the rule is to keep the carpet clean.
    – TM.
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:10
  • It is a good "catch all"... Don't be a jerk.
    – Troggy
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:11
  • 3
    There are so many jerks in this answer it's like 1979 Steve Martin cloned himself as much as 1996 Michael Keaton did.
    – random
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:26
  • When I think about it, "Don't be a jackass" makes a better line ;)
    – mmx
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 23:19
  • 4
    Why do I have a sudden urge to eat dried, spiced meat?
    – mmyers
    Commented Sep 25, 2009 at 2:20
  • Use of profanity outside of the realm of S[O|F|U]
  • Use of expletives in comments
  • Harassing users who answer your questions
  • Assuming a pro-waffle stance
  • 1
    If this was a serious question to begin with it really doesn't belong as a question on meta anyway, it should be explicitly stated in the FAQ since the community has absolutely no say whatsoever on the boxing of a particular user
    – John Rasch
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 21:59
  • 5
    I think that is a goal of this question. To get a clear defintion and explanation to post as FAQ.
    – Troggy
    Commented Sep 24, 2009 at 22:01

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