I've been following Laura's question and the many answers/comments:

Proposed new code of conduct for all Stack Exchange sites

There have been several reactions around the inclusion (or not) of a list of 'protected categories':

gender, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, age, race, or religion

Several people have commented that this seems like a black-list, and thus would seem to implicitly allow any other kinds of nastiness. Whereas (to continue their argument) all nastiness should be banned.

Now I'm wondering: given that some people can be offended simply because you disagree with them, maybe it is impossible to practically ban all offensive behavior, and it is thus easier to specify an exhaustive list of things over which we will intervene?

And it leads me to ask this: Do Stack Exchange users have the right to not be offended?

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    I'm not offended by your question... – John Dvorak Oct 9 '14 at 12:35
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    And now you've offended those who hate Britney Spears references, and those who like Britney Spears - the correct title is "Oops, I did it again". – John Dvorak Oct 9 '14 at 12:38
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    How about we just ask people to "be nice" ... – Bart Oct 9 '14 at 12:50
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    Also. As a German I am offended by people offended by "double apostrophes" as you yankee doodle dummies call it – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 9 '14 at 12:50
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    @Vogel612 I'm offended by your overgeneralisation. I'm the only one I've seen use that term. – John Dvorak Oct 9 '14 at 12:52
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    I notice an offensive odor. It has nothing to do with this question or the comments, but hey; I put it out there. I mean, the odor. I put that out there. – Andrew Barber Oct 9 '14 at 13:28
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    This entire discussion is offensive but even more offensive is the odor that @AndrewBarber is putting out there. Sorry Andrew but I think your unitato has gone bad. – Taryn ModStaff Oct 9 '14 at 13:33
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    Yeah, sorry about that @AndrewBarber. – Bart Oct 9 '14 at 13:33
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    I really don't understand what you're asking. I follow you right up to that last sentence, but I how you got there is so unclear that this almost reads like some kind of weird provocation/joke. Does your last sentence mean "Does an individual user have the right to not be offended by something offensive to another person?" or instead "Do users have the right to visit a site that is free of offensive material?", or something else entirely? – jscs Oct 9 '14 at 19:15
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    @Josh, I realise that the phrase can seem slightly ambiguous. I edited it from "the right not to be offended" to try to avoid that. That said, I supposed that "the right to not be offended" is a common enough expression. – Benjol Oct 10 '14 at 4:37
  • @JanDvorak: "And now I've annoyed those who wouldn't've noticed the reference" - and those of us who just don't like Britney Spears. :-) – Ken White Oct 10 '14 at 22:58

Just because someone finds a certain statement offensive, doesn't mean it is actually offensive. The standard can't be to avoid offending anyone at all.

It still has to be possible to write that creationism is wrong and clearly bad science on sites like Skeptics or Biology. If someone finds anything offensive that disagrees with their opinion, that is simply unreasonable.

I don't see any actual problem here, though. The rules don't have to be so specific that no judgement is needed, they are simply guidelines and the community and/or moderators can decide each case on its own merit.

A large number of such issues, especially in comments, can also be handled by the "not constructive" flag reason. Even if they're not unambiguously offensive, they're often not really constructive either and can be removed for that reason.

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    TL;DR: "be nice"?? – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 9 '14 at 12:54
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    "It still has to be possible to write that creationism is wrong" - why? Creationism is correct (not the young-earth part, of course). No need to dispute the fact. – John Dvorak Oct 9 '14 at 12:55
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    ^^ talk about offensive ... ;) – Bart Oct 9 '14 at 12:56
  • How about anyone who believes in evolution is obviously mentally defective? Is that offensive? Would/should it be sanctioned? – Benjol Oct 9 '14 at 12:58
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    I'd say that's pretty clear cut offensive @Benjol. – Bart Oct 9 '14 at 12:58
  • @Bart, well this is not that far off: skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/14983 – Benjol Oct 9 '14 at 13:00
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    That is in fact pretty far off @Benjol. If you would have said how about "Is there any evidence for mental defects in those who believe in evolution?" you might have been offended by the question, but it in itself is not offensive. (And I believe that on Skeptics SE it would have to be backed up by a notable reference?) – Bart Oct 9 '14 at 13:02
  • @Benjol ermph... no. This is about statistical evidence. So called observable facts and studies (also know as forged statistical evidence). Sure getting offensive might be easier if you're going for a hot topic, but it's definitely not offensive in the way that "All right wing democrats are idiots" is ;) – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 9 '14 at 13:03
  • @Vogel612 what about "no sane person would vote right wing democrats"? There is no swearword... – John Dvorak Oct 9 '14 at 13:06
  • @JanDvorak it's nonetheless as baseless accusation as is ;) – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 9 '14 at 13:06
  • @Vogel612 whom am I accusing? Am I accusing sane persons of not voting right wing democrats? :-) – John Dvorak Oct 9 '14 at 13:08
  • Ok.. what about "I hate people who vote for right wing democrats"? Is that offensive? I'm only talking about myself... – John Dvorak Oct 9 '14 at 13:11
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    How many more hypothetical scenarios are we going to try until we come to the conclusion that it's not black and white? And then there's pretty offensive stuff that I won't get offended by, and non-offensive remarks that others might somehow be offended by. Shades of grey at best. Perhaps even 50 of them. – Bart Oct 9 '14 at 13:16
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    @Bart, I quite agree, and that's what the whole of Laura's question boils down to, and makes me wonder if the more you try to specify, the more you're just digging a hole. – Benjol Oct 9 '14 at 13:27
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    What kind of moron leaves a pointless comment at the end of a long comment chain? Oh, crap... – jonsca Oct 9 '14 at 17:44

Like Josh Caswell, I'm having a bit of trouble understanding exactly what you're asking, but maybe I can provide some useful perspective anyway.

We want all of our users to feel welcome, unthreatened, and unoffended (if you'll forgive the possibility that that's not a real word) here. The code of conduct attempts to give examples of things that will be removed if they're posted, but doesn't provide an exhaustive list. There's a lot of subjectivity in what's considered "offensive", but we want to err on the side of being inoffensive whenever possible.

Generally, if something gets flagged as offensive, it will be removed. Because that's the appropriate action to take when your goal is to create an inclusive, welcoming environment. The code of conduct should hopefully make the authors of deleted offensive posts less surprised by the deletion.

We've intentionally left the guidance fairly broad because a lot of this comes down to what the community feels (as evident by flagging behavior) and moderator judgment (the outcomes of the flags). Do feel free to bring up specific cases if you think a wrong decision was reached (or just have a question about a decision), but I'm not sure what else you're hoping to accomplish with this particular thread.

  • I think he means changing the "Be civil" part to something as simple as "Attacking or harassing individuals is unacceptable" instead of giving explicit list. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask V2 Oct 9 '14 at 19:42
  • I'd say this comment pretty much clarifies it @Laura. – Bart Oct 9 '14 at 21:06
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    On your third paragraph, I agree in general but I've seen several cases of people declining offensive flags against their own posts/comments (where the flags were genuine, I mean, not trolling etc). It'd be good to make it clear to people with that power that they should defer to someone else when they're personally involved. – Monica Cellio Oct 10 '14 at 0:59
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    Laura, thanks for taking the time to answer. Firstly: [google.com/search?q=the+right+to+not+be+offended](this) is what I'm referring to. Secondly, my question is trying to explore the frontiers of the subjectivity you refer to here. Will it always be the case that one single individual saying "I'm offended" will suffice to invoke 'censorship'? If not, then we are effectively not guaranteeing that users won't ever be offended, but we're saying that things that appear offensive to a majority of users will be considered offensive... – Benjol Oct 10 '14 at 4:45
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    So the 'specific list' gives an aura of objectivity, where actually in practice the edges risk being substantially more fluffy. Some things could conceivably be considered offensive on one SE site, and not on another. (Math.SE have a notoriously thick skin, or at least did at one time) – Benjol Oct 10 '14 at 4:51
  • @Benjol Your last comment covers it: there are some things that we will always remove if they're posted, but there are an infinite number of additional cases that are judgement calls. We're not guaranteeing that no one will ever be offended, but we are saying that harassment and bullying will not be tolerated. – Laura Oct 10 '14 at 14:39
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    @MonicaCellio I'm not super familiar with the guidance given to new moderators when they are appointed or elected, but if we aren't already telling them that it's generally a good idea to let someone else handle flags on their own posts, then you're right and we probably should be. – Laura Oct 10 '14 at 15:02
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    @Laura I don't remember seeing such guidance when I became a moderator. I considered it common sense, so was surprised the first time I saw another mod handle a flag against himself (not saying which site or which mod). BTW, I've seen a CM do this too. – Monica Cellio Oct 10 '14 at 17:45
  • "We want all of our users to feel welcome, unthreatened, and unoffended (if you'll forgive the possibility that that's not a real word) here." -- You shouldn't want that, because it has some very undesirable entailments, such as banning downvotes because some people are offended by them or find them unwelcoming, and requiring a red carpet to trolls, people who ignore community standards, and other disruptive elements. It ignores reality and avoids addressing any of the real issues of maintaining high quality. – Jim Balter Oct 15 '14 at 5:59
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    "Generally, if something gets flagged as offensive, it will be removed." -- Come now; no competent moderator takes that approach. "Because that's the appropriate action to take when your goal is to create an inclusive, welcoming environment." -- Seriously? It's welcoming to remove people's contributions just because someone flagged it, regardless of the merits of the flag? Again, this sort of handwaving avoids addressing the difficulties that reality presents. – Jim Balter Oct 15 '14 at 6:07

No. They do not have that right. What is "offensive" to you may not be offensive to me. I think this failed Wikipedia proposal to define what offensive is, spells it out very well:

All world cultures have certain taboos regarding certain subject matter, and how those subjects may be portrayed (if at all). However, views and feelings on these matters vary so widely from culture to culture, within each culture, and from period to period, that there is no universal agreement as to what is "offensive". There is also no agreement or substantive evidence as to what information may cause concrete, objective harm to society or individuals, nor any agreement as to what is age-appropriate for people to read or see. Many cultures have attempted to shield certain information from access by children, from women, from certain races or social classes, or from all of those groups at various times in history.

"Offensive" is learned. A child is not offended - a parent is and the child picks up on that offense. They learn that what was just said or done is bad. Repeat this a couple times and the child has learned the cultural norm for their particular area of society. As they get older, they have the opportunity to challenge those norms and determine if something should remain offensive to them.

Stack Exchange has "Offensive" flags and there have been multiple explanations on how to use those flags. I feel the same guidance applies to the behavior guidelines:

Even if a post is a bad post for some reason or another, it is probably not offensive. The Offensive flag is meant to be used only in extreme cases, like hate speech, or abuse.


As a rule of thumb, if you can't justify something as being hate speech, or abuse, you shouldn't mark the post as offensive. Instead, you should down-vote the post.

There are multiple religious sites. There are operating system specific sites, text editor specific sites and many others that have competing and often adversarial interests. Stack Exchange and all the sites within it, is a global web site. There is no way that it can prevent offending everyone - even when we are following the code of conduct. What it can do is try by remaining civil and respecting one another. The classes listed in the question are protected classes in the United States. It is a question that moderators across the internet have struggled with. It is a great starting place for the discussion that Laura is having in her post.


I'm offended almost every day in some manner in the real world. I find certain kinds of advertisements to be objectifying and too sexually-charged, individual expressions of freedom of speech on the back of some T-shirts very distasteful, and the shortness of tempers on the road to be simply horrible. But there is a threshold that my community unanimously agrees is too far - too much, and intolerable once crossed.

Me being a quirky, often grumpy and somewhat strange middle-aged man doesn't excuse me from my responsibility of contemplating the intended, and unintended consequences of my actions prior to taking them. While it takes just a bit more work for me to stay as far above that threshold as I can, it's my obligation to at least try to do so, which often means biting my tongue.

I don't think we'll ever see a world where people could have a practical and inalienable right to never be offended - that would be a world without change. Yet, we have a social responsibility to try our best to not be actively harmful to the well-being and happiness of other people, and that's all we're asking that people do.


Several people have commented that this seems like a black-list, and thus would seem to implicitly allow any other kinds of nastiness.

Those people would be wrong, as directly after the list it says: and any and all other type of personal attack - is unacceptable (this is in the old proposal, in the new proposal it's followed by etc, which is a bit weaker but together with the other bullet-points still gets the point across).

Will it always be the case that one single individual saying "I'm offended" will suffice to invoke 'censorship'?

The original proposal doesn't include the word offended (or offensive, etc.). It does contain offending post, but it's pretty clear that it means the post that doesn't comply with this code.

What it does talk about is harassment and attacks (against members of certain groups), which really isn't the same thing. And I think that it makes a lot of sense to say that groups that are frequently harassed and attacked in some parts of society will be protected on this site, and attacks against them will not be tolerated. This doesn't have a lot to do with 'censorship'.

Do Stack Exchange users have the right to not be offended?

Well, obviously not. I'm sure if anyone reads all of politics.SE, christianity.SE, skeptics.SE, or even just stackoverflow, they will find a lot of material that will offend them, but that has real value to those sites and should stay. But as I said above, that part of the Code of Conduct isn't really about being offended, it is about being harassed and personally attacked because of a membership to a certain group.

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