What's the preferred mechanism to demonstrate disagreement with user actions that aren't questions or answers on the main site?

I often see newbie questions handled downright hostilely by (presumably) well meaning users in comments or vote-to-close actions and the like. I consider this a real problem for the community, as many coders I know in real life are essentially terrified of asking or answering questions on SO for fear of being ridiculed. These are smart people, and the community is losing out.

This is fundamentally a subjective grey area, and it might just be that the community wants the site to be something different than I want it to be. But I'd like to have my peace, and try to combat what I consider hostile or nonconstructive activities. If IMO someone is being way too strict or hostile on a new user, I'd like to demonstrate that I disagree with that hostility.

The obvious way would be voting. If these comments or actions were answers, I'd downvote them. Burn some of my reputation to subtly nudge the community in the direction I'd like it to go. But you can't downvote comments, and you can't downvote close actions. I could post a comment, but that's certain to derail any question already on a slippery slope towards being closed or deleted. Comments can be upvoted (doesn't award reputation, IIRC), and that's usually done to express agreement, but there's no symmetric way to express disagreement. You can flag comments, but that's meant for more actual abuses, like spam or death threats or the like. I could edit the question or write a really good answer, but that's not quite the same thing as letting someone know they handled something in a way I don't agree with.

I could message users privately, but that seems like the worst possible way to do this sort of thing.

If anyone's familiar with the site Quora, I've been very impressed with it. There's all sorts of very interesting and useful answers posted to some downright stupid questions. I'd like to nudge SO and other SE sites in that direction, less stick and more carrot. Being hostile to hostile actions would be the obvious means to that end, but I don't know how to do that in any meaningful way.

  • 10
    Regarding the last paragraph: Quora already exists, why turn SE into a second Quora? Those who prefer the Quora model are very welcome to use it instead of SE. To each their own.
    – user259867
    Oct 17 '14 at 0:48
  • Because I like Quora. I'm not saying SE should be Quora, but I wouldn't mind pushing it in that direction. If someone wants to push it the other way, great. To each their own. I'm less asking "should we make SE like Quora" and more "how do I push SE to be like Quora"
    – Jay Lemmon
    Oct 17 '14 at 0:55
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    Could you please clarify this? Right now it reads like a vague be nice to new users.
    – hichris123
    Oct 17 '14 at 0:58
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    But to answer the main point: "how to demonstrate disagreement?" Bring up the disagreeable pattern of behavior on the meta of the site where you observe it. Try to make it about the pattern rather than a particular individual... and check if it isn't a duplicate.
    – user259867
    Oct 17 '14 at 0:58
  • OK, I've answered your question in the title. As to your question "how do I push SE to be like Quora," I suggest that you post that question. Describe the qualities that you think make Quora interesting, and suggest ways that we might move the sites in that direction.
    – user102937
    Oct 17 '14 at 1:26
  • Since you mention "main site", did you perhaps mean to post this on Meta Stack Overflow instead?
    – ale
    Oct 17 '14 at 3:25
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    voting to close is not a hostile act. You cannot interpret the clicking of a button as hostility. Asking how to handle hostile closing perpetuates the myth that closing is hostile. Please don't do that. Oct 17 '14 at 6:10
  • @Kate Gregory: Voting to close is very_much a hostile act. At least it felt hostile when it happened to me, and it feels hostile and super unwelcoming every time I see a question that is closed. I've gone so far in the past as to ask for a way to filter out - to never see - closed questions. Nothing doing, unfortunately. Not sure what to tell you.
    – Mark Allen
    Oct 17 '14 at 7:07
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    Voting to close, @MarkAllen, is a way to prevent answers being added to a question that either cannot be answered or has already been asked and answered. There is nothing hostile about it. In the ideal situation, either the asker or someone else goes on to fix the question so it can be reopened. But even in the absence of that, noting that something can't be answered is not a slam against the one who asked it, and nor does it preclude helping to improve the question and get someone an answer. Those who don't "get" this important cultural touchstone often feel SO is hostile, and are unhappy. Oct 17 '14 at 7:09
  • @KateGregory That statement embodies Stack Exchange perfectly.
    – Mark Allen
    Oct 28 '14 at 20:54

You have two different questions here, but the first one has an excellent reply from Robert already.

I'll address the second one, which isn't really a question at all... but it should be:

I could edit the question or write a really good answer, but that's not quite the same thing as letting someone know they handled something in a way I don't agree with.

You're right, it's not the same thing. It's waaaaay better!

Instead of putting the rude person on a pedestal by focusing on their commentary, by editing the question into shape or posting an answer you've focused on the person you were actually concerned about: the asker. By treating him with respect and publicly interpreting his efforts as a good-faith attempt to engage with the folks here, you've let your actions contradict the negativity of the comment without bothering to engage the commenter at all!

Time and time again, I've watched folks argue in comments and on meta for hours about a question that someone then fixed with a few minutes worth of editing, making both sides of the argument look foolish. Time and time again, I've seen boring, brief or confusing questions made to shine by the addition of a brilliant answer that grabs the essential problem and runs with it. Occasionally, I've even been privileged to see both.

These are not sites for discussion. They're sites for asking and answering and editing, sites for creating and refining information not trading barbs and "witty" rejoinders. If you see someone commenting, you already have the upper hand - do anything other than comment and you'll keep it. Let your actions speak for you, and let fools like me get sucked into the arguments.

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    Honestly after seeing questions I was interested in (but otherwise had nothing to do with) be closed, I lost the heart to participate nearly as much. No brilliant or privileged stuff occurs on a closed question, just silence and regret. It's my "one thing" about StackExchange in general. :(
    – Mark Allen
    Oct 17 '14 at 7:09
  • @MarkAllen are you by chance worried about why are useful questions on StackOverflow being closed as non-constructive?
    – gnat
    Oct 17 '14 at 9:21
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    Closing is not the end of the line, @Mark - closed questions can still be edited, voted on, reopened...
    – Shog9
    Oct 17 '14 at 15:40

A few things to consider...

First, if a comment is genuinely unfriendly, flag it for removal. The new "Be Nice" policy is very clear about this: comments must always have a professional tone. This hasn't been talked about much, but the guidelines are quite strict: merely calling someone or their posts "lazy", "ignorant", or "whiny" in a comment is inappropriate, and just cause for a comment to be removed. If you can't say it nicely, you can't say it. It doesn't have to be spam or a death threat to be considered for removal; it just has to be noise or unprofessional.

That said, politely speaking the truth is never uncivil (We're not being mean to you by telling you what the rules are and insisting that you follow them). A number of Stack Exchange sites are overrun with questions that are not within site guidelines. There's only one reason for this: new users fail to take the time to understand how the sites work, and their questions get downvoted and closed. Intelligent or not, your friends will suffer the same fate if they also fail to take the time.

Quora does indeed have interesting material. But Quora does a much better job at surfacing interesting material than we do. They're able to do that, in part, because they give you a questionnaire when you sign up that asks about your taste and preferences. Then they give you a feed, which you get in your email box every day or two with top questions based on your preferences. I always find very interesting material in my feed, but I also know that for every Quora question that makes it to that feed, there are perhaps a hundred others that are mindless chaff.

It's the chaff that we are trying to avoid. That's why we have standards for asking questions in the first place.

  • wonder what about calling posts "blatantly off-topic"?
    – gnat
    Oct 17 '14 at 8:21
  • @gnat: I've been guilty of posting borderline rude off-topic comments in the past. It never accomplishes anything, other than possibly embarrassing the OP or angering them, neither of which is really desirable or effective.
    – user102937
    Oct 17 '14 at 13:42
  • Robert, funny thing is, what I quote is an official wording of the flag option. I wonder if it sounds okay in this Autumn Of Love (for personal use, I replaced "blatant" to "outright" after some poor soul complained about it at MSO)
    – gnat
    Oct 17 '14 at 13:46
  • Just say "This is off-topic, see here."
    – user102937
    Oct 17 '14 at 14:47
  • yeah that's what I do. But users under 3K can't do this, all they've got is that flag option
    – gnat
    Oct 17 '14 at 15:06

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