I just ran into this question on the Academia Stack Exchange: I was caught cheating on an exam, how can I minimize the damage?

The user admitted to the incident and asked for advice. However, there are several highly-upvoted comments to the question which, in my view, are ad hominem personal attacks on the OP. As morally bad as the original conduct was, I don't think it's ever justified to insult another person for that conduct. I responded by making several comments in an attempt to give an objective explanation for the disciplinary actions for the incident and what should be done about it. (Note that I didn't want to write a full answer.) I also wrote the following comment, directed at several of the commenters:

[...] While there probably was a voluntary choice as to whether or not to cheat, humans aren't perfect and it's not easy to accept the alternative options in this situation, chief of which is taking the exam honestly and failing it. You should focus on giving positive advice, not insulting the OP with ad hominem attacks which fail to advance any solution to the problem described in the question.

So the question is: how do we best respond to OPs who admit serious wrongdoing in a real-life situation and seek help on Stack Exchange?

  • 7
    I'm failing to see how this is relevant to the Stack Exchange network as a whole. You're targeting behavior on a specific question on a specific site, and it sounds like this would be better asked on Academia's meta. Looking at the comments, I see absolutely nothing that is insulting in any way, so I can only assume the bad comments have been rightly cleaned up as they should have been. Past that, I can only imagine answers to this will just paraphrase the Stack Exchange "Be Nice" policy...
    – animuson StaffMod
    Oct 25, 2014 at 20:53
  • 13
    @animuson: "Welcome to adulthood" and "enjoy your consequences" are not appropriate responses. There are less insulting ways to get the point across.
    – bwDraco
    Oct 25, 2014 at 20:56
  • 15
    I personally don't find them insulting. Blunt, yes. Those would be very common phrases people would use to make someone feel scared, not insulted. And they should be scared.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Oct 25, 2014 at 21:00
  • 10
    @animuson I don't know how often this happens (not very, I hope), but coincidentally, just tonight I saw a question on another site that admitted to illegal activity. So it's not just Academia that has "I did a bad/stupid thing; now what?" questions. Oct 26, 2014 at 1:38
  • 1
    Comments need to be purged on that question.
    – Kik
    Oct 29, 2014 at 17:19


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