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Post too long? Concrete questions at the bottom!

Recently I had a discussion with one of the moderators on EE.SE who had declined rude / offensive flags on comments that violate the Be Nice policy, such as:

Enough with those stupid wiring diagrams already! We do electronics here, which means we communicate circuits with schematics.

Now these comments were all written by a certain user who writes many answers and has a lot of reputation, but at the same time is often rude, especially to new users. The moderator basically says that in that case it's okay for him to write offensive comments, but I'll quote him here (from the comments) to not put him any words in his mouth:

Look, I DO delete [this user]'s comments when they add nothing to a post, sometimes even without prompting via a flag. We all agree that there's a line that can't be crossed; we just disagree on exactly where that line is. I tend to take a minimalist approach to moderating. If someone is being purely abusive or rude, I'll take action. If they're merely being snarky, as long as it has some relevance to the post, I'll generally let it stand. Some users may not agree with this approach, but then, that's why we have multiple moderators in the first place.

And you might as well take it as a given that [he] isn't going to change. I've known him for a very long time, from long before SE even existed, and he's always been like this. Unless you want to kick him off the site altogether, you're going to have to accept him as he is. Raising a lot of flags isn't going to change his behavior -- it's just going to create a lot of extra (and annoying) work for the moderators without adding any value to the site overall.

I replied to this:

But that's also why we have policies. You can use your own guidelines in border-line cases, but when something so obviously violates the most important policy of StackExchange, you can't just dismiss it.

To which he said:

It might be "so obvious" and "most important" to you, but I don't see it that way. To me, the purpose of the site is to provide high-quality reference material to both professional engineers and serious electronics hobbyists. The social aspect of it is secondary to that, which is one of the reasons that we enforce a strict question-and-answer format. But the give-and-take that occurs in the comments is one of the things that keeps the valued contributors engaged, and allowing that to occur -- within limits -- is what ultimately gives the site its value.

There were at least two other, more experienced moderators who disagreed, but that's perhaps not so important now. If you're interested, you can read the rest of the comments and answers following the link above. I'm basically here to get a second opinion:

  • How important is the Be Nice policy?
  • When a user contributes a lot, and 'it's a given he's not going to change', are we to accept his rudeness?
  • Specifically to other moderators: how would you handle such a situation?
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    I don't see the comment you flagged as rude or offensive. It's direct for sure but to me not rude and definitely not offensive. – user147520 Mar 22 '15 at 17:02
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    @Iain true, but, from the Be Nice policy, emphasis mine: "Name-calling. Focus on the post, not the person. That includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to posts (like "lazy", "ignorant", or "whiny")." – Keelan Mar 22 '15 at 21:56
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    Sorry, I still don't see it. – user147520 Mar 22 '15 at 21:59
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    @Iain that's okay. There were more comments in the post I linked, perhaps you see it there for some, perhaps not. Different people have different view on this, of course. I strongly believe that any time you're going to use even a mild word like 'stupid' you should think about it for a moment, and consider if you could say that in an even milder way. But also for this, different people have different views. – Keelan Mar 22 '15 at 22:01
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    @Iain, I think the reason this one feels problematic is that the thing being called "stupid" here was created by the poster. I'm not saying the commenter's intent was to insult, but I think it's reasonable to assume that many people will take umbrage when something they made/drew/wrote is called "stupid", and in this case, there's really no need for it - it's no additional effort here to express one diagram type over another without needing terms like "stupid" – Jaydles Mar 22 '15 at 22:29
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    I think that many people are too easily 'offended', especially on behalf of other people as seems to be the case here. One might even use one of the highlighted words above to describe them. – user147520 Mar 22 '15 at 22:39
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    Come on, this one has got to be about me. (reads question) Damnit! – Won't Mar 23 '15 at 15:32
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Be nice is very, very important.

I'm not opining on this particular mod action; I (currently) lack appropriate context.

I'm not going to even try to weigh in on the mod's call here. Mod's job's involve lots of complicated challenges, and are asked to maintain a balance that has pretty rarely been pulled off in online communities, and while it's easy for me (or others) to opine on any one given action (or inaction), they often have context we don't.

Let's be general instead:

Be nice applies to everyone.

We will not become a place where new people are expected to comport themselves with respect, while those that contribute enough are allowed to be rude or belittling. (To be extra double clear, our top users, on ALL sites, on average, are BOTH insanely generous AND insanely nice and patient - don't misread me as suggesting they're mostly rude.)

Don't get me wrong - I think it's not only reasonable, but appropriate to consider a user's overall history and contributions in trying to understand their behavior:

I'm a LOT more sympathetic to someone getting rude because they've been giving two hours a day for months, and someone demands they "just give them the answer" than I might be to someone being similarly rude in their first post. That first user's behavior, in aggregate is exemplary, so the exception behavior holds less relevance, and I'd be a lot more likely to just delete the comment there, knowing it's an aberration, while the user I've only seen be rude would probably get a warning.

It's not favoritism, or even "earn your BS" - it's this simple: the new rudester has been nasty on a huge percent of what we've seen them do, and likely needs clarification; the other user was probably having a bad day, and I don't have good reason to believe they need much redirection; it's enough to remove the rude language.

Rude and belittling language should be removed.

Now, there's a lot of room for interpretation here, but when we're discussing whether a comment is respectful or not, none of that interpretation really needs to involve who the user is - the language should be removed either way.

This is the key excerpt from "Be Nice" that applies. "Be Nice" is sometimes interpretive, but it's not optional:

Rudeness and belittling language are not okay. ... If you don't have time to say something politely, just leave it for someone who does.

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    "Rudeness and belittling language are not okay. ... If you don't have time to say something politely, just leave it for someone who does." I think this is really one of the most important points here. IMO, even if an overly snarky comment still "contributes", it is still mostly beneficial to remove it. If it truly needs to be said, then somebody else will say it, and hopefully more politely (e.g. in the OP's example, but of course lacking context, if the community in general wants proper schematics, I believe somebody else will make a comment along those lines if none exists already). – Jason C Mar 22 '15 at 16:39
  • Of course, if we just stopped acting offended by every bit of snarkiness, there wouldn't be any issue to begin with. – Jason C Mar 22 '15 at 16:42
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    @JasonC, yup - totally. My long-term plan is to get my wife to stop feeling the wrong way she feels when I say things with no bad intent. But I've realized that my smarter immediate plan is to probably to say things differently. :P – Jaydles Mar 22 '15 at 16:46
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    @Jaydies Immediate plan B: Shop for a nice comfortable couch to sleep on. – Jason C Mar 22 '15 at 16:51
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How important is the Be Nice policy?

It's really important. But obviously the interpretation of what (and how much) "really important" is will differ from user to user.

how would you handle such a situation?

You've done the right thing by posting a question on your own Meta. That has generated a reasonable amount of discussion (and related), which is great. This is the place where a community gets to discuss (and set) its direction. By all means bring up a topic here on the main Meta, but the really important thing is that you don't come here seeking to re-litigate a position or direction that's been taken in public on your own site. Personally I'd also be uncomfortable with you escalating an in-site moderation issue here when it is still actively being discussed on your own Meta. Coming here to seek a "second opinion" is somewhat arbitrary when the discussion is still going.

Specifically to other moderators...

Well, no. We don't moderate that site, nor do we directly speak for the moderators on that site. Sure, occasionally there will be issues amongst the mod team, but that is best sorted out in-site and with the SE Community Managers.
On the surface (and in a movie!) it would seem that moderator should stop processing flags on that user's comments due to a possible conflict of interest. But in the real world, the ♦ moderators are trusted to make the right decision even though they may know the person being flagged.

How should you handle this?

Sometimes you'll encounter users on the site who you really don't care for - that's life, it's a big world out there full of all sorts of interesting people. You seem to have an active interest in the way moderation is administered on the site (I'm not making a statement on whether your interest is good or bad) and sometimes there can be a fine line between actively and intelligently discussing moderation issues and just being a trouble maker. In general, querying mod decisions is absolutely fine and totally expected, but be careful not to overstep and start arguing mod decisions. If an opinion does against you then think it over and accept it - you win some, you lose some.

Additionally, recognise that mods also have differences in style. Sometimes they'll even - gasp! - disagree! Remember that they are elected by the community so you won't necessarily agree with or like them all. Also remember not to fan the flames of a debate - if there is a serious moderation issue then refer it to the Community Managers.

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    I very strongly disagree with the idea that one should not argue with mod decisions. As long as the arguments are reasonable and open-minded, the fact that we can argue with moderators is one of SE's greatest strengths. I also support coming to the main meta to get a feel of what the opinions are outside a given community: While I agree that each community must be able to handle things in its own way, that does not make it less valid for an individual user to wonder what it is like elsewhere. The tone of the OP does not suggest a desire for re-litigation or fanning of flames, just curiosity. – Jason C Mar 22 '15 at 17:36
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    @JasonC Yes and no... mods must be absolutely 100% accountable for their actions and must expect to answer queries on their Meta. When I use the word arguing I don't mean discussing - discussion is fine, but there are enough problematic users in the busier sites that moderators shouldn't have to endure arguing (they are human after all). Basically, things should be seriously out of whack before you escalate to the global meta for a second opinion on a current issue, especially when it involves mods disagreeing. They should allow time to resolve it locally first. – slugster Mar 22 '15 at 22:03

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