Recently, this question was closed...since you can't read it now, it was basically a comment by a user that they found an ad irritating enough that they were turning on ad-blocking in their browser. This created some discussion in some comments, and the question was closed as "blatantly offensive."

People closing the question as offensive seems odd to me, but they have the rep to do it, and it's certainly their right to do so. What I don't understand is why it was deleted. It implies that it high level moderators of some kind must have agreed that it was offensive, but I'm not clear on how.

A user made a comment near the end of the comment stream that read like this:

This question is not providing 'feedback', nor is it open for discussion. The user is telling us he is violating the social contract with this site. There is no question and no discussion here.

Again, this seems a bit counterintuitive to me, but since the question was closed and deleted, obviously many people must either agree, or have related feelings.

Do people (users? owners?) feel that the users of this site have an implicit "social contract" to not hide the ads of the site? Are there other aspects to this social contract?

  • 4
    Any time you use a site, you either take the ads they serve or you don't use the site. This is should just be basic human decency.
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:11
  • 11
    @Rich B: That's a load of crap. You get the content of the site and are free to manipulate it before viewing it. If you want to change the colour scheme, rotate the text 45 degrees clockwise or remove ads, that's up to you. Personally I like looking at the site the way it was designed (working under the assumption that web designers know what they're doing - even though I read TDWTF I still for some reason work under that assumption), but I don't feel obligated to do so by any basic human decency or social contract.
    – Welbog
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:18
  • 2
    @Rich, you must view Tivo as being quite bad as well, since it allows TV watchers to skip commercials, is that right? (I do not intend that to sound snide; I'm just trying to get a feeling for your position, since mine is profoundly different.)
    – beska
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:19
  • 2
    @The Artist Formerly Known As Welbog: I understand what you are 'free' to do. That does not make it 'right'.
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:20
  • @Beska: If that is your intent for using Tivo, then yes, that would be negative. If everyone did it, how would your favorite programming continue to exist?
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:21
  • 1
    @Rich B: I'm curious to know what exactly "right" means to you. It's perfectly within my individual rights to view the content as I wish, to filter it however I wish or to not use it if I wish. What is not "right" about manipulating content that's been delivered to me?
    – Welbog
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:23
  • 2
    @The Artist Formerly Known As Welbog: 'Rights' and doing what is 'right' are not the same thing. The KKK have the 'right' to march through our streets yelling things that would be very offensive to many people. That does not make it 'right'.
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:24
  • @Rich B: So your definition of "right" is more along the lines of "that which is more or less considered acceptable by the majority of society?" In other words, someone is free to do something as long as he can bear the fact that society will look down on him for doing it?
    – Welbog
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:27
  • 6
    Am I a bad person because I never buy things on the internet? Or because I watch football without buying the beer and cars in the commercials? Where is the line here?
    – mmyers
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:38
  • 3
    @Rich B: A fair definition of "right". Indeed, if all users blocked all ads on Stack Overflow, then the advertising companies would notice the lack of traffic from Stack Overflow and would cut its funding, resulting in the death of the site. However, there is more than one advertising company: if every user were to block specific ads, that specific company would cut funding to Stack Overflow, which would still acquire funds from the other advertisers. Stack Overflow would, arguably, be better off than it was before since it lacks a hated ad. That seems "right" to me.
    – Welbog
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:40
  • 7
    AFAIK, a "social contract" implies an understanding of responsibility between both parties. But there is no such understanding; not between advertisers and consumers, not between content producers and consumers. Personally, I feel that ad-blockers help to keep both content-producers and advertisers in check by creating consequences for the use of annoying or intrusive advertisements.
    – Shog9
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:42
  • 1
    @Rich B: I can agree to that. In fact, that's roughly what jrob did, isn't it? He brought it to the attention of the meta community (and therefore the moderators and administrators) that the ads of a specific company are the catalyst to his removal of the site's ads. He also claimed to be willing to disable those specific ads rather than all of them if it were possible for him to do so. Obviously he has less-than-ideal software, but I think his heart was in the "right" place, and unfortunately his frustration showed through in his original thread.
    – Welbog
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:46
  • 2
    Not at all - the OP found himself unable to bear a particular ad, and so blocked all of them. He was clear on this. If the site owners and advertisers did not wish to lose this particular target, then they should have avoided annoying him. OTOH, if they have no desire to "catch" him in any case, they may continue as they have been.
    – Shog9
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:48
  • 5
    I watched some football last week but made a cup of tea in the ad-break at half time. Does this make me a bad person? Nov 2, 2009 at 20:30
  • 4
    @oxbow_lakes - You disgust me. I can't believe you would take food from the mouths of the children of the poor people who slaved all day to make that football game happen. You should be shot, drawn and quartered, dipped in boiling oil, woven into a car seat for the CEO of Disney, and have your worthless remains posted on a pike for all to spit on for the remainder of eternity. Not necessarily in that order. Maybe all at once? That would be an interesting technical problem. To the drawing board! woosh
    – Pollyanna
    Nov 3, 2009 at 2:34

8 Answers 8


Because he re-posted the same "discussion" with much more detail:

Advertising on Stack Overflow and Adblock

Marc deleted the old one, cause it was just a statement with ranting comments. The new one is a much better written explanation of his logic and thoughts.

And to answer your question: No, there is no "social contract". You are not obligated to do anything.

  • Gotcha. Makes sense. Hadn't found the new discussion yet.
    – beska
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:08
  • Saved me some typing, ta. Nov 2, 2009 at 17:09
  • Some people may feel like you should try and support the "free" website you love and use. One way would technicaly be through allowing ads and possibly buying something through them. Everyone has different views though.
    – Troggy
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:12
  • There are some pretty nasty ads out there. NYT readers got hit with malware maybe two weeks ago. Personally, I surf at home with NoScript, but don't bother with AdBlock Plus, so I hope I'm safe from ad-injected malware. Nov 2, 2009 at 17:41

There is no such contract. No one is under any obligation to look at ads, social or otherwise.

  • Beautifully said Steven.
    – Dhaust
    Nov 3, 2009 at 0:22

Is there a "social contract" between the angler and the fish?

No. The fish sees the bait and goes for a meal. The angler hopes the hidden hook catches the fish, but the fish is under no obligation to swallow it - if the fish ignores the baited hook... or eats the bait and leaves the hook... then the angler will just have to try again. He might try tastier bait, or he might resort to gaudy lures... He might become impatient and scare even hungry fish away, or he might become frustrated and leave. But this is no concern of the fish.

  • But the angler is providing nothing to the fish that would be destroyed if the fish never interacted with the angler.
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:36
  • The angler is providing food. In some cases, the angler is providing food and habitat, just to create an opportunity for him to capture the fish. This still does not create an obligation on the part of the fish to eat the hook with the bait.
    – Shog9
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:45
  • @Shog9: If the fish were ignoring the angler, it would not be consuming any resources of the angler.
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:46
  • 1
    The angler wouldn't be there fishing but for the fish. A fish that refuses to be caught eats food that might otherwise sustain a population of catchable fish; if too many unobtainable or undesirable fish populate a given environment, then the angler may leave in search of a better stream to fish in. But this still does not create an obligation on the part of any individual fish, as a fish may do nothing to convince an angler to stay except to allow himself to be caught; and being caught is not in the best interest of the fish.
    – Shog9
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:53
  • I find your metaphor leaky and alarming. I have made my point and have nothing further to add.
    Nov 2, 2009 at 18:02
  • 2
    All metaphors are leaky if stretched far enough. Mine has water and hungry fish in it, so it can be forgiven for leaking more than most.
    – Shog9
    Nov 2, 2009 at 18:05
  • So, in other words, programmers are generally hungry, damp and smell bad?
    – Pollyanna
    Nov 3, 2009 at 15:22
  • And scaly. Don't forget scaly!
    – Shog9
    Nov 3, 2009 at 15:43

I send HTTP requests to a webserver. That webserver is free to respond with a result. I am free to process that data as I like.

If the webserver delivers HTML, I may interpret it as HTML, or I may render it into a woven cloth representing ones and zeros.

If I choose to render it using an HTML standards compliant engine, I may find that the HTML requests that I make further server queries to gather other elements of the 'page'. I may allow my engine to do so, I may disallow my engine to do so, or I may pick and choose whether I'll do so on a case by case, element by element basis. If I get tired of doing that by hand all day, I may give my engine a set of instructions for it to follow so I don't have to micromanage this.

The webserver is always free to cease distributing content to me, individually, in a variety of methods and manners, using any means at it's disposal to identify whether I am a 'valuable' user or not.

But once it sends those bits, other than copyright violations (ie, I may not be allowed to redistribute them), I am free to do with them as I please.

For the record, I don't use adblock or noscript - only the coarse grained, "Don't load images from this server" available in the default FF install and flashblock. I don't mind ads. I find that I simply don't read sites with annoying ads if the annoyance is greater than the usefulness or entertainment value.

But a 'social contract' is ludicrous. There is no contract, social or otherwise, that I will do anything with the bits sent to me. Any contract people would have you believe exists, only exists in the same way "sweetest day" exists - a corporate designed idea/concept/meme/propoganda intended to increase the bottom line. Think of the childrencontent producers!

The reality is that intelligently designed advertising is unobtrusive and effective. Most users don't bother with advanced ad blocking, and, as the OP exemplifies, only employ it when suitably annoyed.

Notice how Google is still #1 in search, and their advertising is superbly effective at keeping a billion dollar company afloat. For a site with real value (Stackoverflow) if the ads are good, then you should not have any friction.

But at the end of the day, the only contract I keep with HTTP websites is HTTP 1.1. Beyond that, they have no say.

Keep in mind that there is already a reserved HTTP error code for this situation:

402 Payment Required

  • 1
    My favorite HTTP error is still "418 I'm a teapot"
    – Pollyanna
    Nov 2, 2009 at 19:36

There's no social contract. However, there's a basic and obvious game theory would suggest that if you circumvent the site's means to generate revenue (which is ads) while using up the site's resources (bandwidth, effort of its paid staff), you are contributing to the site's demise.

While it may be a winning tactics for an individual user, it is a losing strategy (e.g. the stable equilibrium is for the site to close down).

  • Awesome. A real life application of the Prisoner's Dilemma!
    – beska
    Nov 2, 2009 at 17:25
  • 2
    Or another (more efficient) business model is developed. Nov 2, 2009 at 20:12
  • @Tom - there appear to be only 4 models for a commercial site that I'm aware of: Add-supported, subscription (see Experts-exchange, we all know how THAT worked out in SO's space - it's not porn nor WSJ), loss-leader for other services (Yahoo Mail) or prostitution (e.g. be paid for with grants from sympathetic sugar daddy like Soros)
    – DVK
    Nov 4, 2009 at 2:29
  • What's up with the down-voters? Someone has an issue with game theory?
    – DVK
    Nov 4, 2009 at 2:34

The only 'Social Contract' I have with the Stack Overflow family of sites is to contribute content by answering questions and being nice to other users, in return I get to ask some questions each month.

I don't feel obligated to view the ads but I don't block them. Stack Overflow ads aren't that intrusive, but if there were more of them on a page and they became a visual distraction with reduced content space then I'd perhaps choose to block them.

Website operators who derive their income from ads have to walk a fine balance between catching the user's eye with an advert but without overloading them through the ad delivery mechanism/strategy.

I've already benefited from the current ad delivery strategy because of the free Telerik controls promotion, blocking them would've meant I'd likely have missed out (had it not been discussed on Meta).


A social contract that I am obliged to view ads!?!

Are you kidding me?

What next, a social contract that I am obliged to purchase products that are advertised to me?

And then a social contract that I am obliged to have the payments made direct from my bank account?

And then a social contract that the advertisers will decide what is best for me to buy and they will be handling all my finances from now on?

Shall I continue?

(Yes, this is over-statement. But I'm just trying to make a point)

I totally accept that if we want to live in a society that uses any kind of currency (money, cows, labour, etc) to conduct business, then advertising is a necessary evil, but that does not mean that we are obliged in anyway to look at, pay attention to, or act upon any of this advertising.


There is no social contract that we have with Stack Overflow beyond what is mentioned in the faq. The fact that SO currently funds itself via ad-spend does not necessarily mean that this is the optimum business-model for the site.

For example, if jarring or offensive adverts proliferate, it would plainly detract from the quality of the site, driving away programmers and affecting the site's overall quality (and hence traffic and hence ad-income). I'm certainly not saying that this is happening, I'm just noting that this is not black-and-white; Joel has made clear statements about the sort of adverts he is prepared to accept.

But who knows, if every SO user blocks the ads thus increasing the overall site quality, this may mean that the careers site makes more money off the back of the resulting larger community. A balance will be found and users should be free to give feedback even if that takes the form of blocking ads.

  • Blocking ads is not feedback. It's stealing of bandwidth if the site under the same exact moral reasoning as "it's OK to steal the flowers from flower bed in a public square".
    – DVK
    Nov 4, 2009 at 2:32
  • By that argument, you must never miss any advert during a TV programme you are watching Nov 5, 2009 at 18:09

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