I've seen users remark that it is not a violation of the Be Nice policy to insult people who are not SE users -- i.e. that users are only required to "be nice" to other SE users. Usually this is stated in order to excuse insults made toward public figures (like politicians). Is that true? Does the Be Nice policy apply only when referring to other SE users?

Parts of the Be Nice policy suggest that it only applies when referring to other users, e.g.:

In summary, have fun, and be good to each other.

On the other hand, other parts of the policy don't seem to make any distinction between users and non-users:

Your tone should match the way you'd talk in person with someone you respect and whom you want to respect you. If you don't have time to say something politely, just leave it for someone who does.

I would think that the Be Nice policy applies when referring to non-users as well, but I can't find a specific statement that it does. Since some users think it does apply and others think it doesn't it'd be nice to have a definitive statement whether it does or not.

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    How exactly is the policy supposed to apply to non users? By definition these are people who have not interacted with the site in any way of form, so how would they be nice or otherwise on the sites? – Oded Oct 20 '16 at 16:30
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    @Oded Not that non-users are obligated to Be Nice, but that users are required (or not) to be nice when referring to non-users. – Null Oct 20 '16 at 16:32
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    @Oded Not "should external users Be Nice", but "should existing users Be Nice about external people". – ArtOfCode Oct 20 '16 at 16:32
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    Given that an "external user" can become a user at any point, I think that answers the question. When using the sites - be nice. What you do out side of the sites (unless related and effects our users), is up to you. – Oded Oct 20 '16 at 16:34
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    "Usually this is stated in order to excuse insults made toward public figures" - this is not the kind of content that belongs on any of the sites (or chat). – Oded Oct 20 '16 at 16:34
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    @Oded I agree, but some users seem to think otherwise. – Null Oct 20 '16 at 16:37
  • What is your definition of non-users? How can you not be nice to non-users on Stack Exchange? I don't understand your question. – Rathony Oct 20 '16 at 16:51
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    @Rathony A non-user is a person who does not have an account on any of the SE sites. I'm asking if it's permissible to insult a politician (or other public figure) on an SE site on the grounds that the politician is (probably) not an SE user and therefore will not be personally offended by such an insult. – Null Oct 20 '16 at 16:54
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    @Rathony E.g. by making death threats against Donald Trump. – Rand al'Thor Oct 20 '16 at 16:56
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    @randal'thor Well, in that case, it should be flagged as non-constructive or offensive (rude) and be deleted. I would. – Rathony Oct 20 '16 at 17:00
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    @Rathony The point is that this is here to be a guidepost to users and moderators about what the appropriate action should be in this case. The entire point of the question is "Is this offensive? Should moderators be punishing users who post these sorts of things?" With a topic like this, if it happens and someone complains that they weren't hurting anyone on SE (which has happened) we can point them here so that they can understand why the moderation team took the action that they did. – Catija Oct 20 '16 at 17:06
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    @Catija Does SE have to set a guideline for a person who makes a death threat against Donald Trump in any of their posts? That sounds very sad and unnecessary. – Rathony Oct 20 '16 at 17:08
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    @Rathony this is for broader application than that one solitary... and extremely obvious example. – Catija Oct 20 '16 at 17:09
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    @Rathony The motivation for this meta post was chat, which is by nature more off-topic. – Rand al'Thor Oct 20 '16 at 17:16
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    @Rathony There is no "off topic" in chat... or, at least, it's significantly more flexible depending on the chat room. – Catija Oct 20 '16 at 17:16
up vote 64 down vote accepted

Let's read that "be nice" policy:

Whether you've come to ask questions, or to generously share what you know, remember that we’re all here to learn, together. Be welcoming and patient, especially with those who may not know everything you do. Oh, and bring your sense of humor. Just in case.

That basically covers it. But these three guidelines may help:

  1. Rudeness and belittling language are not okay. Your tone should match the way you'd talk in person with someone you respect and whom you want to respect you. If you don't have time to say something politely, just leave it for someone who does.

  2. Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions. Don't expect new users to know all the rules — they don't. And be patient while they learn. If you're here for help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Everyone here is volunteering, and no one responds well to demands for help.

  3. Don't be a jerk. These are just a few examples. If you see them, flag them:

    • 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").
    • Bigotry of any kind. Language likely to offend or alienate individuals or groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. will not be tolerated. At all. (Those are just a few examples; when in doubt, just don't.)
    • Inappropriate language or attention. Avoid vulgar terms and anything sexually suggestive. Also, this is not a dating site.
    • Harassment and bullying. If you see a hostile interaction, flag it. If it keeps up, disengage — we'll handle it. If something needs staff attention, you can use the contact us link at the bottom of every page.

We're proud to be a large, user-driven space on the internet where name-calling, harassment, and other online nastiness are almost non-existent. It's up to all of us to keep it that way.

In summary, have fun, and be good to each other.

  1. is rudeness and belittling language. It doesn't say "avoid belittling people who are watching"; it says avoid belittling language.

    How does this apply to public figures? Well, let's say I'm not a big fan of the singer Beyoncé. Every time the topic of her music comes up - even if it's just in my own mind as I listen to the radio while working - I feel the need to publicly post something like, "over-produced pap". Doesn't matter, right? Ain't like my opinion matters to a wildly-successful performer... But what about the fans who are reading what I'm writing? Now I've just put down their interests, their tastes, perhaps even something in the music that appeals deeply to their sense of self. And... For what? No one asked my opinion; I'm here writing about bugs in 5-year-old code, and suddenly I've put down a (probably significant) portion of my readers. I've hurt them, and I've hurt myself, purely because I was too lazy to get up and change the radio station.

  2. is "be welcoming". Not to the folks who already know and love you, to anyone who has a reason to be here.

    How does this apply to public figures? Let's say my favorite thing to do is post meme pics, and my current favorite memes all involve how folks who vote for 3rd-party candidates in the US presidential election are essentially the same as Hitler. OH SO FUNNY! Not very welcoming to the folks who've put serious time into researching the vote they're gonna have to make here and made the hard decision to support one of those candidates, eh? And again, for what? I'm not writing a researched answer on Politics Stack Exchange; I'm making jokes to try and lighten the mood on meta. EPIC FAIL!

  3. involves various ways of being a jerk, mostly involving language that's off-putting even if you don't particularly care about the person the language is directed at.

    How does this apply to public figures? I don't care what your opinion of Tim Tebow is, I don't particularly care about professional sports, but if I drop into chat the last thing I want to see is a vulgarity-clogged transcript full of your frustrations regarding him. It ruins the mood, and makes me not want to talk to you or anyone else in the room about anything. Chances are, you're driving away more people by your tone than you are by what you're actually saying.

We've probably all failed this at one point or another. I certainly have, at least once already today... But, the point of the policy is to give us something to aspire to - rather than being content to wallow in yet another Internet cesspool, we should try to create something a little better.

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    Wait. You don't like Beyoncé?! walks away, never to return – caird coinheringaahing Jul 12 '17 at 17:03

This sounds like hair-splitting to me. The Be Nice policy is certainly geared toward being nice to other users as that's the common case. But it seems weird to classify the people you ought to be nice to by whether they have an account on our sites. For one thing, that would mean people could gain protection from harassment just by signing up.

But I think there's a bigger issue at work: the policy is designed to encourage healthy discourse. People who are thinking of loopholes are probably already have the wrong idea about what we are all about here. The nuance of "has an account on the network" will be lost to casual observers, I suspect.

In addition, insulting a public figure can often be an insult to a user by proxy. Recently I got into a fight with some of my family because I said something less than complimentary about a political candidate. (Two guesses who.) I quickly discovered that people I knew well felt I had slighted them because they had so closely identified themselves with the public figure I had insulted. Don't let that sort of thing drive a wedge down the center of your community.

That said, remember there's also What kind of behavior is expected of users? It starts off with Be honest. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with saying "Julius Cæsar was a dictator". (True fact!) Sometimes the truth isn't very flattering to people. So there's a balance here, right? I don't have to say every true thing that comes to mind. When someone asks me to change the conversation, that's usually the right thing to do.

The "Be Nice" policy is there not merely to protect individuals but also to protect the purpose of the site, by ensuring that the SE community does not create hostile environments that would drive some contributors away. So it's not true that only comments which are directed specifically at an individual user must be nice. All speech on the site should be, in the words of the chat FAQ, professional and respectful.

Also see this relevant part of the "Be Nice" policy (emphasis added):

Language likely to offend or alienate individuals or groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. will not be tolerated. At all. Those are just a few examples; when in doubt, just don't.

I believe that it should. There is nothing about the "Be nice" rules that implies that we're being nice only to the people we are interacting with. I'd specifically like to point out one section of the Be Nice text:

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").

When you refer to either single people or groups of people with these terms, you're saying things that belittle them and ostracize people who identify with that person or group. This is something we should not accept from our users. And, really, is it necessary? If you're referring to a group that may not share the more "normal" view on things, do you need to make them even more of an outside group by using an unfavorable adjective to describe them? No.


To take your specific example, public figures have a variety of supporters and detractors and it's impossible to know who feels in what way about these people, particularly when it comes to politicians... and it shouldn't matter - even if you know that everyone in the room feels the same, someone could join later who doesn't feel that way.

When you insult a politician or other public figure, you risk insulting the people who support them at the same time, so even if your attack isn't addressed at someone who is a SE user, you may make them feel attacked for their beliefs/support of a public figure and their response may be anything from leaving the space and feeling unwelcome to starting a fight with the people posting the insults to defend that public figure.

Neither of these outcomes are what we want on this site.


Stack Exchange should feel welcoming to everyone and a space - whether chat or in comments/posts that is making fun of a group of people or a public figure is not welcoming to the people who support or agree with that person or who considers themselves a member of that group.

Rules about behavior tend to fall into two general categories

  1. Don't hurt other people
  2. Don't be a jerk (which is literally Rule #3)

So when #1 is taken out of the picture, people sometimes take that to mean it's open season on #2 (i.e. "Hey, I'm not insulting anyone here. What's the big deal?").

The problem with degrading behavior is that it degrades you as a person. You can't just act like a jerk and then turn it off like a switch (i.e. "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"). If you talk badly about a person/group here, eventually you start thinking of that person/group negatively. It doesn't matter if they're not here. All people need to be treated respectfully. Disagree with them all you want, but insults attack the person and that leads to nothing good.

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