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How can I report a specific bad user? suggests that calling out by name is, at the very least, discouraged.

The context is when the Meta post reports "bad behavior" and suggest a ban for the user. I've flagged the post (on meta.ruSO) pointing out that personal attacks are unacceptable on Stack Overflow; moderator deleted, then restored the post, and left the comment that the attacks are bad but the post is a constructive discussion of the user contribution and that it is acceptable.

Should such posts that discuss a person instead of a specific behavior be deleted with a note that the user should be reported privately (if it is clear that the behavior is bad) to moderators and/or edited to focus on the behavior (if it is not clear whether the behavior is bad) instead of focusing on the user?

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This is actually something that just came up internally that we've been pondering. We want to have a bit more guidance around these issues, especially for our moderators, to prevent some of the very negative experiences we've been seeing around some particular users over the years that originate around Meta questions.

Focus on the problem, not the user.

There's a reason we always kill off the tag every time it appears. Focusing a Meta question around a specific user almost always leads to a horrible situation. Yes, it can be difficult sometimes to bring up an issue without mentioning a user, but users should try their hardest to leave links to user pages out of their question at all costs. Instead, describe the issue generally.

  • If someone closed your question, focus on why was the question closed rather than why is this user closing questions.
  • If you think someone is abusing the review queue, focus on what appropriate review behavior is rather than is this person abusing our site.
  • If you are concerned about something in a user's profile, focus on what content is allowed in profiles rather than is this user allowed to have this.

If the community reaches a consensus on something being inappropriate, then you have an action item. Go flag one of that user's posts or use the contact form to report the behavior, referencing the Meta question. Never call out the user on Meta directly.

Even in cases where the user's name is very easily accessible (for example, in a case where you link a question and their name is visible right on the page), directly mentioning the user in your question shifts the focus away from your actual problem and onto the user in general. That kind of focus shift isn't necessary and only distracts others from the real issue: the behavior.

What if you were in that situation?

Nobody really enjoys being called out about something they've done, but there is a way to ease the pain. Bringing up an issue in a generalized way invites the community to discuss an issue in more neutral context, which not only benefits the community by focusing them on the issue, but also benefits the user whose behavior is being discussed.

Pointing at a specific user and shouting "you're doing it wrong" at them only stirs up their emotions. Depending on the user, it might get their adrenaline pumping, could make them extremely confused about what they've done wrong, or could just make them feel awful about themselves. That's not entirely fair in a situation where they may simply not have understood what they were doing, or were legitimately trying to help out and just went too far.

A neutral setting is much more inviting for that user to come in and participate in a calm manner and explain their reasoning behind the behavior.

Our Solution

It's far from a perfect solution, still fairly subjective, and very much still up for debate.

  • If the question can be generalized in a way where users are not mentioned in the question at all, users and/or moderators should simply remove those mentions from the question.
  • If the question cannot be generalized because it requires specifics, or removing the user's name from the question would not help the situation (damage is already done), moderators should delete the question immediately and leave an explanatory comment advising them to flag or use the contact page.
  • Comments which point out the specific user or discuss the user's actions other than the behavior currently being discussed should be immediately deleted. Meta is not a place for creating a log of a user's past history or misdeeds.

That's still a pretty big judgement call, but we want to emphasize that mentioning users is inappropriate. Discussing a specific user in a way that just starts airing their dirty laundry is never constructive, no matter how civil the conversation is. We've seen plenty of conversations that remained fairly civil on Meta, but had disastrous consequences on the main site and even off-site.

Your goal in asking a Meta question should be to find out what the correct behavior is, not to correct the behavior yourself. If your question happens to achieve correcting the behavior, great, but that shouldn't be the focus. We are not here to shame users until they feel they have no option but to leave completely.

  • 5
    Does any of this become different if the user in question is a moderator (and therefore held to a higher standard)? I'm thinking vaguely about meta questions along the lines of "is moderator X closing too many questions unilaterally?" Even if the question was more general, say "are diamond moderators closing too many questions unilaterally?", that still calls out only a very few, named and easily identifiable, users. – Rand al'Thor Jan 17 '17 at 17:23
  • @randal'thor That's one thing that's still kind of up in the air and gets even more subjective. If possible, users should still avoid mentioning moderators explicitly, but we do realize that there are some situations out there where mentioning the specific moderator just cannot be avoided but is still an appropriate discussion for Meta. – animuson Jan 17 '17 at 17:25
  • "Never call out the user on Meta directly." may I quote you? Does it mean that the Meta post calling out the user and suggesting to ban him should be deleted? – jfs Jan 17 '17 at 17:30
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    @J.F.Sebastian I generally prefer not to be quoted out of context, as that line refers to the process of taking action after the discussion, and I don't know the specific situation to which you are referring. Perhaps a flag linking to this Meta question would be appropriate? – animuson Jan 17 '17 at 17:33
  • @animuson: ok. I've flagged the post (one more time) linking to this discussion. btw, I'm very glad, I'm not alone in my views on this issue. – jfs Jan 17 '17 at 17:37
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    This answer provides good guidance for developing a question in the first place. However, it doesn't seem to provide any advice on what to do if I see such a question asked by someone else. Should we edit? Flag the post for deletion? I'd downvote for sure. I would tend to argue for flagging. Even if you edit out the specific user information, it's still in the history. – jpmc26 Nov 2 '17 at 1:13
  • @animuson I face a different situation. I see discussions where users post questions like "Where is this user now? He contributed well." Why "is this user not active? Is there any way to contact them?" on meta. They are also off-topic. Aren't they? – Nog Shine Mar 19 '18 at 5:33
  • @NogShine It might be better to use chat to ask about users that are 'missing in action'. Their whereabouts aren't really votable matters (aside from being private matters), and you'd probably get a more rapid response from the chat regulars than from a meta post. Besides, the user might not want their absence permanently archived in a meta post whenever they're taking a break from Stack Exchange. – Lawrence Aug 8 '18 at 4:23
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A post that is discussing the behavior of a specific person shouldn't be deleted. Discussing a specific action, taken by a specific user, is an on topic thing to discuss on meta, for example, asking, "I noticed that user X is doing Y, but that seems odd because of Z, is that acceptable behavior? Should I be doing something in response to this?" While a question like that could be crafted into a hypothetical, it's not wrong for it to be discussing a specific referenced instance.

What's off topic is just posting a meta question to report a problem for a moderator/CM to handle. Whether it mentions a specific user or not, it's simply an off topic post for meta. A meta question simply isn't a suitable substitute for flagging a post that you think is problematic. It's not the appropriate way to resolve the problem, it's not answerable, etc. A post like this would merit deletion for simply being off topic, irrespective of whether a specific user is mentioned.

  • what if the post suggests banning the user? – jfs Jan 17 '17 at 16:46
  • @J.F.Sebastian If it's simply reporting a ban-worthy offense, then that would be something that should just be a flag, as per my second paragraph. – Servy Jan 17 '17 at 16:47
  • the point is the author of the Meta posts decided that some behavior is a ban-worthy offense (e.g., removing greetings,thanks; ignoring other users who want to stop such edits). Other people may disagree. But instead of asking "is it a ban-worthy offense?", he makes the Meta post: "Questionable actions of the user X and their consequences" and suggests to ban the user. Even if the actions were universally accepted as ban-worthy (it is not clear whether it is the case here), the actions should be reported privately and therefore the Meta post should be deleted. – jfs Jan 17 '17 at 17:09
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It might depend on what the "bad behaviour" entails. For example ...

  • If user X is closing or VTCing a lot of questions which shouldn't be closed, that could be grounds for a constructive meta discussion.

    Example (this relates to moderator action, but the same sort of question could be posted about, say, a gold tag badge holder).


  • If you suspect user X and user Y of being sockpuppets of each other, then it's probably best to raise a moderator flag instead of calling them out on meta.

    It's important to remember that if you're right, the mods and CMs are the only ones who can handle the problem anyway; and if you're wrong, you might have given a good user a bad name or increased suspicion within the community.

Note that discussion about appropriate actions to take in order to curtail a specific user's bad behaviour, even if that user isn't named, should never take place on meta. Decisions such as whether or not to ban a particular user, or whether a particular action is ban-worthy, can only be made by mods and CMs, and there's no point in dragging out the dirty linen in public.

  • do you find it acceptable to call the user by name while discussing bad behavior? to focus the discussion on the user (whether to ban the user), not whether the actions are ban-worthy by themselves? – jfs Jan 17 '17 at 17:15
  • @J.F.Sebastian Whether to ban a particular user should never be a discussion for meta; that decision can only be taken by mods and CMs, who usually have access to more information than normal users. Even whether particular actions are ban-worthy isn't really a discussion for meta, for the same reasons. – Rand al'Thor Jan 17 '17 at 17:18

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