With so many platforms that provide chat rooms for people that can be made private, why do people persist in complaining about the code of conduct set for this network?

This post is for anyone using or interested in using these sites. Whether they actively participate or passively search and read.

What is Stack Exchange?

Stack Exchange is a question and answer site, that strives to be a repository of good information. Better than average. We have expectations on the quality of the content on the network and the whole design of the system is to ensure good content is highly visible and poor content is buried of deleted. Disclaimer This can be argued up hill and down dale, but suffice to say it's the basic ethos of the site.

It is run by the community for the community and overseen by staff who moderate (mostly) meta activity and direct the site, as owned by a company.

Site expectations

There is an expectation of a minimal level of skill when using the site. Part of this skill involves understanding how to navigate through a dynamic website and being able to refer to the help center.

The other is the comprehension of how to behave in a mixed society. A mixed society containing people of all ages above 13 (16 in the EU), gender, race, religion and education. A cross section of any society in a public setting, not boardroom, a pub or private home.


There's been a great upheaval recently on Stack Overflow due to this blog, Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. This has had an effect across the network. It’s Time for That to Change. People react to change, but in essence the site has had a be nice policy for some years, it's now moderating this more seriously.

Online culture

There's an increasing propensity for online exhibitionism and online communities are complex, which would, in part, account for the problems faced by the network, it's not unique to the network. It does mean the network is battling these growing trends, but this doesn't mean the network needs to lower the bar on what is decent behaviour.

What is Stack Exchange not?

Stack Exchange is not an online social network.

Stack Exchange is not a tutorial or teaching service.

People are not paid to answer questions or help people on the site. There is an exception of employees that are on hand to assist with the meta activities of the network, all else is volunteered.

Participating on the sites

Chatrooms and online social network culture

This post started with responding to chat flags and the level of bullying in the room to stop people from flagging comments. So this is in part a follow up to this post We're more aggressively enforcing self-moderation in chat and the answer I posted here where I defended that each room was entitled to their culture.

I've tightened my stance on chat flags. There's plenty of avenues where people can gather and chat privately. The Stack Exchange Network provides people with chat rooms and they feel entitled to moan and complain about the very network that is providing them with the chat room, for free, no ads, nothing.

The message below is currently pinned in a chat room that gets many flags and the users then complain and rubbish the site.

This is a public chat room, provided by the Stack Exchange network. If you want to communicate in ways that breaches the ToS use another chat service to meet. If something is so crude or insulting that you can't say it out loud in a shopping centre, or high school class room, you can't say it here. This site is for 13 years old and up. So quit swearing and blaming others for flagging what goes on in here, the site and mods. We are responding to flags.

If people hate it so much that adult behaviour is expected from them, maybe, just maybe, they have the problem, not the site. The site doesn't pretend to be an online social network. That's not what we're here for. We're not here to provide people with a platform to rubbish the site or any cause for that matter. We do tolerate a lot of off topic content in chat and encourage people to get along and enjoy themselves, without filth and insults. Why is this so hard?

Repeat: Stack Exchange is not an online social network.

Unjustified outrage

Some people, both new users and regular users, are outraged. There is a sense of entitlement amongst many people that extends beyond the bounds of reasonable behaviour and expectations.

"Oh it's infringing on freedom of speech! It's controlling!!" Well this isn't a democracy, state or entity that has a bill of rights, this network is entitled to enforce it's own standards (complying to the relevant laws applicable for such a site). This site is allowed to set parameters on behaviour and posts.

People are offended when their posts are downvoted. People are offended and upset when their comments are flagged. People are up in arms everywhere.

Well there's two things people need to remember.

1. Each individual is responsible for their own conduct and learning.

You cannot blame others for your own bad behaviour. If someone doesn't agree with you. If they flag your posts or comments, if they're rude to you, if they post a crappy question.. flag it, downvote it, close vote it, walk away. There's not excuse to be rude. It's arrogant to assume it's ok to demean people.

The flip side. If you do little research or don't read the help center, don't be upset if your post is rejected. Each person is responsible for their own learning journey. The people on the site are not responsible for another person's lack of comprehension or struggles. We may be able to help, if you're able to articulate that problem into a clear, answerable question, suitable for the site. It's not ok to abuse people who ask for clarification in an attempt to help you.

2. Society has rules and consequences for breaking those rules.

Life doesn't give you a participation award. In adult life, you don't get the promotion, the great job unless you're qualified. People are critiqued. This doesn't mean it's ok to insult people, if you insult people, expect to get feedback. We all need to accept feedback. We are social creatures. Unless you plan to live as a hermit, you will receive feedback. Drive badly, you will get honked. Post a lousy question, you will get downvotes and comments on how to improve it. Post an abrasive or sarcastic remark, expect flags.

This network is not responsible for the personal growth or feelings or anyone. The network is bending over backwards to appease everyone and make the site as accessible to as many people as possible. BUT there comes a point where a line needs to be drawn and the network's responsibility is on one side of that line and the users' is on the other.

If people are unable to conduct themselves in a manner fit for general society, they're going to have great difficulty in relating to superiors in the workforce or educational institutions. Society has structure and respect is expected in many places. This is not a philosophical discussion on the pros and cons of most societies, it's just a fact.

So, why do people persist in complaining about the code of conduct set for this network?

  • 6
    Why do people persist in complaining because I'm bored and this is the only place on the internet where you get serious, constructive feedback, no matter how outrageous your opinions are. Also people are nice here and that makes complaining a much more pleasant experience ...
    – rene
    Jun 16, 2018 at 12:00
  • 2
    @Ash I hoping to get discussion out of this. So far there's one good answer on it.
    – anon
    Jun 17, 2018 at 1:33
  • 1
    @YvetteColomb Discussion is all well and good, I suppose, but do you have a goal you are after?
    – user168476
    Jun 17, 2018 at 2:29
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    @Ash yes, to facilitate discussion to provoke thought and perhaps, just maybe, affect change in some people. That's the hope. Much of my meta posting here and on SO, is to try and create change for the better and help expand people's minds (mine included).
    – anon
    Jun 17, 2018 at 2:31
  • 1
    Keep in mind that you'll be fighting an uphill battle against a whole bunch of ingrained orthodoxy... A big part of the tribalism I talked about is invested in the established rules and traditions. Keep fighting, you're doing the right thing. Good citizens fight to make their community better.
    – apaul
    Jun 17, 2018 at 4:58
  • @apaul I'm not so sure. The community doesn't seem to like it.
    – anon
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:00
  • Meh, people don't like it when people rock the boat, but the very best people tend to.
    – apaul
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:01
  • @apaul but there's a lot of high rep users, even mods, who don't like my posts.
    – anon
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:04
  • 1
    Join the club ;)
    – apaul
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:05
  • 1
    If you're familiar with SO, and you really should be, some of the most influential users are the ones who dared to take a stand... Often those that stood against the CMs and mods when they were doing the same old same old.
    – apaul
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:08
  • 2
    @apaul yes indeed and I'm familiar with SO (as you know). I'm certain I do have an influence on the community (the even wider one who passively reads), and I take that degree of influence with a heavy feeling of responsibility, as I want to be part of good change.. I sometimes fail, but if I can leave the world a better place for being in it, it will be worthwhile. And God knows I have been quite the opposite on way too many occasions. A lot of ground to catch up on.
    – anon
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:11
  • 1
    We all fall short, the only ones that don't are those who are too afraid to take the risk... Again, you're doing the right thing, I know it's endlessly frustrating, but you're stepping up in a way that too many are afraid to. Keep up the good work, "don't let the bastards grind you down."
    – apaul
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:18
  • 1
    Dear Yvette, I have the impression that your activity might be underestimated on the SO. If I think it well, I would suggest to not show weakness, you are in the position of power, you are doing your tasks well, and not the piranhas. You can talk, you can ask, you can suggest, just like an ordinary user and just like an SO mod.
    – peterh
    Jun 17, 2018 at 18:55
  • 2
    Maybe, just maybe this all comes down to how we word things ... As in: When I create a chatroom, I become the room owner. As the owner I own the room and for things I own, I set the rules. What is expected though is being the room janitor ... call me naive ...
    – rene
    Jun 21, 2018 at 7:12

4 Answers 4


With so many platforms that provide chat rooms for people that can be made private, why do people persist in complaining about the code of conduct set for this network?

I honestly don't know. I pretty much agree with the general sentiment of "if you don't like it, go elsewhere". And that's exactly what a lot of us have done.

Here's a bit of a mini-case study, if you will. Or maybe it's just an anecdote and I shouldn't be using terms like "case study", especially given my deep biases as being a core part of making this happen...

I'm a Room Owner in the Root Access room. Although -- like Geek says above -- we haven't had nearly the level of drama in our room as ... certain others, we have nonetheless taken about 50% of our conversation (give or take) "out of band". We're now using a Matrix room (in one breath, a decentralized open chat protocol hoping to do a "modern IRC reimagining" with Markdown, fault tolerance and optional E2E encryption).

We've reached equilibrium after using Matrix for several weeks, and I think it's a really good equilibrium. Here's the low-down on that:

Firstly, everyone who chats on our Matrix server, also chats to some extent in our chat.stackexchange room, even after our Matrix community has established itself. This keeps the official Super User room on chat.SE from being a "ghost town". We still field site-related questions and meta discussions in our chat like the chat was intended to support.

Secondly, there are some users who have opted-out of Matrix, and we continue to engage with them on chat.stackexchange, drama-free. I'd say the majority of the regulars at least have an account on Matrix, though. We have made our primary room on Matrix open to the public so anyone can join it, to avoid (further?) creating cliques in the community.

Thirdly, our primary scenarios where we do want to use Matrix are as follows:

  • When a topic comes up in chat on chat.SE that, while interesting, is likely to solicit responses that would get flagged or be interpreted as flaggable (and thus the ensuing drama would be inevitable). My response in chat.SE is often to the effect of "NOPE, not touching that here, will continue on Matrix".
  • Those of us cognizant of the current ... let's say, climate, on the chat network, make a concerted effort to keep our chat on chat.SE clean. When we feel that itch to be unclean, we pop over to Matrix.
  • For true private messaging between exactly two participants (or a small group, since Matrix supports ad-hoc multi-user PMs), we use Matrix, because SE doesn't support anything of that nature, and disclosing personal information, server IPs, etc. in the permanently-logged chat scrollback is a bad idea anyway.
  • We also have an invite-only channel on Matrix for some of the more like-minded regulars where we "let it all hang out". This is where we express our sort of "dude culture" that we don't mask at all -- I'm not sure how else to describe it -- but it basically involves topics that are of a mutual interest of 20-something and 30-something males with an IT background, and there are basically zero rules except for the tacit rule of "these people are your friends; respect them and don't start drama". But the jokes and epithets are most certainly not (always) friendly for a general audience. Folks can get an invite to this room pretty easily, but they have to opt-in by (1) knowing about its existence and (2) understanding the nature of the room and what it means to participate there. For the folks who initially started the room these things are obvious, but for newcomers it will need to be explained.
  • The above-mentioned, invite-only channel is also used for us to discuss far less controversial, but nonetheless private matters, with a group of trusted regulars. For instance, I have recently accepted a new job (yay!!!) and I have discussed the particulars of my employment (benefits, salary, name of the company) with people in the invite-only room, but I leave the details out of the public Matrix room and the chat.SE room.

In the end, we are trying to usher our chat participants to adhere to roughly the following diagram, to ensure that the more "exclusive" our language/topics might be, the more our room's participants are formed of an exclusive body of people (and vice versa: topics that are suited for general consumption are usually shunted to more public spaces.)

I made a Venn Diagram for you. I hope you like it.

graphical depiction of the three different rooms or communities Root Access maintains and how the topics shift depending on the audience in the room

Ultimately this platform is up to SE to decide how to maintain, what the rules will be, and so on. It's up to them if they want to restrict certain types of speech. I respect that, and as a result, I've been less vocal on my complaints. I initially objected to the changes as sort of a way of saying, "I don't agree with that", but after coming to terms with the fact that my disagreement means exactly nothing to SE and will never effect change, I took matters into my own hands and started our Matrix community.

As for those who continue to criticize and complain after basically knowing that the "new normal" is a done deal? I think they should seriously consider setting up a Matrix server on a VPS somewhere, and accept the state of things. I don't think the discussion should end or be silenced, but I personally don't see how continued discussion critical of the rules is especially productive. Nor is discussion of the technical features of the chat system particularly useful; we all know they aren't working on it, or, if they are, it will be years before we see anything.

  • 1
    I'd note though, hopefully we don't have a bro culture. If any user feels they need to leave cause of our behaviour, its typically a loss. And I totally frankly critique SE in here too. ;p
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jun 17, 2018 at 10:51
  • I referred to "bro culture" somewhat facetiously. We aren't as overt about it as some other communities, but certainly in terms of interests, we fit the stereotype pretty well. For some, just trying to participate in the same space as people who don't have many/any interests in common can be alienating. Maybe I should have been more neutral and just said "our culture", rather than attempting to characterize it. Jun 17, 2018 at 10:54
  • 3
    Well people of any gender, race or orientation can be computer geeks, or run servers or own a dedi. We're hardcore techies sure, but that is a hobby anyone can have ;). I'd also note I use matrix cause it gives me options for non public only spaces. There's some stuff that I can't talk about on SE cause of other reasons you might hear about.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jun 17, 2018 at 10:58
  • 2
    you're allowed to have a bro culture, what you do in your private groups is your own business. That's the point, it's ok to do stuff, just not ok to do all teh thingz on SE
    – anon
    Jun 17, 2018 at 11:11
  • In a sense though, the fact we moved some chat off was a reaction to SE - and there's been a few communities emptied or semi emptied out - some folk moved to slack, others to discord. Healthy communities that can survive in the SE context are just as important in the long run as trying to impose order on folks IMO . I do disagree with quix that there's no point in engaging with The Powers That Be over chat and the future of chat, but other than that I treat matrix as a adjunct not a replacement to the SE chat system
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Jun 17, 2018 at 13:19
  • 1
    I think we all (in the RA community, at least) treat Matrix as an "adjunct" rather than a replacement. I haven't seen anyone go 100% over to Matrix. Which is fantastic and means it's working as designed. Jun 17, 2018 at 15:26

Long time chat user here and well...

On the main sites? Well I've always felt rudeness and impoliteness is noise. We've wanted to handle it cause it breaks from focusing on the actual information. No one likes being told you're terrible people, or that you've done it wrong. I understand the goal and the approach but there's probably other approaches that would work better with the naysayers. These announcements are from the heart, but they need a little more head.

Chat moderation is hard and messy.

And not everything can be distilled down to "codes of conduct" and "processes" and other neat little things. I've always said effective moderation is about the application of soft power - by gaining and using the respect and goodwill of users to direct enough people towards favourable outcomes.

The problem with, well blog posts of an imperative tone, and well posts like this is no one likes being told they're doing it wrong. There's also a fair bit of external voices here, and sometimes they seem to have an easier time being heard than we do. And well, they're scary sometimes. We circle the wagons and hope these spaces don't get taken out of our hands.

As a long time IRC user who's seen empires communities rise and fall, I've always felt that chat moderation is a long term process. Its about building trust between the folks running the channel (opers and admins in IRC Parlance, and ROs and Mods in SE.)

SE has a rather unique structure as far as rooms go (with folks moderating across rooms) but day to day there's no real "central" moderation system. We make it up as we go along to a large extent. I guess part of the issue is (and I'm very sorry to say this) is folks who do actually need to make the hard choices about network wide issues aren't there a lot of the time.

Root Access has often been mentioned as a well behaved channel. We've gotten fairly well adjusted rules with a little leeway for language. We've done well in self moderation. I have an easy time in moderation there because the mods there (From Super User or elsewhere) are trusted and know how we do things.

A funny effect of the recent push to be nice is... some of my users are worried if they'd get penalised for the occational use of language - something we're effectively handled without punitative measures.

So the big problem is? We're basically looking at the areas of urban blight, and assuming the whole city's a wreck, when there's nice neighbourhoods that are getting warned about high crime when nothing is going on.

For every Mos Eisley, there's a dozen good rooms with good folk who're being constructive... No one really talks about those, and what they're doing right. Everyone focuses on the bad eggs.

In a sense, we're going to get far better effects from engagement over the occational declaration we need to do better, that some of us are terrible people and such. I do realise the CM team is manpower limited, and we certainly cannot expect the same kind of engagement we did when the network was young but the occational blog post dosen't really do very much to actually solve issues.

We also sometimes suffer from folks feeling like the spanish inquisition just popped in. Its a work in progress but its a cause of unhappiness. We need to deal with problems early and in place where we can.

This is a public chat room, provided by the Stack Exchange network. If you want to communicate in ways that breaches the ToS use another chat service to meet. If something is so crude or insulting that you can't say it out loud in a shopping centre, or high school class room, you can't say it here. This site is for 13 years old and up. So quit swearing and blaming others for flagging what goes on in here, the site and mods. We are responding to flags.

Is... a terrible way to deal with things. You're literally telling users that they're going to get treated like kids. You're basically handing over responsibility to the flaggers. I've often defused those situations with "Language!" or "Dude, people come here at work" and sometimes "Hi guys, I noticed a flag, is everything ok there?"

And here's the thing. That little bit of attention sticks. As a familiar face, I've occationally kicked or banned users I've known to be troll mid conversation, gone "Oh trust me guys", and everyone was cool about it. Folks probably trust me to do my best, not to tell them what to do, but to sort things out. If we keep having to have major course corrections from above, people are going to be unhappy.


So, why do people persist in complaining about the code of conduct set for this network?

Well... Because people are people.

It's been my experience, in life and here on the network, that people are horrifically flawed. Most people don't like having their flaws pointed out. Most people like rules and consequences when they apply to those other people who deserve it...

No one likes to think that their own conduct crosses the line. When they cross the line they're being cheeky, clever, fun, and are obviously doing it harmlessly. When other people cross the line they're being rude, malicious, and destructive.

Also... Being social animals, humans seem to be hardwired to form tribes. One of the first things a tribe needs to do to be a tribe is decide who's in and who's out. To be in the tribe you're expected to adhere to the traditions and rules of the tribe, if you don't then you're out. It's a very basic us vs them. If you look, act, and talk like us, then you're one of us. If you don't you're one of them.

It seems that once upon a time people were very happy to simply be a member of the Stack Overflow tribe, it was obviously way better than the Experts Exchange tribe, because it was free to join. It was also better than the Reddit tribe because it was more focused. Don't even get me started on the Yahoo Answers tribe... Bunch of savages...

As the tribe grew, new tribes formed and split off to form their own sites that could focus on their own needs. This brought us Super User, Server Fault, and with time, a long list of other niche Q and A tribes. The Stack Overflow tribe eventually grew into the Stack Exchange nation.

This growth is a testament to how great the rules and traditions of the original Stack Overflow tribe were. The rules and traditions have evolved over time, but the original ideology was the seed that started it all.

But the nation continued growing...

Eventually the nation grew so large that being a member didn't scratch that classic us vs them itch the way it used to when it was a tribe. So members found other ways to scratch that itch.

Some continued being gate keepers, keeping the riff raff out and that was enough for them, some others retreated to their favorite tags and formed tribes there, while others formed tribes in the chatrooms... There's nothing inherently wrong with these sub-tribes forming. It's kinda to be expected, because it's what people do.

Conflict arises when the rules/traditions of these small tribes contradict the rules/traditions of the nation. Particularly when these tribes have been left unchecked for as long as they have, members of the nation who aren't members of the particular tribe are viewed and treated as outsiders.

People tend to develop strong protective instincts when it comes to their tribe. This can be a good thing and a very dangerous thing. There's a sense of:

Hey! This is our territory! We built it and defended it for all this time without your help. We've developed our own rules and traditions here, thank you very much.

This seems to be the state of the Stack Exchange nation at the moment. Things have grown somewhat unchecked for quite a while. Users have formed their own tribes within the nation. Now the nation is trying to bring the tribes back within the rules and traditions that made the nation work to begin with. The tribes are feeling threatened and pushing back, because they don't want to lose the subcultures they're personally invested in, because deep down people want to belong.

With so many platforms that provide chat rooms for people that can be made private, why do people persist in complaining about the code of conduct set for this network?

Well, despite what Stack Exchange is supposed to be, there's a reality to what it is. Stack Exchange has grown beyond its original mandate, and chat is a major contributing factor...

I suspect it's time to come to grips with the reality that Stack Exchange is a lot more than a network of question and answer sites. It wasn't intended to be a social platform, but in a lot of ways, like it or loathe it, it is a social platform. It's just a reality at this point.

When you have a community driven site, you're going to have community. When you have community, people are going to socialize.

As noted in the link above users used to use third party chatrooms, before on-network chatrooms were created.

We noticed early on that some Stack Overflow users were using IRC to socialize and coordinate their efforts on the site in real time. Per their request, we even set up a special RSS feed just for these folks, so that new questions would be visible there as they were asked.

Similarly, we’re using the 37signals Campfire app to coordinate our own work in real time between the NYC team and the distributed core team. I’ve been rather impressed with it; Campfire is an awful lot like a web 2.0 version of IRC. Try it yourself and see. It’s great!

Which makes me wonder — should we add a Campfire-like “third place” for real time socialization and coordination of work?

Obviously that "third place" was intended to be a third place, but like most communities, you're going to have people who would prefer to hang around the pub all day rather than going to work, or going home. The pub is more fun than work or home... All the more fun when the pub is free and never closes.

People aren't going to be inclined to leave the free, 24hr pub, where their friends have been meeting up for several years, just because someone percieved as an outsider told them to.

To simplify, it seems like they're saying:

This is our chatroom, if you don't like it, leave.

And you're saying:

This is our network, if you don't like it, leave.

Fortunately the rules are on your side, but seeing as how the rules have been very loosely enforced for a very long time, and there's that whole tribal problem I talked about above, it's going to take a while to bring the order that you're after. It took a long time for things to get this bad and it'll likely take a long time, and a lot of work, for them to get better.

  • 2
    Insightful answer. I like the notion of tribes, and that we're a type of social network. It's thought provoking. But I tend to always like your posts ;) I'm holding off accepting this answer. I was hoping we would get some more responses... who knows watch this space
    – anon
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:07
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    @YvetteColomb Here's hoping some others step up to the plate.
    – apaul
    Jun 17, 2018 at 5:10
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    To sort of express my answer in terms of the analogies you used in yours, basically what has happened over time is our chatroom is like a rowdy bunch of bar patrons who've started inviting in "friends" who would like to violate rules of public decency in the pub. The bartender's not OK with that, but, rather than starting a drunken brawl, we simply said, "Alright; when we want to violate public decency, we'll go home, and when we come here we'll respect your rules." So there isn't a Great Schism; the bar doesn't lose patrons; but we can still do what we want, when we want. Works for all. Jun 17, 2018 at 10:38

This network is not responsible for the personal growth or feelings or anyone.

It acts as if.

Edit: Maybe I don't understand the "being welcoming" campaign. But it looks as if the network is concerned only about feelings.

  • @YvetteColomb Is there some context that we're all missing in this? I don't understand the interaction here at all.
    – Magisch
    Jul 11, 2018 at 11:42
  • Maybe I don't understand the "being welcoming" campaign. But it looks as if it is only about feelings.
    – user380304
    Jul 11, 2018 at 12:18

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