First of all, please don't get offended from the title, and if you don't know what this is look at this video (warning NSFW).

The question is this: I have seen online communities over the years, and the amount of foul language is really high. People are not polite to each others and flame wars are common.

How come this community is so well behaved? I don't see the admins/moderators cleaning the site, this is just the user well behaving, which is really amazing. Do you have any idea why is this happening only on Stack Exchange?

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    They ban me when I say things that I want to say and then delete all of my insightful comments. I have learned that Atwood is a big baby when it comes to language, so I call him a big, crying baby instead of swearing. All in all I think it works out pretty well for everyone. – Welbog Nov 27 '09 at 15:40
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    this is a business and a community, not your personal back room. Thus, our code of behavior has to be semi-professional. If that's a problem for you, then maybe you're in the wrong place. – Jeff Atwood Nov 27 '09 at 15:46
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    Yeah, that's what I'm talking about, right there. One of these days, Atwood is going to wake up and realize that he's a terrible person, and he's going to call me up and say, "Welbog, you were right!" and I'm going to hang up on him and wonder how he got my phone number, and then probably have it changed. – Welbog Nov 27 '09 at 15:47
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    humor is welcome here. You guys are plenty hilarious without needing to rely on the crutch of expletives. Just look at Bill Cosby; one of the funniest, most highly respected comics ever, and he never needed to work blue to get there. – Jeff Atwood Nov 27 '09 at 15:51
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    And at the same time there are comics who are absolutely amazing at slipping dirty words into already funny content to make it even better. They're just words, with meanings; words that can be used in sentences like any other. You don't need them to be offensive and having them doesn't necessarily make a sentence offensive. Targeting them is misdirected effort. Targeting users who abuse the system such as with tags like plz-send-me-teh-codez is good. Targeting users who slip in words to make their statements more emphatic is bad. – Welbog Nov 27 '09 at 15:56
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    It occurs to me that Atwood has my number, and 29 of my dollars, on careers. Damn him for making useful web software! – Welbog Nov 27 '09 at 16:20
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    @firtjer: I don't see him as a baby; like I said recently I'm 100% sure he's not personally offended by the "naughty," "bad," "horrible," "evil" words which will bend your spine, kill your uncle and open your ponies' stables. He's running a business, and has to do certain things to maintain a certain level of decorum. I disagree with the choice, but I understand where he's coming from. (And what did these words do that was so bad anyway? Did they steal from the poorbox or something?) – John Rudy Nov 27 '09 at 17:15
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    At the very least he's siding with the crybabies even if his reasoning is slightly different. Siding with people who are doing something wrong is still wrong. – Welbog Nov 27 '09 at 17:29
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    I see you're trying to form a cohesive argument against the stone-set policy regarding the usage of profanity within the Creative-Commons-licensed content of StackOverflow (which happens to be more of a metaphorical dictatorship rather than a democracy) by appealing to the sense that the greater good is freedom of speech and expression, regardless of what the status-quo considers 'professional'. You should totally drop that and try jQuery. – snicker Nov 27 '09 at 20:06
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    What I find offensive is someone calling Bill Cosby funny. – womble Nov 27 '09 at 20:54
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    OK, rules are rules and I guess we need them. But do they really include Bill Cosby now? If I am supposed to find that guy funny, I'm gone. – innaM Nov 27 '09 at 20:58
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    You people who don't find Bill Welbogging Cosby funny make me sick. – Welbog Nov 28 '09 at 0:48
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    Bill Cosby used to be hilarious but now he's a grumpy old man. And I did hear him swear once - someone told him that drugs don't change who you are, they just intensify your personality. His response: "Yeah, but what if you're an a**hole?" – Graeme Perrow Nov 28 '09 at 1:03
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    Prolly because offensive stuff gets cleaned up pretty quick. I asked a question here, including a video demonstrating my issue. One of the responders whined about me not uploading it to youtube (ffs, at work, blocked, the damn video was <1mb). My response, I think, stayed up for a total of ten minutes before it was deleted. – Won't Dec 21 '09 at 17:06
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    And here I was thinking I once again offended someone by closing his question... – Ivo Flipse Mar 25 '10 at 12:50

When people can vote on what you do, and those votes have consequences, that goes a long way toward encouraging proper behavior.

Beyond basic peer voting, which is huge, we also have four (!) tiers of moderation:

  • 15+ rep users can flag things as offensive or spam
  • 2,000+ rep users can edit anything you write
  • 3,000+ rep users can vote to close your question
  • 10,000+ rep users have visibility into system hotspots, flags, and can vote to delete content

We also have a policy of "be nice" and "try to post useful content" which is outlined in the /faq

There are also some professional connection, in that your public track record here can be used to show potential employers that you're a good communicator who is willing to help others in the community.

Also, on language, see Are expletives (cursing, swear words or vulgar language) allowed on SE sites?

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    IE: unlike actions everywhere else on the web, Actions have consequences. Contrary to what most psychologists and educators seem to be saying, consequences are very effective. – C. Ross Nov 27 '09 at 16:45
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    I would add two things to this: (1) look at the age distribution on SO - there are children here, so please keep it G-rated. A man cursing at the cashier in Arby's around here one Sunday lunchtime recently was asked to leave - by a half-dozen angry patrons. And rightly so. (2) the man who resorts to expletives is demonstrating that his vocabulary is weak and he's out of ideas. Think of explietives as "verbal violence", and it's easier to see that they are rarely, if ever, appropriate in public. – Steven A. Lowe Nov 27 '09 at 16:46
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    Steven -- age distribution I can grant, #2 I have always VEHEMENTLY disagreed with. I swear like a sailor; my vocabulary is among the best you'll ever meet. Other notable examples: George Carlin, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut ... – John Rudy Nov 27 '09 at 17:04
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    @Steven: "Verbal violence"? That's how you should think of abusive language in general, not certain out-of-context words. If the man at Arby's weren't cursing, but instead were abusing the cashier by, say, comparing his intellect to that of a paper bag flowing in a breeze, would the patrons have been angry? If you think they wouldn't, then they're hypocrites. If you think they would, then "verbal violence" is at least somewhat distinct from cursing. – Welbog Nov 27 '09 at 17:06
  • @firtjer: I'd upvote that comment twenty times if I could. – John Rudy Nov 27 '09 at 17:16
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    @Cigars: That's how it is with most of my comments. – Welbog Nov 27 '09 at 17:27
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    Are there really any children here? Has anyone come across any minor with a verifiable age? – Ether Nov 27 '09 at 17:53
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    @Cigars and whatever: if your vocabulary is so vast, surely there are more descriptive words available than mere expletives. – Steven A. Lowe Nov 27 '09 at 21:07
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    @Steve Lowbrow: Given the numerous literary giants, visionaries and leaders who've used expletives in the past (including at least four recent Presidents of the US, of both parties), I'd say the evidentiary burden is actually on you to prove the linguistic validity of your argument that the words themselves are offensive. The truly enlightened are offended by the intent and emotion behind a statement; ineffectual minds are offended by individual words lacking context. If I call someone a smurfsnorting farfulburger, is that not every bit as offensive as calling them so-called expletives? – John Rudy Nov 28 '09 at 6:23
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    @Steven A. Lowe: In general though I agree, abusive language has no place in a civilized context Agree with whom? Everybody here commenting on your question disagree with you. Cursing is distinct to any trait a person has. There are cursing morons, cursing geniuses (welbog), non-cursing geniuses and definitely non-cursing morons. I tend to find more of the latter than the first one. – perbert Nov 28 '09 at 17:36
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    @Steven A. Lowe: Oh! you were agreeing with Jeff. Ok. One more thing: words are words are words! Intent is the difference! – perbert Nov 28 '09 at 17:37
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    @[Smuftsnorting Farfulburger]: fallacious argument ignored. Any fool can curse, and they often do. – Steven A. Lowe Nov 29 '09 at 19:54
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    @Steven A. Lowe: I'd say my argument holds water. Yours does not. You cite no evidence other than your own personal belief system. You have no linguistic leg to stand on, but insist I am the fool for cursing. (Which, BTW, you've not seen me do. But I have seen you do so, or did I miss something and is "jackass" no longer considered an expletive? Or did you just happen upon a donkey who knew both English and curse words?) – John Rudy Nov 29 '09 at 22:00
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    @[Smuftsnorting Farfulburger]: see nizkor.org/features/fallacies - in particular, "Appeal to Authority" ['numerous literary giants...'], "Ad Hominem" [...Lowbrow], "Begging the Question/Strawman" ['evidentiary burden' when offensive is clearly subjective.], "Appeal to Ridicule" ['...truly enlightened...ineffectual minds']. A jackass is a donkey and a fool, not a curse word; see merriam-webster.com/dictionary/JackAss – Steven A. Lowe Nov 30 '09 at 3:47
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    Jeff you are wrong. On META the votes are cast if they agree with your question or not. If they were to vote on what you do then the integrity of this site is shot to hell and were back in a high school popularity contest. Also, peer voting means nothing on META and everyone knows it. People that post pictures of smurfs, unicorns, waffles, rabbits with waffles on their heads get huge upvote but people who ask legitimate questions or concerns are given little or no thought. – Locutus Mar 25 '10 at 12:29

When SO started out it was fairly small, everyone were happy little smurfs.

village people

Then one day Gargamel showed up.

Garamel the meanie

With his foul language he tried to destroy EVERYTHING

This made smurfette cry and get very upset.

papa smurf the sage

So.... Papa smurf, decided certain word are never to be uttered in smurf village and using his magnificent reality distortion field smrufed the words out of existence.

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    needs more freehand circles – snicker Nov 27 '09 at 21:24
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    Without Gargamel there would be no Smurfette. What do you have against females? – random Nov 27 '09 at 21:46
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    I think I just laughed one one of my kidneys out... – Marc Gravell Nov 27 '09 at 21:53
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    FYI: I am Gargamel now. – Welbog Nov 28 '09 at 0:50
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    Smf you, smf you, sm**f you! – Wim ten Brink Nov 28 '09 at 11:55
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    That's one smurfin' good answer. – Jarrod Dixon Dec 21 '09 at 9:44
  • You mean a SEP Field. – Mateen Ulhaq Nov 21 '11 at 6:16
  • @random Females don't exist on Meta.SO... other than Welbog, of course. – Mateen Ulhaq Nov 21 '11 at 6:18

'cos "offensive" flags attract... the management

Hale and Pace, The Management

(edit: relevant YouTube videos for those of us who had no idea what this was)

  • So voting up this comment... if I could, I would vote it up twice :) – elcuco Nov 27 '09 at 16:08
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    @elcuco: It's your thread, so you can. Accepting it is sorta like upvoting it twice. – Welbog Nov 27 '09 at 16:58
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    @firtjer no, this is not the correct answer, same for Jeff's answer. Even tough I do respect hi, and I do value his answers, in this case I don't. I want to know from the community is behaving like this - from themselves. I am in favor of humoros answers (see the title...) but a good responce is the best answer. – elcuco Nov 27 '09 at 17:36
  • I have no idea who these clowns are, but they look about as funny as Bill Cosby. – innaM Nov 28 '09 at 12:32
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    Hale and Pace..two british comedians who briefly did a stint on the bbc together... – t0mm13b Nov 29 '09 at 0:29
  • @innaM - I'm afraid to say that these two 'comedians' were considerably less funny than even Bill Cosby, leg amputation or having to code in VB.Net :-( – 5arx Sep 14 '10 at 14:56

Confession time, I swear. I do curse at the computer for not loading fast enough, I curse at other people's code when it's awful, I curse at my own code when I realize how foolish I've been.

I do not curse at other people when they ask questions or respond to my, or other people's, questions. This is impolite and completely unacceptable.

So what is the fascination with, or the exclusive reliance upon, swears to communicate?



Because even users with 15+ rep can flag posts as:

Offensive, Abusive, or Hate Speech

And 6 flags get an automatic closure/deletion so, even if there weren't the greater moderation powers available to higher rep users, with the numbers of users on SO questions that fall foul of the rules and guidelines don't tend to last very long.

  • 6 votes are required for a answer/question. Now idea about comments. – Georg Schölly Nov 27 '09 at 15:44
  • @gs - thanks for correcting me – ChrisF Nov 27 '09 at 15:55

Yeah, Fork you too!

It could be because Stack Overflow has thousands of members with (limited) moderation powers.

It could also be because Stack Overflow draws another part of the public than e.g. a forum about some favourite boyband.

And, of course, because this site has so many active members at any given moment plus some smart algorithms to detect possible abuse, and thus abusive behaviour can be stopped real fast.

Plus, we have Meta Stack Overflow, where we can complain about anything that troubles us at Stack Overflow.

Still, peer pressure isn't enough to stop misbehaviour. Consider those Soccer Hooligans who misbehave during lots of all kinds of events, but mostly soccer sport events. Basically, these hooligans are just regular people and there are probably a few at Stack Overflow and Meta Stack Overflow. But they organise themselves in groups for organized misbehaviour. There are online groups of forum hooligans who tend to misbehave at dozens of forums and the only reason why they're not harassing Stack Overflow could be the moderation done by all members. Or maybe Stack Overflow just isn't interesting enough as a target.

Because, strange as it sounds, Stack Overflow might not be interesting enough for online hooligans to misbehave. :-)

  • I wish the same could be said of my lawn... HEY! You hooligans get OFF my lawn! :) – Brad Gilbert Nov 28 '09 at 3:57

I think it could be because downvoting someone works so much better than telling them to "F**-off".

I think downvotes actually represents quite nicely what intentional swearing (e.g. swearing to tell someone to shut up) in type means. A downvote is actually more effective than swearing cause it affects the recipient's reputation (and it shows you really meant it since it annoyed you so much that you were willing to take a downvoter-penalty yourself), while a curse can be ignored and upset innocent bystanders...

Sure you could "accidentally" utter "bad words" when actually talking. But you don't sit down and "accidentally type" a swear word.

-- Personally when I see a question or answer with lots of downvotes, its almost as if I can hear several people screaming "shut up!" or similar... ;)


This is a somewhat task-centered collection of sites, unlike some, and that probably promotes civility. There are also consequences and people who will enforce the mores, and a sense of community. Finally, of course, there are plenty of people who can moderate in various ways, so this isn't like an unmoderated group.

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