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TL;DR: We've put together a code of conduct (CoC) that is a bit more comprehensive than our existing be nice policy because we feel that our current policy isn't meeting our needs.

Some background, our reasons for doing this and a link to the draft (Google Docs | GitHub) can be found below. We'd like your feedback by July 11, 2018.

In the beginning, there was 'Be nice'.

From the earliest web archive snapshot of http://stackoverflow.com/faq (circa September, 2008):

Be nice.

Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you. We're all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.

And that's all we needed when we started. Stack Overflow began with a large group that were fairly avid readers of Coding Horror and Joel On Software. While many of us sort of knew each other from interacting on both blogs and via mediums like Twitter, what can be said is, through our shared interests, we had much more in common with one another than we had differences. For many of us, Jeff & Joel spoke to the majority of what we valued and were passionate about.

We had essentially one rule: be nice. But, it was seldom, if ever that we actually had to enforce it. We were a group that, despite numerous geopolitical differences, essentially behaved the same through the handful of circumstances one might encounter while using the site.

Sure, the mechanics of the site encouraged sincere collaboration, but many missed that we were already a community that (mostly) agreed on the fundamentals of many things needed for our group to self-govern; it wasn't just the software and gamification that was creating a runaway success.

From our bootstraps, we showed tough love by editing and voting ruthlessly, but we were a small enough community that we could sweep away criticism by accurately stating this is how we like it. We and the site were something new, and people wanted to be part of both things. And we grew, wow did we grow; what an amazing machine where one could plant a programmer and grow a good communicator.

And then, there was 'Be nice'.

Maybe in context, we could call it 'Be Nice(r)?'

We expanded our policy a little bit, because it was simply too ambiguous. In fact, a key balance point that we struggled a bit to find in our initial RFC for the re-write was just that, breadth vs. depth:

Some people wanted more detail and examples (for clarity), others wanted less (for broader applicability).

We knew we needed to create something where folks embraced the intent, or spirit of the document, rather than using the document as a checklist of stuff to avoid moderators, while giving some examples of what's bad for use as landmarks. But, the voice of the policy was still better not do that rather than here's how to not do that.

Since then, we've absorbed an enormous amount of feedback from people that have interacted with our sites for the very first time, some stuff has been pretty consistent across rather vast groups of people.

We fell short in our 'Be nice' re-write in the following ways:

  • We needed to write for the best of folks in our community. Off-putting things tend to mostly come from folks who will probably only ever blow their top once. We have moderators to deal with the tiny fraction of people that never care about rules, so our code of conduct needs to mostly resonate with the overwhelming majority of people we really want to keep. We need less over-posturing for troll dispatching and more guides to help decent folks avoid more common pitfalls.

  • Codes of conduct help identify your community to the outside world, and help people decide if your community is a place where they'll feel safe and flourish. Our expanded 'Be nice' policy doesn't hold up to much scrutiny if you're fresh from seeing a bunch of nasty comments go unmoderated because they weren't technically rude.

  • We're at a point where 'Be nice', which first originated in a group where we pretty much already had a strong social contract, just isn't enough. What worked well for hundreds isn't working well for millions, and we need to write something more comprehensive.

But our policy is short on other things, too. What we need is a formal code of conduct that's similar to what free / open source projects and even conferences use in order to set behavioral expectations and norms.

The difference between what we have now and what a formal code of conduct would look like is best expressed by simply showing you our first draft of a formal code of conduct.

For your feedback, we're presenting our initial draft of a real Code of Conduct.

We'd very much appreciate your time in taking a moment to read our draft (Google Docs | GitHub). If you have some cycles to spare, we're specifically seeking the following types of feedback:

  1. Even if you don't agree with all of it, do you feel that this is a reasonable code of conduct? Does it affect your recommending Stack Overflow as a resource in any way? How so?

  2. Is anything in this document, including its purpose, unclear to you in any way? Are there any instances where you'd suggest alternate language or copy? Where? Why?

  3. If you're a long-term contributor, how does this document impact your feelings toward new users and their needs, if at all? How does it impact your feelings toward the company? Or, more broadly, did this document inspire any metacognition at all?

  4. If you're someone who wants to contribute more often, or have felt yourself sort of stuck on the fringes, how does this document change your perception of the site, if at all?

We're open to all feedback.

We understand that not all of you feel like this is necessary, and we understand that truly being inclusive means making sure everyone has seats at this table too, as long as we can possibly extend one. That means we need a civil dialog, so we're asking for any negative feedback to be respectful and honest. Please remember, we're listening to you as well as many, many people that simply aren't comfortable coming here, and a big part of our goal is going to remain to include them.

We'd like feedback by Wednesday, July 11, 2018, however this question will allow for feedback until a final draft is released, at which point this question will be closed as a duplicate of that one. We'll monitor for new answers as long as this remains open.

Please, post an answer and avoid comments if you have anything of substance to say.

We'll respond to comments that are readily and practically answerable with a few dispassionate sentences, but if you've got anything even remotely substantive to say, we're asking that you leave an answer. Using comments instead is actively harmful because it requires us to spend more cycles moderating and archiving than actually engaging.

In closing

We'd like everyone to remember that we're talking about ways to be nicer to one another - so please, let's have a conversation about this in the spirit of that intent.

We're in the process of gathering a lot of feedback through UX research and having a bunch of conversations with interested groups to gain a variety of perspectives. The more open and specific you can be about any concerns that come up as you read this draft, the better our next draft will be. For instance, it's fine to say "that scares me but I'm not quite sure why".

Thanks for reading this far, and let us know what you think!

marked as duplicate by Tim Post discussion Jul 19 at 16:29

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 1
    There's an old saying, "Children don't hear anything you say, but they see everything you do." Mission statements fall into the "anything you say" category, and they're not really directed outwardly. I've seen so many organizations agonize over mission statements without considering that nobody outside the organization cares about, heeds, or even bothers to read them. – Robusto Jul 19 at 12:51
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    Curious: if you wanted answers by July 11, why is this just now being featured in the "FEATURED ON META" block of SE sites? – GalacticCowboy Jul 19 at 14:10
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    @GalacticCowboy It has been featured since July 3 ... I saw it the next day on the handful of sites I regularly check on - can you tell me where you didn't notice it until now? That's .. definitely a bug .. if so. If you look at the views over the short time this has been posted, word really got out. Kinda baffled as to why you didn't see it. – Tim Post Jul 19 at 14:21
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    Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I've been on Stack Overflow and a variety of the hot questions pretty regularly. – GalacticCowboy Jul 19 at 14:25

112 Answers 112

Random comments while reading the document:

Our mission

Our mission is to build an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of expertise, identity, or language. Whether you’ve come to ask questions or to generously share what you know, join us in building a learning community that is rooted in kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect.

err... is it? I think this is our mission:

we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about programming.

Don't get me wrong - I'm all in favor of a code of conduct - it is becoming a standard for communities to have a code of conduct, and I think it's great you're formalizing it. But I find the mission statement a little confusing.

Unacceptable Behavior

  • No subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language
  • No name-calling or personal attacks
  • No discrimination of any kind
  • No harassment

Intuitively, I'd expect these to be in reverse order - with the more severe offenses on top.

No discrimination of any kind. This includes any language likely to offend or alienate people based on (but not limited to): race, gender, gender identity or expression, English fluency, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, nationality, neurodiversity, physical appearance, body size, or religion.

Besides discrimination, many of this also fall under harassment and hate-speech. Discrimination is something that is almost impossible to prove for an individual case - but of course it still worth mentioning.

Reporting and Enforcement

The example table of Behavior/Typical Action is mixing serious and illegal behavior like sexual harassment with childish, SE-specific acts like sock puppet voting. I think you should separate internal rules regarding voting or post quality to another section.

  • 98
    I agree with this. Perhaps something like "Our mission is to build a library of detailed answers to questions about many topics through an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate" would work, which blends both bits of language. – HDE 226868 Jul 3 at 16:49
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    I think putting the less severe but much more common offenses at the top is constructive, since most frequent users will never harass another user but may be tempted to drop a subtle put-down from time to time. If a reader only gets that far through the policy, it's more likely to do good. – Isaac Moses Jul 3 at 17:07
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    Agree on the mission thingy, disagree on the order thing – Helmar Jul 3 at 17:09
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    I think this is a point of clarification: the team of us working on this stuff's mission is as stated - it's a separate mission from our overall company mission. Having a specific team mission helps us scope and direct our work appropriately. – Kristina Lustig Jul 3 at 17:12
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    @KristinaLustig - I suspected the "our mission" section relates to the code of conduct. It's a good mission, maybe a lot nicer than curating Q&A, but it might be confusing. Is it intended to be part of the document? If so, maybe it should say "The goal of the CoC"? – Kobi Jul 3 at 17:33
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    @KristinaLustig, that's great that it is your team's mission, but I wonder if you might be missing the point of the concern. The code of conduct starts by saying "Our mission is...". That sounds like it is trying to articulate the mission of the Stack Exchange network and of its users -- not the mission of one subgroup of employees. I suggest changing that wording in the code of conduct. I don't think a description of your team's mission belongs in the code of conduct for everyone. – D.W. Jul 3 at 18:29
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    @KristinaLustig (Along the same lines as DW...) I think the ideal preamble / mission statement for the document would be one from which the points in the rest of the CoC naturally follow. The current one doesn't really work since it misses the importance of "content" (ie, questions and answers, not simply help and learning)... something like "building a learning resource through a community that is rooted in ..." would be one step in that direction. Then "Focus on the content, not the person" seems totally consistent with "be welcoming" (while otherwise these might seem contradictory). – Frank Jul 3 at 18:45
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    What's hilarious about this is that you're attempting to fix something that isn't broken. How many times have you read on this page that "nearly all / most / a majority of people don't do this?" You have a solution looking for a problem, and do you really think enforcing and implementing all of this won't cause issues itself? All of the hate speech and discrimination nonsense could be put down to "No personal attacks". – LM_Fielding Jul 4 at 11:03
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    @LM_Fielding - 1. I don't consider hate speech and discrimination "nonsense" at all. To me, at least, it is completely unacceptable. 2. Generally you have laws even against things only a few people would do. It is good to be explicit and say "this is wrong". A law forbidding something most people do would be a lot more problematic, but as you've said yourself, this isn't the case here. – Kobi Jul 4 at 11:26
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    Hate speech isn't a meaningful concept, and I didn't say discrimination is nonsense I was talking about how dividing people into an infinite number of categories to resolve issues regarding is idiotic when one could simply be against personal attacks, since all mentioned characteristics are personal and unrelated to code. Stackexchange isn't a justice system, it's a question and answer service. It doesn't need complex "laws". Be explicit against personal attacks then, rather than being redundant for the sake of virtue signalling. A gay programmer is a programmer, nothing more. – LM_Fielding Jul 4 at 14:07
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    Re the mission statement: don't forget that the CoC is for the whole network, not just SO. – Peter Taylor Jul 4 at 16:48
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    @PeterTaylor - I chose to quote SO because while it is true the CoC is meant for the whole network, I believe SO is the main motivation here. SO is the biggest site and the most visible: this causes these problems to be amplified, leading to SO getting the most criticism regarding its inclusiveness, welcomeness, and overall culture. – Kobi Jul 4 at 17:52
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    @TRiGisTimothyRichardGreen: "Virtue Signalling" is when someone performs an action designed to show how "virtuous" they are. Such as explicitly calling out individual "protected groups" instead of a general policy, because it is viewed as more virtuous to protect, say, trans-gender people instead of protecting everyone. – Zan Lynx Jul 5 at 19:45
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    @PeterTaylor: Every other site has similar language. For example, here's ELL's: "With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about learning the English language." – Nathan Tuggy Jul 5 at 19:49
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    @Kobi The problem is whenever laws are expanded in such a way that they can (will) become totalitarian. After the so-hated blog post about Be Nice enforcement the new mentality has already been weaponized to silence people for disagreeing. – Ethan The Brave Jul 6 at 17:42

I'm not seeing a whole lot in here about meeting our primary expectation: show effort. I see lots about being more welcoming and not use subtle put downs and the effect of no effort, but the only nod we have to meeting our quality standards is, "Follow our guidelines".

If we're going to be showing this to new users, I think making it understood that we're different and we expect more, we need to acknowledge that we are different, and that our expectations very much include a level of effort almost no other site (at least, that I know of) has.

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    We also have the revamped /ask page going, which is shaping up to put much more emphasis on pointing out to users where effort seems to be missing. I'm not sure if that weight should fall equally on the CoC or not, but feedback that it seems a little too weighted in favor of those not in the know is definitely standing out. Or, tl;dr; if it were more prominent in places we're more certain new folks will read, would you still find it as lacking in this document? – Tim Post Jul 3 at 16:28
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    This is useful information, but I don't think it really fits in a Code of Conduct. – HDE 226868 Jul 3 at 16:28
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    @TimPost If we're pointing out that, "You could Google this in 5 seconds" is unwelcoming, then I feel it's important that we include the reason people post those in the first place. Otherwise it seems we're placing greater weight on being welcoming than we are on showing effort, which seems...off, to me. Doesn't have to be much; just in the "If you’re here to get help..." section, extend it from, "Follow our guidelines..." to, "Follow our guidelines, show effort, ...", for example. That is our core expectation, after all; it deserves mentioning. – fbueckert Jul 3 at 16:34
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    @fbueckert: "then I feel it's important that we include the reason people post those in the first place" In the Code of Conduct itself? I fail to see how that helps. One of the most important things about teaching someone something is focus. The Code of Conduct is meant to deal with specific behavior; additional statements which do not serve this purpose aren't helpful, no matter how well-meaning such a statement might be. The goal is to explain what is reasonable behavior when addressing one another, not to achieve balance between people. – Nicol Bolas Jul 3 at 17:07
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    @NicolBolas And you don't feel that not including it, but giving an example of, "you should have Googled it" doesn't weight the conduct more towards being welcoming than enforcing our standards? I get that it's not so much a conduct thing, but I can't help but feel that this is going to come back to bite us, because I believe we're going to get new users pointing to the conduct as justification for not having to meet our standards. – fbueckert Jul 3 at 17:13
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    Perhaps instead of (or in addition to) "Follow our guidelines", a phrase such as "Be eager to learn", "Show interest in your own question", or "Be engaged with your problem" would help with this. The onus on the helpers is "be supportive while others are learning," while the onus on those being helped is simply "follow our guidelines and don't worry if others suggest changes or edit your question." There should be an ask stronger than "don't worry" to match "be supportive." – Scott Mermelstein Jul 3 at 17:15
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    @fbueckert We must set expectations of new users accurately, "you're not going to get a whole lot of help here unless you can fill in all these fields" - so I totally agree that we need more language, it's just the where that I don't agree with. There's lots of places where new users can go sideways, posting comments as answers is another major pain point, but we're not explicitly calling that out in the CoC. You're right that we need more, but perhaps 'just in time' is a better strategy? – Tim Post Jul 3 at 17:41
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    @fbueckert: Different problems require different solutions. Telling people up-front that low-effort questions aren't appropriate is more likely to be helpful than sticking it in some Code of Conduct page. Confront the user at the appropriate time: when they're trying to ask questions. Don't bury it in some 1000 word document. – Nicol Bolas Jul 3 at 17:42
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    @TimPost I'm open for more improvements, and I'm all on-board with setting those expectations accurately. As long as those get set, and we see that effort being made, I suppose it doesn't have to be in the codes of conduct. But it just really rubs me the wrong way when I see absolutely no effort questions. Maybe I'm just heavily biased against laziness, and I want that expectation front and center. I guess it'd depend on exactly where that expectation goes, so seeing an example would go a long way to assuaging my fears. – fbueckert Jul 3 at 17:47
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    @NicolBolas Seems like "follow the quality requirements" is part of conduct to me, no? – ɥʇǝS Jul 3 at 18:37
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    -1 for "show effort"; "I'm sorry, but... When I'm trying to solve a problem and searching for similar questions on Stack Overflow, I really don't care how much effort the asker demonstrates in his question". I want question askers to ask clear, answerable, non-duplicate questions whose answers will provide value to future readers. If it takes a week to craft such a question and it ends up 10 paragraphs and a code block long, so be it; but if it achievable in 60 seconds with two sentences, that's also fine. Effort is a means, not a goal. – Mark Amery Jul 4 at 8:21
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    @MarkAmery Writing a clear, answerable, non-duplicate question is effort. It shows attention paid to writing out the problem, and likely prior research since it's not a duplicate. I'm not advocating spending hours or days on a question for the sake of it. I'm just saying we have standards that most of the rest of the internet doesn't, and it's generally a major pain point for new users. The simplest way I can think of to distill it is to say, "show effort". – fbueckert Jul 4 at 11:54
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    @fbueckert: In my experience, very few users see writing clear, answerable, non-duplicate questions as effort (at least, not enough to satisfy their definition of "effort"). – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jul 5 at 3:33
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    @TimPost A thought struck me; once we implement this code of conduct, and make our expectations clear, new users will still be free to ignore it all entirely. Any chance we might be able to make the question ban stricter, so there's ess crap curators have to wade through from users who have demonstrated no ability or desire to conform? – fbueckert Jul 5 at 13:25
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    @TimPost, yes, the CoC needs to address this. Otherwise, "No [...] unwelcoming language" is in conflict with "Address it directly." If I tell someone that their question or answer is lacking (relative to our expectations as given in the CoC), then they are likely to perceive it as negative and unwelcoming, no matter how carefully I word my comment. And we really do want "Address it directly", because the mods can't do it all on their own, and because I don't anyway want to foster a culture of calling in an enforcer whenever something's wrong. – John Bollinger Jul 5 at 18:23
up vote 261 down vote
+100

I'm a bit worried about how specific and absolute the following bit is:

If someone points out that your behavior is making others uncomfortable, stop doing it. Sometimes, people unconsciously say things that negatively affect others. Even if this wasn’t your intent, apologize and move on.

It reads to me like it allows for no exceptions, and might very, very easily be misused. Just like you sometimes have a storm of chat flags for 'offensive' messages raised on a conversation where people are discussing the weather reports for that day (figuratively), phrasing it in such an absolute way might make this an ideal rule for rules-lawyering and chatroom/comment/post trolling.

I've been on both sides of this: One time I was drawn into a chatroom conversation on periods, and when another user came by and pointed out the amount of detail was uncomfortable for them (I must admit, on closer inspection, it probably crossed the PG13 line), the conversation stopped and we moved on.

On the other hand, I've seen users in the chatroom that weren't acting in good faith, and they'd have a field day with this 'rule', shouting they're uncomfortable with the topic just to stop the conversation and obstruct the community building a good discussion or conversation can achieve. Even discussing site policy in a chatroom might then be cut down.

I'm honestly not sure on how this could be worded better though. On the one hand, I agree we need to be aware that if someone says 'this is making me uncomfortable', people should stop and think, apologize and move on, and people should not be afraid to speak up out of fear of being excluded. On the other hand, I also would hate to see every little thing cut down with an 'I'm no longer comfortable, let's never discuss this!'. I've learned a lot from constructively having uncomfortable conversations.

Is the 'others' here deliberately chosen to point out that there needs to be more than one person uncomfortable before you actually need to take such a complaint seriously?

Who's the someone that get's to decide when my behavior is making others uncomfortable and should stop? There are probably situations where people not seeing the problem will say the others are being <...>, and feel empowered to just continue because not one of them has ever experienced their behavior as a problem. So, leaving it entirely to one's own discretion or that of a group of users might not work?

  • 7
    Agree that it's a thorny matter and not easy to word any better... but at the very least the "someone... others" construction could be changed to "someone... them." I.e. If I tell you that I'm uncomfortable with the conversation, that's a darn sight better than if I say that "this may be causing (nebulous) others discomfort." – nitsua60 Jul 3 at 18:43
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    I'd go further and point out that being told an answer I've put a lot of work into is wrong makes me uncomfortable - at least if my critic is right. Some unhappiness is inevitable in any environment where people's hard work gets criticised by others, because recognising that you've done a bad job at something you cared about is inherently uncomfortable for most people, me included. And yet Stack Overflow needs criticism to function properly, and that means, almost by definition, that it needs at least some behaviours that genuinely and predictably cause discomfort to be permitted. – Mark Amery Jul 3 at 18:44
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    Certainly, ROs and mods should be able to step into a room and say "cut it out." Problem is there's a whole spectrum of issues here, I suppose. 1. The chatizen who is bothered but is nervous about speaking up. 2. The chatizen who has seen people be bothered by the activity in question, in this room and wants to speak up. 3. The chatizen who has seen people be bothered by the activity in question but not in this room who thinks maybe they should speak up. 4. The chatizen who's trollishly manipulating others' genuine concern. In any case, this'll also apply the second bullet of Chat TL;DR – nitsua60 Jul 3 at 18:57
  • 2
    The tone used in speaking up can have an effect in the way it is received. If you come out swinging and linking to blog posts/CoC you're likely to be pushed back against. – Kevin B Jul 3 at 19:03
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    I'd hate to see people receiving pushback because of a technicality in their message... – Tinkeringbell Jul 3 at 19:32
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    Reading the Exact Words, the complaint has to point out a "behavior [that] is making others uncomfortable". So more than one person has to be uncomfortable, not merely the person complaining? – Paul Jul 4 at 3:59
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    Isn't the other side of the sentence also available for an easy fix? Rather than the absolute "stop", what if it's simply "If someone points out that your behavior is making others uncomfortable, strongly consider stopping what you're doing." – Mike M Jul 4 at 9:14
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    I know for a fact many questions on skeptics, politics, philosophy and interpersonal relations will make people unconfortable. On the first page of politics, for example, we have: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/31938; politics.stackexchange.com/questions/16025; politics.stackexchange.com/questions/31948/…; politics.stackexchange.com/questions/590; politics.stackexchange.com/questions/31871 – josinalvo Jul 4 at 16:06
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    The passage is simply horrible because according to my current knowledge nobody is able to read minds. At least if myself is targeted, I can voice my concern (and even then I can abuse it to suppress criticism because nobody actually can confirm or refute that I am uncomfortable). Other people who have no insight in other people's mind should speak for them?! I would like to retain the normative power to be offended or being uncomfortable for myself and nobody else, thank you very much. As Tinkeringbell pointed out, this is a feast for trolls. – Thorsten S. Jul 4 at 19:42
  • 4
    Apart from that, SE has so many different cultures and viewpoints that not offending anyone will be quite a task. So what cultural standard do we use to decide if something is uncomfortable for a person? – Thorsten S. Jul 4 at 19:44
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    @Mark Amery: Yeah, a lot of this niceness/kindness/compassion stuff seems to be boiling down to "stop telling people things they don't want to hear". Yeah, well, telling someone that their behavior is unacceptable is making them uncomfortable - look at the people getting angry that a CoC is being written at all (not referring to those who have specific issues with the draft). – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jul 5 at 3:50
  • 3
    As a guideline it is good, the question is always if it is a law. A guideline is something, which may be wrong sometimes, but is true most the time and people can judge it case by case. A law means it must be acted up on, which is a problem with many cocs which seems not to be present here. – allo Jul 5 at 11:56
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    I think it's great to have a cultural expectation to try to avoid causing others discomfort, including making reasonable accommodation that could involve closing off lines of discussion. But I agree that coming down fully on the side of any person who becomes uncomfortable for any reason is not sensible or workable. We should make reasonable accommodation to try to avoid causing most discomfort. That's a codification of "be nice". But nobody has a right to expect never to be made uncomfortable. Part of being nice to others is growing a thick skin. – John Bollinger Jul 5 at 18:48
  • 3
    @Tinkeringbell We were talking about the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct in the comments linked. Also, people are (currently) free to speak up and be taken seriously on Stack Exchange - a lot freer than most places anyway. I agree though that a Code of Conduct is not a bad idea, but these policies are being drafted up like safe-space-culture totalitarian 'laws' and I'm going to be railing against them until i see something different. – Ethan The Brave Jul 6 at 18:17
up vote 251 down vote
+50

No subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language

(emphasis mine).

I get that the idea is to broadly categorize "not nice" but it seems to me like this is easily mis-interpreted.

Are:

  • Sorry, but this question is too broad. A good Stack Overflow question doesn't encompass an entire program, but a specific programming problem.
  • Questions are expected to be in English on Stack Overflow, until this is translated this question will be put on hold (for languages without a localized version)
  • Questions asking for an off-site resource are considered off-topic on Stack Overflow.

problematic? I would assume the sane answer is no but none of them are particularly welcoming. Quite the opposite, they all say your question is not welcome here. And those questions aren't welcome here. And yet; they could easily be contrived to violate the CoC.

OPs already respond shall we say, negatively, to very similar comments (no snarkasm) all the time. Quite commonly with something along the lines of:

You don't have to be such a jerk and downvote my question. I'm just looking for help

(Source: repeated experience. At least once a week, so common I wrote Why is "Can someone help me?" not an actual question? )

So reinforcing this behavior by stating that we have to be welcoming no matter what to any possible post seems like the wrong message to be sending, especially to the volunteers.

  • 81
    Indeed, the standard question closure reasons themselves pretty plainly contain "unwelcoming language" - that's their point. Supposedly banning "unwelcoming language" when it's a deliberate and important part of the site's official messaging is incoherent. – Mark Amery Jul 4 at 7:50
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    How about instead of "unwelcoming language" we say "exclusionary language"? I think language that excludes folks from the community is easier to identify than "unwelcoming" language. – ColleenV Jul 4 at 15:06
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    @ColleenV: Synonym hunting may be useful for fixing unclear meaning, but the phrase in question is both clear and wrong. Questions that are off-topic are unwelcome, excluded, discouraged, forbidden, and any similar word. – Ben Voigt Jul 5 at 5:21
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    @BenVoigt I think that "exclusionary language" has come to be strongly associated with excluding people (not content) and has a much more negative connotation than "unwelcoming". I think "not welcoming" is kind of a neutral response. I'm not particularly excited you're here, but I'm not trying to drive you away. It's kind of sad that we have to try to describe the difference between having content standards and being uncivil, but if we're going to do it we should try to pick the clearest language we can. Apparently "I know it when I see it" isn't a good enough standard. – ColleenV Jul 5 at 12:52
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    @ColleenV: The problem is that the connotations that you associate with it, are not shared by every user worldwide. Therefore it's important that the plain English meaning makes sense, not just what the author strongly associates it with. – Ben Voigt Jul 5 at 13:29
  • imho: The distinction should be: * welcoming towards the participants themselves, but * unwelcome towards bad question and bad behaviour. ... Calling out bad behaviour and off-topic or poor questions should be acceptable, provided that it doesn't get personal. (This distinction should be made clear in the CoC.) – Disillusioned Jul 8 at 7:29
  • Further to my previous comment, and something to be considered independently of this Q&A: more effort should be put into providing template responses to unwelcome behaviour. Sometimes people take criticism of their bad behaviour personally simply because they realise it reflects poorly on them (even if there's nothing personal about the criticism). So template comments with parameter fields can assist in allowing commenters to provide the feedback with minimum risk of causing unintended offence. – Disillusioned Jul 8 at 7:43
  • just say exclusionary of a protected class (and enumerate the protected classes: gender, race, cis/trans, gay/straight, nationality -- with the caveat that the sites operate in one or two languages each). Just say what you mean, and be narrow. It'll be better to add classes latter, than to end up with people that misinterpret the rule completely – josinalvo Jul 9 at 14:06
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    I just asked a question and someone added a comment saying "This might be an XY problem. [...]". This really upset me (pissed me off). Saying that my question is an XY problem basically comes down to saying that I'm stupid and don't know what I want or how to formulate it. Does this mean that person should stop using that phrase? Or will a moderator decide if he is right (and I DID ask the wrong question)? Bottom line, people WILL be offended ALL of the time. You can't use their feelings as a guideline, ever. – Carlo Wood Jul 9 at 15:53
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    @CarloWood: The "X Y problem" was created deliberately and specifically for helping newcomers with their questions, but you're reading it as insulting. The very last thing it intends to do is insult people or tell them they are stupid. That you've decided to interpret it this way is unfortunate, but I don't really see how there's much we can do about that. – Robert Harvey Jul 12 at 19:00
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    @CarloWood Sorry to hear that you had such a negative experience. What would be a different terminology which would get the same information to you (or to other askers) without feeling insulting? I am assuming here that you indeed had an XY problem. If you didn't (I never saw your question and cannot judge that), please answer for a hypothetical case in which you do have it, because we do need some way to explain that to people, and having been at the receiving end, you are probably better qualified to suggest a better term. – rumtscho Jul 12 at 19:09
  • @rumtscho My main point was my last line, related to the new CoC. Nevertheless, to answer your question; the reason it annoyed me (would be the better word) is because I don't ask XY questions (to put into perspective, I have been coding 40 years and an IQ of 165). When I ask a question at guru level and someone approaches you as if you're a little kid, then that is annoying. I don't see how that can be changed either; I was just using this case as an example of why you shouldn't write a CoC saying that if you do or say something that upsets people that then you're automatically wrong. – Carlo Wood Jul 13 at 23:48
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    @RobertHarvey- but you've missed the point. Carlo was made (very) uncomfortable by the "XY problem" comment, and therefore it is quite clearly unacceptable under the stated CoC. There's absolutely no wriggle room in the CoC for whether the offence was intended - in fact quite the opposite, it's very clear that Carlo's reaction alone makes that "XY problem" wording unacceptable under the this CoC. – Stuart Whitehouse Jul 16 at 14:54
  • @CarloWood So you're really offended that someone suggests you might be going down the wrong rabbit hole? I would think that with someone of 40 years of coding experience and a high IQ would take it in stride and be eager to hear alternative ideas. Perhaps the alternative ideas don't pan out, but it seems silly to get worked up at the mere suggestion that you might have posed an XY problem. – mason Jul 16 at 16:29
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    @35093731895230467514051 I'm not sure what you are getting at; I think SE agrees that its not enforced (which is why its part of the proposed CoC). This answer is pointing out that the "unwelcoming language" bit is so broad as to be actively harmful to our moderation tasks. – BradleyDotNET Jul 18 at 3:22

No subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language. Regardless of intent, this behavior can have a significant negative impact on others. For example, saying “You could Google this in 5 seconds” is a subtle put-down.

This reads like I'm stranded in a scifi dystopia. Now I have a language police. Great.

Beloved Citizen of the most free Democratic People's Republic. Please kindly check your language before you use it. Should you accidentally overstep the boundaries set by our beloved guidelines, our helpful employees of the department of oral corrections will gently escort you to the nearest improvement facility.

Now that sounds like a fun land to live in, doesn't it?


I don't care about polite or sugar coating. What I would want to see is friendly and constructive. Please note that friendly is not the same as polite. I can lose a hand in poker to friend, flash a big smile and say "you are an asshole" and it might be friendly. In my country police officers are polite and will ask you to "please come with me, sir" but you can tell that they are not friendly. That's plain politeness. I have little use for the latter, but I expect the former from a community. Both would be ideal, but my priorities are on friendliness, not politeness. Politeness is an empty gesture. Like wearing a suit. I prefer a friend in jeans any day over an idiot in a suit.

So lets give it a try without that language police involved:

Be friendly and constructive. If you have to criticize, help the user by showing up a way to improve. For example, saying "you could have Googled this" is not adding any value on the path to a solution to the given problem. Instead, "This is called Invariance and Covariance, put it into Google, there are tutorials that can explain it much better than we can in a comment here." gives a clear direction how to proceed forward.

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    that can explain it much better than we can in a comment Well...that's what answers are for, really, not comments. But I see the point trying to be made: there are resources, research was not done, and we would like to communicate to the asker that this is the case. – Draco18s Jul 3 at 21:02
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    @Draco18s While true, the instances I posted something like this, the actual explanation on Google was too long for an answer and the whole question should have been closed as "too broad". But I think such a comment is better then just the VtC, because it points to something to do, instead of simply telling somebody "no". – nvoigt Jul 3 at 21:05
  • Oh I agree that the comment is indeed appropriate. I'm just quibbling over the language of that comment. – Draco18s Jul 3 at 21:06
  • English is not my native language, I'm open to improvements. I think you got what I'm trying to say though. – nvoigt Jul 3 at 21:09
  • *Salute* Just trying to help. :) – Draco18s Jul 3 at 21:29
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    You have some constructive feedback here that I'd like to see incorporated into the CoC, but then you preface it with a LOT of sarcasm. Is the sarcasm really necessary? If your answer just started at the line, it would be a good comment – FuzzyChef Jul 3 at 22:07
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    @FuzzyChef You're being the language police referred to in the answer. – DBedrenko Jul 4 at 10:48
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    @FuzzyChef I think it's a good means to transport how much I loathe the idea of a language police (or policy). Without it, it would basically be "this could be improved" and that's only half of what I want to say. It can be improved because as written it's so oppressive it would make most dictators proud. That half should not be lost. However, I do appreciate your comment on how it could be better from your point of view. As long as there is no secret mod society suspending me for my language, I'm perfectly fine openly discussing it's use with anybody. – nvoigt Jul 4 at 16:38
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    +1 for the wording suggestion at the end, but I really agree the sarcasm at the start doesn't help you make a case. That kind of thing has people flip the bozo bit and decide the rest isn't worth reading, so I'm hoping people will be reading the second half in spite of the first half. Pointing out people will be afraid that it's a trap they might fall into is also pretty reasonable, but I would wish it wasn't also buried among the sarcasm. – doppelgreener Jul 5 at 8:38
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    The sarcasm made me understand clearly the point at first glance, without need of excessive and confuse explanation. +1 – Bacco Jul 5 at 17:13
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    I would change that middle line to "there are tutorials that can explain it much better than we can in an answer here.". Then it becomes clear that the post is actually too broad in that example. – The Great Duck Jul 6 at 1:53
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    Your rewording is so much better than the original, I'm impressed. This is exactly the sort of improvement that I'm talking about in my answer; you've taken it further. – Wildcard Jul 6 at 3:18
  • @Draco18s Answers are supposed to be self contained. Link-only answers are not considered good style, so a comment is more than appropriate for this kind of situation. – FUZxxl Jul 6 at 10:31
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    @FuzzyChef While I wouldn't have chosen to use sarcasm in an answer to this question myself, there's no reason to assume the contempt is for a specific person rather than for the idea (an idea that, yes, may steer people in the direction of being a specific badly-acting person later on -- but that's nobody here, and it's the purpose of this debate to avoid such outcomes). That's a critical distinction. "Let our ideas die in our place": rather in the spirit of this website, I would say. – Croad Langshan Jul 8 at 20:55
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    Good point. I also like the humor (no idea why some people call it sarcasm). If someone asks a question and you want to help them, then you can give a (friendly) answer. If the stupidness of the OP, or his lack of research etc, upsets you to the point that you want to make him feel bad for it (subtly, we wouldn't want to be tapped on the fingers by the moderators) then just click away and answer another question. The key here is to be (warm) friendly and thus helpful only, without shining through irritation. +1 – Carlo Wood Jul 9 at 16:06

No discrimination of any kind. This includes any language likely to offend or alienate people based on (but not limited to): ...English fluency,...

It seems strange to say that we shouldn't/won't discriminate based on English fluency. I think the goal of including "English fluency" in the above list is to stop people from saying subtle put-downs like: "Did you pass second grade?", "Do you speak English?", etc. But that seems to be handled by other sections of the Code of Conduct. More importantly, most Stack Exchange sites must discriminate on the basis of English fluency.

For an extreme example, if a fluent Spanish speaker has zero English fluency, they should not and cannot post on the default Stack Overflow (English) site. This is true for most Stack Exchange sites. Of course the same would be true for non-English sites like Stack Overflow (Russian). The community members there discriminate against me. Since I'm not fluent in the language, I cannot post there.

The best possible interpretation of including "English fluency" in the list of attributes that cannot be discriminated against is that you are trying to stop subtle put-downs directed towards people who write mostly understandable posts, but with minor flaws that often come with not being a native speaker. The worst interpretation is that this is Stack Overflow (the company) once again trying to lower the standards (in a top-down way) so that anyone can participate and not feel left out.

Either way, it seems like this is an unnecessary element in the Code of Conduct since subtle put-downs based on language fluency are already disallowed and discrimination based on whether people can communicate is necessary on every Stack Exchange site.

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    @empty, I agree with most of what you said. I'm happy for anyone to contribute to StackOverflow whether they are a native speaker or just recently learned English. But there is still a standard on all the sites that you must be able to communicate, and that requires a certain level of English fluency. If people are under a certain level, we cannot communicate and thus those posters will be discriminated against by having posts deleted. The same is true for me if I tried to post on Russian StackOverflow. – stiemannkj1 Jul 3 at 17:25
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    Google Translate is a beautiful thing. But it has its limits. :-) – empty Jul 3 at 17:28
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    @empty The people who "successfully ask and answer questions on SO" are those with good enough English to be welcome here. I think stiemannkj1's point is more in the spirit of "you're not tall enough to ride this ride": it's not their fault and they're welcome back when they're taller, but they can't do it now. (That said, I think the proposed policy would still allow deleting those questions, we just couldn't explain to them why, or would have to be hyper-polite in doing so and hope they're fluent enough to pick up on that.) – Jeffrey Bosboom Jul 3 at 17:43
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    @empty as a non-native speaker, I follow stiemannkj1 actually. If I can't comprehend what you're asking, it's impossible to help you. I don't expect correct grammar, punctuation or sentence structure (most native speakers can't get that right either). As long as I can understand what you're asking, all is fine. But there have been a significant amount of questions consisting of a seemingly random sequence of close-to-english words that don't make sense regardless of the order you put them in. – Joris Meys Jul 3 at 17:48
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    @JorisMeys I agree that a question has to be comprehensible. Word-for-word translation of high context languages like Japanese is poetic but very difficult to understand. But the point is about fluency. I can make myself understood very well in French and Spanish but I would hardly call myself fluent. Fluency is "the ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately or the ability to express oneself easily and articulately." As long as somebody can get their meaning across, I'm fine with answering their question and even editing it. – empty Jul 3 at 18:04
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    @empty I think we're understanding "English fluency" in the context of the CoC differently. You seem to be understanding it as meaning " one who is fluent in English" whereas I understand it to mean "the degree to which one is fluent in English". stiemannkj1, I think, is not proposing that we discriminate against people who are not fluent in English, but that we discriminate against people who are below a certain threshold of fluency (that is the degree to which they are fluent). – called2voyage Jul 3 at 18:20
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    I tend to disagree a little bit here. Discrimination on English fluency is different than just stating that a contributor should be more clear, and shouldn't contribute if they're not. Stating that an answer is ambiguous and should be clarified is OK; stating that the answer is understandable for you but might not be for others because of millions of grammar and syntax errors isn't OK, and the answer should be edited, not criticized because of that. – EKons Jul 3 at 18:43
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    Thanks @JorisMeys for your clarifying comments. I agree with most of what you said. I do think we need to expect a certain level of correct grammar, punctuation, sentence structure etc. as well though. You could make the argument that we need that structure for the less-fluent folks. As a native speaker, I find it pretty easy to decipher broken English in most cases, but less fluent people might have even more trouble understanding grammatically incorrect language. – stiemannkj1 Jul 3 at 18:50
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    Also, if we consider that many if not most of the traffic to these sites is for technical Q&A, it's important to be extremely clear in communication. That's hard even for native speakers, but may be impossible for someone who just learned English last month. – stiemannkj1 Jul 3 at 18:51
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    @ΈρικΚωνσταντόπουλος, are you saying it's not okay for users to respond to a poorly written post by saying: "Please fix your grammar."? It seems like you are saying that people should never criticize a post for being riddled with grammatical errors but should take it upon ourselves to fix the issues. I have no problem with people fixing grammar, but I also have no problem with people saying: "The grammar in this post is poor, and the post is hard to understand because of it. Please fix it." I don't think posters are entitled to have others fix their writing. – stiemannkj1 Jul 3 at 18:59
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    I cannot help but to discriminate based on English fluency. If a person is not fluent enough in English for me to understand the question, I cannot help them with whatever their problem is. – nvoigt Jul 3 at 19:00
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    I would be beware of double standards. I have lost countless hours improve the English of others posts (and mine), with a special mention honour to a very good answer of a Russian user, where it was quite difficult to all all the adjectives missing. However, some low quality answers are beyond help. If the OP is not willing to invest his time in a good question for his own benefit, why should the onus fall on others? – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 3 at 23:10
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    One of the first sentences says: "Our mission is to build an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of... language." As far as I know, all people are not welcome regardless of language and English is a requirement for most sites. Given that this sentence seems to be an overarching preamble, I would remove any mention of language from it and instead cover it in detail in the body. I think it should be made clear that English is required while also reassuring non-native speakers that they won't be discriminated against for an honest effort. – canadianer Jul 4 at 0:23
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    I'd upvote this twice if I could. :) I spend a lot of time helping OPs clarify their question, but sometimes the language barrier makes it very difficult. It can get frustrating, both for the OP and the commenters, when both sides have difficulty deciphering what the other side is saying. If the OP's fluency is too low, I just VTC as "Unclear", and move on, but in borderline classes I like to try & help. – PM 2Ring Jul 4 at 8:28
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    (cont) Of course, there's no excuse to be rude to someone due to their low English fluency. Sometimes I suggest they get a friend to help them rewrite the post with better English, but I suppose that could be interpreted as a put-down if it's not said carefully, or if the OP is feeling defensive. I'm a little concerned that the CoC may discourage people from making helpful comments in good faith, for fear that they will be perceived as being discriminatory. – PM 2Ring Jul 4 at 8:30

I'd like to see

Unacceptable Behavior

No subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language. Regardless of intent, this behavior can have a significant negative impact on others. For example, saying “You could Google this in 5 seconds” is a subtle put-down.

Extended to include something like:

If other community members have decided to offer you constructive feedback and suggest improvements, do not insult or harass them for it. For instance, insults (subtle or obvious) against users who chose to moderate your contributions is not acceptable. "Which idiot downvoted this?!" would be an example of unacceptable conduct.

This would make it clear that this policy and code of conduct cuts both ways, and would serve to assuage fears that volunteers are being asked to make an undue extra effort to be welcoming while no such effort is expected from new users. I'm sure that's not your intention in formulating this, but why not be proactive to dispel such fears right now? It'd work fine to further explain this paragraph, too:

If you’re here to get help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Our community is made possible by volunteers. Follow our guidelines and don't worry if others suggest changes or edit your question - they’re trying to make your question helpful to as many people as possible.

I'm also confused why serial voting and sockpuppetry is included in the code of conduct - that seems more like a terms of service technicality thing. From my reading of it, the code of conduct deals exclusively with intrapersonal and social conduct perusing the network, while a sockpuppet account is technically gaming the system to multiply or amplify your voting power - not something you'd normally conflate with actual verbal or written abuse.

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    I cannot iterate enough, I agree with putting some focus on, not being abusive towards those members who choose to help moderate the quality of the contributions (through the review queue). While there have been instances of, where I have unintentionally was always been a perfect gentlemen towards other users, I believe those exceptions were sometimes caused by subtle abusive behavior directed towards me (i.e. users who disagreed with a flag/close vote). I sometimes have difficulity determining when it's time for a flag. – Ramhound Jul 3 at 16:48
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    I really like the phrasing of your last paragraph - "the code of conduct deals exclusively with intrapersonal and social conduct" - this is something that bothered me too, but you've said it much better. – Kobi Jul 3 at 18:43
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    I strongly disagree. The proposed new sentences have too much emphasis on the negative. Insult, harass, idiot, unacceptable. – Wildcard Jul 3 at 18:56
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    @Wildcard So do you want to remove the other examples then too? The example Magisch provided is something that happens everyday. – ɥʇǝS Jul 3 at 19:58
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    Re: serial voting & sockpuppetry - agree this could probably be removed. – Donna Jul 3 at 20:46
  • Re: being clearer that the CoC cuts both ways - I hear your point and would love more information. Do you have more examples of misconduct toward users who moderate content quality? I'm particularly interested in examples of subtle insults that you've directly observed/experienced. cc @Ramhound – Donna Jul 3 at 20:49
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    @Donna If you want some examples of not-so-subtle comments, you can see some here. – fbueckert Jul 3 at 21:15
  • @Donna It’s been a combination of small things over 7 years. While I might have came on too strong in some cases, I have been called a drug addict, in a recent case after I thought the question was about Office 2003 instead of Office 2013. In other cases I have been insulted for throwing possible duplicate flags on question. I often, if I believe I will be attacked for flagging a question, will delete the “possible duplicate” comment to avoid being pinged by the author. – Ramhound Jul 3 at 22:30
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    Here is an example of the hostility that is often received by users of the review queue. I linked the question in a chat, and the user apparently decided to delete their account (they had answered numerous questions), instead of serving their suspension (to the credit of the moderators it happened quickly). – Ramhound Jul 3 at 22:39
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    Thanks for sharing. These are really helpful (although I'm sorry y'all had to dig these not-so-nice things up). I think we can be clearer that the CoC cuts both ways. – Donna Jul 3 at 22:46
  • @Donna I dug up a compilation of just some that another user has compiled here. If you can ignore the general tone of the answer, I don't think they were making any of those up. Often times it also takes on the form of something like "Which idiot downvoted this" or "If you don't want to answer, stop annoying me" or similar such lesser put downs. Not entirely grating in and of itself, albeit very discouraging. – Magisch Jul 4 at 6:18
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    Serial downvoting is a clear example of "not being welcoming" so it has its place in the Code of Conduct. I would also add serial deletion of proper answers without a reasonable motive, but that only happens on IPS so it would be site-specific. – Andrea Lazzarotto Jul 4 at 9:58
  • @Magisch Interestingly enough that question is locked, you cannot upvote it and on its way for deletion. We all have been on the receiving end of similar comments when helping with moderation, there is no way around beating the bush trying to ignore it. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 4 at 10:56
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    I used to just ignore minor annoyances like 'If you don't know answer, just move on and stop with the toxic downvoting'. I will now r/a flag any such comments immediately. – Martin James Jul 4 at 14:18
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    I've got pretty thick skin, so unless someone's being pretty vicious, I generally don't flag as rude, even if they're attacking me. But I think I might have to start, as currently I try to welcome new users, but clearly they often don't deserve that level of leeway. – fbueckert Jul 4 at 14:55

I'd like to add some additional clarity to Our Expectations

  1. If you’re here to help others, be patient and welcoming. Learning how to participate in our community can be daunting, especially if someone is new. Be supportive while others are learning.

    Yeah, the whole welcoming bit didn't go so well. It's too vague. This is aimed squarely at curators, and I wrote a Meta.SO about why curators are cynical. So I would proposed this

    If you're here to answer questions, or moderate content, please remember to support the questioner as well. We want people to feel that they can get answers (it's why we exist). While not every question deserves an answer, remember to be kind to the person who asked it. Explaining constructively what would help get an answer, or what rules were broken, can help the questioner learn.

    We're no longer being vague. We're talking to a specific group (one SO/SE needs) and offering concrete things to be done. Avoid using welcoming if at all possible. Nobody knows exactly what that means.

  2. If you’re here to get help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Our community is made possible by volunteers. Follow our guidelines and don't worry if others suggest changes or edit your question - they’re trying to make your question helpful to as many people as possible.

    In keeping with the rewrite of #1, let's offer some concrete suggestions

    If you're here to ask questions, please listen to the criticism of others. We want your question to help not just you, but anyone else with that question as well. To that end, other users may edit your question, leave comments and possibly even close your question. Pay attention to what these actions are trying to tell you. Other people are volunteering their time to help you, and in turn by helping the site be helpful to others. Respect them by trying to work with them. Most of the time, taking criticism can help you get the answers you need.

    This is much more "big picture" in its advice. Suddenly curators aren't bad guys who want you to feel stupid, they're people who want to help, but perhaps not in the way you were expecting. Closing questions is being helpful, but may not seem welcoming to a new user.

  3. Be friendly, clear, and constructive. Editing, commenting, and sharing feedback are healthy parts of our community. When giving feedback, avoid jokes and sarcasm -- tone is hard to decipher online. Be open to receiving constructive feedback.

    Mostly this is talking about tone. I think this misses the crux of the issue though. People are reading too much into some statements. For example here's one someone else listed

    A terse comment

    It was read as openly hostile, when I simply read it as a terse statement. It didn't attack anyone, it just stated facts. In other words it wasn't "welcoming enough". I think we need people to not necessarily be friendly, but to assume the best of intentions, absent any open attacks

    Be clear and constructive, while assuming the best about others. We want everyone to feel welcome here, but we also want people to get their questions answered. Assuming the best about others helps you the most, because it keeps you able to take constructive criticism instead of feeling insulted when no offense was meant. Remember, the intent of words is hard to discern online.

  4. If someone points out that your behavior is making others uncomfortable, stop doing it. Sometimes, people unconsciously say things that negatively affect others. Even if this wasn’t your intent, apologize and move on.

    So... what exactly happens to violators here? Are we going to hand out bans for people who made others felt "unwelcome", but weren't overtly rude or even belligerent? There's not a "be reasonable" exception here. A help vampire could wear someone's patience down and then turn it into a flaggable offense. Again, this could benefit from a more concrete standard

    Respect requests to stop behavior that is making others feel uncomfortable. Remember that no question, answer or comment is worth getting worked up over. If someone is making you upset, ask them to stop. Do your best to resolve it civilly with the other person or take a break from the situation. If they still won't stop, we may consider that harassment (see Unacceptable Behavior).

    This still largely preserves the original intent (no harassment) while adding an important directive to try and resolve it with the other person. Otherwise, people may feel free to run straight to mod flags for otherwise simple disagreements

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    I want to upvote this once for each point it makes. Especially calling out closing questions is being helpful, but may not seem welcoming to a new user and It was read as openly hostile, when I simply read it as a terse statement. It didn't attack anyone, it just stated facts. – Draco18s Jul 3 at 20:47
  • @Machavity: "It was read as openly hostile, when I simply read it as a terse statement. It didn't attack anyone, it just stated facts." The first sentence only made sense if we assume the OP isn't smart enough to know that, when an error message says a line number, that's where the error was detected. Reminding someone of something they obviously know is prima facie insulting. And the second sentence similarly didn't need to remind the OP they only posted 7 lines of code. The only useful information is "you didn't tell us what line 49 was." – Nicol Bolas Jul 4 at 0:48
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    @Nicol Expecting others to solve the problem, but withholding the information necessary to solve the problem - that's what is insulting. The "terseness" of comment serves as an example, it shows necessary level of precision that's expected when someone is stating the facts here. – artem Jul 4 at 5:53
  • @artem: I posted the much more terse comment without the insulting language: "You didn't tell us what line 49 was." That's the information that needs to be communicated. Terseness has nothing to do with being insulting. And how do you know that the OP is "withholding" anything? Were they unwilling to provide that information if it was requested in a non-condescending way? It seems to me that the OP may well have forgotten to mention it and needed a nudge. That's hardly an excuse for the insult. – Nicol Bolas Jul 4 at 5:59
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    I don't consider that comment insulting. How do I know the OP is "withholding"? Because they did not provide it in the question. Forgetting to mention something is not an excuse for wasting other people time. – artem Jul 4 at 6:07
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    @Nicol I agree that your comment is better. But I think the other comment is also OK, borderline but OK. I don't remember the exact details of that question and whether the necessary information was eventually provided or not, but if not - not providing information when asked shows the intent clearly. – artem Jul 4 at 6:23
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    @artem borderline? huh? It's obviously completely fine. The questioner just was not able to face the fiasco and thought it's a good idea to accuse other people of being unwelcoming, out of spite. – Sarge Borsch Jul 4 at 8:39
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    @NicolBolas "The first sentence only made sense if we assume the OP isn't smart enough to know that, when an error message says a line number, that's where the error was detected" - which may genuinely be the case. Don't underestimate the tendency of beginner programmers to not even try to read and understand the words that make up an error message, but instead to just write it off as technobabble that they have no hope of successfully interpreting. I don't think the first sentence is redundant; I think it's advice that some askers genuinely need. – Mark Amery Jul 4 at 9:14
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    I like basically every detail of this answer. I particularly like the fact that the guidance to askers doesn't presume that all criticism they'll receive is valid and that they should blindly follow instructions they're given, but instead asks them to "pay attention" to it and explicitly notes that guidance will only be useful "most of the time". – Mark Amery Jul 4 at 9:17
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    And finally, I agree completely with the point about the "uncomfortable" rule being ludicrously broad. Not only is there no "be reasonable" exception, but there isn't even an exception for disengaging from the interaction, which seems notable since ignoring someone is itself a behaviour that may make them uncomfortable. As written, the rule is basically a "Simon Says" clause; it amounts to "you are required to unquestioningly obey instructions from anybody who uses this magical sequence of words". – Mark Amery Jul 4 at 9:21
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    The comment in the screenshot could be improved: "The error says at line 49 and you posted line 1 to 7. Please add the relevant code around line 49 to the question". Just a nice question without implying that the poster is doing something wrong (even when he actually is) and something which can easily be acted on (just posting the relevant code). In the end it does not matter if he did it wrong, it matters that the mistake is corrected so the question can be answered. One big hint is the word "clearly", which makes your comment looking condescending, even when it is not intended that way. – allo Jul 5 at 12:06
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    @allo I've never claimed it was perfect. And your criticism is valid. But the problem is that it was held up as an example of "SO culture is rude/broken", when all I see is a frustrated user who has read the n-th "Why this no work?" question for today and no longer cares about being nice while still trying to not cross the rude line. Most of the time this subject comes up, it's only ever mentioned that the curators must change, without any acknowledgement of the fact that, without curators to tamp down the bad questions, SO would be overrun with bad questions and spam. – Machavity Jul 5 at 12:17
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    Agree with all of this, but specially point2. We want your question to help not just you, but anyone else with that question as well. Most new users totally miss this basic concept of SO and can get quite nasty when you try to improve or suggest they improve their questions. – RiggsFolly Jul 5 at 14:25
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    I would say that the sample comment is not offensive nor in any way rude. It's clearly telling the person to post their comment. If a mod came over and posted that comment while closing a post, I'd say the comment made complete sense. They are essentially telling the user they did wrong and they did do wrong. Sugarcoating that a user screwed up in some fashion shouldn't occur here. A mistake in the actual understanding of their problem is one thing, but a user failing to provide a proper query should allow for minor polite scolding by people who are in a place of authority. – The Great Duck Jul 6 at 2:06
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    One good part here is the last clarification: the suggested says if someone says you're making others uncomfortable while yours is suggesting if I feel uncomfortable I should say something. This is a great point. It shouldn't be someone saying for others, it should be me speaking up for myself. And we all can do that. And then it can't be abused with "I claim there are people uncomfortable but won't tell who and just want to police discussion so stop it now." – Sami Kuhmonen Jul 16 at 6:45

I've already added two answers of things I think should be changed based on objective criteria. This is subjective and my "feelings toward" things, so it's a separate post.

If you're a long-term contributor, how does this document impact your feelings toward new users and their needs, if at all?

If anything, it makes me reconsider whether I should help newcomers at all. I'm not here for gaming or other hobbies where a suspension might be a nuisance over the weekend, those SE sides are a side-effect of me hanging out on the professional sites. My account is a professional resource. (1) Of the 300+ days a year I use Stack Overflow, sometimes even before I had my first coffee, I'm sure there will be a day or two where I get snarky if I see a poster that shows no effort. I'm only human. I think it goes without saying, but I say it anyway: I'm talking about sarcasm or snark here. No insults, no harassment.

This document is made to tell me that I jeopardize my professional resource by commenting. So I will simply not do that anymore or only with accounts I recognize as friendly. I will downvote those that don't conform 100% to the rules instead of commenting and trying to help. That is a safe action. I think it's unfriendly and not welcoming, but it's safe from punishment by the thought- and/or language police.

My experience says that sites that already drive "be nice" to higher levels suspend people for things I don't want to be suspended for. I have been suspended for basically repeatedly saying that I think specific actions of the moderators are unprofessional. Yes, that's how badass insulting I am when I'm really mad: "unprofessional". I really rock it. I should become a rapper. Saying it too often got me a suspension for "Abuse of Moderators". If that is abuse, we definitely need a new term for what you are describing in the CoC. By the way, it took 5 weeks to even get somebody but the original mods to look at that suspension. So no, there is no trust from my side that SE can handle a policy like that and it's fallout. Because not only the user-base grew, the moderator base too. And those, too, are not this tight-knit group you once knew by heart.

And again, I will not risk a professional resource on the off-chance that a mod might have a nice day when I have a bad one. If being human once in a while means I lose my account, I will immediately stop helping people that don't know the ropes here and need help.

I will leave that task to all the new people who will come in and contribute because it's so "nice" now (how was that sentence on the snark level? Close to being suspended already?).

How does it impact your feelings toward the company?

It feels like you guys got off course. I see the ugliness that sites invite that make the user tell their personal problems. And all the harassment that follows. That's not SE or SO. SO (and I guess everything around it, like superuser, dba, programming etc) has always been about relatively neutral information exchange. I care whether someone can solve my programming problem. I have no need for information about gender or age or skin color and there is no discrimination based on those properties if the users don't have those properties. Yes, once you expose those properties creepy people come out, because creepy people exist. Everywhere. That hasn't changed and you will not change it with a Code of Conduct either.

I said it in a comment earlier: I'm here because I'm a professional and I'm looking for a solution to my professional problem. Being a professional sometimes means you have to put up with stuff. Just ask a random waitress if "professional" means everybody is nice to them all the time. I will take any amount of snark or sarcasm or any other type of comment if there is a tiny chance it helps me solve my problem. Because that is my priority. Solving my problem. Not being nice, not being welcomed. Solving my problem. I can ignore any comment I don't like, but I cannot ignore not getting a solution.

It does not feel like that is your focus anymore.


Clarifications:

(1) My account is a "professional resource" because I develop software as a job. StackOverflow is a valuable resource for that, I use it multiple times a day. You can get free professional advice there. Every single software developer I know uses it to look things up multiple times during their working day. My reputation allows me to put bounties on my own question or ask for clarification from others. Threatening me with a suspension is threatening access to that resource.

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    +1 because I think you're raising an important point: the tension that exists between (for lack of better terms) professional and hobby use of the Network. (And I think this helps me understand better some of your comments/posts elsewhere.) Notwithstanding, if this new CoC makes someone think "I'm not at my 100% Nicest today, maybe I shouldn't comment" then it may be Mission Accomplished on that front. On the other hand, if it makes someone think "I'm not at my 100% Nicest today, maybe I shouldn't answer" that seems a different kettle of fish. – nitsua60 Jul 3 at 22:53
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    I wish we had, say, 10 upvotes that we could spread across answers to a single question in whatever way we could, because I would put all 10 on this answer if I could. The concept of professional behavior is the most important thing. I'd much prefer a simple code of conduct that says "Act as if your boss was going to read everything you say here, so be on your best professional behavior" and leave it at that. Now, for the many students who come to this site, they might need a longer explanation of professional behavior... but professional behavior should be at the core of the CoC. – rmunn Jul 5 at 3:05
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    Totally agree. You cannot police people based on feelings. Especially when an indispensable professional tool is at stake. Common decency should be enough for everyone. Noone participates in a community to offend people... And if they are, it will be obvious without using really blurry moral red lines placed by someone's feelings. – Dimitris Jul 16 at 14:56
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    Down vote and press on has been recommended to me at various times at each of the SE sites where I contribute as the expected SE interactive model. Your point on this particular initiative encouraging that behavior pattern is well made. – KorvinStarmast Jul 17 at 21:30
  • @nitsua60 most of programming I've done as hobbyist, yet I've seem to be able to ask non-controversial questions. – Braiam Jul 19 at 15:53
  • I'm glad you're raising the conduct of moderators. In the near-decade I've used StackExchange sites, I've generally found them respectful and reasonably friendly spaces, at least for me, a cis, white, male, English-speaking, professional forty-something. But most of the problems I have witnessed were caused by moderators, when they seemed more interested in a power trip than providing guidance to people making honest mistakes, including myself in one or two cases. Maybe this has been addressed in the last year or two, but I think this is a point less l33t users should make the call on. – Michael Scheper Aug 15 at 16:15

It has taken me a few months for me to figure out why the recent, overt, pushes to "Be Nice" feel off. I think this code of conduct has helped me figure out what was bothering me though.

If you’re here to help others, be patient and welcoming. Learning how to participate in our community can be daunting, especially if someone is new. Be supportive while others are learning.

That first sentence is great. The problem is the second and third.

especially if someone is new

while others are learning

Other than a user with 1 rep and a creation date in the recent past, how do I know if someone is new? Even if someone has hundreds or thousands of rep, how do I know they are learning a technology?

I feel these pushes have subtly created an "Old Guard" vs. "Noobs" mentality, especially on Stack Overflow. We're being told to treat less established users and "learners" with friendlier, fuzzier, welcoming hugs. Yet, at the same time, I end up deleting comments by those very users that attack the more established members for attempting to help them. Responses back are one of three things

  1. Publicly ignoring it and flagging it for moderator attention (Good!)
  2. Responding back in a professional manner (Also good!)
  3. Responding in a way that matches the tone they received (Bad).

The code of conduct should do a couple additional things:

  1. Help set expectations. Answers may be provided in minutes, but they may take days or weeks. Users can't expect an answer to occur immediately.
  2. Remove the subtle requests for different treatment between a new learner and an established user. Even if we aren't calling this "Be Nice" any more, we should be treating all users the same.

Unrelated to the code of conduct but still important: These pushes for improved behavior are great. However, I feel that a large amount of work that is going into this is being done at the expense of the "Old Guard", I mentioned above. This is the group that is invested in the moderation tasks of the site. They are the ones that keep the site tidy, presentable and running smoothly. There are a lot of requests for improved tools and features for this group of users. When are those going to happen?

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    how do I know if someone is new? I remember once having to comment on a 8k+ rep user that their answer was of poor quality (it was 3 lines, barely more than "here's teh codez"). They replied that they didn't know what I meant. – Draco18s Jul 3 at 21:09
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    Hi, "Old Guard" member here. I'm reading a list of changes to my rations and am discovering that I've been reassigned to Antarctica. I get why they want to reassign me to Antarctica, since we have newbies coming over and discovering that it's cold and dark half of the year, and believing that the advice of others is unwelcoming on how to survive or what they need to do. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with having to hand-hold these travelers, since they're coming to Antarctica of their own free will, so I thought it fair to assume they had some knowledge. Send help. – Makoto Jul 3 at 22:16
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    It's less like going to Antarctica and more like going to a party at the house of someone you don't know very well. You do your best based on how you were meant to behave at other parties (if you've been to any before). If the host tells you off coldly for sitting on the sofa, maybe you won't come back to the next party and they won't get to see the amazing party trick where you open a bottle with your eyelashes. – LangeHaare Jul 5 at 16:13
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    @LangeHaare newbie here. Bravo for distilling my answer to 3 sentences – Z Kubota Jul 6 at 19:32
  • @LangeHaare: I do feel like the analogy is apt. Unlike visiting an associate's house party and not having a good experience of it, suffering in Antarctica, much like being spurned at Stack Overflow, has lasting consequences that will impact one's formative career (or so we're told from Twitter/Hackernews/%SOCIAL_MEDIA_LINK%). Being told off at one person's party has consequences for that person and/or their circle of friends, which can be relatively easily addressed with another circle of friends if necessary. – Makoto Jul 9 at 19:15
  • @makato to me that suggests 1) SO needs better, more diverse competition so we should nurture and encourage alternatives like askquestions.tech , 2) SO is like Antarctica only if we users make it so, isn't the goal of the code of conduct to warm it up a bit? – LangeHaare Jul 10 at 11:14
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    @LangeHaare: So... 1) No competitor ever nurtures another competitor. 2) My opinion is that warming up the Antarctic is harder than making sure that everyone who visits the Antarctic has really good winter weather, instead. That is to say, I feel like the CoC is trying to warm up the Antarctic instead of giving everyone a reasonable checklist of what they should have before they come over. – Makoto Jul 12 at 15:00
  • "That first sentence is great." I respectfully disagree. The first clause of the sentence gives a massive out: if I'm not here to help others, apparently I don't need to be patient and welcoming. – GalacticCowboy Jul 19 at 15:38

Honestly? After skimming the new Code of Conduct, I kind of feel like...

enter image description here

Look, I get the need to be nice, I get all of this, and I largely agree with it all since I can't really get on board with the subtle barbs that we at Stack Overflow tend to throw at others.

But there are at least three problems that this doesn't cover.

  1. While there are clear designators of "harmful", the unclear designators lack a lot of definition and prescription, and would result in a large amount of false positives generated for moderation.

  2. The burden of moderating comments is still heavily on moderators, and on any normal site this could fly, but on Stack Overflow I'm less convinced.

  3. This doesn't actually fix the problem of scope on any site which suffers from this issue. A site which is large who has users who blithely ignore the scope of the site that they're posting on itself are more than bound to ruffle feathers, and while this gives those users a way to redress wrongs against them, it offers no solace for users who are only trying to help with curation.

The n-1 th, lesser concern is that somehow I fear I'm losing some of my voice and personality on the site...but I'm not sure how high I should rank that concern right now. I'll peruse it in all honesty afterwards and add this as an extra point.


The first issue is how comments are perceived. That is to say, someone saying, "This is a duplicate link, and this specific answer addresses your question" could be perceived by OPs as them being called unpleasant names and having their ability to perform searches called into question. Hey, it's happened to me more times than I care to remember.

Heck, some people get offended and angry at you for asking a clarifying question.

The Code of Conduct makes it seem such that anyone who feels that they've been wronged by someone in comments is fair game to get punished by the system. And that's fine...if they actually were wronged.

I suppose this is to say, what this is lacking are guidelines on what would be acceptable discourse with polite yet forceful comments. That is to say, it doesn't explicitly prohibit or permit comments which suggest to the OP that their answer is somewhere else, or any examples on those annoying Welcome to Stack Overflow-style comments.

The second issue is a matter of scale. Moderators handle this all the time, but I'm not sure that this is going to scale. This new Code of Conduct allows for a lot more stuff to be flagged - which is overall good - but I don't know how well suited Community Moderators are going to be with handling all of this at once. Maybe time will tell.

The third issue... hopefully I've captured a decent amount in there, but that conversation will be evolving, no doubt.

  • Agree that CoC implies increased role of moderators, both in importance and in volume. It is unclear how StackOverflow is going to address it. I would love to see clear communication re: what is going to change in the way moderators are nominated, educated and monitored. – dmi3kno Jul 3 at 16:53
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    How is scope creep or any scope issue a Code of Conduct thing? – Helmar Jul 3 at 16:57
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    @Helmar: The new policy mutates (at least for Stack Overflow) what is an already mutated form of the stated mission of Stack Overflow. Mutating it further doesn't help matters. – Makoto Jul 3 at 18:57
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    This CoC is going to end up as a stick to beat up people with. We already notice a fair amount of unnecessary flagging, especially in chat. With the threshold for "offensive" now officially reduced to "at least one person found it offensive", expect more drama in the days to come. – Masked Man Jul 4 at 1:25
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    I'm offended by the new CoC. Where do I flag? – John Dvorak Jul 4 at 8:43
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    So much this. I can hardly wait until questions get downvoted and closed in complete silence for fear of violating the CoC. How welcoming it will be! – Andras Deak Jul 4 at 11:47
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    @AndrasDeak: That's how I've begun to operate, anyway. I've had less friction come from it, but I bet it isn't pacifying the OPs out there... – Makoto Jul 4 at 15:20
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    @Makoto I sincerely doubt there's anything we can do to make everyone happy, short of handing them all their answers on a silver platter, without any thought, effort, or movement required on their part. So if it makes your life a little easier to just downvote and close, then you can save your critical thinking for a question that really deserves it. – fbueckert Jul 4 at 16:26

I guess I'm going to have to say what I said last time:

People will get offended by anything.

Because...

People, fundamentally, do not care what you think.

There are a lot of good posts here about how the CoC draft puts too much pressure on us (the existing community) to try and conform to an ideal that cannot be objectively achieved and not enough onus on the new asker to make sure that they adhere to the guidelines on acceptable content. Making the site 100% welcoming to 100% of people is impossible and you've started to make The Good the enemy of The Perfect. Do we need to be better? Can we be better? Probably.

But.

There has to be the possibility of people being able to make comments along the lines of "what have you tried?" because questions that show no effort are worthy of downvoting and closure and the attempt to inform the asker that this is the reason that their post is being downvoted and closed should be an acceptable comment.

With a population of millions, literally any comment can be seen as "unwelcoming" by somebody. Remember...

You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

...just replace "fool" with "please." At some point, we're going to have to shrug and say, "we tried" and just let some folks think we're a bunch of arrogant a$$holes. We aren't, on average, but we simply cannot please everyone all the time and attempting to do so is only going to turn other people away as the site becomes more and more stuck up and elitist...only over politeness instead of helpfulness.

What a gent

  • 3
    How are we going to become more stuck up and elitist if we're actually trying to be welcoming and patient with people? Stack Overflow was looking to many like it was stuck up and elitist well beforehand, that's part of the problem the community's addressing here. At some point we tried, yeah -- but we should keep trying, not because of appearance's sake, but to keep on ensuring new users can be welcomed and use our sites productively. – doppelgreener Jul 3 at 23:24
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    @doppelgreener It happens when people become overly sensitive over the words being used, everyone is forced to bend over backwards to please these people. Instead of doing so, they leave the site, and the people who are left are the self-important twats that everyone else views as "the elitists of sensibilities and language": if you don't use the right words, they get upset and call a moderator on you for being mean. Maybe not actually called that, but that is what they would be in effect. – Draco18s Jul 4 at 4:48
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    @NicolBolas See literally every comment ever about "why is my question being down voted?" New users already see being down voted as part of why the site is unwelcoming, being unable to inform them about down votes will not help correct that view. – Draco18s Jul 4 at 4:49
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    I'm having a hard time following the logic here: People do not care what you thinkPeople will get offended. How can people get offended if they don't care what you think? – Kobi Jul 4 at 5:50
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    While I am not usually mr. nice in person, I have had my share of users offended for telling them the question had no technical merits, was wrongly tagged, explaining why I did downvote them, for using british dark humor, and for using known colloquial expressions as the hw is so bad, "feed it to the dog". People will be people. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 4 at 7:53
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    @Kobi Because people aren't reacting to what you're saying, they're reacting to the fact that your lips are moving. They want to be upset, so they're going to be upset, your words and actions be damned. (Or I suppose, online, it wouldn't be lips, but fingers, but I think you get the point). – Draco18s Jul 4 at 15:26
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    @NicolBolas People want to know the reason behind the action. I want to be able to tell them. Currently the proposed CoC makes it impossible to do so, because anything I could say could be interpreted by somebody somewhere as being "not nice." – Draco18s Jul 4 at 15:28
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    @Draco18s: Why do you have so much difficulty with the difference between what something is "interpreted as" rather than "what you actually said?" You can write something that is highly unlikely to be "interpreted as" not nice. You cannot stop someone from choosing to see it as not nice. So if you do need to communicate with such a user, do your best to make what you write exceedingly difficult to be "interpreted as" not nice. The line you're referring to is not as thin as you make it out to be. – Nicol Bolas Jul 4 at 15:36
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    @NicolBolas You cannot stop someone from choosing to see it as not nice. That's precisely my point. – Draco18s Jul 4 at 15:48
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    @Draco18s: No it isn't. Your point is "you can't stop someone, so why not be rude anyway". My point is "you can't stop someone, but you can at least make a good faith effort". My point is that if you make a good faith effort, then the fault is on them, and everyone can reasonably see that. – Nicol Bolas Jul 4 at 15:53
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    @NicolBolas How do you define a "good faith effort?" The CoC draft doesn't say. That is the problem. – Draco18s Jul 4 at 15:56
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    @NicolBolas Hence my comment about unreachable ideals. I don't know what the solution is either. But a situation were any and all comments can be flagged as "rude" (by a different someone each time) is definitely not it. – Draco18s Jul 4 at 16:04
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    @NicolBolas: I can, and can give you a specific instance. I recently had multiple rude or offensive flags on a comment I posted that got it deleted. The content in question was a specific quote from the SO help pages: "Questions asking for homework help must include a summary of the work you've done so far to solve the problem, and a description of the difficulty you are having solving it. Can you edit your post to add those things?" – Ken White Jul 5 at 20:39
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    @NicolBolas: I know why it was deleted. It was deleted because it received sufficient flags as rude or offensive that it was auto-deleted, because the new policies have no intellect or judgement behind the enforcement; they just assume guilt rather than requiring any proof. It's the new lynch mob mentality among all of the newer, low-rep users who think that any request for improvement, clarification, or suggestion that it's off-topic is wrong that started with the Be Nice post that accused everyone who moderates the site of being bigots. – Ken White Jul 6 at 0:37
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    Wikipedia's "civility" policy has a similar effect: Everyone is superficially "polite" to avoid violating the rule, while actually acting like complete jerks, which just ends up making every interaction much more infuriating and stressful than if were allowed to just express our frustration openly. Our species evolved these forms of communication for a reason. Somewhere between "usenet flamewar ragefest" and "gritted-teeth sneering politeness" is a good middle ground of respectfully expressing frustration with someone else's actions. – endolith Jul 10 at 16:38

Even if you don't agree with all of it, do you feel that this is a reasonable code of conduct? Does it affect your recommending Stack Overflow as a resource in any way? How so?

This is going to be a rambling, I fear not entirely cogent response based on many factors, only one of which is this code of conduct.

Lately, I feel like the volunteers on the site have been asked to take on much ... additional effort. It feels like we're held to the highest personal standards of both etiquette and professionalism, with the added task of carefully considering the impact of our words on people who are easily dissuaded from using the site. This is kind of ... at odds with the general experience volunteers face. You're expected to:

  • Be on your best behavior
  • Excuse mistakes and non adherence to the rules and standards
  • Be the better person in the face of insults and personal attacks
  • Temper your criticism with the perspective of the other person in mind

A lot of effort has gone into actualizing this lately on Stack Exchange's side. I don't begrudge focusing on what the volunteers can do for this - after all, unless you're already an engaged user of the site, the Stack Exchange team has at best a very dubious influence over your behavior.

This comes into play with my friends. Here is where this answer gets personal and uncomfortable to share. My friends are mostly like me - direct in their wording, maybe not entirely easy to deal with, but motivated. They like being part of a bigger whole, and in the past I have recommended Stack Exchange heartily to them as a place where they can fully come into their own and make their mark on the world as helpful people.

For better or worse, Stack Exchange has gotten quite a bit of publicity for its public efforts in the past months, but this has arrived and appeared entirely differently in my circle of friends. To put it bluntly, I've lost contact with some extended acquaintances over this, I don't know if that's a good thing or not, but I do know that Stack Exchange suffers a pretty horrid reputation in my social circle right now.

The last five conversations (easily) I've had with my friends about this site was about how they think it has gone off the deep end in order to please people on Twitter with an axe to grind. The public presentation of this change isn't helping that.

I personally know (or at least choose to believe, I have a lot of respect in Stack Exchange staff and other users that are with them on this that is difficult to shake, so I assume best intentions for now) that this isn't the case and that we're not in the middle of a culturally Marxist*² takeover of the network.

Selling that to my friends and strangers however is ... exhausting. I've deliberately avoided the topic with them lately because I'm loath to justify my continued support for this site time upon time again.

I do think most of this is a perception problem and not an actual network problem. The code of conduct reads ... one sided, skewed towards those who would do anything at all with enough regularity to care about the site. It does not explicitly mention people taking criticism poorly, but it does mention people giving criticism in a less then ideal way, for instance.

All this has made me hesitant to bring up Stack Exchange to friends, lest I get sucked into another hour-long discussion about inclusivity and how they feel this site has kowtowed to special interests too much. I have plenty of communication issues of my own, and I'm not very good at appealing to emotions and easily exhausted by such talk, which is why I've avoided the topic for now.

So no, at the moment I wouldn't recommend Stack Exchange to my friends and colleagues. Not because of the code of conduct in particular, but because of the perception and PR problem the latest efforts have created.

From a user perspective, I maintain my trust in the staff and users I know on the network that seem to trust this will be a success and not to the detriment of long term users.

*² I'm loath to use this terminology. It is often not used in good faith and annoys me to hell and back to repeat. But I'm not sure how to paraphrase this without going into a 2000-word tangent about current political events.

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    "People on Twitter with an axe to grind" I should've used that line... – Makoto Jul 3 at 16:50
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    "Excuse mistakes and non adherence to the rules and standards" We are? I don't see any expectations of that. It's simply a matter of how you respond to such things. – Nicol Bolas Jul 3 at 16:56
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    @NicolBolas Outside of practice, i've seen many people argue publicly that we should cut new users extra slack and shaming people who don't do so. This is part of the perception problem I'm describing. – Magisch Jul 3 at 16:57
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    @NicolBolas This answer is about how the recent efforts affect my recommendations of stack to friends and colleagues. A percieved issue is an issue whether or not it's actually enforced. – Magisch Jul 3 at 17:05
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    @Magisch: It's funny. When the SO staff posted a blog about "percieved[sic] issues" with regard to SO not being welcoming, lots of people said that perceptions don't matter, only facts, and if nobody could prove that there was a problem, then there wasn't. But now perception matters. It's probably not a coincidence that in one case, it's their perception and in the other case, it's the perception of someone else. So whose perception should we care about more: you/your friends, or the people saying that we're being unwelcoming? – Nicol Bolas Jul 3 at 17:36
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    Bit of advice: tell your friends to ignore Twitter. Twitter is a trash fire. You don't want to ignore a trash fire if it's headed toward you, but... You don't look to a trash fire for advice on how to build a useful living space. We're looking at the mess on Twitter as a sign that we need to clear the proverbial brush from around our foundation, not as an example of how to build a healthy, nurturing community. If your friends can't see the difference, maybe they need to step back from the fire a bit. – Shog9 Jul 3 at 18:19
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    You know, this is a pretty good summary of how I feel about things too. This used to be a "leave your politics at the door" kind of place, and certain verbiage lately has raised some concern that they're headed down the path the twitter administrators did a few years ago. There's no fire yet, but I'm seeing sparks of particular common phrases crop up more an more in the blogs that make me worry we may be a few years away from Verified User badges and censor bots. This is a place for helping people learn things they have questions about. Not another place for political grandstanding. – Stephan Jul 3 at 18:51
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    @Shog9 And yet here we are doing exactly what the dumpster fire wants instead of (not even in addition to) listening to your own community. Now maybe that's coincidence. Pretty much everyone agrees that a better CoC isn't a bad thing by any means, but this draft still completely ignores years of community feedback again so it really doesn't feel like a coincidence anymore. You'd think in a code of conduct it'd mention following quality rules. But it doesn't, which is exactly what the dumpster fire wants. – ɥʇǝS Jul 3 at 18:52
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    Did you read it, @ɥʇǝS? Compare with the current "be nice" policy, which has no advice aimed at askers / new users at all, but asks that others give them special consideration. Half the guidelines in the proposed CoC are advising askers to follow the guidelines and be accepting of edits and feedback. That's kind of a big step up, IMHO. – Shog9 Jul 3 at 18:59
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    @ɥʇǝS: "it'd mention following quality rules" What do you think "make it as easy as possible for others to help you" and "Follow the guidelines" mean? What more do you want, a detailed listing of them? "And yet here we are doing exactly what the dumpster fire wants instead of (not even in addition to) listening to your own community." Because nobody in the community wanted an improved ask-question page. Oh right, they did, and it's being worked on. Please stop spreading this notion that nothing else is being done. – Nicol Bolas Jul 3 at 19:00
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    @NicolBolas People started abusing Jay’s blogpost the day/day-after it came out to tell off people leaving quality comments. Not rude comments. Normal, everyday comments. So yes, the CoC does need to be more explicit about actually following the quality guidelines or people are going to abuse it in the exact same way. A better ask page is great, but that’s not the code of conduct which is what everyone looks to for conduct rules. – ɥʇǝS Jul 3 at 19:54
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    @NicolBolas Which is a red herring. You can't stop the abuse, but you can take steps to not give them more tools to add to their abuse. Especially tools that make it seem like the site rules are on their side. – ɥʇǝS Jul 3 at 20:42
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    @ɥʇǝS: The only "sides" are the Jerk and the non-Jerks. New, old, high-rep, low-rep, all that is irrelevant. What matters is behavior. – Nicol Bolas Jul 3 at 20:43
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    @Shog9 not to be a trouble maker, but the "Did you read it?" comment sounded like a "subtle put-down" to me – Lamak Jul 4 at 16:16
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    Not directly, but since this is the meta post about the CoC, there's still a use on bringing it up, specially because the comment did sounded condescending....just like your last one did – Lamak Jul 5 at 21:21

As a moderator of two sites, I don't think I can moderate against the "no subtle put-downs" rule. Almost any disagreement or any attempt to deal with poor-quality content can be re-construed as breaking this rule. In fact, a lot of the actions I have to take to moderate could easily be construed as "subtle put-downs". For example, often people post incomprehensible gibberish posts. I have to close such questions or delete such answers, and I usually include the phrasing "You might like to ask a friend who speaks English to help you." It's not wonderful, but it's the best I can do for a visitor who is probably not going to come back anyway. But now I feel like it's only a matter of time before someone with an axe to grind decides to recast this as a subtle put-down, or as discrimination against people who don't speak English.

Another example is that recently I suggested-edit--banned a member of my community who has a long history of suggesting "spelling and grammar fix" edits that introduce spelling and grammar errors into the posts they're supposed to fix. Roughly half of his edits are wrong in this way, and it has taken a lot of time from people to filter them out. Of course I've also messaged him to describe the problem, and described the situation in a sensitive way, and he understood and accepted the situation, and continues to contribute in other ways. I'm not sure the situation would be as easily resolved with a user who has read the new CoC and feels entitled to continue their edits regardless of the harm they cause to the site and the time they take from other users, because they've been given the expectation that we will lower our quality standards to avoid discriminating based on English fluency.


The "No discrimination of any kind" is way too broad to be enforceable. There are many kinds of discrimination, and not all of them are as obvious as harassment or negative remarks. What if we have a user who is a prolific answerer, but never answers questions from someone with an Indian-sounding username? What if they never answer questions from one particular individual, who is known in the community to be homosexual? Am I supposed to do something about that, as a moderator? This isn't a job. We can't interrogate people about their intentions like an employment tribunal would, and we can't force people to answer questions from different users equally or fairly. We could ban them completely, but I don't think I would be up for banning a user who is causing no harm to the site just because of how they decide which questions to answer, especially if it's also on me to judge whether their behaviour is discriminatory or not.


You say in the post that:

We need less over-posturing for troll dispatching and more guides to help decent folks avoid more common pitfalls.

but I'm seeing a gap between what you say and what the draft CoC actually says. If you really want to help people be welcoming and inclusive, set examples of good behaviour, and show off exemplary behaviour in difficult cases. Give people a repertoire of strategies for dealing with low-quality content and visitors who don't want to engage with the site, while living up to your idea of what "welcoming" is. You can't achieve that by just giving people a list of what they can't say: you'll find that a lot of people choose not to say anything at all, and that it's disproportionately the people who were being nice to begin with. A sure way to make the site look less welcoming is to scare the nice people into silence while the bullies keep doing what they were doing.

  • 2
    "What if we have a user who is a prolific answerer, but never answers questions from someone with an Indian-sounding username? What if they never answer questions from one particular individual, who is known in the community to be homosexual? " Nobody is (or should be) forced to answer questions so mentioning this issue when somebody doesn't answer is both pointless and irrelevant to the CoC. You can't accuse someone of discrimination by not doing something they are not required to do. – DavidPostill Jul 4 at 10:35
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    @DavidPostill I find that to be a valid question though. What if it becomes really obvious? Like in some smaller tags, some users answer almost every question in that tag. What if accusations of such behavior come forth? I agree in so far as that it sounds like a goldmine for people who just want to stir drama. – Magisch Jul 4 at 13:20
  • You raise some interesting points. I do wonder however what are the repercussions of managing saying some demographic is more welcome than other. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 4 at 14:26
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    @RuiFRibeiro I don't quite follow. Anyone who says outright that certain groups are unwelcome is censured. That's what happens now and I don't think anyone is proposing to change that. That's a form of discrimination we can and do police. My point is that there are some forms of discrimination we can't really do anything about. – Dan Hulme Jul 4 at 14:56
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    While we might not require fluent English for posting on the sites, the bar for suggesting or reviewing edits must be another thing entirely. Someone who isn't mostly fluent in English should simply stay away from edits. – Lundin Jul 6 at 13:06
  • @Lundin The point is that if they don't "simply stay away from edits", the new CoC might prevent mods from taking action. – Lawrence Jul 16 at 11:38
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    The phrase "No subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language. Regardless of intent, this behavior can have a significant negative impact on others." is a deep flaw in an otherwise pretty good CoC. It's an invitation for abuse. The rest of the CoC can work well (with reasonable people moderating.) I don't think this bit can be made to work even by reasonable moderators. – Mark Olson Jul 17 at 14:56

I like this; it's pretty clear, and it covers a lot more than I thought it would.

One thing that pops out at me is the section on Reporting and Enforcement:

Reporting and Enforcement

Every person contributes to creating a kind, respectful community. If you find unacceptable behavior directed at yourself or others, you can:

  • Flag the harmful content. Depending on the content, flagging will alert moderators or trigger an automatic deletion.
  • Address it directly. If you’re comfortable addressing the person who instigated it, let them know how this behavior affects you or others. You can also remind them of the Code of Conduct. If the behavior escalates, disengage immediately -- staff or moderators will take action.
  • Contact us. We’ll respond as quickly as we can.

I feel like this presents all three options as equally beneficial choices in a given situation, but they often aren't. For instance, if a person makes a single rude comment, you wouldn't go straight to contacting Stack Overflow; you'd either flag or maybe address it directly. Similarly, if there's a large-scale problem - say, a couple of users harassing people on a larger scale - you probably don't want to only address it yourself; letting a mod know is a good first step.

So, can there maybe be a way of making it clear that not all of these actions are appropriate for every situation? I know it's hard to succinctly do that, so maybe linking to an FAQ page or two about flag use (in addition to the one already linked) could put the options in context.

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    Great feedback. I think adding some detail about which options to use when makes sense. Thanks for pointing this out. – Donna Jul 3 at 15:52
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    Numbering (instead of bullets) might be a subtle way to imply escalation. – Tom Limoncelli Jul 3 at 17:09
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    @TomLimoncelli the down side with numbering is that it implies progression... but in reality, there's no progression here. Someone can either flag something or address it directly depending on personal preference. For example, if there's inappropriate (unnecessary) language in a post, it can be edited and flagging could wait until a time that person rolls back the edit to contain the content. – Catija Jul 3 at 17:20
  • It may be useful to put this in steps. For example, you should first alert moderators (or CMs if the problem requires CM attention), then try and address it yourself (if you're comfortable doing that), and then if it hasn't been handled to your satisfaction, use the Contact Us form. Either steps like that, or examples of when to use "Contact Us" vs flags. – thesecretmaster Jul 3 at 21:17
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    As a moderator I'd prefer someone to seek us out via a flag whenever something's making them uncomfortable and they don't know how to deal with it. For many users, my preference would be they never have to use the "address it directly" option. I would especially not want them to feel they must try that before flagging. – doppelgreener Jul 3 at 22:52
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    @doppelgreener I'm also rather wary of that one, also as a mod; in theory, resolving small-scale stuff quietly is nicer than having to bring in the big guns. But 1) it almost never works like that, 2) not flagging leaves no traces for mods to see (and on SO and the larger sites, they'll never see it), 3) there's so much potential for things to go wrong, and 4) I think that option almost implies that one shouldn't ask for mod help if needed. In other words . . . yes, I agree. I suppose you could probably make a solid argument for removing that one entirely. – HDE 226868 Jul 3 at 22:58
  • @doppelgreener (and HDE) also as a mod, I feel the exact opposite. I think that ideally, the first step should be "Hey, that's making me uncomfortable, please stop". Of course, that assumes the user feels comfortable doing so and many don't. That's absolutely fine! If you don't feel OK addressing it yourself, then by all means, flag! But if you do, I think it's always best to try to point out that a certain behavior is unpleasant for you first and only escalate to mods either if you don't want to do that (fair enough) or it doesn't work. So I'd put the "Address it directly" part first. – terdon Jul 4 at 8:51
  • 'seek us out via a flag whenever something's making them uncomfortable and they don't know how to deal with it' well, I won't be doing that. No-effort requirement/homework dumps make me uncomfortable, but I don't want to run out of flags every day - the mods would soon get annoyed. – Martin James Jul 5 at 7:32
  • @MartinJames No-effort requirement/homework dumps aren't a CoC violation. This advice is appearing on the CoC document, and directs people what to do about CoC breakages, like harassment, bullying, sexism, and so on. Inside the scope of that kind of action, I'd rather people seek me or another moderator out via flags on the site I moderate. If someone's uncomfortable about an edit or a homework dump that's something else outside the scope of actions the advice is about, and I don't imagine the CoC is trying to speak about that stuff (nor am I). – doppelgreener Jul 5 at 8:33

Our mission is to build an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of expertise, identity, or language. Whether you’ve come to ask questions or to generously share what you know, join us in building a learning community that is rooted in kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect.

That's not the mission of Stack Exchange.

The mission is correctly described on the Tour Page of every site:

With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about (site topic).

This is not a minor problem with the Code of Conduct. It's a key problem.

Ask questions, get answers, no distractions

This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat.

The Code of Conduct MUST reflect the actual mission of the site.


Obviously there is no point in having a Code of Conduct that just repeats the Tour Page. But the MISSION STATEMENT should either be left out entirely, or it should match the actual mission of the site.

You could state the purpose of the Code of Conduct, which is different from "our mission."

It looks like the Code of Conduct authors wrote what THEIR mission is, in writing the Code of Conduct. That's different from the mission of the site.

The purpose of the Code of Conduct should align with the purpose of the site.


A possible new wording:

Our mission is to work together to build a library of detailed answers to every question on a variety of specific topics. The purpose of this Code of Conduct is to help the site run as smoothly as possible and to help guide our diverse contributors to interact with each other in a professional, collaborative, kind and respectful manner.

I'm sure this could be improved and tweaked, but the current text's complete misalignment with the actual mission of the site should be viewed as a HARD failure (blocker, showstopper).


Even more bluntly, stripping away modifying clauses:

Our mission is to build an inclusive community....

This is flatly wrong. Our mission is to build a library of detailed answers.

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    This reminds me of all that corporate pep-talk mumbo jumbo. "We are here to deliver best-in-class solutions as an integrated, collaborative team displaying 21st century best practices in synergy." No, we are here to make money, the synergy stuff is just for show. – Robert Columbia Jul 7 at 1:21
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    @RobertColumbia, for all that your comment was intended as agreement, I think there is a crucial distinction to be made between the production of a group or individual (i.e. what they produce or put out that others find valuable) and the reward they receive in exchange for that service, whether monetary or otherwise. The only groups in the U.S. with the correctly stated mission statement "to make money" are counterfeiters and the U.S. Mint! One must produce something (whether service or goods) to exchange for money (or for goodwill or anything else). – Wildcard Jul 7 at 3:27
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    ...But yes, oftentimes a company mission statement is just unreal "PR" mumbo jumbo with no connection to reality. :) Still, in such a case there is a correct way to specify the goal, and it is never "to make money" for the reasons I describe above. – Wildcard Jul 7 at 3:29
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    "This is flatly wrong. Our mission is to build a library of detailed answers" Not any more, the site owners have been telling us now for over four years that this is no longer the case. From now on, it's newbies answering duplicate questions all the way. Because "engagement" beats curating a high quality resource in cash terms. – Ben Jul 7 at 12:27
  • This is a point of confusion others have had ... the mission statement here relates only to the mission/purpose of the CoC, not of the network. They are two different things. The goal of the CoC is to outline how we expect users to behave so that the network can be "an inclusive community...". – Catija Jul 7 at 18:56
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    @Catija In that case it should say so it reads as if SO's mission iod to create a community – Mark Jul 9 at 20:57
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    @Catija it says “Our mission.” The Code of Conduct is not a group that can be referred to with the word “our.” Your comment makes sense but that is not at all what the plain language of the CoC says. – Wildcard Jul 9 at 21:02

How do we deal with lazy users (I hope I'm safe saying this until the CoC goes live ;) persistently trying to offload work in chat?

Most language-specific chatrooms on chat.SO will every once in a while get a user who asks questions, doesn't really read answers, and does no thinking of their own when they receive help. Typical dynamics involve pages worth of "Please, could you post the actual code you're trying to debug?" and "We just told you how do to that, why do you keep asking this?" and "Did you really read the 10-page tutorial which I linked you a minute ago and ascertained that it somehow doesn't do what it does?". And yes, "You could have literally searched google with what you asked here" is also relevant.

Most people are patient and understanding with users asking for help. However, when there's a clear lack of effort on the asker's side, and no intent to learn what they're asking about, we need them to stop in an effort to protect our sanity and not waste our time.

I have seen several users whose behaviour is perfectly described by the "help vampire" syndrome. A possible remedy to this situation is confronting the user with their behaviour, telling them in very clear terms that their behaviour is simply inappropriate, and optionally pointing them to the help vampire info-page in hopes of getting the message through.

Now, as I understand it, none of this feedback will be appropriate under the new CoC. Linking that page or even calling someone a help vampire would be unthinkable, right? So even if I let go of this, how do I communicate in a welcoming, friendly manner that they need to stop asking and they need to start thinking for themselves, and reading the help that they get? And if I manage to communicate this to them but they keep on continuing with this disruptive behaviour, how can I kick them from the room in a welcoming, friendly manner?

Don't let my cynical tone fool you, I'm genuinely concerned and curious about handling entitled users who show no effort in trying to solve their problems. On main we can just downvote, close and move on, but the dynamics of chat are very different, and this needs to be addressed.

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    Does kicking people out of a chat room for disruptive behavior require talking to them? I don't think so. As for how you tell someone they're a Help Vampire, there's no "welcoming" way to tell someone that. Once you've identified that the person is being unreasonable, the best thing to do is disengage and ignore the person. If they persist, then they're being disruptive and can be asked to leave. – Nicol Bolas Jul 4 at 13:32
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    @NicolBolas "So I went to this chatroom, asked for help, everything went OK. But then suddenly they started to ignore me, and then I was kicked! That's so unfriendly.". As I noted elsewhere, I believe that omitting feedback for the sake of not saying anything (to be on the safe side) makes for an even less friendly/welcoming end result. The company can't seriously think that we're all better off if we silently take moderation action. If that's not what you're suggesting then I missed your point. – Andras Deak Jul 4 at 13:36
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    If things got to the point of ignoring them, then everything did not go OK before that. It's fine to say that, because they are refusing to take your advice about reading and learning about the system, you're not going to engage with them. It's not fine to link them to sites that call them names. – Nicol Bolas Jul 4 at 13:39
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    This scenario is one that happens rather commonly. At some point, it's less about being welcoming, and more about enforcing standards. We can't compromise quality for the sake of being welcoming. So if a user isn't learning, well, kick away. Their inability to follow the rules is their problem, not the room's. – fbueckert Jul 4 at 14:37
  • Kick-mute already solves this problem. Just make sure you keep some kind of history of it in tact if you decide to move the messages. – Kevin B Jul 5 at 15:51
  • Thanks for writing an answer that partially addresses my concerns, and that I found it without reading three pages of answers. I'm certain that Chat serves many great purposes but the time I see it most often is in the comments - SE politely saying 'take it to chat' (instead of saying: 'Get a box of crackers'). Some people are offloading to Chat because their spam-seed comment didn't gain a response (which is acceptable, because 'Be Nice' says: "Disengage"); but then they're upset by the off-putting and downvote. – Rob Jul 5 at 23:52
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    Why are so worried about chat quality? Main concerns me more as it affects the quality of the archive contents, chat not so much. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 8 at 11:07
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    @RuiFRibeiro I take it you're not an avid user of chat. That is fine. Surely you don't find it hard to accept that there are a lot of users who actively use chat to socialize both on chat.SO and on the many site-specific rooms of chat.SE. I also object to your assertion that somehow there's a trade-off between moderating main and moderating chat. Why can't we have a CoC that is applicable to both? – Andras Deak Jul 8 at 13:07

Fundamentally, I feel that a COC needs to be a shield not a sword or a potential bludgeoning stick. One of the… unintended consequences of the blog posts is folks using it that way. It needs to reflect the best we can be, rather than the worst we could be.

A glaring omission (having talked this through) is a requirement to try to deal with people with good intentions. Our current "Be Nice" FAQ contains the line

Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions.

Assuming good intentions is important. It blunts the chances of some of the drama, internal or external, and is a solid basis for solving our problems like adults.

One thing I'd suggest is, many of these things are universal. Decency and civility shouldn't vary whether it's main or chat — the language on making people uncomfortable, for example is just as useful on somewhere like IPS, comments or chat. We shouldn't really be splitting fundamental things into "chat" and Q&A. As far as conduct goes, there are no second and third class citizens.

Some of the language… might reflect "assume good intent" better. I know folks ask for examples (I do, but I like concrete complaints I can sink my teeth into, rather than vague ones, especially externally), but sometimes conciseness is better.

Let's consider

This includes any language likely to offend or alienate people based on (but not limited to): race, gender, gender identity or expression, English fluency, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, nationality, neurodiversity, physical appearance, body size, or religion.

We can probably condense it down to

This includes any language aimed at offending or alienating others

Firstly, this is a lot shorter. It doesn't create a list of things (that honestly feel rules lawyerly). It focuses on intent — and along with

If someone points out that your behavior is making others uncomfortable, stop doing it. Sometimes, people unconsciously say things that negatively affect others. Even if this wasn’t your intent, apologize and move on.

lets people sort things out mostly like adults. The lack of examples actually helps folks use the rules as they need to. The latter is kinda as true for Q&A as much as chat.

No subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language. Regardless of intent, this behavior can have a significant negative impact on others. For example, saying “You could Google this in 5 seconds” is a subtle put-down.

Feels kinda vague too, and potentially interpreted a little too flexibly. I'm not too sure how to word the intent of it better though.

The problem I have with is it's... kinda absolute and imperative. It feels like a command, that needs to be suffixed with an "or else"

Consider how

Regardless of intent, subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language can have a significant negative impact on others. For example, saying “You could Google this in 5 seconds” is a subtle put-down. Be welcoming and patient, especially with those who may not know everything you do.

Is a little longer. But it kinda feels more adult. It tells you why it's wrong, what's wrong and why. It respects the reader just a little more.

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    I like the shield vs sword distinction. The COC is a bit of a mix: some parts are where we aspire to be the best versions of ourselves and will sometimes fall short, while others are pretty firm hard lines about conduct that won't be tolerated. That's a good thing, because we can't all always be perfect, while we all need to never be bigoted toward each other. I'd hope that people don't use the COC to conflate the two. – Zach Lipton Jul 4 at 7:56
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    IMHO "You could Google this in 5 seconds" is not subtle. – DavidPostill Jul 4 at 10:41
  • tbh... I'll cede that point. – Journeyman Geek Jul 4 at 10:53
  • "likely to offend" is different from "aimed at offending". – Michael Greinecker Jul 7 at 15:07
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    This is intentional – Journeyman Geek Jul 7 at 15:46
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    OK, I wasn't aware of this "assume good intentions" part. I'd rather tackle this from the opposite direction, based on Hanlon's Razor : "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity". This is far more universally applicable. – Marco13 Jul 7 at 19:08
  • which assumes that well, people are stupid. Which kinda runs counter to "be nice"\ – Journeyman Geek Jul 7 at 19:37

As a moderator, I have concerns with the list of behaviors and typical actions. I'm afraid that this will lead to rule-lawyering. Even with the statement that actions are taken on a case-by-case basis, I think that people will focus on the behavior and typical actions.

It says that content that contains a subtle put-down is typically met with content deletion. That's generally true. However, repeated put-downs are dealt with in an escalation. The first deletions may not come with a warning. Repeated deletions may come with a warning, and then escalation into longer and longer suspensions.

Likewise, it also says that some content may result in an account suspension. If the user has a very long history of positive contributions and no history of previous poor conduct, it would have to be a pretty heinous comment for me to jump immediately to a suspension. I would delete, and would probably not wait on a warning, but I wouldn't place a strong member of the community into a suspension for one comment that may have been made in jest or that didn't come across well over the Internet or may offend a group of people unintentionally.

I'm afraid that people will read this CoC and interpret these "typical actions" as mandates for moderators. I'm also afraid that users may bring their complaints to Meta and not present the full picture - other users may not have access to the full backstory, especially if there's a lot of deleted content. Moderation is a volunteer activity - I don't want to deal with people who want to rule-lawyer. I am open to feedback on my actions, either publicly on Meta or via feedback to the community team, if anyone things that my actions as a moderator are inappropriate.

I do think that it's totally appropriate to give clear, specific examples of behaviors that violate the CoC. I do not believe that it is appropriate to link the course of action that moderators take with specific behaviors.

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    "I do not believe that it is appropriate to even suggest the course of action that moderators take." Maybe something like this instead: Depending on the severity and regularity of the violation, moderators may take one of these actions... – called2voyage Jul 3 at 19:34
  • @called2voyage That would be ok. Let me edit to reflect that my objection is the linking of actions to behaviors. – Thomas Owens Jul 3 at 19:38

The major issue in the successive policies of SO, is running the danger into enforcing double standards: the registered users who play by the rules are being held to a higher standard of conduct, and actually penalised against drive-by users.

If the system gets so twisted, old and new users may actually have no incentive both to create or maintain registered accounts, as it far easier to just use low-rep accounts, and trow away them at the minimal signal of problems. I would not like to go there honestly, it is not the reason I am here.

There also might be a latent problem of having a segment of users that does not see the effort of building reputation, following our FAQ, or often taking the time to write good questions as productive. One of the problems is that it is far too easy to use one time throwaway accounts. Again, I rarely heard anyone mentioning this.

For instance, I am in a car related free forum. My account had to be formally accepted in as other users of that group were, and anyone that deviates from a certain standard and quality of posts will see the account cancelled. I do not advocate such extremism, however it could be an interesting experiment allowing a cool-off 24h period of an account before it could be used to comment or give answers, if not posting questions.

As for the discrimination of language, I as a foreign English learner, do find it strange an English forum not imposing certain standards for people to be able to participate coherently. I have helped improve many questions and answers. However, putting the onus on others of correcting questions (or answers) of people who often do not want to invest time in writing things correctly in English does not seem entirely correct. Please do call my attention and correct my English, I am here mainly for learning, and not for being worried about being discriminated against my mother tongue being something else.

Lastly, the bigger elephant in the room is considering all rep 1 questions new users. Trow away accounts are clearly being gamed by people who do not want to follow the code of conduct of this community, for evading moderation, niceness enforcement and bad reputation building, and we are ignoring that against enforcing heavy standards to the established user base.

  • As somebody who speaks only English, I couldn’t write English without something like Word or autocorrect or a similar grammar add-on. My point of course is that I don’t expect perfect English from anyone, but all three of those tools would correct things like (u vs you), (i vs I), and other similar mistakes I see daily. I can handle misspelling words, I can’t decode, misspelled shorthand English (i.e text message quality English) – Ramhound Jul 4 at 20:17
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    @Ramhound Nobody writes perfect English. But we know many posts here are not shortcomings, are just a rushed job that neither conveys the question neither is well written. As for perfect English, you can peruse how many edits I have in some of my top questions. Writing as anything else requires time and effort, which some are not willing to invest even in their own questions. – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 5 at 7:45

What's good

First of, I like the Code of Conduct in concept and content. All single issues that I might have are already carefully worded in other answers. You stated a goal what you wanted to achieve with this Code of Conduct.

We needed to write for the best of folks in our community. Off-putting things tend to mostly come from folks who will probably only ever blow their top once. We have moderators to deal with the tiny fraction of people that never care about rules, so our code of conduct needs to mostly resonate with the overwhelming majority of people we really want to keep. We need less over-posturing for troll dispatching and more guides to help decent folks avoid more common pitfalls.

From my point of view that's a good CoC to reach that goal.

What's Concerning

My feedback however is concerned if that's the right goal. What is the CoC supposed to achieve? It's fed by the general problem by all policies that are longer than a paragraph. Nobody reads them.

“[...] Apple could put the entire text of "Mein Kampf" inside the iTunes user agreement, and you'd just go agree, agree, agree - what? - agree, agree.” - John Oliver

Be it Terms and Conditions, User Agreements, Terms of Service, Codes of Conduct of however they are called they are basically worthless documents until someone sues. Which is even more useless in this case since we've got a few million Stack Exchange users who've never heard or agreed to said Code of Conduct—unless you plan to force-feed it to every user with a mandatory accept box before continuing to use the site. Furthermore, I'm guessing, nobody wants to use this document to sue.

My Question: What's the CoC really for?

Can a CoC really replace a half-pager guideline on what's okay and what's not?

Be Nice

It has three bullet points in relatively easy to understand language.

The Code of Conduct

The new Code of Conduct has eleven bullet points and contains the words neurodiversity and instigated while proclaiming one shouldn't discriminate due to English fluency with the former not even in most modern dictionaries and the latter easily being replaceable by caused.

Even worse the bullet points are not contained within themselves. The bold typed start proclaims something different than the following sentences will:

Be friendly, clear, and constructive. Editing, commenting, and sharing feedback are healthy parts of our community. When giving feedback, avoid jokes and sarcasm -- tone is hard to decipher online. Be open to receiving constructive feedback.

The further sentences are trying to explain the bold stuff but are demanding something completely different. The ability to be friendly, clear and constructive has very few to do with the expectation of handling other people's feedback openly.

Additionally I wonder why only people here to help should be patient and only people looking for help should make others' lives easier?

By honest counting we'll get to about 12-15 bullet points with behavior requirements in the Code of Conduct, possibly based on user roles. That's longer than the creative commons license that legally covers our posts...

Again, that's okay for a Code of Conduct. Those are wordier documents since they are the modern insurance of employers to either sue employees if they violate it or at least being able to say publicly they told them to be better. As employee I have to sign that I read it and will act accordingly.

What's it good for?

Sure Stack Exchange can set up such a document and point to it if there's a shitstorm about an escalation of racial slurs in the comments. Goal achieved? :|

Meta can discuss that document forever but that won't change a thing. The people civilly discussing a Code of Conduct on Meta are not our problem. Which brings me back to my question, what's the CoC really for? Giving meta a great basis for discussion or reaching the goal that Be Nice originally set out to do? It's very well for the former but in my opinion a step back for the latter.

Why it cannot replace Be Nice

Airplane emergency check lists have at most 5-6 items. No good modern checklist has more because people can't remember more consistently. (Cf. The Checklist Manifesto) We as community and especially the moderators need that check list to point to. You've started alright with the tl;dr part, already anticipating that—well, nobody reads the full thing.

The problem is that the tl;dr is currently the boiled down rainbow unicorn part of the document. It says basically be a good person. It's missing, don't be a jerk. When was Be Nice used? Exactly, when someone wasn't. The CoC cannot be very well used for that. Most of the target group Be Nice was thrown at won't read that much text. The CoC sounds like nice background literature and the tl;dr version is a nice opener to set a communities tone.

However, the target group we need the current Be Nice for was forgotten. Jerks. With the rainbow unicorn "be a good person" version as opener and the linked CoC the people who need behavior guidelines will never pass the guidance, "don't be a jerk", or any of the unaccepted behaviors in the CoC. This cannot be stressed enough, they will not be read.

Let's have a look at racist comments for example.

  • Previously any racist comment failed to meet the criteria of two out of three points from a half-pager.

  • Now the reason to delete said comment is buried behind a preamble, in a bullet point list, on item seven, in a sub-enumeration of items which might partly require a dictionary (depending on English fluency).

Exaggerating a bit, will moderators in the future write after deleting an insult to an overweight person, "deleted comment due to CoC, Section 2, Sub-Section 3, Item 10"? That is not making it easy on anyone who wants to uphold any standard.

I very much prefer a hint to something simple, like Be Nice, Don't be a jerk. Maybe the current Be Nice is the best tl;dr the CoC can have.

Most times simplicity is key. That's why airplanes rarely crash.


I see the irony in my post failing that simplicity badly. But it's late and I didn't have time to write a shorter post.

  • 4
    "When was Be Nice used? Exactly, when someone wasn't. The CoC cannot be very well used for that." Um... why not? Particularly the TL;DR version of the CoC. – Nicol Bolas Jul 4 at 0:23
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    @NicolBolas because the CoC has explicitly another target group and because the tl;dr; doesn't contain any don'ts. – Helmar Jul 4 at 11:23
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    After reading this answer, I wonder if the new CoC could augment rather than replace the old “Be Nice” policy. – J.R. Jul 4 at 20:36

Sigh.

I think the SE team really wants to put a new Code of Conduct through, so I am not particularly convinced that many criticisms will have an effect. Fundamentally I find an overview how cases and differences in opinion should be handled very good. It helps other people to understand how a site works (if they bother to read it; the shorter, the better) and it gives everyone a guideline what to do if something is amiss. A kind of manual if "Be Nice" does not work.

But one point which I personally miss in the existing answers is

Not anticipating the effects of difference of culture and worldviews.

While being mostly active in other groups, I also participate in Politics.SE. The people visiting Politics.SE are very, very different in nationality and political beliefs and often quite vocal about their beliefs. They also have often...erm...a not so good opinion of other viewpoints and worldviews.

Let's play devil's advocate here.

Follow our guidelines and don't worry if others suggest changes or edit your question - they’re trying to make your question helpful to as many people as possible.

Important to note: Here it is assumed that the behavior (edits or changes) come from good intentions. Am I too pessimistic to assume that not all changes or edits are well-intentioned? Especially with politically charged items like e.g. "Crimean accession"/"Russian annexation"?

If someone points out that your behavior is making others uncomfortable, stop doing it. Sometimes, people unconsciously say things that negatively affect others. Even if this wasn’t your intent, apologize and move on.
No subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language. Regardless of intent, this behavior can have a significant negative impact on others. For example, saying “You could Google this in 5 seconds” is a subtle put-down.

I really can't imagine that trying to enforce this in Politics.SE will not cause pandemonium. Opinions of politics who are deviating from the own belief are making people often extremely uncomfortable. Politics is also full of charged words who can be extremely easy misinterpreted as put-down or unwelcoming. Given that intent should not matter at all and an apology should be issued to a political opponent (!), I cannot see that this will work out.

But even on less controversial themes I see that we have a plethora of many, many different cultures and worldviews. Some people are more straightforward than polite, some cultures have other core values than others. The nice thing about "Be nice" is that is an accepted behavior in all cultures. Even if someone violates expectations, talking together will solve this easily if both sides have good will. The new Code of Conduct tries to introduce a "One Size, Fits all".

Another problem I see is that the Code of Conduct now urges people to point out behavior they think others find uncomfortable. People cannot read minds, so if e.g. I am targeted by a remark, at least I would like to retain personal autonomy if and how I find a remark offensive or hurtful.

Overall, I do not like the overall tone of the Code of Conduct. It feels in my opinion too...patronizing.

It is not more the tone of "Be nice": We trust you that you have good intentions. If something goes awry, try to fix it to the best of your abilities.

It is now more: "We need to show you what correct and acceptable behavior according to our standard is. Intent does not count anymore, if something goes awry, we will decide if there is an offense and how to cope with it".

I think SE goes the wrong path. Trying to project a good image, trying to be welcoming to everyone, trying to avoid and subdue conflicts, trying to urge others to report others. But I don't think what I say does matter at all.

The attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell. Karl Popper.
  • +1 I do think it is a difficult balance to get right, and ultimately it does come down to the communities themselves to work out what the 'proper' behaviour should be (if we are trying to be 'democratic' about it. I think the interesting thing would be to consider which lines in the CoC can be taken out, not what else needs to be added in :) – Michael Lai Jul 5 at 0:08
  • It might also be that SE doesn't care if Politics.SE needs to be shut down. Just saying. – Nemo Jul 16 at 7:13
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    I wish I could upvote this more than once. What's really happening here is that certain antisocial individuals simply don't like to see people or groups succeeding or expanding. So, they seize on any pretext to object. No matter how apparently valid the criticisms are, they are really just saying "Stop communicating, stop being there." And rather than cheerily ignoring it, Stack Exchange is trying to please and appease everybody and avoid offending anyone. That's impossible, of course. What we really need is a redoubling of focus on the actual mission of SE. – Wildcard Jul 16 at 17:57

There is a difference between what you write and my expectations of Stack Exchange.

SEN CoC:

Our mission is to build an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of expertise, identity, or language. Whether you’ve come to ask questions or to generously share what you know, join us in building a learning community that is rooted in kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect.

My CoC Expectation:

Our mission is to build a website with good questions and excellent answers on a diverse number of fields. Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you. We're all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor. Be Nice.


SEN Expectations:

  • If you’re here to help others, be patient and welcoming. Learning how to participate in our community can be daunting, especially if someone is new. Be supportive while others are learning.

  • Etc.

My Expectation:

  • Be nice. Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you. We're all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.

  • If you are here to find an answer, and did not find it, please check how to ask a question. If you did find your answer, please upvote.

  • If you’re here to help others, be patient and nice. Learning how to participate in our community can be a learning curve, as this is not a forum.

  • Be friendly, clear, and constructive. Editing, commenting, and sharing feedback are healthy parts of our community. When giving feedback, avoid jokes and sarcasm -- tone is hard to decipher online. Be open to receiving constructive feedback.

  • If you are reading something that is making you feel uncomfortable, let it go. If you see a pattern, flag it and move on. Sometimes, people unconsciously say things that negatively affect others. You can handle this (as an adult) and move on.

Unacceptable Behaviour:

  • No discrimination. This includes any language you know is offensive to people. This includes (but not limited to): nationality, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability or mental illness.

  • No harassment. This includes, but isn’t limited to: bullying, intimidation, vulgar language, direct or indirect threats, sexually suggestive remarks, patterns of inappropriate social contact, and sustained disruptions of discussion.

  • No name-calling or personal attacks. Focus on the content, not the person.


My 2 cents

I don't think there is anything wrong with the current Code of Conduct. Worse yet, Stack Exchange and I have different things we want out of it. SE wants to be an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of expertise, identity, or language. I want a site where I can get a solution to the problem I am facing. I want expertise. I expect decent human behaviour.

If I ask a stupid question to my friends, I will get a stupid answer back. If I ask a question to my wife that tells her I have put little effort into it, I will get an answer to do my own homework. And I am fine with both of them: Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you. Effort in, effort out.

If you want an an inclusive community, go find your sub reddit. I want good questions with excellent answers.

  • 15
    I agree with you 150% about the MISSION. No, the mission is not a "welcoming community." And it never was. The core mission was "Ask questions, get answers. No distractions." As noted on the Tour Page. Along with, "With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about (site topic)." THAT'S the mission. – Wildcard Jul 6 at 3:34
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    I agree with everything you said. The plain truth is not everyone should feel welcome. For instance: People that can't be bothered to read the rules on asking questions, people that can't be bothered to do minimal effort in researching, asking coherent questions, or read and understand the answers, people who are clearly posting homework assignments. This CoC completely ignores these issues, and puts responders who rightly rebuke these types of users, in jeopardy. I have faith in moderation to downvote bad answers. But, there is a big cost for moderators to remove all the terrible questions. – shellster Jul 18 at 17:28
  • In my view one of the best answers. With all due respect to the authors of the proposed CoC, I believe that it will destroy what SE is today. The proposed CoC is an invitation to self-declared social justice knights to open SE for their crusade. See Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism at Less Wrong for what awaits SE if it continues on this path. – countermode Jul 19 at 23:09

There is a large amount of redundancy in this document, which is the main issue I have with codes of conduct in general. More text means more opportunity to exploit the wording. Even if such an attempt is not successful, it wastes people's time. In particular, everything under the section describing unacceptable behavior is redundant. These are all covered by the Be Nice policy. Why do you need to specify that you can't use discriminating language for people based on their race? In other words, why do you have to say "be nice to everyone" and then, right after that, say "be nice to people of other races"? It seems unnecessary and overly politicized. Just say that you have to be nice and keep feedback constructive.

In addition, simply calling it a "code of conduct" leaves me with a dirty taste in my mouth. Such documents are very frequently used for abuse, both by people with good intentions and those with bad intentions. As such, many people do not like such things.

I think the current Be Nice policy is wonderful. It is simple, easy to read, and highly inclusive. I would like to see anyone point out a negative action that would be allowed in the Be Nice policy, but not with this new code of conduct.

  • 1
    "These are all covered by the Be Nice policy." Are they? Because people apparently keep doing them and keep not getting sanctioned for it. So if you're going to tighten the reigns so to speak, it's a good idea to make it more clear what is and isn't acceptable. – Nicol Bolas Jul 4 at 4:50
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    I get what you are saying, @forest, and to be honest, I like your comment around focusing on the TL;DR version. It mostly works. – Rory Alsop Jul 4 at 8:07
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    @NicolBolas "people apparently keep doing them and keep not getting sanctioned for it" - citation needed. Barring odd occasions when a user blows up, starts throwing insults at people, and gets suspended, the only item in that four-item list that I think I've seen happen on the site is the "subtle put-downs and unwelcoming language"... primarily because it's a vague enough phrase that any criticism could be construed as a violation. – Mark Amery Jul 4 at 9:46
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    I think the point about calling out race &c. as a particular instance isn't so much for the people who would break the policy, as to give confidence to people who are minorities in some way and would be afraid of discrimination or harassment. That's certainly the idea with the kind of open-source and conference CoCs on which this one is based. – Dan Hulme Jul 4 at 11:15
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    @DanHulme What further confidence is needed than telling people to be nice? Do they really need coddling to feel good? I think the idea that they need special treatment to be a little offensive. – forest Jul 5 at 2:03
  • @forest Under the new rules, if you find it offensive, they should stop saying it and apologize to you. – Dan Hulme Jul 5 at 9:06
  • "your post makes me uncomfortable" Under the new CoC, your post now violates the CoC. If I comment this on all of your posts ever, you are now a repeat offender that needs to be banned. Isn't exploiting the word of the law to your benefit fun? ^_^ – Tezra Jul 5 at 20:35
  • @Tezra Indeed. And while that specific example is rather contrived, it is certainly possible to abuse the exploit the word of the law in such a way. Even if it doesn't end up working, it will have wasted everyone's time, which is still a win for the trolls. – forest Jul 5 at 20:46
  • @forest I'm just afraid that will work if a tired mod sees it in a flood of 500 identical flags. Although if we REALLY want to rules lawyer this, not harassing people is Unacceptable Behavior. So we are all violating the CoC by being nice? – Tezra Jul 6 at 11:44

A single, simple question in response to this question:

What problem(s) is a Code of Conduct intended to solve?

Is the problem "new users don't read the Help Centre and therefore don't know about Be Nice"? Because... if they can't be arsed to read the short-and-sweet policy, do you really think they're going to read the much longer Code of Conduct?

If the problem is "someone got moderated and complained about it because they allegedly don't understand why, and the current Help Centre documentation isn't thorough enough to give an adequate explanation" then fair enough, a more comprehensive document than Be Nice will probably be helpful. Unfortunately, it's been my past experience that most people who choose to challenge administrative decisions do so not because they believe a mistake or bad judgement call was made, but because they are bad actors who either get their kicks out of wasting others' time, or honestly believe they are in the right despite any and all evidence to the contrary; self-entitlement seems to be a helluva drug.


As for the new CoC itself, I have a fundamental objection to it on the grounds that I feel its language is too restrictive and open to abuse by bad actors; but if (as it appears) it's already been decided that it shall be imposed, then I have the following comments:

  • Keep the original/legacy Be Nice mission statement as the very first item in the new CoC, with a blurb before and after that gives context. Something like:

Our Code of Conduct can be summed up by the following statement:

Be nice.

Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you. We're all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.

The above can be ambiguous, so in order to clear up any misinterpretations we've outlined fuller guidelines below.

<rest of CoC follows>

  • @Kobi's answer re "Our mission" is spot-on, I won't bother repeating what he's said here, except to concur.

  • "Our expectations" section: move the "If you’re here to get help..." bullet point to the top of the list (same for the abridged versions) - IMO the CoC is primarily aimed at new users, so let's put them front and centre.

  • "If you’re here to get help...": as @fbueckert noted, add something about demonstrating effort.

  • well said. I like your suggestion of putting the TLDR version up top – Patrick Parker Jul 6 at 18:30

Reporting and Enforcement

...

  • Address it directly. If you’re comfortable addressing the person who instigated it, let them know how this behavior affects you or others. You can also remind them of the Code of Conduct. If the behavior escalates, disengage immediately -- staff or moderators will take action.


Can you clarify how to do that and when? Via comment would conflict with When I should comment?.

I'm surprised that meta pages were never mentioned either. They could provide a platform for discussing problematic cases - maybe more suitable than the comment section below someone else's post. What role do they play?

  • Thanks for pointing this out. We'll have to take another look at the commenting guidelines. Re: Meta - opted not to mention it in this iteration precisely because we'd need to clarify its role & set people's expectations about going to Meta - which is a hefty topic in itself. – Donna Jul 3 at 21:28
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    @Donna I think that paragraph makes perfect sense for chat. Less so, if at all, for main sites though. Perhaps retargetting it to chat only would be a good idea? – terdon Jul 4 at 9:18
  • I see this paragraph a bit as a contrast to being welcome and no put-downs. When you are having trouble with the person, personal addressing of it can often make it much worse. Telling people to clarify it between themself can lead to flame wars, which could be avoided if some third person would help them to cool down instead of shouting at each other making it only worse. And in the end both will tell you "the OTHERperson started it I tried to tell THEM to stop and THEY made it worse". This does not help any of the persons in the conflict. – allo Jul 5 at 12:15

In the spirit of not discriminating against people based on English fluency, what do you think of making the CoC available in simple language?

The first two sentences in the code are already prime examples of sentences that are possibly hard to parse for non-native english speakers.

Instead of a long sentence like:

Whether you’ve come to ask questions or to generously share what you know, join us in building a learning community that is rooted in kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect.

What about multiple shorter sentences?

It does not matter whether you came to ask questions or share what you know. Join us in building a kind, collaborative and respectful community.

Carrying this on throughout the CoC is... challenging. Simple language is hard

It applies to everyone using the Stack Exchange network, including our team, moderators, and anyone posting to our Q&A site or chat rooms.


It applies to everyone using the Stack Exchange network. That means our team, moderators and every user on any Q&A site or chatroom.


In a similar vein the vocabulary used in the CoC belongs to a pretty high register. That's all fine, but be aware that not everyone will know all the words. And of those not everyone will actually go and look them up to understand the CoC...

  • 4
    "In a similar vein the vocabulary used in the CoC belongs to a pretty high register" - simple language, please :P – John Dvorak Jul 4 at 9:36
  • Good examples of what I was trying to say in my answer's title. +1 for making good recommendations. – KorvinStarmast Jul 4 at 12:45
  • I'll add that jargon and idiomatic expressions are equally bad, especially if they translate poorly. What even is a "put-down"? I've never used this word in my life. If you know where it comes from and who uses it, please edit Wiktionary. :) en.wiktionary.org/wiki/put-down – Nemo Jul 16 at 7:23

1) It is understandable that as SE becomes an actual corporation, political correctness will infiltrate the official language. The usual side effect is that the text becomes boring, and this is what happened with the new Code of Conduct. In other words, you turned "be nice" into "be heavenly" and the rather universal consensus is that heaven is a boring place while you're alive.

2) You spit on the glorious past of the SE universe by not including the motto "Be nice" in the new text.

3) You start the Code of Conduct by writing

Our mission is to build an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of expertise, identity, or language.

Regardless of expertise? Consider that in all cases where the subject matter of an SE site is also a subject matter of formal education, the "regardless of expertise" part is a clear signal that it can be also used as a do-my-homework mill (and without pay).

4) It is also understandable that you want to increase control over the moderators. But by suggesting

If you have concerns about how a moderator has handled a situation, contact us directly

you do it in a most belittling way. The suggestion should be to first discuss such issues on the meta-sites.

But apart from the above, the new code of conduct is certainly more suitable for a massively massive audience, that really needs to be told not to put the cat in the microwave oven to dry. And I write this without any degree of sarcasm whatsoever.

  • 2
    I think you might be imagining a problem when you talk about "[increasing] control over the moderators". Contacting SE with a concern about moderation has always been the policy. I think most other moderators would agree with me that we would suggest this to a disgruntled user over posting on meta. I don't feel belittled by this advice. – Dan Hulme Jul 4 at 11:12
  • 1
    @DanHulme It is certainly a possibility. I guess it has to do with my professional biases. – Alecos Papadopoulos Jul 4 at 11:59
  • I agree, I feel that mandating behavior beyond the simple doctrine of "be nice" ruins any sense of freedom this forum has. It also sets a precedent of allowing the corporate leadership to define our culture and the way we communicate. TL;DR: I on principle don't like companies telling users how to act. – user189728 Jul 18 at 19:29

I think the intent is (broadly) good. I get what it's trying to do.

However, some of the specific phrasing seems to be setting us up for not being able to moderate effectively (whether as diamond moderators or ordinary users). For example consider this heading:

No discrimination of any kind.

(emphasis mine, because that's where the problems arise)

On this network of sites, we're dealing (almost entirely) with responses to text. The very function of the site is to discriminate between good answers and poor ones, and so we must be careful only to proscribe what we actually want to avoid, not to make it impossible for the site to function.

This kind of overly-broad prescription gives people who write poor answers every excuse to cry foul.

My suggestion is avoid 'dealing in absolutes' like that, because it gives people too much opportunity to point to the policy and turn the tables -- to make life very difficult for the people trying to keep the site functioning by constantly finding this or that objection to their crappy posts "discriminatory". It is discriminatory -- ultimately because their post is bad.

Please allow us to continue to discriminate in the ways we should -- against poor content -- rather than setting yourself up for compulsory defense of poor content on the grounds that someone may cite discrimination ("you're discriminating against me because I can't spell, cite a reference or express a coherent thought -- that's not fair, I am just differently-abled, I am offended and I demand the commenter be suspended according to the clear wording of the guidelines. At the very least their discriminatory comment should be removed and their discriminatory downvote reversed").

[In actual cases, though it won't be framed quite so obviously, but rather more subtly.]

That we should be nice when we do discriminate against poor content, and avoid being (by some reasonable standard) personally offensive, sure, I agree with that -- we should focus on the content and not the attributes of the poster, but people's capacity to find any form of criticism personally objectionable is boundless.

I also think the document focuses too much on the action to be taken. This is akin to the usual objections to mandatory sentencing in judicial systems -- they reduce or remove the ability to consider mitigating circumstances. That such recommendations should exist somewhere (as guidelines for moderators) sure; I don't think their place is in a policy document.

  • It seems to me that the punishments outlined in the CoC are more akin to sentencing guidelines than mandatory minimums. The former are not usually decried as awful these days. – Mark Amery Jul 4 at 12:45
  • Thanks. It's possible I took them the wrong way; I would still suggest that it's not the right place for them. – Glen_b Jul 4 at 13:35
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    This is a crucial point, and it's part of why nvoight's answer, saying that the CoC should forbid harassment, not discrimination, is so important. Every user on the network "discriminates" all the time against poor content (by voting it down), content that violates site policy (by voting to close or delete it), and uninteresting content (by ignoring it). "No discrimination of any kind," without a clear definition of what "discrimination" means, is a dangerous standard. – Nathaniel Jul 4 at 20:57
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    I was going to suggest that swapping the word from "discrimination" to "bigotry" would fix this... and noticed that actually, that's exactly the word the existing Be nice policy uses. Not sure what motivated the change, but I think it was a bad one. – Mark Amery Jul 5 at 8:15

Language is bloated; leaner prose is recommended

I'll make two concrete recommendations.

  1. Change

    Our mission is to build an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate, regardless of expertise, identity, or language

    to read

    Our mission is to build an inclusive community where all people feel welcome and can participate.

    Comment: (1) stronger statement when unqualified, and (2) "regardless of expertise" looks to be completely opposed to the basic SE model.

  2. Remove or significantly rewrite this one:

    No subtle put-downs or unwelcoming language. Regardless of intent, this behavior can have a significant negative impact on others. For example, saying “You could Google this in 5 seconds” is a subtle put-down.

    Comment: while this bullet aims at a worthy goal, it is "soft" rather than "hard" as guidance. Too subjective.

    As was discussed in the "let's hold comments to the same standard" Q&A on Meta.SE, within the set of users that is all SE users there are varying abilities with language, varying writing styles, and a non-trivial number of people who use English as a second, third, etc language. (Not to mention different cultural assumptions ...). The term "unwelcoming language" needs to go because it is nebulous at best.

    Removal of this point, since it is redundant, is my suggestion. The CoC goes into considerable detail later on behavior that is not within bounds. If for reasons of required content or completeness it can't be removed, then it needs to be rewritten to be less subjective.

    At the very least, this bullet point needs to be the fourth of four bullet points, not the first of four. The name calling / discrimination / harassment bullet points are all of greater weight.

  3. Some other good recommendations for leaner, more concise language are in this well presented answer by @Vogel612's Shadow

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