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Since the new "be nice" rule, I've notice that a lot of responses while not overtly mean, are definitely passive-aggressive and in real life in a real business would result in being dis-invited from future meetings and possibly booted out the door for being a "bad culture fit".

The is driving away actual participants in droves, leaving mostly people who google an answer and never actually sign up to help.

What can be done to discourage this behavior and encourage genuinely friendly behavior?

closed as unclear what you're asking by gnat, Robert Longson, Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog, rene, Nathan Tuggy Oct 11 '18 at 18:06

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Can you give some examples of the types of responses that you feel are passive-aggressive? Are downvotes passive-aggressive? Is closing a question passive-aggressive? – Robert Columbia Oct 11 '18 at 13:40
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    You really can't storm in and throw such accusations without solid examples, you just make things worse this way. If you don't want to share examples use the "contact us" link and send it in private to SE team. – Shadow Oct 11 '18 at 13:43
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    You can achieve both your goals, to discourage this behavior and encourage genuinely welcoming behavior, simultaneously, and almost overnight with one simple change: make askers aware that like any other exchange, SE requires reciprocity. To get, you have to give. Reciprocity is respect. Reciprocity of effort. Reciprocity of assuming good faith. But even just the “reciprocity of effort”, alone, would go a long, long way. People who put effort into their own questions before asking others to donate effort on their behalf almost never suffer this passive aggressiveness you observe. – Dan Bron Oct 11 '18 at 13:54
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    If you're talking about comments, this is exactly the type of things the "be welcoming" movement was supposed to address, and I'm not convinced it's gotten worse since then. (The "be nice" policy has been around for years, and I believe that's mostly been replaced now) – Dukeling Oct 11 '18 at 13:58
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    For what it's worth, people acting the way many new users here act (between asking 0-effort questions, ignoring requests for clarification and acting very entitled) would almost certainly run into problems in just about any workplace. – Dukeling Oct 11 '18 at 14:08
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    @PushfPopf But without examples you don't have a case. I have the impression that users are more friendly (or unfriendly comments are removed more quickly), so what now? – Modus Tollens Oct 11 '18 at 14:52
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    I was reserving judgement, as it's not quite clear what exactly is being referred to, but as soon as we get, "If you need examples, there's no point", then there's no good faith going on. The issue isn't clear, nor obvious what is being referred to. If it's a reference to yet another, "SO sucks, amiright?" post...meh. – fbueckert Oct 11 '18 at 14:54
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    @PushfPopf There's nothing wrong with discussing what you see as an issue. But...part of that discussion requires you to bring something to the table to actually discuss. We don't know what you're talking about; you need to make it much clearer. – fbueckert Oct 11 '18 at 15:09
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    If you can't identify the behavior without being handed an example, there's no point in this discussion You have that the wrong way round. Obviously we can’t magically identify behaviour we haven’t seen, that’s not a sensible expectation. If you have seen this, then it seems reasonable that you would be able to provide at least one example. If it’s as endemic as you profess, you should have no trouble providing lots of examples. But refusing to provide examples on the principal that everyone should already be able to work it out for themselves, does nothing but weaken your position – Clive Oct 11 '18 at 15:12
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    ...we don't count as normal humans? – fbueckert Oct 11 '18 at 15:20
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    Yeah I don’t really give much credence to posts on Reddit, about anything. If you want “passive-aggressive”, Reddit is usually where you go to find it, in my experience. Maybe it’s a left-brain v. right-brain thing. You don’t have to call people out by the way, you can just post the comments themselves with usernames redacted. And I’m afraid the question is still very much “if” for me, I don’t see any proof or even anecdotal evidence for your claims. Whether you consider me a “normal human” or not. – Clive Oct 11 '18 at 15:20
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    @PushfPopf Btw, I am almost reluctant to bring this up again, but since this seems to be another jab aimed at established users moderating... Have you seen this (warning: language)? It's a sample of openly hostile comments posted by new users. That's the other side of the medal and the reason why some established users get a little miffed when being accused of being unwelcoming. NB, I see less of those comments nowadays, and I am thankful for that. – Modus Tollens Oct 11 '18 at 15:38
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    @PushfPopf So moderators and user moderators should be infallible. Their "niceness" should be rated. They spend hours moderating the site, but maybe they can't help getting a little terse now and then after addressing the umpteenth unresearched easy-to-google question asked in leet speach after an 8 hour workday... – Modus Tollens Oct 11 '18 at 16:35
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    @PushfPopf A lot of moderating actions are seen as "unfriendly" when new users don't read up on the rules. Are they the ones to judge what is "nice"? – Modus Tollens Oct 11 '18 at 17:19
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    @PushfPopf If you reward niceness, everyone will tend toward excessive / fake niceness and many will perceive that as a lot more toxic than it is now. Reducing or eliminating the reward for people who know what they're talking about will also reduce the number of people who know what they're talking about, which is pretty damning for a professional Q&A that strives to have high quality questions and answers. The niceness discussion is also 99% about comments, which are intended to be temporary, and rewarding that will take the focus away from the important part - the actual Q&A's. – Dukeling Oct 11 '18 at 17:20
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In your title you ask how many people have left, which probably wouldn't be measurable even if you specified the constraints of the query more clearly. Instead, I'll address the question in your body.

What can be done to discourage this behavior and encourage genuinely friendly behavior?

If you see something that violates site policies, including the code of conduct, flag it. Comment flags were recently overhauled to make it easier to see how to flag unkind or abusive comments. Use your flags.

If you see a systematic problem on a site (not just a stray comment), bring it up with specific examples on that site's meta and ask the community how to improve things. Helpful tip: these kinds of meta discussions go better if you approach with a question rather than a vague assertion.

Another thing you can do is to model good behavior. Make sure your own comments and posts are constructive, welcoming, and free of passive-aggressiveness, snark, or ranting. If you see somebody who needs a helping hand -- a pointer to the help, an edit that you can provide, etc -- then offer it if you can. Be the change you want to see.

You might be labeling as "passive-aggressive" things that are not, like downvotes and close votes. Those are important site functions that are explained in the help.

  • While I have no access to the "behind the scenes" activity, the "flag" button seems to be about as effective as the "cross-walk buttons" that do nothing but make the pedestrians feel like they have some control. A response would be nice like "we deleted the comment" or "user has been warned and will be banned if the behavior continues" would be most welcome. It would be especially wonderful if this applied equally to everybody, regardless of points or badges. – PushfPopf Oct 11 '18 at 15:33
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    Moderators can't reply to comment flags, but if the flag was valid the comment gets deleted. Users who get too many unkind/rude flags are automatically brought to the attention of moderators. Specific corrective action is always going to be private between the moderators and the affected users. – Monica Cellio Oct 11 '18 at 15:58
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    @PushfPopf Why do you believe flags to be useless? You can see how flags were handled in you flag history. I see comments I flagged being deleted all the time. – Modus Tollens Oct 11 '18 at 16:12
  • @ModusTollens Especially for high-point users, there's still no (apparent) down-side to being an a-hole. Maybe a sidebar that lists actual actions like "recently banned users" would be useful. Like "User <userid> (Reputation <rep>) banned for two weeks for being unkind" would help. – PushfPopf Oct 11 '18 at 16:19
  • @PushfPopf here is your list of high-rep users that are possible suspended: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/901680/… – rene Oct 11 '18 at 16:21
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    @PushfPopf There is a down-side: gather enough "unfriendly" flags and you'll get suspended. – Modus Tollens Oct 11 '18 at 16:22
  • @ModusTollens This should be public. Like when people give the grocery store bad checks and they put up a sign at the cash register that says "X gave us a bad check". With (hundreds of thousands?) of users, the general membership has no idea that any particular people have been suspended, which makes the penalties invisible and largely ineffective. – PushfPopf Oct 11 '18 at 16:25
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    But we don't hold a permanent grudge against users ... Nor do we believe that this community can't change over time. It took us 6 to 8 years to get here, give us some leeway to find the way out of here ... – rene Oct 11 '18 at 16:27
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    @PushfPopf Of couse it is public. It says so on their profile and their reputation points are set to 1. – Modus Tollens Oct 11 '18 at 16:28
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    Adding a sidebar would go against the current moderation process; we forgive and forget. Someone's served their time, so they're welcome back as if it didn't happen. Publicizing it doesn't do anything but add drama. Naming and shaming doesn't work if the goal is changing someone's behaviour; it just leads to rubbernecking. – fbueckert Oct 11 '18 at 16:35
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    @ModusTollens That's not really public. It's like when the Vogons destroyed the Earth (HHGTTG) and said that the order had been on display in a basement on another planet. Nobody is going to go look at a specific user profile to see what happened unless they're way too invested. OVerall actions should be visible without doing any digging. Maybe even just a tote board like "30 users given 2 week bans today for being unkind" – PushfPopf Oct 11 '18 at 16:35
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    @PushfPopf Yeah, why not establish a virtual pillory. Bring out the pitch fork while you're at it. Seriously. You still didn't bring up any live example of the behaviour you don't like on SE. Hint: if you find one, flag it. That's the tool to make the site better. – Modus Tollens Oct 11 '18 at 16:40
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    @PushfPopf please take the discussion of publicizing suspensions somewhere else. It's tangential to this answer, it's not going to change anyway, and I'm getting pinged on every comment in this discussion. – Monica Cellio Oct 11 '18 at 17:13
  • @MonicaCellio Public Embarrassment is an effective tool for enforcing social norms and is right on point with the text you quoted "What can be done to discourage this behavior and encourage genuinely friendly behavior?"; While I thought things might be different now, I'm not surprised that this didn't get any more traction now than 2 years ago or 5 or more years ago. Every now and then I get irrationally hopeful that actual change will happen and SO will become a place that inspires new programmers instead of filling them with dread. – PushfPopf Oct 11 '18 at 17:48
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    @PushfPopf - "Public Embarrassment is an effective tool" - No; It's a tool to run off people you don't agree with. "Public Embarrassment" is a passive-aggressive tool primarily used by insecure people. If anyone attempted to do that to me, it wouldn't change my behavior, I am not swayed by the crowd. I am not a sheep. – Ramhound Oct 11 '18 at 23:41
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It is not easily possible to even estimate how many people have stopped participating, never mind the number who have stopped because of 'passive-aggressive' responses specifically.

Its may be failrly easy to estimate the number of accounts that ask one question and then become dormant, but differentiating between actual one-off users and one-account-per-question burner accounts is not easily possible.

Then there's the issue of identifying 'passive-aggressive' responses. Many CoC violating responses are active-defensive, eg: 'No! We will not do all your homework', and many just defensive, eg: 'We cannot help if you don't copy/paste the code you actually tested'.

You would have to define what 'passive-agressive' means, and then the whole thing spirals into 'agressivegate' with a couple months of wasted meta effort that will eventually conclude that anything could be 'felt' as 'passive-agressive', and so it's better to not post anything at all. especially to new accounts.

SO is going to PHP in handbasket, and meta pseudo-rants like this question are buying the tickets.

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