The 'new user, read our CoC' notifications creep me out. They're making me feel unwelcome.

There has been plenty of fearmongering and drama around the phrase 'code of conduct' across the Internet, most recently r/linux last month. That word sequence is poisoned to me; it's equal to a grumpy administrator breathing down my neck, telling me that the slightest misstep equals permaban.

Proposed fix: Any other name would avoid this association. Community Guidelines, for example.

Additionally, their conditional presence implies the rule does not apply when absent. As an analogy, if you enter a restaurant, you would of course expect everyone to be clothed. But if half of the neighboring restaurants have 'no nudity' signs, would that change your expectations of the other half? Similarly, do we want to encourage unequal treatment of our users?

Proposed fix: Make this notice conditional on the viewer's account properties, not the submitter, under the same trigger as the 'Thanks for contributing an answer to <site>!' flyout. Actually, put it inside that flyout.

The intentions behind those badges are good, of course. I just feel they carry a couple of unintended side effects.

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    This looks like a really loaded feature request, requesting many unrelated (in the system) things, and is as such likely to get marked "too broad". I'd edit this so that it only requests a single thing. Also, your last "proposed fix" is already requested at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/314517/…. – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Oct 26 '18 at 20:44
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    Your question sounds more like a rant than something to actually discuss. Do you have at least some proposals to suggest to fix what's annoying you? – πάντα ῥεῖ Oct 26 '18 at 20:46
  • @πάνταῥεῖ Yes, the user did specify "proposed fixes". But as it stands, this is too broad because we expect one question to only request a single thing. – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Oct 26 '18 at 20:48
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    It's a discussion, not a feature request. Alcaro has outlined a problem (maybe not clearly enough for everybody) and raised some ideas about how to address it. Usually with discussion questions like this, answers expand on, modify, or replace those suggestions to address the root issue. – Monica Cellio Oct 26 '18 at 20:50
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    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog yes, I'm suggesting two changes, but both relate to the answer box and the CoC, so I felt they should be discussed together. If you feel differently, sure, we can split it. As for the linked question, it's status-declined, but the adblock workaround would be tolerable if no better option shows up. – Alcaro Oct 26 '18 at 21:18
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    @Alcaro: "But if half of the neighboring restaurants have 'no nudity' signs, would that change your expectations of the other half?" No, but it would suggest that there have been a lot of naked people trying to go into restaurants in the area. – Nicol Bolas Oct 26 '18 at 21:45
  • @Alcaro: I do think it would be worthwhile to split the question into two, since the proposals can be evaluated independently. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 27 '18 at 3:49
  • @NathanTuggy I don't understand the relevance of the Linux link. I see a sealed Linux 1 for PlayStation 2 box. If the explanation is too long, then just leave it. I'm just puzzled by the link. – Mari-Lou A Oct 27 '18 at 5:42
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    @Mari-LouA Linus Torvalds, the guy who invented and ran the Linux source code (an enormous project) recently published a decision to create a CoC for the Linux community, after many years of vigorously resisting it. The decision split the community into pro-CoC and anti-CoC, with lots of acrimonious debates. Like here. The pro side sees not having a CoC as villainous; the anti see having one as cowardice and capitulation. It’s all tied up with a larger political rift. – Dan Bron Oct 27 '18 at 5:44
  • @Mari-LouA: I don't know why Peter put such a broad link in either. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 27 '18 at 5:45
  • @NathanTuggy oh, the link was added by Peter Mortensen. But it's completely irrelevant, isn't it? Even a Wikipedia link would have made more sense. Dan Bron thanks for the brief explanation, now I get it. – Mari-Lou A Oct 27 '18 at 5:47
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    @Mari-LouA Reddit is the center of the Nerdiverse on the Internet (I know, I hang there a lot). r/Linux is a sub-site there dedicated to Linux. That’s where a lot of the “acrimonious debates” I mentioned took place. He’s pointing to the drama that happened on r/Linux as an analog to here. It really is big news in the nerd universe. The link is weirdly out of place if you don’t live in that bubble, but immediately understandable for people who do. – Dan Bron Oct 27 '18 at 5:49
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    Anecdotally, I've spoken to multiple users who've said that they've stopped talking to new users when downvoting or voting to close. It's just too risky. – Richard Oct 27 '18 at 8:27

Alcaro is a new contributor. Be nice, and check out our Code of Conduct

I'm sympathetic to this concern. Seeing "code of conduct" plastered around a site doesn't give me any great confidence that it's a good place to be - it's like seeing "no formaldehyde" on a bottle of milk, it raises more questions than it answers...

...Of course, at one time the answers to those questions would've been common knowledge, and such a notice would've been of no small value. There's a reason milk cartons are plastered with assertions as to the quality of the contents and information as to how it has been handled, and those who ignore them do so at their peril.

While participating in an online community is probably somewhat less likely to kill you than drinking tainted milk, it can still be risky - and as the awareness of those risks is increasing, so with it is demand for some equivalent to FDA rules.

For all the unfortunate connotations that it has picked up along the way, the term "code of conduct" has a distinct advantage: it is well-known, and folks tend to recognize what it means. Calling it a "behavior" or "be nice" policy - as we've done in the past - fails to communicate the essence of what it means, and thus succeeds only in introducing more jargon that new folks must learn in order to effectively participate here.

But about those connotations...

What is a code?

The literal meaning of "code of conduct" is "laws regarding behavior" - how a community demands that its members act. We've always had such a code - this very site is a living document as to how we expect one another to behave in various situations, from basic questions of etiquette like the use of signatures or cuss words to more complex issues such as taboos, modifying others' work or calling others out.

This hints at something important: the usual arbiter for these disputes is a group of your peers. While elected moderators and employees of Stack Overflow can and do make unilateral decisions on specific cases, these are rare in comparison to the day-to-day resolution of disputes encountered, discussed, and largely handled by folks just like you... and when that fails, folks come here to meta to hash it out, adding to that Code in the process.

This meta site, then, represents a useful guide for what one should expect when participating here; if you're ever in doubt as to how you should act, there'll almost certainly be something here to help you resolve that doubt and act in a way that is acceptable to the larger community.

However... Meta is too large to read quickly. The folks who most need this information, those who have no prior experience with these communities to draw upon, are also the least able to find and digest this vast code. This, then, is the value of a short, easy-to-read guide that covers enough of the basics to get going without drawing the ire of the rest of us.

A guide or a stick

Where folks get into trouble with these codes - ably demonstrated by some of the Linux communities you've referenced - is when they stop treating them as the law of the people, a guide to getting along... and start using them as a tool to bludgeon others with whom they disagree.

When Linus announced that code he also announced that he was taking a break to do some self-reflection and improvement... In other words, he tossed up the code as a tool that he would use to become better at working with others in his community. This is an excellent example to follow! Use the code as a mirror with which to see yourself: just as you might wipe a smudge off of your nose before leaving the house, use this code-as-a-mirror to remove any blemishes from your attitude that might cause you embarrassment or conflict before interacting with others.

But some folks in the Linux community have done something very different from what their leader has tried to demonstrate:

  • Some have chosen to use the Code as a stick with which to beat others, seeking out violators and working to humiliate them. Rather than helping their peers wipe the smudges from their faces, they've worked to maximize the embarrassment and conflict.

  • Others have looked into that mirror and, upon seeing their own marred visage reflected... They've chosen to blame the mirror. This is made worse by the actions of the first group, who've worked to ensure that no honest self-reflection goes unpunished.

Please, let's not do either of those things here!

We're all here to help

I've been thankful that, since the new Code of Conduct has rolled out, most of what I've seen has been honest self-reflection and not bludgeoning. The various meta sites are full of examples of folks looking back on their own participation and asking for assistance in improving how they interact - in short, it has been a tool for learning.

But the danger is still there: beware of anyone who pounds on the CoC like a drunken revival preacher, full of self-righteous anger and mindless of their own hypocrisy. And be careful not to be that person: remove the beam from your own eye before you say anything about the speck in someone else's. And if you're ever in doubt about how the Code applies to you or a situation you're in... Don't hesitate to ask here! The Code of Meta never stops growing...


I don't like the idea of renaming it at all. The premise seems to be that a Code of Conduct is creepy and unpleasant, so since ours isn't that, we should change its name. Seems to me it makes more sense to stand up and point out Codes of Conduct aren't creepy and unpleasant.

Compared to most Codes of Conduct, the Stack Exchange one should be even less scary than one for some sort of in-person interaction such as a conference or workplace. That's because every possible action that might violate it happens in writing, in public, and moderators are only ever acting on what you typed into a text box to be shown to the world, not what you said in private or whether you stood too close to someone or the tone of voice in which you said something. It's pretty difficult to accidentally break such a code of conduct, but if you did, by being blunter than someone else liked, the number one most likely thing to happen is that a community member flags, and your comment would be deleted. Your answer or question might be edited by a community member to remove the blunt part. End of story. No action towards you whatsoever. There isn't an opportunity for drama, for A-said-B-said, when everything has happened in public in writing.

As you can read on the help page, if any action towards a poster is taken at all, it will involve warning you as well as removing the content. In other words, someone will send you a message that says something like "telling people they clearly don't know what they are doing doesn't follow our code of conduct." That's a chance for you to learn what is expected of you with no other consequences at all.

The help page goes on to say that "repetitive misconduct or behavior containing harassment, bigotry, or abuse" may lead to a one day suspension, or possibly more. I don't think this should cause fear in you. A one day suspension is no big deal, and this is for behavior that is not accidental, such as continuing to do something after being told it's against the CoC. And finally, "very rare cases, moderators will expel people who display a pattern of harmful destructive behavior toward our community." A pattern. And not just of being rude, but of harmful destructive behavior.

In my experience, organizers who reject the phrase "code of conduct" referring to fearmongering and drama, and especially to the fear of people that they will be falsely accused, tend to write codes of conduct (under other names) that aren't very helpful. Think instead about the fear felt by people who are harassed and driven away, and you won't worry so much about "drama" and what the rules are called.

  • I'm not clear on what your last line means. Are you referring specifically to the generally-recognized marginalized groups that are the usual intended beneficiaries of a CoC, or anyone whom the group might drive away for any reason, or perhaps anyone the group might drive away without good reason? – Nathan Tuggy Oct 27 '18 at 5:47
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    Anyone who might be driven away for any reason. There's a whole lot of "I should be free to speak as I wish without fear of being told off" and not enough "everyone should be free to participate here without reading hateful things or deliberate insults that drive them away." Whether you're in a marginalized group or not doesn't matter to me, except that people who have a long history of being insulted and rejected will feel more hurt when they get another dose of it here, compared to a happy-go-lucky privileged person who gets one insult a year and says "get a thick skin" to those who object. – Kate Gregory Oct 27 '18 at 5:55
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    In that case, it would seem very much to the purpose of "point[ing] out Codes of Conduct aren't creepy and unpleasant" for someone (you, Stack Exchange, whoever) to eloquently and winsomely describe the reasons no one need fear being either falsely accused of large CoC offenses or persecuted beyond justice for small CoC violations. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 27 '18 at 6:05
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    Perhaps. It's just tiring that people respond "oh no, if there are rules, they might get aimed at me, but I am a good person, so I guess your rules are for putting fear into good people, this isn't right etc etc" and then job one is calming those fears. Like, why is that the top priority? And not just here, everywhere that adds a code of conduct. "We have to be polite? If you assault someone you might be asked to leave? This is terrifying! Someone please reassure me that I won't be affected by this!" Sigh. Is it so hard not to be in the centre all the time? – Kate Gregory Oct 27 '18 at 6:09
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    If an authority figure in a community has just accidentally scared a group of community members in some predictable way, how should that authority figure respond? With empathy, patience, and a desire to soothe unwarranted fears and prevent them from recurring. What was this response characterized by? – Nathan Tuggy Oct 27 '18 at 6:38
  • Go find someone with infinite patience who doesn't get irritated by constantly being asked to value the feelings of "oh no that might be aimed at me" over the feelings of "I guess they don't like my kind here." I am not an authority figure, and I am most assuredly not that patient. More importantly, I am not obliged to be, either. – Kate Gregory Oct 27 '18 at 7:01
  • I thought if you wanted to assert in the answer that CoCs aren't creepy and unpleasant, you might want to back that up in some way that isn't "trust me, they aren't, as long as you're not one of those awful people we don't want". Even a link to someone else's explanation. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 27 '18 at 7:12
  • After dinner I found a little more patience. Hope you all feel reassured now. Hope the "what if they come for me" people can find a little empathy for the "I guess I don't belong there" people some day. – Kate Gregory Oct 27 '18 at 9:29

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