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Let's say that Party A responds to a question with a 'reasonable' answer.

Party B responds to the same question with their own 'reasonable' answer, and also uses the opportunity to specifically target and undermine Party A's answer. For example:

"One of the other answers suggests [blah]. Don't do this! [reasons — valid or not]."

Being as generous as possible (as far as intent goes), it appears to me that Party B has begun 'debating' Party A — something I don't think(?) is encouraged here on SE.

I'm wondering:

  • what others think
  • whether this sort of behaviour is widespread
  • whether critique of an answer should be limited to the comment section for that answer
  • whether cross-answer debating should be discouraged explicitly in the guidelines

To be clear: I'm not talking about a personal attack against the author of another answer — that would clearly be wrong. I'm talking about using an answer to snipe/sabotage/challenge/debate another answer.

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    Depends, if one answer is vulnerable to SQL injection and the other answer presents a solution that isn't and explains why then that's not a problem surely? If you focus your answer on content that's OK, on a person, not so much. – Robert Longson Apr 28 at 9:26
  • If Party A's answer was flawed, then doesn't critique of it belong in the Comment section of that answer? I don't have a problem with critique as such... I just don't see other Answers as being the place to do it. – Tim Apr 28 at 9:44
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    @Tim answers are an appropriate place for alternative solutions. Then it makes sense to include some reason why to choose it over said alternatives. – John Dvorak Apr 28 at 9:50
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    NO, it's better for the person to dispute reasonably using an answer than to fire off a comment disparaging an answer and offer neither backup (references) nor have nothing to lose other than harbored resentment. If you have a theory put it in your answer and keep your mumbling to yourself, comments aren't at risk of downvoting and putting your backhanded answer (that you disagree with an answer, but offer nothing better) is a low blow unworthy of a gentle-person; or should you clairify your question? (<- see?). – Rob Apr 28 at 9:54
  • Party B already provided their answer, and extolled its virtues. Party B then went out of their way to sabotage Party A's answer by spreading baseless fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Baseless. Plain wrong. Party B's 'lies' then needed to be corrected by Party C. It is not a case of legitimate critique. – Tim Apr 28 at 9:59
  • @Rob Isn't "dispute reasonably" the same as 'debating'? And isn't debating discouraged on SE? – Tim Apr 28 at 10:01
  • @Rob I followed what you were saying up until: "putting your backhanded answer (that you disagree with an answer, but offer nothing better) is a low blow unworthy of a gentle-person; or should you clairify your question? (<- see?)." I don't understand what you are trying to say with that. – Tim Apr 28 at 10:11
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    Actually: posting an answer to dispute another answer -- and as long the answer is also standalone/self-contained -- is a better approach because the answer can be downvoted (if it's wrong), while a comment cannot. – Meta Andrew T. Apr 28 at 11:18
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    @Tim: The validity of doing what you described depends entirely on whether "Baseless fearmongering monologue" is a legitimate description of the criticism. If the criticism is earned, if it is legitimately a poor answer, then an answer that "sabotages" a bad answer is doing users a service. – Nicol Bolas Apr 28 at 13:29
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    @Tim, the NoDistractionWizard explained that in their comment, as has NicolBolas. Both the answers offered thus far tell a similar story. If you know that part (or all) of an answer is not helpful or plain wrong it's a better service to everyone to offer your opinion (or someone else's facts, that you found through research) with supporting links to show why your answer is correct; politely pointing out shortcomings (or dangers) in other answers is optional and reasonable (if done within the CoC). A disparaging remark with no supporting evidence is a lazy answer and not a useful comment. – Rob Apr 28 at 13:58
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what others think

Well, based on the situation as you described it in your comment here, this might have been a case of a bit more than just writing your own, better answer, and instead a case of not so welcome behaviour.

But the expected way to behave is to write your own, (more) correct answer when you see another answer is wrong, and linking back to or quoting that wrong answer and explaining exactly what was wrong with it, is not to be discouraged.

So I think this may be either a case of making a mountain of a molehill or a serious problem, sadly I can't see without a look at the answer that sparked this meta.

whether this sort of behaviour is widespread

I would answer this with 'no'. I've been moderating a site where there's been A LOT of bickering in comments over whether answers are right or wrong. I remember one of my own answers on that site, it has 90! deleted comments, all people trying to bicker over parts of the answer they felt were 'wrong' or 'right'.

Yet the question has 0 answers that link back to or explicitly mention the answer I wrote there, and while the bickering and sniping moved to meta, it did not result in any proper answers on main.

And that goes for most of the controversies I see on sites: The sniping is always happening in comments, and when those are removed, it seems to move to meta with questions like: Why were my comments removed? Why can't I say I disagree with an answer in a comment? Why is this answer still up?

I've only rarely seen people writing their own answers instead, explaining the parts that may go wrong when following the other answer and backing those claims up with facts, references, or in case of the site I moderate, relevant and analogous experiences. Usually, the bickering is a huge sign of people having opinions, but no answers.

whether critique of an answer should be limited to the comment section for that answer

So, my answer here is going to be 'no, but'. In the case you seem to describe here, whatever was in that answer might not have been fit for the comment section either, and that kind of critique should neither be in the comment section nor the answer.

But comments are there to request clarification, and to add information. A comment can be used to point out that an answer may have overlooked an essential part of the question, or request further clarification. Comments can be used to add or correct facts like which year something happened in, but they should never be used to say 'I agree' or 'I disagree'.

So some form of critique belongs in comments, some belong in other answers and another form of critique has no place on these sites at all.

whether cross-answer sniping should be discouraged explicitly in the guidelines

There's no need for special guidelines against writing answers that point out the flaws in other answers in a reasonable way. People are encouraged to write their own answers whenever they feel the existing ones are wrong and to explain why their answer is more right, they need to explain why another way of doing it is wrong.

But what you're describing in your comments seems like it may have been a bit more than 'just the facts'. We still don't need any new guidelines, as we already have guidelines to deal with unfriendly behaviour, and those include 'subtle put-downs and unfriendly language'.

If people go out of their way to trample another answer into the ground, lookt to these guidelines. You can edit the answer to remove the rant against the other answer, while making sure to preserve it's intent and leave the facts. If that doesn't work or seem feasible, you can ask other people to take a look, raise an issue on a site-specific meta. If there's a lot of unfriendly language going on you can still try to edit or flag the answer as rude if it's unsalvageable.

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    Hey! You sniped my approach and layout! – rene Apr 28 at 11:13
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    @rene Did not! I wrote a waaay longer answer, so I was already doing this before you even started yours! – Tinkeringbell Apr 28 at 11:14
  • @Tinkeringbell "So I think this may be either a case of making a mountain of a molehill or a serious problem, sadly I can't see without a look at the answer that sparked this meta." In an attempt to 'protect the parties' I presented the scenario in a generic way. In so doing I think the 'objectionable aspect' got obscured too much, and the door was left open for folks to assume things which further 'derailed' things. I'll use this as a learning experience and try to write a better question next time. Thank you for a comprehensive and considered response. – Tim Apr 28 at 21:02
  • This is likely the impetus for this question. – fbueckert Apr 29 at 14:05
  • @fbueckert I've seen it happen multiple times, in different communities. Whilst that is an example, it's a relatively mild one. I'm not sure hunting for and drawing attention to specific instances is wise, however. – Tim May 3 at 11:34
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I'm wondering:

Me too

  • what others think

I'm fine with it.

  • whether this sort of behaviour is widespread

I don't see it very often but I only visit SO, MSO and MSE

  • whether critique of an answer should be limited to the comment section for that answer

No, if an answer has an important difference that is preferred over alternatives then it is fine to point out which approaches are less ideal. I assume here the critique is on the content not on the users. So opening your answer with: "My answer is better because all answers of Shog9 are terrible" is not an appreciated form of critique. It is even in conflict with being nice and the code of conduct.

  • whether cross-answer sniping should be discouraged explicitly in the guidelines

No, visitors of an Q/A pair should be served with the best answers to a given questions. If competing views exist then it is crucial to make clear it is a competing view and its arguments are best maintained with the answer so future visitors can judge on their own if the given (counter) arguments apply to their context.

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