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Background & Motivation

After reading this blog post about the Code of Conduct, I have a suggestion to add "Be Honest" back into the Code of Conduct. Yes, I realize the blog post is nearly a year old, but this issue is still relevant because the Code of Conduct is still in effect currently. The blog post claims:

Since its inception in mid-2008, Stack Overflow and our subsequent network of Stack Exchange sites managed to flourish under a single guiding principle that everyone was expected to follow:

.. Be nice.

However, Stack Overflow and subsequent Exchange sites did not "flourish under a single guiding principle", but rather under two guiding principles. Even the link in the post for single guiding principle shows the second principle, which is "Be Honest":

Be honest.

Above all, be honest. If you see misinformation, vote it down. Insert comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong. Even better — edit and improve the information! Provide stronger, faster, superior answers of your own!

So, why was "Be Honest" left out of the Code of Conduct? Can we add it back in?

After searching the Help Center for be honest, I discovered that the very similar text is still present in the list of Expected Behavior:

Be honest.

Above all, be honest. If you see misinformation, vote it down. Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong. Provide better answers of your own. Last but not least, edit and improve the existing questions and answers! By doing these things, you are helping keep Stack Exchange a great place to share knowledge of our craft.

One could argue that since it is already present in the Expected Behavior, there is no need to repeat "Be Honest" in the Code of Conduct, but I disagree. The idea "Be nice" is essentially expounded on in the Code of Conduct via the discussion of kindness (though perhaps kindness is a genuine upgrade from "niceness"). I support the idea of "Be Honest" being expounded on in the Code of Conduct as well, or just being outright added.

After all, isn't honesty central to our community? Isn't the truth central to the quest for knowledge, wisdom, and understanding? If so, then perhaps it should take a central role in shaping our conduct and community.

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    The main issue I have with a "be honest" section in the CoC is that it's way too easy for a user to try to justify decidedly unpleasant comments by saying "but it's true" or something to that effect. It gives the impression that, if you can justify it by declaring it to be true, then it's OK to say. – Nicol Bolas May 24 at 1:48
  • @Nicol Bolas I see the potential that people will misunderstand or abuse a good idea as poor justification to not support it. And in the case of people saying something that is unkind (whether true or not), there is already guidelines for community response in the CoC. A user stating that something "is true" does not change whether it is unkind, which is why I see the necessity for both in the CoC. – sk8forether May 24 at 15:46
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I'm fond of that paragraph too - the pair date back to the earliest days of the site, when they lived under /faq. When we moved to the help center, they remained intact under /help/behavior - in fact, the old FAQ subsection link still takes you there.

The Code of Conduct replaced a different page, /help/be-nice - that page never had the emphasis on honesty that /help/behavior does, focusing primarily on behaviors to avoid. The CoC has a somewhat more balanced take on this, I think, spending the first page trying to lay out broad expectations for interaction - still, its purpose remains primarily that of a guide toward interpersonal communication, not a general guide toward using the site.

The /help/behavior page remains a useful summary of the overall goals for interaction, including the paramount importance of honesty.

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    But isn't honesty also largely an aspect of interpersonal communication, if not more so than a mere way to use the site? – Christian Rau May 23 at 23:48
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    I think it's more than that, @Christian. If you lie to me, you're a jerk and I'll probably suffer for it. If you include even an inadvertent mistake in an answer to my programming question, you may or may not be a jerk but now everyone who reads it suffers for it. It transcends interpersonal skills and becomes a problem for the society as a whole. Hence the focus in that paragraph on actions that directly mitigate the problem for everyone vs. the CoC's focus on reporting the problem to mods/staff. – Shog9 May 23 at 23:57
  • @Shog9 I think you can see from the link in the post that at one point the ideas of "Be nice" and "Be honest" once lived together as the main guiding principles of the community. I am recommending that they do so again. I'm not certain you've addressed that in your answer, but I could be misunderstanding. Are you suggesting that we don't add anything to the CoC? Or that we add behaviors to avoid in relation to the principle of "Be honest", such as "Do not lie, do not knowingly post misinformation"? – sk8forether May 24 at 15:53
  • Perhaps at the very least, we could all agree that the CoC should suggest people flag posts that contain outright lies or clear misinformation? And then there may be more ways to handle it, such as leave it up to the mods to gauge intentions or discuss it with users. – sk8forether May 24 at 15:57
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    So... The goal of that paragraph goes well beyond just not posting misinformation, @sk8forether: if I see a questing asking how to update my system and post an answer that intentionally destroys the asker's harddrive... That's dishonest. But so is reading such an answer, understanding what it does, and not doing anything about it. And here's the critical bit: if I see an answer that inadvertently suggests something harmful and don't say anything, I'm still being dishonest even if the author of that answer wasn't. IOW, it's as or more concerned about lies of omission! – Shog9 Jun 9 at 19:33
  • Now, why would it do that? To understand, you kinda have to go back to the world as it existed in 2008: there was a tremendous amount of misinformation floating around on the 'Net, and new programmers would soak it up, learning stuff from sites like w3schools, and then tear their hair out wondering why their code didn't work. Prior to that there were forests of "learners" books, including textbooks, that did the same thing - a cruel joke to play on the folks entering the field. THAT was the big problem SO was setting out to eliminate. – Shog9 Jun 9 at 19:37
  • Today, the world is... more complicated. An awful lot of folks have forgotten what it was like to have so much bad information floating around, and instead regard this sort of approach as pedantic, even outright hostile. So we gotta find ways to communicate with them that don't set off this sort of reaction. – Shog9 Jun 9 at 19:40

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