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I post a question. I’ve been a user for a decade, so I take my time isolating my issue, carefully writing it up, adding screenshots, sample code.

Within two minutes the same highly-respected user adds a one-line comment the usually dismisses the question as nonsensical or is otherwise derisive. Every. Single. Time.

We go back and forth in the comments a little. I try to keep an open mind so I can unlock the master's secrets. He might deign to interact with the substance of the question. Sometimes he removes his comments once I mention he's missed the point or stated something incorrect.

Other times he adds a one- or two line answer that amounts to 'that's just how it works'. The question is essentially dead because no-one else wants to contribute after the wise one has spoken.

What is the remedy for this? How do I help make Stack Overflow a better experience for me and people asking similar questions? At this point if there was an option to hide all my questions from a certain user, I would gladly opt in. I am also finding myself less inclined to ask a question because I know it will ruin my morning.

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    This happens far more than many users know, and far too often on too many SE sites. Glad you posted. Also, if the user frequently "adds a one-line comment" that "usually dismisses the question as nonsensical or is otherwise derisive", then that qualifies as abusive (and in every case, at the very least, unfriendly or unkind). – Namaste Jun 26 at 19:46
  • Thanks. I was about to delete it since I thought it might just be a rant, but I’ll leave it up based on your comment. – Ben Packard Jun 26 at 19:48
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    I'd only suggest that this would be a better question if asked on the site meta on which this occurs. Unless it occurred on meta.se. – Namaste Jun 26 at 19:49
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    Did you flag the comments for a mod already? – rene Jun 26 at 19:50
  • Ah in all honesty I didn’t realize that this was not that meta. Should I remove and repost? Happy to do so – Ben Packard Jun 26 at 20:15
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    Sure, @BenPackard. Reposting there might be a good idea, but I think this question could be generalized across most SE sites, because it happens on most SE sites, and so I think it's a fitting question for meta.se. – Namaste Jun 26 at 20:41
  • This seems to be connected to other discussions about SE sites operating as a tenureocracy - unfortunately high rep numbers are not always associated with the most knowledgable or helpful users, so long as they are active for a long time. – Jay Jun 27 at 0:19
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    @Jay: I'm curious: how exactly does possessing high rep allow someone to enforce the power structures needed to build a "tenureocracy"? How are we able to exclude people who ask good questions or provide good answers to good questions who aren't willing to otherwise become part of the "tenureocracy"? – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 0:35
  • @NicolBolas - some links here to the previous discussions: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/225792/… meta.stackexchange.com/questions/155862/… – Jay Jun 27 at 0:38
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    @Jay: Those talk about how rep accumulates. But you haven't shown how merely having rep empowers a user to enforce a power structure, which is what you claim is happening by calling the site a "tenureocracy". – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 0:53
  • @nicol I added a comment about the 'chilling effect' of such an answer to your own answer below. – Ben Packard Jun 27 at 14:17
  • @BenPackard: The owner of a post always gets notified when you make a comment on a post. You don't need to manually inform someone that you've commented. – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 14:21
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    @NicolBolas Sure - I was contributing to the discussion here ("you haven't shown how merely having rep empowers a user to enforce a power structure") but without copy and pasting my response below. – Ben Packard Jun 27 at 14:26
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Don't go back and forth in the comments. If there's something worth addressing, address it. If there isn't, ignore it. Flag as "no longer needed" in either case.

Your answer has a voice, and speaks louder than those pesky third-class comments.

I take my time isolating my issue, carefully writing it up, adding screenshots, sample code.

You're fighting the good fight.

Other times he adds a one- or two line answer that amounts to 'that's just how it works'. The question is essentially dead because no-one else wants to contribute after the wise one has spoken.

It doesn't matter. I'm a pretty well respected user on my own site and if my answers aren't great, and I get schooled, that's a good thing for everyone. In fact — it's the perfect opportunity to show off your shiny show-grade answer next to that scrawny nag of an answer.

I don't want to go "get over it" but that user doesn't matter as much as you think they do. Just do what you do, as well as you can.

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Before I get to the main question, I would like to challenge some of the premises you've laid down. To whit:

Within two minutes the same highly-respected user adds a one-line comment the usually dismisses the question as nonsensical or is otherwise derisive. Every. Single. Time.

This description made me curious, so I decided to go and check out some of your recent questions on SO. And sure enough, on some of them there was at least one comment by a particular "highly-respected user".

While I recognize that some of the conversations may be deleted, from the few I've witnessed, your description of your interaction seems to be rather hyperbolic. The user in question doesn't seem to spout nonsense very often, nor does the tone of the discussion seem personally derisive or mocking.

Also, "Every. Single. Time." seems to be... maybe 3 times over the last 8 questions you've asked. Hardly the sort of thing that should keep you from asking questions.

Other times he adds a one- or two line answer that amounts to 'that's just how it works'. The question is essentially dead because no-one else wants to contribute after the wise one has spoken.

That's not how Stack Exchange works. If someone has an answer besides "that's just how it works," they're not going to not post it just because someone with high rep posted an answer. Indeed, someone posting a wrong answer is likely to attract a downvote and/or a comment in addition to providing the right answer.

What's more likely happening is that "that's just how it works" is either simply true or is widely accepted as being true. They're not answering because this guy told them that it was true; they're not answering because they believe it's true too. Even if it isn't true, if it's widely accepted as such, that likely means most people who have had that problem believe the conventional wisdom and thus don't have an answer. Either way, nobody is answering because they don't have an answer.

So I contest the idea that the answer is what makes your question "essentially dead". It's more likely that your question is dead on its own and the answer is just acting as the coroner. Generally speaking, a diagnosis of "being dead" doesn't need a second opinion ;)


Now, to the substance of your question. If you find your questions or answers frequently harassed by a user, even if that harassment is polite or even friendly, you should flag one of their comments for moderator attention. When you do so, you need to explain clearly the problem.

When you do so however, you should be really sure that the pattern of behavior is abusive. In the above case, if I were a moderator, I wouldn't accept that flag, due to lack of evidence. You absolutely should not get basic facts wrong like "Every. Single. Time." being in reality "less than half of the 8 questions I asked in the last year".

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    I think your bar of “abusive” is too high - there are behaviors that discourage participation that may not rise to the level of abuse. Additionally, rep tends to draw favor, so the bar gets even higher for high-rep participants. – Jay Jun 27 at 0:21
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    @Jay: "there are behaviors that discourage participation that may not rise to the level of abuse" If it doesn't rise to the level of abuse, then it's not "abusive," is it? I don't see any behavior which, by its nature, discourages participation. The user was not being condescending or combative or anything. The OP merely had a run in with the same user 3 times in semi-rapid succession. That's all. "rep tends to draw favor" No, it doesn't. – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 0:32
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    While answers like this outdoors.stackexchange.com/revisions/19863/1 may not be abusive enough to suspend someone for, at the same time it totally discourages participation because it makes one wonder if the answer is worth the rudeness. – Reinstate Monica Jun 27 at 1:54
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    @CharlieBrumbaugh: I disagree: a pattern of answering questions like that is something worth suspending someone over. It's even right there in the CoC: telling someone they could just google the answer is rude and condescending. Were I a moderator on that site, I would at least give them a warning for it. – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 2:11
  • Adding something to well-written explanation, always assume the best of people intention despite the wording. Most of the people in this world weren't <insert language> native speaker which are used globally. When you're asking a question you're expecting someone to help you. And when that someone is replying in comment or answering, I personally expect that person to have spent time which that person could use for something else for this question I've written and share their knowledge for others to use and share. If you believe that hi-rep user was unhelpful you could always ignore/flag. – Shinjo Jun 27 at 2:55
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    Just to mention that I think you are indeed missing a lot of the context due to a combination of deleted questions, answers and comments (including from myself once the back-and-forth makes no sense as a one-sided conversation and clutters the question). I know you acknowledged that this might play a role in how you are seeing the specific examples. I'm not super interested in narrowing this into a forensic analysis of mine or another user's particular experience but I can provide more detail if it helps. – Ben Packard Jun 27 at 14:05
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    I do maintain that there is a chilling effect from a fast, derisive answer from a high reputation user. A newer or less confident user is less likely to spend a meaningful amount of time answering a question that an 'expert' has already deemed below them. I wonder if SE in particular also has a competitive element where being first to reply is seemingly of some value - I suppose because the early answer is more likely to be accepted, especially for obvious or easy questions. I've seen people race to answer simple questions. I'd be for removing this incentive too somehow. – Ben Packard Jun 27 at 14:13
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    @BenPackard: You can "maintain" whatever you like; without actual evidence behind it, it's not very convincing to others. What proof do you have that any such "chilling effect" exists? Because none of your existing questions or visible interactions count as evidence; they can all be explained by other things (ie: nobody else has an answer). – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 14:35
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    Only my own experience approaching similar questions from other users. I would be interested in an analytic review of how a question progresses when there is different types of early response and from different types of users. But I don't have that kind of information and I don't think you have either. I would also prefer we move away from my own particular experience and discuss the topic, divorced from its genesis. – Ben Packard Jun 27 at 14:40
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    @BenPackard: You believe that a high-rep user's posts count for more than those of a low-rep user and if they decide that a question is a non-problem, they have the power to halt discussion on it through commenting or answers. That is the topic, "divorced from its genesis." OK, "divorced from its genesis," my response is "that is not a thing that happens on this site. If you want to discuss this further, you need to provide evidence that this is a thing." That is, there's no point in talking about something if you haven't proven it actually happens. – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 14:46
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    @NicolBolas There is a certain irony in the way you are communicating about a question regarding derisive and dismissive comments. I don't know if you are aware of the effect it has on the conversation and the willingness of others to get involved. It makes it harder to engage with the substance when people feel attacked or undermined. I'm going to disengage from this particular conversation at this point, I hope you understand. I'm sad I didn't get a chance to discuss the substance more with you. – Ben Packard Jun 27 at 14:57
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    @BenPackard: "It makes it harder to engage with the substance when people feel attacked or undermined." It makes it harder to engage with the substance when there is no substance, only subjective impressions. I'm saying that your post would be a lot more effective if you had something more to back it up than just how someone's answers make you feel. My point is that your entire response to this person feels out of proportion with their action; if it isn't, then you need to show how your response to them is reasonable. – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 15:00
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    @BenPackard: You're making a factual claim: that high-rep users, by dint of being high-rep users, have the power to shut down a question by posting an answer. That claim requires evidence, and you have not provided it. If you consider a request to prove your claims to be "derisive and dismissive", I can't help that. But we shouldn't accept anyone's opinions unless they're substantiated by something more than what they think is going on. – Nicol Bolas Jun 27 at 15:01

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