Why does SO have so much attitude and condescension, even after several measures have been taken to eliminate it?
We can and need to do better
- Problem: S.O. still has so many people with a bad attitude
- Expected Behaviour: Stack Overflow's efforts to change this would've succeeded more
- What I've done: I have taken to even writing notes in my post, sometimes to ask people to be kind and remember that we are community to help each other, and sometimes that I have learning disabilities, which I do
- My Theory: S.O. has tried but not succeeded because so many people are attached to how things are or have been. Make it more of a priority to make it extremely visible on every page that inclusiveness, welcoming, and helpfulness is the expected culture here and to remember that.
- Possible Solutions: Listed at the bottom of this post.
Yes, this keeps getting mentioned, but that's OK because it is still a huge problem. For example: Could we please be a bit nicer to new users?
Why this is different from the 'duplicate':
It deals with multiple solutions and issues, not just “downvoting.” It deals with the fact that this is STILL happening and that while people on S.O. are mostly helpful, there are a significant number of members who continue to behave poorly, condescendingly, and irritated at questions they don’t like, or inexperienced programmers.
And to be honest, the heavy downvoting of this post is an example of that environment, too.
A little history
I have been on Stack Overflow for a very long time, since 2011. I’m not a newbie. I know that there have been things that have been tried, but it’s clear that I have to repeat myself: They have not worked well enough. I am not blindsided by the snottiness that can come from asking a question that others think is “dumb” or “doesn’t match the criteria of a ‘good’ question.”
Remember back in school, how good teachers, yes, the GOOD ones, told you that there was no stupid question? That if you had a question, most likely other people have the same question but are too shy to ask? Do you really think that doesn’t happen here? People come here with the hope that they can get help, but most of the time their first experiences are negative, critical, aggressive, and unwelcoming. Even after all these years.
When I first started I noticed lots of non-answers and comments with bad attitude, chastening, downvotes, and condescension for me not knowing the answer to something that I'm asking a question about and a general assumption that I had not done enough research.
Unfortunately, this problem still exists more than 10 years later, to an extent far greater than it should. I know Stack Overflow does try to address this, and I have noticed some degree of improvement, but it still seems that there are people who seem to be on here for no other reason than to downvote people or tell them they're not doing enough research or asking obvious questions that they should already know.
It seems that there is at least a small group, possibly a large group of people here who just seem to love to downvote people. And some of it just seems punitive for someone not being an experienced enough programmer. It's just generally mean-spirited a lot more than it should be here.
Sure, there are reasons that some posts would be downvoted, but it shouldn't be used to hurt someone, to punish someone, to discourage someone, or to imply that they're basically stupid. And we should make sure that if the person is a new user that were especially gentle with them. It's easy to see how much experience on the site people have so be nice to them.
Inclusivity, not elitism
Stack Overflow does not just exist for expert programmers. It is a resource that is mentioned in every Intro to Programming class or boot camp. People who haven't had decades of experience or are “L17659” engineers should feel welcome here, too, and not be essentially beaten down for making mistakes.
Additionally, I am a programmer with several learning disabilities and processing deficits. I know I'm not the only one; there are thousands of us. And there are things that are more difficult for me or my fellow LD community members to understand than for neurotypical people. It is my experience over the last 11 years that literally noone ever considers that that could be the case for a question that might seem obvious to experienced/neurotypical programmers.
So I have started including this information in some of my questions, but many times it gets "moderated" out, which I find kind of obnoxious, disrespectful, exclusionary, and a big part of the problem. Stack Overflow should be an inclusive place where people with disabilities and different levels of understanding, experience, and education, should all be welcome, and helped by those who have understanding.
Solutions: So, what can be done? A lot, actually
Credit where credit is due: Stack Overflow has done a lot to make the place feel friendly. But unfortunately, it’s still not enough. People complain about this often, and Stack Overflow now has a bad reputation about being a place where beginners will basically get beat up, and this makes it obvious that whatever has been done hasn't been enough.
I have a few suggestions of how we might change this. Some of them have been mentioned, and some of them haven’t, as least as far as my research found. All of them will no doubt, get resistance, some of them, or maybe all of them might not get done because S.O. is a place where “death by consensus” happens far too much.
The basic ideas are to de-incentivize bad behavior, and incentivize good behavior. Right now it doesn't seem there's a whole lot of penalties for people, being jerky, unpleasant, condescending, etc.
Here are a few ideas I think could make a big difference:
Use Economic theory. What do people get out of being mean? Find out. Then take it away or make the consequences for it too great.
Require downvoters to give a reason of at least say, 50 characters (enough to have a cogent explanation) to be written for each downvote. This would give the OP and understanding of exactly why their question was downvoted which would help improve their questions in the future. Sure, this has been discussed, (for example, here Why isn't providing feedback mandatory on downvotes, and why are ideas suggesting such negatively received?) but the reasons given about why it won’t work sound like a list of reasons that cops can’t stop shooting unarmed black people. It’s a bunch of excuses, from “it’ll never work” to “we can’t accommodate everyone” to “it will destroy everything this site is” and “It will remove the most important quality control we have” And those are all false. Plenty of sites operate without a downvote at all, and do fine in terms of content ranking and management. It sounds to me from reading the answer to that that the main reason is that “we don’t want to change it from how it’s always been.”
Stop making downvotes anonymous— people would think about whether they really want to do that or not, and actually take accountability for their actions. Maybe get rid of downvotes altogether, and just leave upvotes as an option just like in the comments section. Lots of sites have done this for exactly these problematic reasons. Yes, this can lead to “revenge” downvoting and site harassment. But doesn’t that kind of sound like what I’m talking about here, to begin with? Except in this case those threatened by negativity would be the elite and privileged on the site, and we can’t have that. That kind of sounds like the only harassment tolerated is to those without much power or influence.
Start what is basically a marketing campaign on the site to be kinder, to be more welcoming, to be more inclusive, and understand that not everyone is as experienced, as you might be, as educated, as you might be, as privileged as you might be, or even Neurotypical— and that everyone is welcome here. There should be a box about this on every single page of the site to remind people, to remind all of us, so that we can show up with our better angels rather than our frustrations and desire to punish others for not knowing what we think they should.
Write big, clear reminders about being friendly and helpful and kind, and patient with new users and developers. There is currently NOTHING to that effect when answering or commenting on a question. Why is that such a big deal? Even just make it placeholder text in the text areas. How does that actually negatively affect you or the community other than the fact that it’s a change &emdash; and maybe you don’t like changes?
Make it even more obvious that users can report mean or inappropriate behavior, and subtract significant points from users who repeatedly get tagged with that.
Let's do this and make a difference here
I think that any or all of these solutions would make a huge difference in terms of civility, effectiveness, and enjoyment on the site. And improve Stack Overflow's elitist and "mean girl" reputation, which, as we all know, needs help and has for a long time. I know they’ve been discussed, and usually rejected. But maybe it’s time to reconsider them.
I hope that the administrators and moderators continue to take action on this because what's been done so far has worked some, but not nearly enough.