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As an ESL, low proficient speaker moderator of an English-only site, I frequently take terms and phrases from the Stack Overflow blog and Meta Stack Exchange and the link sources. Is "spoon-feeding" a neutral term, or is it a prohibited term?

I.E., Is it OK to tell someone that moderators are not responsible for spoon-feeding the site rules and workings?

Note: please focus on using spoon-feeding and similar terms in the Stack Exchange context. I will be working on improving my English.

In the end, what I'm looking for is a brief way to communicate that unilaterally, I have set limits looking to keep mental health by avoiding being victimized by someone doing sealioning or another toxic practice. I learned that in the same way that happens with other toxic behaviors, calling someone with names like help vampire, sealion, etc. is not constructive and that Stack Exchange doesn't provide individuals with tools to handle their limits, and it's not responsible for taking care of their mental health and the quality of their relationships.

People can walk away and avoid engaging in situations they don't like. However, on small sites, it's expected that "requests" addressed to moderators get some reply / acknowledge signal rather than just being ghosted / ignored / abandoned.

References


I liked Jeff Attwood, former Stack Overflow staff and some early contributor style, even though they sometimes wrote too casually and informally, with too much slang and used programmer argot. Even if their words sound offensive, politically incorrect or unkind, I liked that instead of writing to criticize a specific person or "affinity group", they wrote to describe behaviors.

Terms like help vampire, linking to a blog, meta post / explaining the term used to be allowed. Later, this was prohibited for being considered unkind, but I just noticed that there are still some posts and , including terms of "dubious kindness".

I.E., from the answer to What can I do when getting “This question body does not meet our quality standards”?, emphasis mine,

I am against being explicit here.... Our check takes into account tags, title and body. We are not going to give breakdown of what was wrong, that is spoon-feeding. (source: waffles)

Then I noticed that we have .


Notes:

  1. This question is not about sealioning. Discussions / questions about this, in general, might be held on Community Building, Psychology SE, The Workplace, Freelancing or the per-site meta where someone is accused of sealion, etc.

  2. This question is not about discussing a definition that might be found in the dictionary / lexicon. From https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/spoon-feed:

    1. (transitive) To overly pamper or indulge (someone), so that they do not (or because they failed to) act or think for themselves. I can help you with your homework, but you must understand the concept, because I will not spoon-feed you.
    2. (transitive) To give (something) in an overly pampering way, so that the recipients do not (or because they failed to) act or think for themselves. What do you mean "I don't know"? I'm practically spoon-feeding you the answer!
    3. To explain in simple words; to explain in words of one syllable; to spell out.
  3. Robert's answer gives an opinion about the waffles' quote included above. That is something on the scope of this question and helpful, but it's still unclear about the rules / etiquette about using spoon-feeding and similar terms. My concern is that the term is not used to attack the person but implies a criticism of the user's attitude, more specifically requesting infinitely to be explained the rules and everything that they might need to understand them "as if they were five", claiming that they are beginners, newbies to the site topic or because other sites have different rules or have a different "playbook" but don't provide any sign of effort.

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    "sealioning" is a very politically charged term, and I find its use objectionable (especially as my side of the discussion around it is commonly misrepresented or ignored by sources such as Wikipedia). Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 18:27
  • @KarlKnechtel I think using "sealoining" is OK while it's while it keeps abstract. I do not see a Clinical Psychologist using this term, I also do not see including the term in a review checklist that uses a controlled vocabulary. On this question I'm more interested in spoon feeding as explaining why a question about how the Internet works as if the user was five years old because the user doesn't understand what is on-topic in Web Applications SE.
    – Rubén
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 18:39
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    With respect, I don't think you are aware of the background context behind the term. There is a lot that Wikipedia will not tell you, or will misrepresent. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 18:40
  • @KarlKnechtel I have read way far beyond Wikipedia. Actually, I desisted from posting questions on Community Building because it's "dead" (not really dead, just too slow), I might do that on other SE sites like Psycology, Personal... but, a have said, at this moment I more interested on "spoon feeding"
    – Rubén
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 18:41
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    If the answer to this cannot be found, it is not banned :) 'Spoon-feeding' is not a neutral(ly charged) term, for the reasons you point out, but I believe it can be used to adequately describe a user's behaviour, and thus might be helpful for any parties involved. Then again, I also think 'hater' is fine (unless used to directly refer to a specific individual, which, coincidentally, can't be done with 'spoon-feeding').
    – Joachim
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 20:18
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    @KarlKnechtel Do you have any pointers as to what the issue is with that term? I can't recall having seen it particularly much, and it's definitely not something I regularly stumble across, although the phenomenon at least Wikipedia describes it as, is a fairly regular occurrence to me. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 20:33
  • Most I found, was that the there's been attempts at changing the meaning of the term itself, by, ehm, sealioning it. That wasn't too helpful/informative. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 20:38
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    @AndreasmovedtoCodidact painting it as an "attempt at changing the meaning of the term itself" is exactly an example of the misrepresentation I have in mind. Instead, the purpose is, and always has been, to point out the hypocrisy of those who readily adopted the term - supposed champions of the underdog, doing a 180 and speaking power to truth when they're bothered by people who disagree with them. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 21:20
  • @KarlKnechtel Right. Thanks. The phenomenon is certainly real, but your observations are quite valid too. That is a possible misuse of the term. Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 21:46

4 Answers 4

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Spoon-feeding is an action - as opposed to help vampire, which describes a person.

I'd look back to the post I wrote 5 years ago

I've always felt that moderation is about the actions and behaviours rather than the person. A label like "Help Vampire" is easy. It demonises the person, is a pejorative, and gives us no details about the problem.

Spoon-feeding is a behaviour - to me it doesn't demonise a person but rather describes a behavior that experienced users should know better than to do. In the face of what seems like a 'simple' question - we have many options, either via moderation tools like closures, comments, or in some cases posting an answer that could go deeper into the issue than one expects.

Fundamentally we talk about, mitigate or try to discourage behaviours that hurt our site - this is a critical part of the 'broader' part of moderation work, and where good use of meta is often useful.

Balancing between broad usefulness (which does entail some 'simple' questions that can be seen as spoon-feeding), and quality control (which means low effort questions may need some degree of moderation applied) is one of the 'hard' problems of the network. You can't really discuss these without talking about the behaviours involved.

It ought not to be banned - simply because it’s the sort of thing we deal with as moderators, or folks in positions of formal or informal community leadership and engagement.

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    More, it's an action the moderator is declining to perform. "I am not going to spoon feed you, please read this and that" is about the person writing, not about the person being written to. Even "please don't ask me to spoon feed you" is still about mod behaviour the mod is not going to do. Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 16:15
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    While I agree that we shouldn't ban anyone from saying this, I'm not impressed with the apparent underlying attitude when it comes from moderators. It's clear from countless other meta questions that there is a massive disconnect between how moderators and the complaining users see the issue; the guidance they're looking for, and not getting from the system, is generally not anywhere near what they would consider "spoon feeding" from what I can tell. Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 17:23
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    The 'attitude' is variable with site, community and moderator. I have been a moderator on 4 sites in total over the years and each had its own, unique needs and levels of knowledge, also variable with the maturity of the site and network. That's very much out of the scope of my answer, which talks entirely about the term and usage 😁 Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 23:09
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The first thing I note here is that the term "spoon feeding" could only possibly be relevant in meta spaces. Like the rest of the language you're talking about generally, it clearly has no place in answers, and is at best grossly unnecessary in comment exchanges (and a sign that one ought to just disengage, perhaps after casting appropriate downvotes and close votes).

But the main point I want to highlight there is that the problem is with the underlying sentiment, not any specific connotation of the term.

I need to challenge the frame here. We do not ban words; we simply interpret a Code of Conduct.

Yes, the metaphor is infantilizing, but the most common uses (such as the one you cited) are going to be along the lines of "I don't want to spoon-feed" - i.e., inwardly-focused. They are not critiquing others for expecting spoon-feeding (such critique could be called infantilizing).

To the extent that words or phrases ever get banned, it's because people with the power to do so have deemed that such language is only practically used to express a certain sentiment. In the minds of some, specific words pick up some inherent tarnish because of their application to one specific historical context, and can thereafter never be viewed positively in any other context ever again.

The next thing you know, professors are writing books about the "physics of blackness" that are subsequently cited in undergraduate university courses to posit racist implication behind the term "black hole", and that's years after everyone thought they'd finished laughing it off at a meeting of county commissioners. People love to pretend that this sort of thing never makes it out of academia; but this is essentially gaslighting. I quite distinctly remember the period of time that GitHub kept trying to override my default branch name for new repositories (which caused real technical problems for many others), expressing disagreement with the very tool the site is built to support, seemingly because the very word master is problematic (even in a context where there is no corresponding "slave").

Those people are wrong, and most bans on words are fundamentally misguided. Rudeness can really only ever be judged on sentiment - hurtful rhetoric is about the overall construction of an idea, not about specific words being off-limits. It will never be possible to whitelist (oops!) language that everyone deems acceptable.

For that matter, as I already commented, one of the words you use as shorthand for a "toxic behavior" bothers me - not because of anything contained in the word itself, but because I find the ascribed meaning deeply problematic (and because the process by which the term was coined, reveals a deep hypocrisy).

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    Thanks a lot Karl. P.S. I removed several paragraphs from the original writing as I was extending too much into some of the mentioned ideas in your answer but without the same quality. I might need to focus on finding a way to say something the user doesn't want to hear, such as denying a reopening request with making clear that the rule requires certain skills to be understood. I.E. in web apps we don't allow questions about what is the difference between a cloud service and a web app. Period, no ELI5, no need to use spoon feeding, to say that.
    – Rubén
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 19:52
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    You're going to need to elaborate on why "sealioning" is bad, because as this answer is now, it's just "word is bad", and we're supposed to take your word for it...
    – Cerbrus
    Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 7:53
  • About the use of the word sealioning, in Stack Exchange, instead of discussing it here, please 1. Use the Global Search, i.e., sealioning is:question. 2. Word or phrase for people butting in and taking a side in an online conversation? has an answer suggesting this word. 3. Create a follow-up question.
    – Rubén
    Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 16:37
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    @Cerbrus I explicitly avoided going into that exactly because the reasoning is off topic. It doesn't matter to the discussion what the elaboration is, because the point of my answer is that people can be bothered by all sorts of things (in particular, I'm bothered by something OP didn't expect to be bothersome) and we therefore need to consider sentiment rather than outlawing specific terms. "word is bad" is the exact opposite of the thesis of my answer and I'm utterly mystified at how you could render it that way in good faith, let alone have others agree with you. Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 17:17
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    @KarlKnechtel This answer is rambling. It's not exactly surprising that people apparently misinterpret what you're trying to say. Also, if it doesn't matter, then don't bring it up!.
    – Cerbrus
    Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 18:30
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    I didn't say the point doesn't matter. I said the reasoning doesn't matter. The point matters because it's an example of a general principle: that words and phrases can instinctively bother people for meta reasons beyond a direct judgment of the term, and that offense should be judged on the apparently intended sentiment rather than specific literal content. I don't see how this is rambling at all. I pointed out specific, real-world negative consequences of word-specific bans by way of explaining why I'm opposed to them on principle. Commented Oct 30, 2023 at 18:35
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Is "spoon-feeding" a neutral term, or is it a prohibited term?

I can't say it's a prohibited term but as a moderator I wouldn't use it.

Re. the use of English Language, "spoon-feeding" is what a care-provider does for a literal infant (baby) who cannot yet hold a spoon to feed themselves; using the term is thus infantilizing, disrespectful, and so I wouldn't use it.

Is it OK to tell someone that moderators are not responsible for spoon-feeding the site rules and workings?

Re. the use of Stack Exchange, perhaps unlike others I believe it is a moderator's responsbility to "spoon-feed" the site rules and working -- i.e. to provide/explain them in detail, on request.

IMO that's part of being "welcoming".

That's in general, but I agree this can be time-consuming with some users -- so you might want to do it but only moderately. :-)

Or perhaps there's the teach a man to fish idea, i.e. tell them what you'd want them to do instead of their asking you questions.

I'm looking for is a brief way to communicate that unilaterally

How about, "I think I've explained this enough".

Note that "I messages" (e.g. "this is how I feel") are sometimes more polite or less confrontational than so-called "you messages" (e.g. "you are sealioning" or "you are asking to be spoon-fed").

Another option if you lose your cool/patience is to ask another moderator to reply instead of you.

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  • It's maybe not every moderator's responsibility -- maybe some moderators do it more than others, on a site.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 11:21
  • "I think I've explained this enough" is not an "I statement" (which have to follow the template "I feel [emotion]"). It reads as quite aggressive to me (and I'm pretty blunt myself), so I would not say that to someone. There might not be a one-size-fits-all one liner for this; communicating effectively with other people tends to require a little more work than that.
    – Laurel
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 12:48
  • @Laurel Wikipedia for example says that, "an I-message or I-statement is an assertion about the feelings, beliefs, values, etc. of the person speaking" -- and so I think that includes statements of the form, "I think that". Would you like to tell me where I could read more about the "I statement" or template, as you defined it? Perhaps your definition is specific to some form of inter-personal counselling. I'd agree at least that "I've said enough" isn't enough, except perhaps after not just a little but a lot more work than that.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:28
  • Another option might be something like, "I have explained it as clearly as I can", i.e. a statement using the perfect tense.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:44
  • See for example What Are 'I Feel' Statements?. The phrasing "I think" in your sentence is a hedge, which softens it a little. But you're still saying the second part of the sentence ("I've said enough"), and hedging just isn't enough to counter the tone there.
    – Laurel
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:46
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Well moderators are responsible for explaining the site rules if someone fails to follow those rules. Moderators are the ones that suspend users that don't follow the rules and to suspend someone you have to explain why you are taking that action. Ideally you'd try to head things off before they got that far but on a busy site such as Stack Overflow that may not be feasible. There are templates to help with that and you can always reach out to other moderators if you're not sure what to say. So I wouldn't use the term spoon feeding at all in that context.

Perhaps what waffles might have said more clearly in the answer is that giving a breakdown of what's wrong with a question would encourage people to do the minimal possible to fix that question just to beat the question block algorithm.

So I think generally one can explain oneself more clearly without using that term and it's not always an appropriate one anyway.

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  • Thanks, Robert I agree on explaining the rules, but we are not obliged to that on demand (repeat infinitely ) and to "explain the rules and everything that I need to understand them as I am five"
    – Rubén
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 18:48
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    Are we obliged to explain the rules, or just point them out? In case of e.g. a language barrier explaining is certainly helpful and appreciated, but I don't believe there is an obligation there: if users don't understand why things are done the way they are done (while there is ample documentation to refer to), and don't accept that, they can just leave the platform. Moderators moderate, not convince others.
    – Joachim
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 20:04
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    "moderators are responsible for explaining the site rules if someone fails to follow those rules." - no, not really. It's very helpful and will be done because that's the most effective way of either getting the rules adhered to, or of removing reasonable doubt, but it's definitely not a moderator's responsibility any more than every user has.
    – Nij
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 21:59
  • @nij you think moderators can/should suspend people and not say why they are suspended? Perhaps that's appropriate for out and out spammers but that's not the kind of people the question is talking about and for everyone else explanations are pretty desirable. You'd prefer to spend your time explaining to staff why someone was suspended with no information as to what rules they broke? Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 22:13
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    No, it's not my "responsibility" as a moderator to explain site rules. I'll do it because that's a useful thing to do, and because it's made easier by the system to achieve, and because it is everybody's responsibility as a user on the site. Since I've never been asked by staff to explain a suspension, obviously I am not concerned by the time it does not take to do.
    – Nij
    Commented Oct 29, 2023 at 23:53

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