Sparked by this question:


Which should have been moved to a different SE site (ServerFault or SuperUser), but seemed like a valid technical question. I have seen several questions of this nature closed in the past.

Should users close questions if they find them objectionable?

  • This isn't about moral objections, it's about breaking the terms of use the student has most likely signed at the beginning of the school year stating that he/she would not circumvent the school's blocking software.
    – user151459
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:37
  • 12
    Can we stop pretending like you have any idea what this student has or has not signed? For the record, I have attended several schools that have restricted internet access and none of them required me to sign anything.... Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:41
  • This not being a feature request: do downvotes still mean "No, questions should not be closed in such cases"?
    – Arjan
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:54
  • 9
    I think the reality is that most users' bias goes towards closing questions that openly ask about breaking rules. I, for one, am comfortable with that. I have absolutely nothing against schoolchildren trying to break their school Firewall - if they are clever enough to research and do it on their own. Do we need to provide them a venue to get help to do it? I think not.
    – Pekka
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:54
  • 5
    Duplicate of Technically valid answers that raise questions of morality short version: unless you are omniscient, there's no possible way to know enough about the specific situation to determine someone else's moral obligations. Even if you are omniscient, it's likely that the question and answers will help someone else where there is no question of morality.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 22:09
  • Duplicate of Questions with nefarious intent? Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 22:24

3 Answers 3


Don't censor. It's not your job to enforce every rule that every tin-pot dictator, school administrator, or corrupt politician sets up. If you are actually personally horrified that students might access a website that doesn't meet the standards of their school, don't answer the question, but don't block the acquisition of knowledge just because you don't like the purpose that knowledge will be used for.

In this particular case, of course, the question was off-topic because it had nothing to do with programming, so it was OK to close it as off-topic.

But as a general rule, Stack Overflow exists to spread knowledge, not to give smug people the chance to play petty censorship games. The value of the diffusion of knowledge by far outweighs any interest this community might have in enforcing someone else's arbitrary rules, and we cannot possibly claim to have enough information, or the moral authority, to make decisions over whether or not a given individual has the right to even learn about how proxies work, or how to work around them.

Once again: the question was off-topic, and if you are uncomfortable answering a question which you think will be used in a way you are uncomfortable with, just don't answer it. But to decide that this community has an interest in the repression of the transmission of engineering and scientific knowledge goes deeply against everything that Stack Overflow stands for.

  • +1. The question was off-topic on Stack Overflow and it's simply closed as such. It's deleted by the OP himself. That doesn't imply the Stack Overflow community has an inherent objection towards the question.
    – mmx
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 4:30
  • +1 @Joel, Well said!!! @Mehrdad, I would disagree. If they had really thought that it just belonged on another site, they would have migrated it. This question was simply closed. Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 5:22
  • I do want to mention that this philosophy is somewhat different for moderators...
    – studiohack
    Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 5:41
  • 4
    I'm not sure that we need all the platitudes. You essentially accuse someone who would be against the OP bypassing a school firewall of being "smug" and "petty", but your answer comes across as "smug" in describing your opposite viewpoint. Might want to tone it down a bit. Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 18:33

This same question showed up at Super User and we promptly closed it because we do not encourage illegal/questionable behavior on SU.

See this question on Meta Super User for more discussion on this topic:

Is discussion of techniques for removing DRM permitted?

Specifically, look at Jeff Atwood's answer:

Unless it is a clear call for warez, discussion of DRM should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Per Joel:

I would hate for us to censor legitimate, technical discussion just because what we're talking about happens to be illegal in some jurisdictions. We should have the same standards as universities: we should defend people's rights to free speech.

I think it's VERY MUCH DEBATABLE whether breaking DRM for the purpose of making backups is even illegal. It would be unhealthy if our diamond mods were running around being as strict as the Disney Corporation Inc. on DRM. It is hard to argue that there's anything even remotely socially unacceptable about breaking DRM for the purpose of backing up something you legitimately own.

And we're not even doing it, we're just talking about it.

Therefore, unless the post looks egregiously illegal, assume it is being asked in good faith about removing DRM on things you own, for your own fair use.

(italics in blockquote above are Joel's statement as quoted by Jeff)

In this case, I think the bypassing of school's network by proxies was clearly asking to break the rules/do something illegal...

  • 3
    Who are you (or any of us) to determine what "questionable behavior" is? Also, I think it is a giant leap to roll "breaking the rules" into "doing something illegal". I have to agree with Joel's statement, "... as a general rule, Stack Overflow exists to spread knowledge, not to give smug people the chance to play petty censorship games." Commented Apr 9, 2011 at 5:30
  • 1
    @studiohack - Please forgive my ignorance... could you please cite the rule you believe that has been broken? Or better, point out the "illegal" behavior and the statue it violates.
    – user173448
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 3:55
  • Also, please only cite law which you have verified is actually applicable. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:14

Maybe the following from the Stack Exchange Network Terms of Service is applicable?

3. Subscriber Content

Subscriber represents, warrants and agrees that it will not contribute any Subscriber Content that [...], (d) is libelous, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harassing, hateful, offensive or otherwise violates any law or right of any third party, [...], (e) contains a virus, trojan horse, worm, time bomb or other computer programming routine or engine that is intended to damage, detrimentally interfere with, surreptitiously intercept or expropriate any system, data or information, [...]

  • +1, that's the closest I can find. What category do you think a question like that falls into? The closest I can see is offensive and that seems like a stretch. Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:46
  • 1
    English is not my mother tongue, @Abe, and I am no lawyer either. I had to look up most words... (And li·bel·ous also li·bel·lous adj. Involving or constituting a libel; defamatory. did not help much!)
    – Arjan
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:49
  • I added (e), @Abel. But I doubt "detrimentally interfere with" applies on the specific example.
    – Arjan
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 21:51
  • 7
    @Abe: The reason you can't figure out what category applies is simple: none of the categories applies. This is a technical question, not likely to attract answers that would contain illicit content. (As opposed to something like “here's my school's website (link), can you help me break into it?”, which is likely to attract answers that violate the law of the locale the school is in.) I recommend reading Adam's answer on an earlier similar question. (Of course the question was off-topic on SO anyway, for not being about programming.) Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 22:22
  • Also, the TOS is for SE's safety, not to give them more to do. Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:17

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