This has nothing to do with sex.

In the recent past I have had two oddball encounters with posters using images in a manner that seemed... less than constructive. Both of these happen to have been links to webcomics; both of them occurred on sister sites. (One on Skeptics, one on English.)

Neither of the examples felt flagrant enough to flag, so I just downvoted and moved on. But afterwards I began to wonder, what is the intent behind image links? What purpose should they serve and how far do images have to stray before they cross the border into unneeded noise?

The reason I feel this deserves discussion aside from simply linking to the posts in question is because I encounter these types of images frequently. Skeptics, in particular, seems to have a few authors who enjoy adding images in a manner I get all cranky about.

Instead of brewing about this, I figured I would ask.

  • What is the underlying purpose of the image on SE?
  • What is the appropriate action to take when an image is not fulfilling this purpose?

My best guesses: An image should provide context or information that is impossible or not easy to convey with mere words. Graphs, screenshots, diagrams and their ilk seem like a useful tool to have around. Comics, witty graphics, or iconic imagery doesn't seem to fit this well.

Currently, I am just downvoting posts that contain images I find "distracting" in the sense that it takes more work to sift out the image from the post than to read the post itself. This just a personal call; but I feel that is just a temporary stopgap and I suspect I will continue getting slightly more bothered by this until I am downvoting any post with an image whose usage I disagree with. That seems like a dangerous end; I am here trying to subvert it.

What are your opinions on the subject?

Edit: Here are some examples of typical non-comic images of cats and dogs, Indiana Jones, and Baywatch. How am I supposed to maintain my crotchety status if my browsing is being interrupted by puppies and kitties?!

  • Was the English one about irony?
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    May 24, 2011 at 18:47
  • 29
    -1: nothing to do with sex.
    – Shog9
    May 24, 2011 at 18:48
  • 7
    Linking to xkcd has a long and illustrious tradition on Stack Overflow. Embedding comics in posts, less long and much less illustrious.
    – mmyers
    May 24, 2011 at 18:48
  • 11
    +1: nothing to do with sex.
    – Ether
    May 24, 2011 at 18:51
  • 1
    Maybe it's my poor English, but I really don't understand the pun behind "nothing to do with sex", in both the question and the comment of Shog. Can someone explain it to me? Why did OP explicitly mention about that; it doesn't seem to be related to the concrete question in any way.
    – user138231
    May 24, 2011 at 18:52
  • 4
    @Chichiray When it comes to "acceptable images", the first thoughts often trail to what is or is not "worksafe", of which sexual intercourse is generally not.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    May 24, 2011 at 18:53
  • It all has to do with the naked midget test.
    – random
    May 24, 2011 at 18:53
  • @Grace: Oh yes, I understand. I should read "nothing to do with NSFW images". Thanks.
    – user138231
    May 24, 2011 at 18:54
  • @Grace: Yes.
    – MrHen
    May 24, 2011 at 19:04
  • 1
    @Dan oops, sorry for the mess. For some reason thought you changed "are" to "is"! All good now. Dec 15, 2015 at 9:52

4 Answers 4


Images can be great to illustrate your point.

Example answers: Do we lose most of our body heat through our heads? and Are there no naturally blue foods?

But I agree that including a picture for the sake of editorialising – although sometimes amusing – detracts from the content, makes the post longer and may actually overshadow the text content by sheer space take-up.


Images, particularly webcomics (xkcd and Dilbert being the most prolific), are a smell. People use them to fill up space or to make a point when they otherwise can't be bothered to elaborate on said point.

Here's an xkcd comic to illustrate my point:

For some reason, my childhood suspension of disbelief had no problem with the fact that this ancient galaxy is full of humans, but was derailed by language. There's no Asia OR Europe there, so where'd they get all the Indo-European roots?

So as you can see, when you see a comic in a post that otherwise has no meaningful content, feel free to vote it down, or in really egregious cases (like when the answer is just a comic), flag it as not an answer. You could also be bold and edit out the comic, but many times that's a recipe for confrontation and the post might assume you're not "cool" and are likely "square".

  • 24
    -1: That comic doesn't illustrate your point at all. No wait, it does. No wait, it doesn't. No wait, it does.
    – mmyers
    May 24, 2011 at 18:58
  • 3
    What's an xkcd?
    – going
    May 25, 2011 at 2:56

What is the underlying purpose of the image on SE?

To enhance an answer by

  • Providing additional information
  • Clarifying written information
  • Providing an alternate view of the same information
  • Attracting attention to a particular point or issue within the post

What is the appropriate action to take when an image is not fulfilling this purpose?

There is a difference between an image that isn't best fulfilling one of the above goals, and an image that is offensive, distracting, or not a reasonable part of the answer.

If the image doesn't detract from the post, then I don't see any reason to do anything. The author will be upvoted or downvoted accordingly.

If the image is not an answer, or not a valid part of the answer, then it may be reasonable to edit it out or flag it as abuse.

If it is offensive, remove it, flag it, and move on.

My best guesses: An image should provide context or information that is impossible or not easy to convey with mere words. Graphs, screenshots, diagrams and their ilk seem like a useful tool to have around. Comics, witty graphics, or iconic imagery doesn't seem to fit this well.

This is an exceptionally harsh viewpoint. While you may learn best from textual representation of information, many people learn better from a visual representation.

Restricting images to only that information which cannot be provided textually is completely inappropriate.

The best posts use images sparingly to enhance the answer where images may provide additional value to readers who learn better via imagery.

Images are not something to be avoided, and in fact a lot of existing answers could be better if they had diagrams and images to emphasize important points.

  • I agree with this more than it may seem. I acknowledge that my viewpoint is harsh and that is part of why I was looking for input from the community. Thanks. :)
    – MrHen
    May 25, 2011 at 14:38
  • 1
    What about the example images linked to by the OP? I don't think that a screenshot of Indiana Jones does anything to enhance a question about the danger of quicksand. And how does a picture of a cat and a dog help in a question about whether cats and dogs naturally fight?
    – Gabe
    May 26, 2011 at 21:34
  • @Gabe I'm not particularly interested in living in a sterile lifeless world. Let people add supplementary images to their posts if they like. I'm certainly against forming a policy that strictly prohibits images that have limited value to a post. When you read articles, blog posts, and so forth from good sources, you'll often find they use color and imagery in ways to enhance the post, where the color and imagery do not actually add particular educational value, they do add design value. Again, sterility for sterility's sake is to be avoided.
    – Pollyanna
    May 26, 2011 at 22:14

You are not alone.

I found this question after I saw a topic on EL which discussed the difference between greenhouse and green house and included large (700 pix high) pictures of both a greenhouse and a house painted green. I doubt the concept of colour applied to a house really needs to be illustrated, and a photo of a greenhouse explains very little to those who don't know what a greenhouse is (as opposed to e.g. a link to Wikipedia article).

Truth is, a picture naturally attracts attention by standing out of the surrounding text. This tricks the users to read answers with pictures first, so those answers get more upvotes, encouraging people to include a picture in their questions and answers regardless of the actual need for it.

I don't think you can do anything besides downvoting content with images which you deem inappropriate. After all, this is what voting is for. Once enough people get tired of being distracted by pictures, voting will turn things around (I have seen it happen in some online communities). And I certainly don't think it's up to the mods to enforce anything in this situation. Editing pictures out of other people's posts also sounds rude to me, personally I'd reject such edits as conflicting with author's intent. You have your vote but that's it, you don't get to decide for everyone.

  • 1
    I saw that Q&A and thought the images illustrated the point brilliantly. Images that aren't relevant or don't add anything to the post aren't good, fair enough. But that example was a perfectly good use of images IMO.
    – Cai
    Aug 31, 2016 at 12:22
  • I don't want to sound rude, but do you really have a hard time imagining a house painted green without a picture? Aug 31, 2016 at 12:25
  • 1
    That's a ridiculous argument. It's perfectly fine to prefer posts without images—that's a personal preference—but that doesn't make images in posts a bad thing. I'm a visual person, I respond well to images.
    – Cai
    Aug 31, 2016 at 12:27
  • Well, this is my point basically. You like images and tend to vote posts with images up. The OP doesn't like images (me too), so he should vote them down whenever he feels distracted. If images in posts were bad, I'd suggest flagging them for mods attention. I specifically said that this shouldn't be done. Aug 31, 2016 at 12:33
  • I'm only more likely to upvote an answer with an image if the image actually ads anything to the answer.
    – Cai
    Aug 31, 2016 at 12:37
  • Me too. Apparently we have different opinions on what "adds anything" means, but that's something which is impossible to agree upon and that's exactly what voting is for. Aug 31, 2016 at 12:43
  • Fair enough. Do you have a link to the EL question? I can't find it now and I'm interested to see if I'm remembering it correctly!
    – Cai
    Aug 31, 2016 at 12:45
  • It's on hot network questions list right now: ell.stackexchange.com/a/102058/28383 Aug 31, 2016 at 12:47

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