The question What is the difference between “tits” and “boobs”? has a number of answers, and a dedicated group of people appears to have gone through and down-voted every answer multiple times. This can't be coincidence. @ghoppe's answer received 5 down-votes, @drachenstern's got 6, @Paul's got 2, my own got 4, and the question itself received 10 down-votes. In each case it seems as if the perpetrator(s) were trying to bring the scores to zero, which they couldn't achieve with @ghoppe's because he had too many upvotes.

I'm just curious, because this looks like a coordinated attack of some kind, perhaps from a person or persons who can't abide such a topic being discussed. Moderators?

  • Indeed, I flagged it on mine because that's suspiciously like a targetted attack. I can understand not agreeing with a topic, but this is ridiculous for reasons I don't understand ...
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 21:26
  • And now this one has been downvoted? Seriously?
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 21:34
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    At least the community is strong enough to destroy the evil down-votes by a large margin! Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 3:30
  • @Johannes Schaub: Umm .. this is meta. Is there a meta meta that I don't know about?
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 22:21
  • @Robusto um sorry. I didn't notice I'm on meta. I just followed a twitter link. Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 22:22
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    No, there is no such place! It never existed! If anyone ever tells you it exists, just give his name or, better, his real address to the SE Sanitary Department, and they'll extinguish his machinations in an appropriate manner. Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 0:10
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    I downvoted every answer except the two I upvoted. Not really that I thought they were all appalling (though some were). I just don't really like the idea that such questions/answers tend to attract more votes than I think is justified. Perhaps that's wrong-headed of me - at least the tits/boobs distinction is a bit more on-topic and about English language usage than our second "most popular" question - the infamous Dalai Lama joke Commented Mar 29, 2012 at 17:19

3 Answers 3


I think the problem here is inherently that the Stack Overflow model of community moderation doesn’t necessarily scale to highly specialized sites.

The idea behind community moderation is great: it’s an ultimate form of democracy and it lets the community shape itself without outside influence, and will invariably reflect the majority opinion.

But this only works if the community is robust. And this means large, and knowledgeable to some degree. For some Stack Exchange sites, this isn’t the case and English.SE is a prime example. Most users on this site are probably dedicated enthusiasts (like myself), not professional linguists, and there aren’t too many users to boot.

Furthermore, the site is essentially open to everyone. Again, this is usually a good thing. But it also means that the decisions about the community are no longer made by the informed only, they are also influenced by ignorants (and I don’t mean this pejoratively).

This is what has happened here. And I agree with Jeff that this is just the way the community platform works.

But it shows that this open community doesn’t work in each setting. If a professional community is small enough that it can easily be overrun by disinterested outsiders who just want to cause disruption, precautions have to be taken, otherwise the discourse will be disrupted. Imagine if creationists had a say in what gets published in Nature. The very thought is ridiculous. But this would happen if Nature were an open platform in the same way as Stack Exchange.

But this is exactly the same thing that has happened here: whoever thinks that a linguistic discussion about obscene words is even the slightest bit offensive is disruptive in such a discussion. There is no question that this doesn’t have to be “tolerated, lest we be intolerant”.

Ultimately, I think that this was an exceptional case for English.SE and that the community won’t suffer from it. But I could imagine that this becomes a huge problem for different potential SE platforms (e.g. Biological Evolution and Popular Natural Science) and we should keep an eye out for this.

  • 8
    Bravo! Well said.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 20:02
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    I think that the +100 rep bonus for linking related account might one of the most damaging factor in the story, it let's anyone who is a guru in one domain have a say in other domain far from this person's expertise.
    – Eldroß
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 8:46
  • If creationists downvoted all answers to an evolution-related question, that wouldn't achieve very much. If they upvoted an incorrect answer, that'd be a mild problem, but they wouldn't be able to delete comments to an incorrect answer unless they were mods.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 12:43
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    @Andrew: but if they mass-flagged all answers/questions and thus cause them to be removed without moderator consultation, this could cause disruption. Furthermore, they could easily outnumber the positively active users on a small enough community and essentially take it over. Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 13:34
  • This explains a lot. I've seen more down voting on this Stack Exchange than any other I'm a member of and I found it difficult to understand. This helps explain this a lot. Thanks. Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 12:21

Looks like some members of the community don't like this question.

This question is technically allowed by the terms of service -- but so is anonymously downvoting content that you don't agree with, that you think makes the internet worse and not better.

So, pick your poison.

  • 8
    Hmm ... a deftly phrased shrug if I ever heard one. But maybe not featuring the question would have been a good place to start. C'mon, 'fess up ... the question didn't get featured because it wasn't in some way provocative, did it? Flashing the "boobs" question to a whole bunch of people who see it out of context can't help but provoke a rush of outrage from people who understand neither the question nor the exchange itself, and who probably didn't even bother to read anything they down-voted.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 21:50
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    @Robusto Note that the hotness is an automatic thing. Had no human intervention.
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 21:57
  • @Jeff ~ Ok, I buy that. However, serially downvoting every part of an answer that has been upvoted seems like it meets the same criteria as going to one user and downvoting ten or twelve of their answers all in a really short period of time. Do I need to raise this on MSO so it can get a proper resquashing or is it a viable complaint?
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 21:58
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    @drach this is a controversial question, so downvotes are to be expected. If you don't like controversy, then we should remove the question altogether. Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 22:36
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    @Jeff while I would hate to see that happen (oh I've lost rep before, it's not that ~ I genuinely like good questions like this) ~ it seems to be a foregone conclusion. People are soo worried about this topic for some reason. Oh to be European and not American ...
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jan 19, 2011 at 22:40
  • @Drachenstern: Indeed! We have naked breasts on public television on the eight-o'clock news, and that isn't even controversial, at all. We had some today, for example, in this item on a girl in a mental ward who was being neglected. (The eight-o'clock news always has more viewers than any other daily or weekly show, including countless children.) Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 3:27
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    @Jeff: “this is a controversial question” – say what? “vim vs. emacs” is a controversial question. There’s nothing controversial about the respective usage of two words, even if they are vulgar. Downvoting them out of spite seems very childish. Downvoting truly controversial answers is something completely different. Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 8:14
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    @konrad shrug. can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 19:11
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    @Jeff: shouldn’t your comment apply rather the other way round? (i.e. directed at the flaggers?) – What I find problematic is that the content of a more or less professional (…) community is defined not by that community but by “ignorant” bystanders. On Stack Overflow this isn’t a problem: the community is large enough to take care of itself. On specialized sites, this does become a problem. And it’s a bit like letting creationists dictate the contents of “Nature”: ridiculous, and a danger to the discourse. By the way, I’m just pointing out potential issues of the system. Take it or leave it. Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 19:30
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    @konrad I'll leave it then. Thanks. (but, the question is much better with the title edit) Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 20:06
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    @Jeff I agree with that last comment
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jan 20, 2011 at 23:18
  • I'm just glad Jeff didn't want to delete the whole topic, and this one too ;-)
    – SamB
    Commented May 17, 2011 at 15:39
  • @KonradRudolph: Also, vim vs. emacs? That is so last century...
    – SamB
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 0:47
  • @JeffAtwood I'm quoting you. Hope it's okay with you: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1816/345
    – NVZ Mod
    Commented Sep 30, 2017 at 10:10

From the POV of a new user (since 2019): I can't see how the question should have ever been upvoted. Of course, I wasn't around back then. Maybe there was no "how to ask good questions" page in 2011? It looks like one VTC reasons is dated from that year: (How to respond to dictionary/“general reference” questions?) But the question shows no basic research at all. It was attractive because of basic animal urges, not because of any particular intellectual value.

  • 1
    "But the question shows no basic research at all" - yes, on that basis it would nowadays end up on the VTC queue. "It was attractive because of basic animal urges, not because of any particular intellectual value" - yes and no. Yes, the question and answers attracted many more votes than usual because of the reference to female anatomy, but the question itself had value on this site in eliciting greater detail than found in dictionaries on the social acceptance of each word and also on the difference between AmE and BritE on associated uses such as boob-tube. Commented Jan 17, 2021 at 19:02

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