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This could just be me, but I'm seeing a big uptake on hypercritical comments and aggressive downvoting lately here. It's like there's a cadre of power users trying to make a name for themselves by being mean to others.

Can we do something to make this forum fun again?

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    Do you have any specific examples we could look at? – waiwai933 Feb 19 '11 at 22:59
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    It's a general trend I've been seeing. I think if you look at any random assortment of recent questions, particularly those that got down voted and closed, you'll see the sort of stuff that to which I'm referring. – smithco Feb 19 '11 at 23:02
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    @smithco I've looked at the last 5 active questions that have been closed, and everything seems to be standard. Do you have a specific comment that you think is particularly mean? – waiwai933 Feb 19 '11 at 23:21
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    There was nothing particularly harsh in the comment that I could see, just a correction. Most of the rest of what you are seeing seems to revolve around a single user's continual posting of off-topic and repeat questions, often in an argumentative tone. I believe your answer was deleted in the hope that if the user stopped getting answers to off-topic questions, he (?) might stop posting them. The alternatives, like banning the user, would be just a little less friendly, I think. – bye Feb 19 '11 at 23:40
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    I disagree about the deletion, I think the moderator acted badly in that case. If the point was to communicate to the poster of the question, a message to the user would have been appropriate. I did interpret the deletion as an indication that the moderator thought that I was acting badly. – smithco Feb 19 '11 at 23:51
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    I completely agree with the moderator, frankly. It would be nice if there were a facility to privately let you know why an answer is being deleted, but I've only been a member of english.SO for four days and I can see the problems one user is causing. If you want this to be a nice place again, it's going to have to involve swatting a mosquito or two. – bye Feb 20 '11 at 0:23
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    @smithco: The deletion of the answer was for exactly the reason @Stan Rogers suggested. The user who asked that question has been asking a string of off-topic questions, banking on the fact that one or two people will give answers before the question is closed. The only reason I didn't immediately delete the question entirely is because I think it is good practice to give the questioner at least a few hours to revise the question. After that, the question is deleted, at which point all answers disappear anyway. I am not sure why it is mean-spirited to remove off-topic content. – Kosmonaut Feb 20 '11 at 0:28
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    Now I am really curious about this deleted comment... – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '11 at 1:33
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    @smithco: The question you are talking about, which was asking about sign language in different countries, was so clearly off-topic that I can't even begin to understand your reaction to my removal of the discussion. Perhaps EL&U really isn't for you; I don't know what else to say. I hope you can take a step back and get to know the people of EL&U and general tenor of the discussions here; you'll see there was nothing personal or mean-spirited intended by the actions of users. Heck, you've only been a member of EL&U for 2 weeks as of this writing. – Kosmonaut Feb 20 '11 at 3:14
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    @Cerberus: smithco's deleted comment was "Yes, formal sign languages (e.g., ASL) are considered proper languages. This should not be confused with what is called body language, meaning the shifts, tics and mannerisms of a person." This was in response to the question "Is sign/manual language for the deaf a language?" (Clearly, none of this has the slightest connection to any of the topics on EL&U.) – Kosmonaut Feb 20 '11 at 3:17
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    @smithco: That is a pity, because I have seen you give good answers. Are you sure you understood this deletion correctly? Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the entire answer/question was deleted, not specifically your comment: that means that there may have been nothing wrong with your answer, but moderators cannot delete an answer/question without also deleting its comments; nor can they delete a question but not its answers. Your comment was just collateral damage then. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '11 at 3:31
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    @Cerberus: I first closed the question and then deleted all answers. This was done because I don't usually delete even off-topic questions immediately, but since vgv8 has been asking dozens of clearly off-topic questions with the hope of getting answers before they are closed, I removed the answers straight away. They would have, of course, disappeared once the question was deleted anyway (as it now has been). I think it is a reasonable course of action. – Kosmonaut Feb 20 '11 at 3:50
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    @smithco: +1 for “Can we do something to make this forum fun again?” – PLL Feb 20 '11 at 7:55
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    The site is personalities making personal decisions about the personalities they perceive. Once you understand that it is a hierarchy pretending to be a community ("democracy" !) then you can be at peace. The "community" simply copy and repeat whatever the high rep voters and commenters do. The piranha effect. And the victim gets blamed for being in the water at feeding time. – PerformanceDBA Feb 20 '11 at 12:27
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    @PerformanceDBA: You are mostly right. But is direct and full democracy always a good thing? I for one am not a fundamentalist democrat. Look at 5th-century Athens. Okay I am getting slightly off topic. So far I am quite happy with the level of quality and justice on this website, even though I disagree with the decisions of moderators on a regular basis and cannot do much about it. I try to kick them now and then when needed, but in general I can do the things I like to do here, so that I don't really experience substantial problems. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '11 at 17:01
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I think you're over-generalizing and looking at a single data point (user).

This is also a user (nb: I am not referring to you here, but the user who this event unfolded around) who has had ... issues ... on other sites in our network.

I would also add that a hallmark of such users is that bad things tend to happen around them, all the time, non-stop.

12

As Jeff said, there is one particular user who is, I think, the root cause of these problems — posting things which really don’t belong on the site, being very quick to take a confrontational tone, etc.

However, there’s a knock-on effect from this too: everybody else (especially the most active users) gets a lot of grief from ‘firefighting’ against this user’s questions, and so there’s a lot more frustration and crabbiness going around, and on a small site like this, there’s not as much room for that frustration to dissipate as there is on eg stackoverflow or serverfault.

So… I think everyone, especially the power users (I guess I see myself as on the fringes of that category at the moment), can probably help by trying to respond positively as well as negatively to the problems. In a nutshell:

Don’t just downvote the bad questions; go upvote some good ones too. And smile!

(…of course, this is advice I’m directing at myself here as much as at anyone else…)

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    Can you be more specific and give references on 1)"there is one particular user"; 2)"posting things which really don’t belong on the site" and 3)"being very quick to take a confrontational tone"? Telling directly is healthy critics, hinting and roundabouting are slander, insult and agitation – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 20 '11 at 8:33
  • I naturally hope you would avoid references to posts made after yours – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 20 '11 at 10:17
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    @vgv8: (1) Yes, I was referring to you. I omitted your name with the intention of tactfulness, not of misdirection. I beg your pardon if this came across as rudeness or insinuation. (2) You have had a lot of questions closed and downvoted, mostly with clear explanations of why they were off-topic, not effectively written, etc. Unfortunately the mods have deleted those and most of the comments, so I can’t cite them any more; but there was just recently, for instance, a case where I replied to your question on sign languages saying: – PLL Feb 20 '11 at 17:25
  • “This is an interesting question, but (a) not about English language/usage, and (b) completely answered by a single Wikipedia search for ‘Sign language’.” So I think I and others have explained quite clearly, many times, how a lot of what you posted was not appropriate for this site. Finally, re (3): your comments here are typical. You rarely respond to any criticisms, either by defending your earlier actions or changing your style. Instead, you resort immediately to accusations against the rest of us, of conspiracy, slander, and the like. – PLL Feb 20 '11 at 17:30
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    I would like to reiterate, however, that if you could read our criticisms of your inappropriate posts, and if you could then improve the quality of your postings in future based on that, you would find yourself welcome here. I for one hold no personal grudge — some of your questions have been good, and I’ve upvoted them. Until you can do that consistently, however, I’m afraid I’m very tired of arguing with you. I have answered your three questions here, and that is enough for now; I will not reply to any further comments from you for a while except in actual discussions of EL&U. – PLL Feb 20 '11 at 17:35
  • Exactly. No grudge! – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '11 at 21:23
  • Lovely answer: "Don’t just downvote the bad questions; go upvote some good ones too. And smile!" :-) – Tragicomic Feb 24 '11 at 10:40
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[Note: I will not comment on the general atmosphere on this website—just on criticism and correcting fellow users.]

[Note 2: All mention of "a single user", "one user", "this user", etc. is not about you, @Smithco! I can assure you of that. I think this all rests on a terrible misunderstanding.]

I can understand why you didn't like FX_'s comment on your translation of a French phrase (you mentioned this comment in your comment above). It was not essential to your answer, and criticism is never a pleasant thing to receive. However, I'd have done exactly the same as FX_ did. The fact that something is "unfriendly" does not make it bad: criticism is always a bit unfriendly, but it is often healthy. Do you propose that we should never criticise here? I believe that correcting errors, even small ones, improves the general quality of our website.

I have been criticised many times, and I have tried to correct my answers whenever I felt the criticism was right, or when I felt that it was polite to show a willingness to agree that perhaps I could have phrased my answer in a better way. I have never taken it to mean "you are stupid, and this small error proves that you should not be on this website", but rather "I am a geek and an OCD perfectionist; hey, why else do you think I am on this very website?". I correct other users too, and I do hope and assume that they take my criticism the same way.

There are times when I read an answer that contains a quirky factoid, one that makes me wonder "huh, is that really true?". Sometimes this factoid is challenged by someone in a comment; this usually entails a detailed explanation of why it is wrong, and some voting on the comment, or assent or dissent of other users. Such a discussion is to me an important source of information, much more helpful than mere up and down votes. When I am reading a certain question, it is only natural that I should be interested in those things that others discuss in the context of this answer.

If I see that some experienced users have commented on an answer but they have not "corrected" the quirky factoid, I usually assume that they agree with it, and that I was wrong.

This is why comments are such an important feature of SE: discussion is an indispensable tool in the formation and communication of knowledge. It is a pity that those who founded the SE sites should disagree and even make comments less usable on purpose. Perhaps they will one day be swayed.

  • I'm discovering this thread in which my name appears! I stand by my comment on your answer. Now that the answer was fixed, I am removing my downvote. I just don't like that the comment was deleted without me being warned in some way, because I might never have discovered it and come back to remove the downvote. – F'x Feb 20 '11 at 13:01
  • I'll also say that the answer is better now than it was before, which means that my comment was useful. As it's deleted and not reproduced here, we can't discuss whether the tone was appropriate, but I sincerely think it was. – F'x Feb 20 '11 at 13:02
  • @FX_: I agree in all respects. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '11 at 14:41
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@smithco, please see this question, and this one, and this one.

Oh, and this one too (edit, I just found this, and this too).

And this one.

I think I'll stop there. Have you noticed a common theme yet?

(Just a thought: if you've really got time, just trawl your way through this list.)

My point, exactly?

What would you be rather spending your time on: questions/answers like that, or the real business of EL&U?

Most of us want this site to prosper; we enjoy answering quality, genuine, on-topic questions about English Language & Usage. We're even not averse to the occasional fun or border-line questions. But repeated naff questions from users with whom we - or others - may already have had run-ins with - here or elsewhere - inevitably get very short thrift.

The absolute worse thing is that in the process of trying to protect the site from this kind of destructive activity, moderators will always initially avoid outright bans or suspensions. Which means that the problem questions keep coming, and getting closed, which (ironically) ends up scaring off people like you, and comforting conspiracy-theorists in their paranoia. This makes the troll-type activity doubly deleterious.

tl;dr

In short, in future when you see moderator activity that worries you, the first thing to do is to check out the user profile of the post in question. You can also pop into chat and ask anyone who's there to explain.

  • Let me put your answer more concisely: in SE do not answer without making sure that you are answering participant without a very long record of being abused. This is not original, it was already written many times before you. Abusing is highly infectious and very comfortable - abusers distort(edit), delete the posts of being attacked, then ban the authors and write inventing whatever they want – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 21 '11 at 11:56
  • I have better example. I was banned forever in usingenglish.com just because webadministrator there checked and found those posts about vgv8 . Should I now change my IDs and names because I was victim of massive abuses in SE? – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 21 '11 at 12:04
  • I know many participants in the same situation who were forced to change their nicks in SE. I shall not because I had never done anything wrong. The only my error was that I tried to enter into discussion and every my word thereafter was twisted, edited, deleted, substituted, taken out of context or even invented instead of me – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Feb 21 '11 at 12:18
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    @vgv8, have you ever considered preferring Russian-speaking internet forums? I'm serious. You might have more luck there. – Benjol Feb 21 '11 at 13:11
  • why have you decided that I'm avoiding non-English forums (Russian, French, Portuguese ones)? Why have you decided that I do not have luck here? After giving the link to this site in my twitter @vgv8 account bio, I've got to my @vgv8 170 more followers just in 5 hours – Gennady Vanin Геннадий Ванин Mar 6 '11 at 6:43

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