I decided not to look for references since I did not want to point anyone out, however I think we have all seen a rude comment on a poorly posed question several times.

There appears to be a sizable camp who believes that not putting effort into a question is "rude" and that it's then OK to be rude back. This can take different forms, a commenter might for example tell the OP off, or attack his person, or make fun at his expense.

Personally I feel that if you do not like a question, do not spend another minute to tell the OP unconstructively how he's "wasting your time." Move on instead, possibly with a vote to close if that is applicable.

The thing is, there are many users on this site who are very good at giving constructive criticism and I've seen it in even pretty hopeless cases. So personally when I see someone being rude I ask myself whether that person could not simply have waited for one of those other users to say something, or wait for the question to be closed, because when it is there is also a constructive explanation as to why it was closed.

What do people think? Are there cases where it is justified to be unconstructively rude? It could be good to have a source when a discussion like this comes up that you could point at and say, "the community at large thinks that..."'

Edit to clarify: I don't think this community is rude at all. The incidents that I think of are very rare. But when they happen it seems to be because of a difference of opinion of what is acceptable/justified/fun with no harm done, so there does seem to be a difference in opinion.

Regarding the comment that says that this can't be discussed, it is probably true.

  • 1
    I think nobody will come out and justify rudeness. In any case the "rudeness level" is subjective. While being nice and welcoming is the clear path for building a constructive site and we(almost) agree on that aggressive behavior shouldn't be tolerated, you will also see posters that feel comfortable with others cleaning and editing their questions and trying with a lot of effort to figure out what the questions mean. And that (sometimes) drain people's patience. Feb 26, 2014 at 15:44
  • I'm not sure I understand the last part. It drains the OP's patience that people are editing his post, or it drains other users patience that people are editing his post for the sake of their own understanding?
    – C. E.
    Feb 26, 2014 at 15:57
  • @belisarius When I talk about rudeness I talk about things that could reasonably be understood as rude by the OP. And indeed users have been defending it, I've seen that many times and today such a comment got four votes as a "great comment" and one "xx for mod!" encouragement. The initial joke which could reasonably be considered rude to the OP got another compliment and more votes as "great comment."
    – C. E.
    Feb 26, 2014 at 16:01
  • 1
    Without examples this is going to be a byzantine discussion. "Should we be nice?" ..."Oh yes". Sometimes one just shouldn't run away from the confrontation and does it for the sake of keeping a civilized voice. Example: mathematica.stackexchange.com/a/20130/193 (most comments were deleted, I think) Feb 26, 2014 at 16:15
  • @belisarius No deleted comments there, but almost all of the downvotes were cast after that comment from the OP.
    – rm -rf Mod
    Feb 26, 2014 at 16:53
  • @rm-rf Thanks. I think the deleted comment thread episode was at another similar situation. That stupid German doctor strikes again Feb 26, 2014 at 17:10
  • Pickett, If you can't take a joke that's actually telling you what you need to do in order to get constructive answers then there's something wrong with you. Now, I know I will receive responses along the lines of "bla bla bla he's new" to which I will respond that there is enough information -what you are advised to do when posting a question, in that same dialog box, so that's not really gonna work :)
    – Sektor
    Feb 26, 2014 at 20:02
  • @Sektor I don't think even the OP took offense in that particular example; but it's the principle. You can write two equally short sentences. They both get the message across. The first one makes a joke that is fun for experienced users. The second one is more straightforward and is explicitly helpful, instead of implicitly; which one do you choose? I think that as a general rule the second kind of sentence is better. But if you want to write a defense for the implicit and on some level rude sentence (on some level! Might not be a harmful level) that would be great.
    – C. E.
    Feb 26, 2014 at 20:23
  • He didn't have the time to take offense :D Yes, it is the PRINCIPLE. Spot on ! :) No, I really don't want to write anything for a number of things - I don't have to explain my or the actions of another user; You do understand that writing a comment would not capture the pronunciation and sometimes comments and questions would be misinterpreted; I don't need to defend anything from anyone :) Have a nice evening /~
    – Sektor
    Feb 26, 2014 at 20:46
  • @Sektor Noone has criticized you so what have you got to defend; to write a defense for something means to write down the arguments which support that view objectively. I might do it myself, I'm starting to see that for the community at large a joke here or there is not the worst in the world.
    – C. E.
    Feb 26, 2014 at 23:57
  • I am not saying anyone criticized me; If it counts - I welcome criticism - Free lessons :D I know what it means, thank you. That was my way of saying I would not get involved in the discussion at this time. Exactly and if people react to jokes the way I have seen them do, I do not want to be there when they get fired, for example :D
    – Sektor
    Feb 27, 2014 at 0:16
  • @belisarius you mentioned me? :D
    – Yves Klett
    Mar 1, 2014 at 10:24
  • @YvesKlett Really? Are you that German Doctor? O my! I haven't been able to remember your name for years! Mar 1, 2014 at 16:43
  • @belisarius (cannot find the emoticon for blowing a rasperry but you get the gist).
    – Yves Klett
    Mar 1, 2014 at 17:24
  • @YvesKlett Our mods at your service: i.stack.imgur.com/6VzWc.png Mar 2, 2014 at 5:20

4 Answers 4


I think that this is an important issue to bring up from time to time. This site is not bad or rude, especially compared to other programmers' forums (some of which have notoriously curt manners), but it is very important to maintain some standards.

One reason why I got to like SE is because it was more professional and the impression was that people were better mannered than in some other places (e.g. some C++ newsgroups or chat channels).

"Rudeness" or "friendliness" is a subjective thing. For someone used to programmers' forums this site might seem very nice, but for someone coming from an academic background and not very used to any online discussion boards or Q/A sites I can imagine that it might seem a bit rough. It is important that we don't alienate anyone who might become a valuable contributor.

I do admit that sometimes I post comments which are not so nice, and I don't even always realize it. When I do, I try to remedy the situation or I try to not comment at all for a while (it's a bad day, etc., let's wait until tomorrow). I was trying to learn some R a while ago, and at that time I could relate much better to beginner questions ... (having a recent first hand experience of struggling with a new language).

So, should we do something about this? Did anything go wrong? In my opinion, you already did what needed to be done. You brought some attention to a potential problem, and reminded people to be careful. I'm sure it will have an effect. We need a reminder sometimes.

More generally, I've been worrying a bit recently that the standards are declining. I think it is true that the site is not as friendly as when we started out, but this is probably unavoidable. At the beginning people were all very enthusiastic and made a special effort to be very friendly and make the site feel welcoming. Now the site is more popular, there are more bad questions, many more duplicate questions, and many of the people who were there at the beginning are feeling increasingly weary and not so motivated. (Which is another reason why it's important to stay attractive enough that new people will be drawn in.) What's important is not to let it go downhill, and fortunately it doesn't seem to be happening, a stationary state seems to have been reached.

  • 2
    Szabolcs, I was thinking the same thing you mentioned in your last paragraph. I feel that the site is not about solving interesting problems anymore (out of which the community would really benefit) but about reviewing/pruning tons of integration and plot-customization question, of which I am already tired to try to look up the duplicates. How can we persuade new users to delve a bit deeper before asking a question? I don't believe in elitism (restricting newcomers even more), RTFM never helped, so what to do? Feb 27, 2014 at 10:45

It's not easy to discuss such issues in the abstract because no one really believes "Yes, it's OK to be rude", even if they sometimes are. Without any specifics, you'll end up having — as belisarius eloquently put it — Byzantine discussions. However, I also realize that delving into specific instances will serve no good purpose and you'll end up unnecessarily crucifying a helpful and regular user for a single off-handed remark.

I was going to write a detailed post, but Szabolcs and Stefan have made some good points, so I'll instead take the opportunity to make a loose collection of statements that reflect my view (as a user and a moderator) on such issues in general and what you (or others) can do about it.

  • This site is collectively run by the users who contribute in many different ways — asking, answering, editing, flagging, voting, commenting, reviewing, etc. It is the community's continued interest in the site that has made this a good place to get quick and quality answers to questions about Mathematica.

  • Although Stack Exchange is purposefully designed without any social features (I mean this in the Facebook/Google+ sense, such as "following", "liking", personal messaging, etc.) and discourages typical social verbiage in posts (e.g. "Hi", "Hello", "Thanks for your attention", etc.), we cannot escape the social implications of our actions.

  • It is hard to infer a person's tone and intent from written text and what was said with the purest of intentions might come across as "rude" or "sarcastic", perhaps even more so if either party is a non-native speaker. If you come across a comment/joke that could be misunderstood (especially by a new user), just leave an additional "nice" comment re-explaining it and welcoming the user.

  • Behind every possibly rude comment is a human being with their own personal issues, problems and deadlines, and might probably be just having a bad day (sometimes not realizing it!). We've all been there and perhaps what they need is a day's rest from the site. I'm often understanding of a single rude comment from an otherwise patient and helpful user. I'll quietly remove it without raising a stink and will reach out only if it starts becoming a pattern. To this date, we haven't had to suspend anyone for repeated rude behaviour.

  • Having a history of being nice doesn't mean that it's ok to be rude sometimes... just let them know in a comment or in chat that it could've been phrased better or more politely. More often than not, they've realized their mistake and will immediately delete/apologize/rephrase. When possible, urge them to either delete it of their own volition (I prefer this approach with established users) or flag it for moderator attention (explaining via a custom flag is better for us).

  • Sometimes rudeness comes across inadvertently due to frustration at lazy OPs and terrible questions, especially for the experienced and early users who have seen "better times". Having been here since day 1 and having seen a lot of the entitled/arrogant/lazy behaviour that OPs exhibit (almost all now in deleted content), I can fully empathize with these folks. However, I don't condone rudeness even in such cases and there are quieter ways to "send a message" — downvote + close + delete.

  • If you're burned out by trying to understand poor questions, perhaps change your focus for a few days – try reviewing or updating old answers (need not be yours); try looking at unanswered questions in a tag you normally don't participate in; head to chat to vent out or make stupid jokes... there's plenty of other things to do here, if you so choose to spend your time here.

  • Regular users might remember certain problematic and repeat offenders and might comment something to the effect of "Why didn't you read the previous answers or look up the documentation" as a followup to their previous terrible posts (which are now deleted) where help/suggestions were given. To the average user unaware of the history, this might appear as if they are being unfair and mean towards the OP. I tend to think that such comments are not out of place when used in moderation (you don't want to be the guy that always yells "What have you tried?").

  • I personally don't think that the site as a whole is rude in any way, and I've often seen regular users police themselves and each other's behaviour efficiently and discreetly. You don't see them because the comments have been removed either by me or the users themselves. I'm not a big believer in leaving behind "artifacts" just to prove that a resolution has been reached or to use it as a "lesson" for someone else.

  • I think the above statement is also reflected in the flags I see on comments. Very rarely do I see a rude/offensive comment flag, because for the most part, the users sort it out themselves. Almost all the "rude" flags are raised by the lazy OPs themselves, upset that someone else is pointing out (not rudely) that they're a moocher.

A single rude person does not poison a community. It's the silence of the majority that will eventually make such behaviour acceptable and cause it to collapse. So I'm happy that you brought up this discussion even if I happen to disagree on whether the situation that led to this post warranted such a discussion (I found it funny and an apt response to the question as asked :D). As Szabolcs said, it is important to bring this up so that we can remember and re-evaluate ourselves in light of the changes that have taken place since the previous discussion. If people have not been actively paying attention to how their words might come across, they probably will now. For a while at least.

  • thank you for answer. This is a diverse community. There are: users with specific one time question;users learning MMA;experts who love problem solving using MMA...and yes users who come to get someone to do their homework. I am a learner. Trying to answer questions and looking at other answers is for me more a reward than a service.I admit to enjoyment if I get a vote and 'game'(answering simpler questions,sorry if lowers standards). MSE self regulates via its structure (rules,moderation) and discussions such as this. My journey has gone from feeling intimidated to reward>frustrations.
    – ubpdqn
    Feb 28, 2014 at 8:02
  • I was going to write a detailed post?
    – Yves Klett
    Mar 1, 2014 at 10:27
  • @YvesKlett :D...
    – rm -rf Mod
    Mar 1, 2014 at 11:37
  • @rm-rf I have appreciated that there are a number of in-jokes among the expert users who either know each other or have gotten to know each other through this medium. The rules and moderation processs go to reasonable lengths to reward and promote civility and mutual respect and dissuade or eliminate 'rudeness' (as this Q explores). However, there is always a social dimension (that is evident in cursory perusal of commentaries and in analytics). These societal subgroups strike me as in general positive but elitism (suggested in other commentaries) is not a positive feature.
    – ubpdqn
    Mar 1, 2014 at 12:54
  • @ubp My main point with this answer was that while we can all aspire for the site to have some ideal qualities, the reality is that we are not automata. The site has a certain soul and pulse to it that reflects the community that has built it (and is continuing to build). It is this that we should try to optimize rather than hoping to control user actions and interactions at the micro-level. They're certainly linked — a nice place means fewer chances to be rude and too many rude people means a not so nice place, but I'm pragmatic about not expecting everyone to behave "ideally" all the time.
    – rm -rf Mod
    Mar 1, 2014 at 13:09
  • @rm-rf could not agree more.i very much value this community and appreciate the structured and unstructured aspects, latter including diverse expertise, virtual 'personalities' and styles. I am only now starting to get comfortable enough to venture into these meta aspects. Will aim to read more and comment less...back to on call...
    – ubpdqn
    Mar 1, 2014 at 14:29

I don't think that this site is rude at all.

I've spent times on mailing lists where the language was of a completely opposite manner (get into linux kernel hacking and you know what I am talking about).

When I started and got a queer comment rm-rf helped me out not to be confused at all.

That someone does react on poor posed questions is kind of understanding. We all volunteer on this peculiar software and spent (and do) so much time in understanding what is going on. Doing a job which should be WRI's basically.

I think it is perfectly justified that you expect some sort of effort from the questioner. That does not mean I advocate rude comments, but the voting system etc. does make us as well highly competitive.

I can remember getting rude comments on an answer, but hey, this is web. Deal with it.

And believe I've had my fun plus rm-rf does owe me 22 up votes!!!!!!!!

  • 1
    "I don't think that this site is rude at all." <-- Rudeness is somewhat subjective and what feels rude depends on one's past experience. Compared to C++ IRC channels this is a wonderful site, but there are nicer communities out there ... My only point with this comment is that I do think that this is an important question to consider and think about. I think that the atmosphere, while not bad, did get a little worse since we started out. There are a number of reasons for that, there are more bad questions and the people who were there at the beginning are getting more weary.
    – Szabolcs
    Feb 27, 2014 at 0:48

First let me say that all the replies came from people who were not likely to be treated rudely here, that is why I answered. It is these people whose patience is being tested by people like myself. I can only hope they remember that the higher you climb the mountain the more you see beneath you.

I have not been treated rudely or unfairly on some pretty basic questions. I remember Dr B. whupping me pretty good on one particular answer politely. A good refutation is way better than an insult.

I think being on any forum requires a thick skin. Szabolcs, mentions a stationary state, this is good. If there are not many interesting questions anymore this is also a natural consequence of mixing amateurs like me with experts. The forum is fine, let's leave it as it is.

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