So I have been seeing a lot of people referring to the masses as 'lemmings' because they upvote answers that are not perfect.

This is EXTREMELY disrespectful and should not be tolerated in posts, including in meta. The fact that this is acceptable behavior by 'respected' members here at the workplace is just ridiculous. Can we please ensure that such posts are promptly removed and repeat offenders are removed from the site. This site is supposed to be professional and insulting the people who the answers here should be for (The masses) is not professional at all.

If you wish to refer to people as lemmings, please first attempt it with your bosses and clients and see how that works in the actual workplace.

As for a question here:

Is referring to people as lemmings and other generic insults actually acceptable behavior that people tolerate here?

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    Hey Paul, how would you choose to word this? Perhaps offering an alternative would help folks find a better solution. Would you find "pack mentality" offensive? What word would work in this case to convey the point without being inflammatory? – jmort253 Apr 5 '14 at 17:51
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    jmort, pack mentality describes what is happening, not using a term that can be deemed as derogatory towards individual users. For example 'This answer is up voted due to pack mentality', or telling your boss 'This solution is selected because of pack mentality but this other option is better' would be acceptable in my eyes. Saying 'Lemmings are up voting this' or saying to your boss 'You only like this solution because you are a lemming' would likely not have such a desirable result and ultimately make users here defensive and have your boss fire you. – Paul Muir Apr 5 '14 at 18:17
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    @PaulDonny an interesting perspective you may wish to consider is to start a new job and immediately start criticizing all existing policies and procedures without fully understanding them. Disrespect goes both ways (not with this post, I am glad you brought this up, because although I have never used "lemmings" to the best of my knowledge it is a good topic to be aware of). It can be equally frustrating and disrespectful for people who have put lots of time and effort into something for others to show up and start telling them how to run things without spending time to understand them first. – enderland Apr 5 '14 at 19:49
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    @PaulDonny - It's probably worth considering that choice of words do matter, and it's worth us all trying to be careful in how we do word things so that our message isn't lost. So in short, your advice is to describe the behavior, not the person. – jmort253 Apr 5 '14 at 20:31
  • @enderland typically I do just that and thus far it has been quite successful. I am not scared to call BS when I see it. – Paul Muir Apr 5 '14 at 20:43
  • @jmort253 my sentiment exactly – Paul Muir Apr 5 '14 at 21:09

I didn't think of "lemming" as being an objectionable term, but considering lemmings are known to all follow one another off a cliff, I can see how some could find this a bit irksome if they're in the target group.

However, we all do it. All of us at one point have been a victim of our own blindness to the truth, which is really what the phrase is intended to convey. Truth be told, up voting poor content, in a way, does steer our site more towards falling off a cliff. What brought our site to the point where the world finds it useful is in our focus on quality answers to questions about real problems. A lot of folks joining our community today will learn quite a bit from the resources in the Stack Exchange blog, starting with Real Questions Have Answers.

When anecdotal, personal advice, one liner answers, or information that can't or isn't properly backed up is voted up, that dilutes our site's goals.

With that said, it's important that dialogue remain constructive. Using language that angers or puts people on the defensive only serves to deafen those who the message is intended to reach. At the same time, if the only constructive argument is "I liked that post" or "eh, it's not that bad" then we're failing in our mission to make the Internet a better place.

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    Resist pack mentality. You may find that highly voted posts have a certain appeal that kind of makes you compulsory follow the "majority vote". Resist that appeal, because making a habit of blindly following the score may damage your ability to evaluate content. When you see a highly voted post, don't just click the up or down arrow - don't even limit yourself to quickly skimming it. Stop, take a deep breath, carefully study the post, form your own opinion - and only after that, vote as you find appropriate. (quote source) – gnat Apr 5 '14 at 17:47
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    "I didn't think of "lemming" as being an objectionable term" I do. And if you look back at the contexts within which it was used, I think it was intended to be derogatory and demeaning. – Joe Strazzere Apr 5 '14 at 22:17
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    @JoeStrazzere - Context does matter, so I can see how it can be taken the wrong way. Let's all make it a point to pay attention to how we say things, as that's just as important as what we say, especially when the goal is to persuade others to take a specific course of action. – jmort253 Apr 5 '14 at 22:22
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    Fun aside: not even lemmings behave like lemmings. The whole meme of lemmings following one another off of a cliff was actually based on a nature doc filmed by Disney in the 1950s which faked their reaction (and which, yes, threw a bunch of lemmings off of a cliff). – NotVonKaiser Apr 6 '14 at 2:08
  • It's important to understand that different people have different motivations for voting. Some people focus on how well a post adheres to the formal guidelines, others take a more subjective approach; and it's good that they do. Not all good answers follow the guidelines, nor is it true that an answer in breach of the guidelines cannot be good. Rigid and uniform adherence to rules can be nearly as subversive/diluting as having no rules at all. When "lemmings" vote up a response that is technically flawed, the issue isn't that they voted wrong but that the technical rules are imperfect. – aroth Apr 14 '14 at 14:42

We should avoid name-calling because it violates be nice. We can talk about behaviors and patterns without resorting to calling people lemmings or sheeple or (from another site) heretics or (per Godwin's Law) worse things. Please, let's remember that we're talking about fellow human beings, and absent evidence to the contrary, ones who are probably trying to do what they think is right but who need to be educated.

If answers (or questions) are utter garbage, we should use the tools available to remove them. If they are poor but fixable, we should use the tools available to fix them. If we think a user can be guided, we should do so, politely. I'm saying "we" because this is a community capable of distributed maintenance -- address the parts you can address, leave the parts you can't, and let's all please stay constructive.

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    We should avoid name-calling because it violates be nice. - Yes if I were to refer to you(or an other specific user) as a Lemming, or call your vote a Lemming up-vote it would. In this case it is not referring to any one specifically. There should be for to be no violation of be nice in this case. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 9 '14 at 17:26
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    While "$user is a lemming" is more personal and blatant, I'm not sure "outsiders who aren't part of our 'in crowd' are lemmings" is really any nicer -- it's just less directed. I'm not trying to be the Niceness Police; I'm just trying to get us to focus on behaviors over labels that, demonstrably, bother some. – Monica Cellio Apr 9 '14 at 20:02
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    That was not what I said at all and actually take offense at you claiming that. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 10 '14 at 3:51
  • You said it's ok to call unnamed people lemmings. I say it's still not nice. I was notputting specific words into your mouth; it was an example of what your position would permit. – Monica Cellio Apr 10 '14 at 13:24
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    "outsiders who aren't part of our 'in crowd' are lemmings - that is the line that no one has said or inferred, and that is the line I take great offense at your claiming is the case. People are not lemmings for disagreeing, they are lemmings for not bothering to try and figure out what right answer is and just assuming that the highest voted answer is correct and piling on. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 10 '14 at 13:59
  • I've seen that kind of language in the Water Cooler. Maybe not you; I wasn't talking specifically about you but about an attitude. Your first comment seems to condone that; if I misunderstood you I apologize. I believe you have misunderstood me. – Monica Cellio Apr 10 '14 at 14:02
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    I challenge you to find somewhere in chat that someone was called a lemming for not being part of the "in crowd"... of which i am not really sure who that is – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 10 '14 at 14:04
  • I don't care nearly enough to dig through reams of chat to have an argument with you. I am not talking about you. I am, however, concerned if people think it's ok to say "people who do X are being lemmings" just because they don't name those people, but they wouldn't agree it's ok if they named them. I'm saying that doesn't matter. It's like saying that "Xs are bad" (insert any X - political party, people from a certain town, people who like eggplant, whatever) is ok but saying "Bob (who is an X) is bad" isn't ok; to Bob it's not nice either way. We can do better. I'm done now. – Monica Cellio Apr 10 '14 at 14:12
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    I care because you called me and others out saying we are doing something that violated the policy, then point to somewhere nebulous to say you said it there, but I know that it was not said. When it has been said in chat it was in reference to the same inner circle as we head of to SO to give them a taste of the problem they refuse to believe exists. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 10 '14 at 14:35

First off If you actually read the question and feel the answer was right and deserved an upvote... YOU ARE NOT A LEMMING

If you followed the link from the hot list, never really read the question just the title and maybe a couple lines, then skipped to the first answer read the first couple lines of the first answer, thought that sounds about right, clicked upvote went then went back to the hot list... Then you are a lemming.

You are not a lemming for disagreeing with me, gnat, or anyone else. You are a lemming for following the hot list over the cliff, not bothering to actually read, and just clicking the up vote on the first answer that seems likely to be reasonable.

Lets face it we probably all have done it at one time of another. When we see an interesting hot list question title, we click it, start skimming answers and the first one we see that makes us feel our quest is complete we up-vote and go on our way. The problem with our site is 99% of all of the other sites are also a potential user on this site so our hot questions attract more lemmings. Normally its less of an issue but occasionally an answer that does not meet the standards is the one the lemmings hit on, that compounds the problem. That was the case this week.

I know there are some people that think that it is the right answer. I think that it is 95-99% problable. But that answer says its 100% which means it needs to be backed up with a higher level to show why it is 100%. That is where the answer fails and why it is a problem.


Is referring to people as lemmings and other generic insults actually acceptable behavior that people tolerate here?

It's not a term I would use.

I agree with your feelings that there is increasing disrespect being shown here on meta and in chat. I find that unfortunate - I've seen this sort of unpleasant behavior in other forums.

As far as "acceptable" and "tolerated", I think the evidence speaks for itself. While some commenting styles are aggressively edited and moderated, the disrespect appears to be increasing, particularly since graduation from Beta. So it clearly is tolerated, and I guess we can assume it's considered acceptable.

Unfortunately, at least in my opinion.

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    Without naming names, pointing fingers, and tossing people under the bus, how do you propose we keep things on a civil level? What's your advice to the community as a whole? I remember reading that part of the "forum problem" is a hostility that forms in communities over time. We definitely don't want the forum problem, whether it be too much noise or too much hostility... – jmort253 Apr 5 '14 at 21:57
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    Leaders show the way. What you as a moderator do, and others with a "high pointcount/reputation" do, is noted by others. My hope is that respectful behavior begets respectful, professional behavior. My hope for this community has always been that it will strive in every way possible to help people. Unfortunately, I see behavior indicating that SEO is apparently a more primary goal. I think that's unfortunate, but hope that the two goals can be reconciled. – Joe Strazzere Apr 5 '14 at 22:03
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    I see signs here of a growing us-versus-them mentality. I hope that ends here soon. I have seen that become the ruin of other forums. – Joe Strazzere Apr 5 '14 at 22:04
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    Very well stated Joe. I really feel like this community should be held to a much higher standard than others. I will admit that everyone, including myself, has bad posts and bad days. I am in no way singling anyone out. The lemmings portion was just an example. I feel like any derogatory or sarcastic remarks in any form here would be detrimental to the overall experience of the workplace. – Paul Muir Apr 5 '14 at 22:15
  • Our goal is to make the Internet a better place, and that does go beyond the Q&A portion. It includes meta, The Workplace Chat, comments, etc... – jmort253 Apr 5 '14 at 22:21
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    @jmort253 - I hear you, but I feel like "make the Internet a better place" is a very vague goal and can be used to justify a lot of different behaviors. I'd settle for "help the people who come here and ask questions" - particularly when the two goals are in conflict. Still, I'm not going to argue the rules or goals of Workplace - that's for you and others to decide. – Joe Strazzere Apr 5 '14 at 22:30
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    You too, @JoeStrazzere, making the Internet a better place can be broken down into other goals as well. It's just one message that Jeff and Joel have conveyed from the very beginnings of Stack Overflow, so I lean on that a bit. Maybe what Workplace SE needs is a Workplace Bill of Rights or standards for civility or something to help clarify important aspects that help us prevent the forum problem... – jmort253 Apr 5 '14 at 22:33
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    I want to add that as an active user here, if you feel people specifically (which your post strongly implies) are being disrespectful you should say something. I read most of the content on Workplace, meta, and chat, and cannot recall a single instance (other than this thread) raising any "hey this seems disrespectful" perspective, ever. – enderland Apr 6 '14 at 21:25
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    Many of us spend the majority of our answers basically saying, "talk with your boss/coworker" because in most cases that is the first step to conflict resolution. Passive aggressive answers like this one are never a good solution, nor is "woe is me, I hope someone else helps fix the problem I'm aware of." You are an active member of this community and have a lot of rep - if you feel the community is heading in the wrong direction because of specific people/trends, all the answers you provide towards coworker interactions and "talk with your boss/coworker" applies just as much here. – enderland Apr 6 '14 at 21:27
  • I see signs here of a growing us-versus-them mentality. I haven't noticed a recent resurgence, but I'd be willing to wager that there's less of this now relative to the start of the public Beta. It was pretty insane back then. Joe - Do you have specific examples of this recent "Us vs. Them" culture? If so, I will flag away. – Jim G. Apr 6 '14 at 21:43
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    @enderland - "Passive aggressive answers like this one are never a good solution". I guess we are each entitled to our own viewpoints. – Joe Strazzere Apr 6 '14 at 22:07
  • @JoeStrazzere you know as well as I do that people who are unaware others perceive their actions disrespectful will likely never change those actions. Oftentimes, people are more than willing to change their actions in light of feedback. Obviously this isn't 100% the case but it often is an easy way to resolve conflict in a constructive way. – enderland Apr 6 '14 at 22:11

This is going to be a comprehensive answer getting at not only what you are asking but the implied question.

This site community (other SE subjective sites have similar divisions, this isn't unique to the Workplace) is divided fairly definitively into two differing perspectives on "what makes an answer good."

Answers should be held to strict standard

Similar to reasons discussed in the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective blog post, this perspective more or less entails desiring answers to basically:

  • Answer question being asked (not provide interpretation or simply provide commentary)
  • Include "why should I find this answer to be correct?" justification. Oftentimes this can be very basic, and something like, "I think you should do X because of some reasons."
    • A shocking number of answers here do not even attempt to explain why they are correct
    • This is very basic, sometimes will be referred to as "back it up principle." All this means is answering "why is this answer right?"
  • Be downvoted when not meeting the above criteria and upvoted when they do

Answers which are useful should receive upvotes

This is constrasted with another perspective, which effectively answers the question as to whether an answer is acceptable for the site by much less stringent criteria.

Generally, this is a simple check - "is this answer useful?" Sometimes, "do I agree this is good perspective?"

An answer does not necessarily have to fully answer the specific question being asked but rather can be, as in the case of the recent answer being discussed, more a "helpful perspective" or be beneficial for the asker.

So what?

You asked:

Is referring to people as lemmings and other generic insults actually acceptable behavior that people tolerate here?

No one here is intentionally being disrespectful. The fundamental issue is what I outline above.

Site regulars who frequent meta/chat and regularly are involved in shaping the community, tend to fall into the first category. Visitors tend to be the second.

The phrase "lemmings" generally is used to people who are unfamiliar with the general quality standards of this site as articulated on meta/FAQ pages (or people who only experience The Workplace via the "hot questions" listings). Those people become frustrated when answers violating the points I articulated in the first post are continually upvoted, in spite of on the whole failing some or all of the criteria.

Regarding "generic insults" - you are going to have to be more specific to actually get any meaningful insight into what you are hinting at here. I've been around this site for nearly two years and am not sure what "generic insults" you've seen. Almost all hostile behavior gets flagged and cleaned up nearly immediately.

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    I agree with a lot of your post here enderland. And while you touch on a lot of the correct points you seem to in a lot of ways attempt to be making a justification for disrespect. As for the strict standards to questions, that works amazingly well to a Q&A board where there is solidified answers to nearly all situations. Since the workplace is about dealing with humans and not software, there is no single answer for any given situation. As such, I might know a good course of action for someone but I can not actually say 'This happened to me June 5th 1991 and I did this'. – Paul Muir Apr 5 '14 at 23:09
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    "No one here is intentionally being disrespectful." I have to respectfully disagree. If you search for "lemming" in Chat, and then follow some of the conversations, I think many would come to a different conclusion. – Joe Strazzere Apr 6 '14 at 11:01
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    @PaulDonny Since the workplace is about dealing with humans and not software, there is no single answer for any given situation <-- This means the opposite of what you say is true. Because TWP is not "copy/paste/test" it is even more important for answers to be high quality. The "why is this answer valid?" explanation matters so much more because if you don't explain why, then how is an asker supposed to evaluate which applies to their situation? In specific technical situations you can almost always test multiple things and evaluate which is best. You can't do that with TWP answers. – enderland Apr 6 '14 at 21:34

I think that in addition to the objectionable phrasing, like most offensive commentary it speaks more to the attitude of the person using the term than any other step they could take. To be honest, if you think of people as "lemmings" or "sheeple" who will go along with dumb ideas only because they are popular, then perhaps the StackExchange network is not the right place for you. The whole entire point of StackExchange is that the wisdom of crowds prevails. Although there is some (limited) moderation, by and large reputations are earned on this site by giving answers that people agree with, and those answers are then sorted in order of popularity (although the original asker gets the first say as to which answer is on the top).

Sites like workplace.se are a little off the beaten path here; the primary purpose of SE is to provide answers for software developers, and all these other sites have sprung up because it was working so well. I do get that there is a bit more subjectivity here than there is in programming (although not as much as you might think - I've seen it happen on programming SE sites several times where the #1 answer isn't necessarily the one that I think is the best). However, the principle still applies: answers are not ranked in order of goodness because there is no objective way to measure goodness. Rather, they are ranked in order of popularity. In theory (and I should say almost always in practice) the cream rises to the top and the sludge drops to the bottom.

Does the model work? Well, I'm not aware of a direct equivalent to workplace.SE but for .NET programming there is MSDN, in which devs ask questions which are answered by certified specialists who by and large actually work for Microsoft. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to an MSDN "answer" and wanted to pull my hair out over the double posts (moderators there seem to do a decent job of moving cross-posts but do not - I suspect because MS support reps are graded by the number of posts they get rather than their quality - delete posts which become repeats of others), half answers, and typical techie-guy "lol probs ur problem is u sux" type responses. Even though I develop primarily in .NET on a .NET related platform, I actually find myself having to use Chrome instead of IE because Bing results go to MSDN first where Google goes to SE.

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