14

I really hate to write a negative review about a site and I will preface what I say by acknowledging there's a lot of great people on this board with valuable information on the workplace. However, I absolutely must protest the culture and attitude a lot of Users portray.

I'd like to begin by telling you about my experience on here. I've been on other boards for well over a year now and decided to ask a question here, the first question I asked was immediately, without comment down-voted without explanation. Annoying, rude and unconstructive, yes, but eventually I managed to get some really useful answers. Answers I acted upon.

Then, yesterday, I dared ask a second question. The top rated answer, the answer the represents what this community thinks could be boiled down to: "You're untrustworthy, you've broken the law, you should be fired and taken to court". Hell, had @kaz got to the point and arranged my public execution I'd have half considered up-voting him for efficiency.

This isn't about my receiving an answer I didn't like, rather the culture of what I perceive to be privileged, self-righteous, authoritarian Users becoming keyboard warrior's when they smell the faintest whiff of blood.

In this particular question the tone of the answer was, frankly, rude, presumptive and borderline tyrannical

If I worked in HR, I would be making a note somewhere never to trust you with access to anything the slightest bit sensitive.

Really? Is this really that big of a breach of trust that none of my previous exploits count for anything? Really, based on this one instance, where I may have been wrong and would absolutely hold my hands up for being so? Really, given although I didn't mention it, nor should have had to, am accountable for terabytes of data? What on Earth is this remark based on? Why this User had to make everything bold like he was writing to a toddler who might struggle to comprehend such an elegant response is also beyond me.

There was, also, a delightfully condescending comment by @PeteCon.

And, of course, you had signed model releases for every identifiable person in every photo? No, thought not.

Leaving aside the notion that a signed model release in this context is complete nonsense, the point here is this person's supercilious approach.

Furthermore, there was also this doomspeak in @Kaz's answer that he later changed fro being "illegal" to "probably illegal" to removing it altogether, however egged on by @RichardU.

It's also illegal. If somebody (including the company) wanted to sue you for breach of privacy, breach of confidence or violation of data-protection statutes, there would be a valid case. They could definitely fire you for it.


So why am I even bring this to meta? Because, these are my first experiences as a new user on Workplace.

I strongly advise anyone who reads this to read this article. I even made the word "strongly" bold, so you know I mean business. But the main premise revolves around...

Stack Overflow hates new users

... And...

Stack Overflow also hates most other users

To me, replace Stack Overflow with Workplace and I'd argue it correlates nicely. Evidently this is a known problem as, during this boards election questions include:

  1. How do you deal with flaring tensions between answerers and commenters with widely differing opinions?
  2. Recent discussions on meta and in chat have raised concerns about rudeness and other non-constructive behavior on The Workplace. Do you think we have a problem in this area? If so, what will you as a moderator do to address it?

This is evidently a problem as illustrated by this meta post about this question. Where one users with 60k reputation is quoted as saying:

Look, nobody is forcing you to apply and get a job. You don't want to play by the rules, fine. Just don't whine here on this site. Nobody has time for that.

It's also been additionally recognised by moderator @MonicaCellio:

I have seen an increase in rudeness on this site over the last year.

It's difficult to find additional examples once a post has been ruthlessly sanitised by a moderator, but given the above, it's patently an issue the community is aware of and echos many criticisms highlighted in the article linked above. Whether or not it's answers or comments, I've seen on countless occasions devolution to something I'd expect to read in YouTube's comments.


So what am I going to do about it?

Initially I completely separated my workplace account with any other account I use out of concern toxicity might follow me elsewhere.

I've also wrote to have this account removed entirely as I genuinely aren't comfortable being associated with somewhere that has the potential to be so malignant, let alone participate.

I'd strongly advise people to remember that written information doesn't come with clarity of emotion. Something written sarcastically can easily be taken literally. Unless, those who have worked in HR for so long they've lost the last remnants of humanity they once held. ;)

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    So you know, the comment about whining came from a user who has a history of rude behavior and currently has his account suspended. – David K Feb 1 '17 at 13:40
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    Flag, flag, flag. Between your two questions and all the answers there are no flags period against this activity you describe here (only one flag on a comment in total and none against any answers for tone). Moderators don't read everything. If someone is being rude/not constructive, the only way we know is by flagging. – enderland Feb 1 '17 at 13:51
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    I wonder if you had ever considered doing something about it? I agree, the site can be rude or annoying sometimes but generally you have the power to fix it and watch as it gets corrected. You even eluded to it in your post, being an answer that started somewhat poor and was improved by editing. If you only look for the bad, you will only find bad. – Sh4d0wsPlyr Feb 1 '17 at 15:32
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a rant about the op not liking that answers and comments. It is not about improving the workplace or seeking an explanation into why something happened. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 1 '17 at 16:17
  • @IDrinkandIKnowThings I'd leave it open, as nothing serves so well as a bad example. – Retired Codger Feb 2 '17 at 13:20
  • Hehe, "strongly" is formatted <strong>ly. As for the rest of this, I'm not a regular here; I'll let the people who are answer this. – Nic Hartley Feb 8 '17 at 4:58
  • I strongly agree. While I am not a native English speaker. I have bad grammar and I got downvotes on "cannot understand what you are asking". Why? Did I wrote it when drunk? No. I wrote it as I need help with not close. I had raised this with @MonicaCellio years back and good work was done against it but it's creeping back. Users here like to downgrade and exercise there power with wrong force. I was even told "I rant too much" he was a op. I don't know if it's healthy for us to be here or we came here to get scolded. – cookieMonster Feb 8 '17 at 9:52
17

I want to expand on something in Kaz's answer.

I can't speak for anyone else or their comments, but I like to make my answers clear, short, and to the point.

You could also perceive them as terse, blunt, and callous.

I find this to be especially true here at the Workplace compared to other SE sites. First, the Workplace is unique in that people are asking for advice and feedback on personal decisions they have made. Most people will not be insulted if told at Stack Overflow that the code they suggested is a very bad practice and likely to cause security issues. However, people may be insulted when told that actions they took were unprofessional and a breach of privacy.

That brings me to my second point, which is because the Workplace is based around professional environments, we expect people to behave professionally. This means being able to give and take criticism without taking things personally. As Kaz mentioned, what you perceive as insulting is likely just intended to be short and to the point.

Additionally, when someone adds formatting to draw attention to something, it's because the idea is important. For the answer you mention, Kaz was highlighting the potential very serious repercussions of your actions. This is not just for you, but also for any other visitor who may be quickly skimming through this site. Sometimes bluntness is required to emphasize something clearly and concisely so that it will be noticed and heeded by future passersby.

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    Another problem we get that SO does not is confirmation bias or people seeking a specific answer - from a comment on an answer there, by the OP: @Kaz Then you've completely missed the point of the question. I already know what my HR thinks, I was trying to get a second opinion. -- this sort of reads to me like, "I know this is considered unprofessional by my company, but I want to hear that it's ok." That might not be the case here but the entire question reads that way too. It sort of reads like, "please tell me my HR department are zealous idiots and what I did was really not that bad." – enderland Feb 1 '17 at 13:57
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    +1 especially for the second paragraph! – Artery Feb 1 '17 at 16:42
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    "This means being able to give and take criticism without taking things personally" but that also means making an effort not to come across as hostile. – user30031 Feb 7 '17 at 21:55
  • "I like to make my answers clear, short, and to the point." I don't see how the "If I worked in HR..." paragraph can be seen as anything except the exact opposite of this. Tacking on an extra insult that adds nothing to the content of the answer makes it longer and less to the point. – Ben Aaronson Feb 11 '17 at 0:42
  • Though you're right about that things shouldn't be taken personally, some of Kaz's comments were completely unneccessary, e.g. "If I worked in HR, I would be making a note somewhere never to trust you with access to anything the slightest bit sensitive." – dreamer Feb 11 '17 at 13:41
12

First things first:

I regret some of my original language. You're right, it went over the top and more than a little self-righteous. In principle, it's the principle of the thing that is important. In reality, context and nuance are also important considerations and some of my answer, especially the detour into legal ramifications, was out-of-context with your particular situation.

I apologise for that.

It's also why I modified my answer over the hour or so after posting it.


That said, I'm going to stand by the current language, including the tone.

As far as I'm concerned, what you did was unprofessional.

I can't speak for anyone else or their comments, but I like to make my answers clear, short, and to the point.

You could also perceive them as terse, blunt, and callous.

Some people find that helpful, some people find it aggressive and heartless. The way I see it, I'm here to offer my advice, and it's up to the community and yourself to decide if it's useful or not.

So far, the community seems to feel that the advice is useful.

If you can offer some suggestions on better ways to phrase my point, I'd be glad to hear it, but otherwise, I'm not going to change it.


On the subject of making presumptions:

We are not mind readers. We only know what you choose to tell us in your question.

In addition, good answers need to apply to people in your general situation. Which means they need to be, perhaps, a little broader than your specific circumstances, and to make certain simplifying assumptions.

I don't know your history or your previous exploits, and they would only apply to you in your specific situation. Which is why my comment is more of a blanket-statement than a specially worded analysis.


And yes, if I were a general HR department, and you were a general employee, and you did something like that, I would put a mark next to your name along with "Lacks discretion". Maybe that won't be the case for you, but I would expect it to be the case for most people in your general situation, and ultimately, that's who the Q&As are for.

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    Cultural differences, I'm sure, but if OP did anything like this at any of the companies I worked at, they'd be at least fired and probably be reported to the police. – Magisch Feb 1 '17 at 13:30
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    @Magisch Probably not for work-party photos already cleared for public display, but anything the slightest bit sensitive in nature? Absolutely. – Kaz Feb 1 '17 at 13:38
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    From what I read, these were cleared for release only on the company screens (presumably only IT can get and put files on that) and thus not intended to freely circulate the internet, which is something you have to expect if you offer an anonymous download link and no warning saying not to put it. – Magisch Feb 1 '17 at 13:42
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    I did not mark your original answer down because it was correct but I wanted to for tone. Just answer the question and don't pass judgement. – paparazzo Feb 1 '17 at 14:48
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    @Paparazzi With respect, answering the question "Did I act unprofessionally" is passing judgement, no matter what the answer is. – Kaz Feb 1 '17 at 14:50
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    @Kaz Passing judgement and making judgement are not the same. Sorry I tried to help. – paparazzo Feb 1 '17 at 14:52
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    @Paparazzi Want to try to explain "Making" judgement and "Passing" judgement? Making a judgement is simply your process on how you come to the conclusion - e.g. passing judgement. You can't do one without the other and I would be curious to find out how you think it is possible (at least not without causing other issues such as begging the question). – Sh4d0wsPlyr Feb 1 '17 at 15:30
10

A few things.

First, calling people out by name is bad form and not constructive.

Second, we are answering questions. Some of us are blunt, some of us are more finessed. That's just the nature of the beast. Take the advice you like, ignore the rest.

Third, one of the things we say over and over again is "assume good intentions". If someone is taking the time to answer your questions, it means they are putting in an effort to help. Accept that as axiomatic and it will be easier in general for you.


Also, It's generally a good idea not to ask questions that will put you up to personal scrutiny. If you ask the question "Was I being unprofessional" or something similar, it's a guarantee that you are going to hear things that will seem like attacks because the moment someone says yes, it will seem like a personal attack. That's not a reflection on you, it's human nature.


Now, as to down-voting without comment. After you get to a point in reputation, you can access the review queue. When you are reviewing the posts in the queue, there is no option to comment. Perhaps this should be a suggested change, but there you have it. Also, comments are not required. Coming into meta, as you did here is a good place to get clarification, and as you can see, you will get detailed responses to your questions.


Finally, Workplace is different from SO and the more technical sites at SE. Nobody is going to take it personally when told how to optimize their code, or told that there are hidden bugs in an application, or told what the laws of physics are in World Building. Here, the advice is by nature on a personal level and you need a bit of a thicker skin because the questions are of a personal nature. People are being told that they are doing the wrong thing, or that they are being unprofessional, or that they are being rude, petty or various other things they don't want to hear.

If you think comments are rude or not constructive, flag them. If you need clarification, come to Meta, if you need help, we will happily provide it. Assume good intentions because that's what people have here or they wouldn't be here.

There are of course exceptions, but those are handled, and handled very well by the moderators.

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    +1 for "Also, It's generally a good idea not to ask questions that will put you up to personal scrutiny. If you ask the question "Was I being unprofessional" or something similar, it's a guarantee that you are going to hear things that will seem like attacks because the moment someone says yes, it will seem like a personal attack." – dreamer Feb 11 '17 at 13:52
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There are a couple of things you need to realise that underpin a lot of what appears to be your problem. Let's take it from the top:

the first question I asked was immediately, without comment down-voted without explanation. Annoying, rude and unconstructive, yes

No, actually. Neither upvotes nor downvotes need to have any comment on Stack Exchange. It isn't rude, in fact it's a deliberate feature of the site. Some people do leave comments as explanation, and that can help, but starting off from that perception may have tainted your view.

And you ended up with a total of 18 upvotes and useful upvotes. Brilliant - this all works as expected. There is no problem.

Then you "Dared" to ask another. It's not a dare. I have had posts downvoted heavily, and upvoted; called out as useless, and praised. It's an internet question and answer site. You ask questions and some work, some don't. The problem with your next point, though, is that you are reading very inflammatory interpretation into what the top answerer wrote.

When they initially wrote the equivalent of, "You're untrustworthy, you've broken the law, you should be fired and taken to court," they were called out on it and corrected their mistake/misunderstanding of the law.

And yes, they did write:

If I worked in HR, I would be making a note somewhere never to trust you with access to anything the slightest bit sensitive.

Which, as they have agreed, was a bit terse, but is their opinion, and in fact makes a lot of sense in some countries (where what you did could actually be a breach of regulations or the law and cause your company censure and fines.) You then bring up being responsible for terabytes of data that you successfully protect (I assume) - but this is entirely unrelated to the point they were making about breaching regulations and professional expectations.

The other person's comment about getting release forms signed is valid, but yeah, a bit snarky - I agree with you there. Would that bother me? Nope, I'd either ignore it or flag it as unconstructive and let a mod remove it.

Then bringing an article from an external site, written by someone who has admitted he is very biased against SO, is of zero value here. I could write an article about how in my opinion SE is one of the very few networks that does feel welcoming to new users, allows (mostly) points to be made without fighting, controversy and obscenity. And while I do find SO itself tough, it is soooo huge, I do understand the issues there (I certainly would not want to be a moderator there!)

You may also be unaware of the people who do find that SE and the Workplace specifically are excellent places to use. They tend to not shout about it - because obviously when things work well, people tend not to need to complain -You should remember you can only speak for yourself.

I think you are absolutely doing the right thing in leaving a site you do not enjoy, but I think you should look a little wider at the issue before you go and realise how much of it is with you and your interpretation of what you see...

  • To be fair, some of the original language (see Edit History) was, kinda, saying that. – Kaz Feb 1 '17 at 13:54
  • Ahhhh - I'll update that bit then. – Rory Alsop Feb 1 '17 at 14:02
  • Hm, I think this answer unintentionally hides behind the SE policies a bit. Saying uncommented downvotes aren't intended to be rude is great, but to an extent that just ignores a limitation of the site design. Of course a new user will feel shunned if they are immediately met with downvotes, and that is made worse because neither the site or it's users guide new users through that scenario. – user30031 Feb 7 '17 at 22:02
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    Well, that's not quite true - there is a lot of guidance for new users. If they read it, they are in a much better position. The problem is that many don't, so while we try to help encourage them, we can't fully handhold them. But I do agree, some sites are better than others at explaining downvotes to brand new users. – Rory Alsop Feb 7 '17 at 22:05
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While I agree with a lot of what you wrote, I view this as not at all unique to StackExchange, nor to The Workplace.

I tend to think that this is how most social environments end up in the long run. A vocal few tend to start replying with over-the-top polarizing comments that make the site seem unfriendly and even hostile. I've seen it happen here, and I've seen it happen in many other forums. Many people who would hesitate to do so in person feel that they can be far more bold and strident with their comments when it is somewhat anonymous.

It can be disheartening, but I try to look at the bigger picture and decide if I'm getting enough out of The Workplace to tolerate the downside, or not. And when it becomes "not", then I will leave.

Please try to disregard some of these comments, and try not to take it personally. I believe that the vast majority of folks here don't comment at all, and just enjoy and benefit from the questions and answers. And I truly believe that vast majority of folks here are far nicer than evidenced by some of the comments you are seeing.

I wish that the site allowed for downvoting of comments, so that we could express our distaste for some of them more directly. But it doesn't.

(As an aside, your last sentence of "Unless, those who have worked in HR for so long they've lost the last remnants of humanity they once held." was rather snarky, don't you think? When I read it, I though "Hmm. This reads just like some of the comments that @Poet was concerned about." I don't think that was a good way for you to end an otherwise thoughtful question.)

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    For clarity, I did mean the last comment in jest, hence the ";)". I didn't mean for it to be taken literally! :) – user38869 Feb 1 '17 at 13:07
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    @Poet - and as you pointed out "Something written sarcastically can easily be taken literally." – Joe Strazzere Feb 1 '17 at 13:08
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    Exactly why I added the ";)" to give context. – user38869 Feb 1 '17 at 13:09
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    @Poet - I understand. My point is that even with the ";)", you weaken your question with that sentence. I'm sure many of the folks you pointed out would tell you "Well I didn't mean it that way" too. – Joe Strazzere Feb 1 '17 at 13:11
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    I appreciate and understand what you're saying but I disagree. The entire purpose of "smileys" is to give context of emotion where it might not otherwise exist. That's a bit of a strawman arguement in my opinion. That's a lot different to stamping words in bold or asking a question, then in the same breathe answering it rhetorically as I've quoted above. – user38869 Feb 1 '17 at 13:20
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    @Poet Joe's point is that often people say things that are meant to be humorous or hyperbole and not taken literally, but that is not always clear when read. Our users come from many different countries and cultures, many of them not native English speakers. Often what you perceive to be rude was not intended that way at all. – David K Feb 1 '17 at 13:26
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    @Poet - I was trying to give you constructive feedback, not propose a strawman for argument's sake. Sorry it didn't come across that way. – Joe Strazzere Feb 1 '17 at 13:35
  • It's a difficult one. Definitely. Personally, I interpreted the model-release comment as trying to strongly make the point that you were not in a position to make choices about who gets access to what. With a deliberate sarcastic bent for humorous effect. – Kaz Feb 1 '17 at 13:40
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    I get your point entirely. Anyway, I like what you say here: It can be disheartening, but I try to look at the bigger picture and decide if I'm getting enough out of The Workplace to tolerate the downside, or not. And when it becomes "not", then I will leave. The issue this site appears have is that, when a new user who's experienced neither an up nor down, but immediately experiences a down, they reach the same conclusion. – user38869 Feb 1 '17 at 13:40
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    I wish that the site allowed for downvoting of comments, so that we could express our distaste for some of them more directly. But it doesn't. It sort of does through flagging - given most comments it would be possible to disagree with in the first place are likely not fitting the intended purpose of comments, it's probable most would just be deleted by us as moderators. – enderland Feb 1 '17 at 13:53
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    @enderland - not the same thing at all. Flagging is private, and just calls moderator attention to a comment. The moderator may choose to do something about the comment, or may just do nothing, at their discretion. Voting would publicly tell everyone how the voters felt about the comment. We have upvotes for comments. I think it's sad that we don't have downvotes, and I don't understand why that is. – Joe Strazzere Feb 1 '17 at 14:37
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    Grumble over on the main Meta, and try to get comment downvoting onto the backlog with something approaching reasonable priority. Frankly, given past interaction there I suspect they won't be interested unless it's tied into the gamified-capabilities system and only enabled for folks with some number of points, but if you put it in those terms they might consider it. (Last time I looked, they were a lot more interested in adding new Achievements than in bugfixing.) – keshlam Feb 5 '17 at 3:44
  • @keshlam - thanks. I'm not at all interested in additional gamification (too much of that already), so I think I'll just grumble to myself. That means it will occasionally spill out here, but I promise to try and keep that to a minimum. – Joe Strazzere Feb 5 '17 at 12:11
  • I agree with you that the game system is over-emphasized. I'm just noting that we have seen more calls for "what can we add as another reward" than "how can we make SE work better", and when I've pointed that out I've gotten push back. Definitely worth making the suggestion in any case, but I'm cynically concerned that unless you sell it in their terms it might not go anywhere. (I've worked hard for my grumpy-old-man certificate, and by Jing I'm gonna enjoy it if it kills me.. ) – keshlam Feb 5 '17 at 14:50
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    Thank you for writing this up Joe. I think that was the most concise and well-reasoned analysis of one of SE's sore points that I've read in my time on the site. And strangely optimistic given the topic. Based on what I've seen of the use and abuse of comments on this site I still think downvoting would create more problems than it solves but your argument for it is compelling. – Lilienthal Feb 6 '17 at 19:51
2

In addition to other answers.

Bluntness and even moderate rudeness are also tools, it's one way of trying to kickstart a change of viewpoint of a problem in the OP by giving them something to think about and a different perspective.

Carrying on the rudeness after having made the point is bad form though.

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    I haven't done it here, but on another system with a very different (and more conversational) culture I occasionally took a polarized stand deliberately to kick-start debate -- folks tend to put more effort into disagreeing than agreeing. So I agree that there is sometimes value in the blunt "I'm sorry, but you really are wrong." As long as it doesn't extend into name-calling, it's a legitimate mode of writing and is sometimes exactly what the OP needs to hear, even (especially) if it isn't what they want to hear. – keshlam Feb 5 '17 at 3:50
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    And, yeah, if it's over the top flag it -- or flag the answer or question with a comment to the moderators explaining your concern. A system such as this one needs peer review as well as formal moderation. – keshlam Feb 5 '17 at 3:52
  • I get what you're trying to say here, but even measured rudeness is in direct disregard of the Be Nice policy. "Rudeness and belittling language are not okay. " – user30031 Feb 7 '17 at 22:06
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    @DoritoStyle But it's also not a clear black & white line as to what is, and isn't, rude. Different people, cultures, contexts etc. have very different ideas about what is rude and what isn't. – Kaz Feb 10 '17 at 9:07
  • @kaz that really doesn't change anything – user30031 Feb 10 '17 at 13:33
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    I'm trying to make the point that whilst people being deliberately rude might be wrong, how do you handle a case where the OP might not think they're rude, but the person reading their post does? It's not exactly a simple problem to solve. – Kaz Feb 10 '17 at 13:46

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