In this question the OP acknowledges behaving unprofessionally in the office and is concerned that this may have been witnessed by a female colleague, who is now acting uncomfortable around him.

A now deleted, previously highest-voted answer (even after 20 downvotes) advises that if his colleague discusses OP's unprofessional behaviour, then OP should lie about it, make a false complaint against her, and possibly seek to initiate action for defamation (which would presumably require giving false evidence to assert that her claims were untrue). (Update: that answer has now been deleted as "rude or abusive".)

Depending on jurisdiction, this course of action is likely to involve breaking laws related to perjury and/or retaliation. Further, I would have thought it self-evident that lying and attacking a colleague to cover up one's own misconduct is grossly unethical behaviour... and yet 84 people upvoted this answer. Several other answers also endorsed the same "lie and deny" approach.

I checked the FAQs for guidance on this issue but didn't find anything relevant. Does this board have any policy or guidelines to deter answers that advocate blatantly illegal/unethical behaviour, beyond the usual downvoting mechanism? Or is "cover your ass no matter what it takes" acceptable here?

A related question covers answers that are "high risk to the OP", but my concern here is not whether this advice might backfire; it's that it might function exactly as intended.

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    Just a note, that question was on the Hot Network Question list which is shown on the right sidebar on all sites, and most visitors from there have only enough reputation to upvote but not downvote, thus possibly skewing the score. – Andrew T. Apr 22 '19 at 7:42
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    @AndrewT. oh thanks, that does make a bit more sense! (Also: bloody HNQ...) – Geoffrey Brent Apr 22 '19 at 7:48
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    @GeoffreyBrent note that the ticked answer (by Sascha) also, precisely advises "pretend it didn't happen / do nothing" and indeed the ticked answer (by Sascha) equally points out that the voyeur-person in the story is very much equally at risk of getting in trouble based on the bizarre actions of the voyeur-person. – Fattie Apr 22 '19 at 15:31
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because utterly mischaracterizes the QA at hand, as if it was misread. – Fattie Apr 22 '19 at 15:41
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    @Fattie Can you please clarify how you think I've mischaracterised it? And yes, the ticked answer does also advocate "pretend it didn't happen", but it doesn't suggest pursuing that to the extent of making false complaints/defamation action against the witness. – Geoffrey Brent Apr 22 '19 at 23:02
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    @Fattie (but speaking of "utter mischaracterisation", describing OP's co-worker as "voyeur-person" certainly fits the bill. It's not even established that she saw ANYTHING, let alone that she intentionally spied on OP.) – Geoffrey Brent Apr 22 '19 at 23:17
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    massive nitpick there but "charged with defamation" is a misnomer, as defamation / libel / slander are civil and not criminal actions, and the answer does not recommend taking legal action but to insinuate / report to HR that the company might be liable for civil action as a way to put on pressure. – magisch Apr 23 '19 at 7:33
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    @Magisch whoops, I thought I'd checked my language but I missed that bit - have amended to "possibly seek to initiate action for defamation". IMHO the answer is unclear on whether it's actually recommending taking action or only using it as a threat, hence why I caveated with "possibly", but even the latter is obviously unethical. – Geoffrey Brent Apr 23 '19 at 8:37
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    I added the tag hot-questions but I am not 100% certain that it's directly relevant here - please feel free to delete this tag if you believe it's better without. (without dozens upvotes from HNQ visitors the discussed answer would probably get negative score and become eligible for deletion by 20K users but it's up to you to decide whether this is important) – gnat Apr 23 '19 at 12:42
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    @gnat I think it is relevant, thanks! I'm not familiar with meta tags so I appreciate the addition. – Geoffrey Brent Apr 23 '19 at 23:32
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    Forget illegal/unethical. If it suggests doing harm, especially to another human being, it should be removed. – Mazura Apr 24 '19 at 4:43
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    @Mazura perhaps unjust harm? If somebody posts to say their co-worker is stealing from the till, and somebody answers to say "report it to the manager"... that may be very harmful to the thief, but I don't think many people would advocate for deleting that answer. – Geoffrey Brent Apr 24 '19 at 6:21
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    'Unjust' puts legality back into it. But then again, so does Wiki's definition of harm, which also includes ethics. - Perhaps it should be, 'if it suggests to subvert someone's well being', maliciously, and without cause (there's your 'unjust'). Also, not even my mother likes a tattletail.... – Mazura Apr 24 '19 at 8:10

Update: The answer in question has been deleted as rude or abusive by members of the community.

Or is "cover your ass no matter what it takes" acceptable here?

Answers advising people not to incriminate or dig themselves into a hole are fine, even when the person might deserve the hole they were going to dig themselves into. That is decidedly not what this answer is, though.

The answer suggests several things that if not illegal are highly unethical, so unethical as to be completly unacceptable in any reasonable workplace. Among other things, it suggests:

  • Emotional manipulation to discourage the potential witness from reporting the incident
  • If she reports the incident, actions that threaten her career, livelyhood, and standing in the company
  • Advising the OP to lie through their teeth throughout
  • Possibly up to and including committing perjury and filing a false lawsuit against the witness in a bid to discourage reporting or further action

I don't know how this got 90 upvotes, but the discussion we should be having isn't whether or not it should stand, it should be whether we should rude/abusive delete it or merely normally delete it.

This answer being left up (on a HNQ question no less) is extremely bad optics for the workplace and the whole of stack exchange. You think the hububb about IPS on twitter was bad? Wait until outside attention gets put on this here answer that our site is right now advertising to outsiders as highly voted and valued solution to OPs problem. Just no.

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    For what it's worth, the question was removed from HNQ pretty much as soon as a moderator saw it. – Monica Cellio Apr 23 '19 at 15:58
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    @MonicaCellio at ~6K views it managed to gain prior to that removal the question is probably guaranteed to appear high in web search results, so I think we can safely replace "on a HNQ question" with "on a top web search question" (and this would be the proper change anyway because HNQ currently limits visibility only to 72 hours while web search results will be there for much longer) – gnat Apr 23 '19 at 17:03
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    i am not sure, but current top answer says nothing like "Advising the OP to lie through their teeth throughout" Did I miss something? Perhaps, you can add a disclaimer saying that top-voted answer now changed – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Apr 23 '19 at 17:26
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    @aaaaaa I have added a disclaimer. – magisch Apr 23 '19 at 17:40
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    thanks :-) i am glad community here is standing up for professionalism. Workplace@SE is one of the best stacks – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Apr 23 '19 at 17:44
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    @gnat it was a blatant troll question: timed precisely (Easter holiday weekend) to survive as long as possible in its original form on HNQ. Its wording seemed designed to kick up another Twitterstorm, possibly in an attempt to get Workplace temporarily removed from HNQ like IPS was. – Aaron F Apr 27 '19 at 9:52

I think this should depend on legality within common law, else you end up with perfectly valid answers being deleted because of one oddball jurisdiction.

Things that are illegal pretty much anywhere (theft, perjury, knowingly making false allegations to police) I believe we should delete all advocation of. Even if it is downvoted to oblivion, there is a chance that OPs or viewers may try them simply because they do not like the sound of the highest voted answers, possibly because they require maturity or answering for past misdeeds and thus facing consequences. Not everyone is capable of taking the high road.

OTOH, where the jurisdiction isn't clear and/or the law around the subject is an oddball one that may not be common knowledge, it might be more constructive to point out the pitfall in a comment.

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    @Fattie feel free to write your own answer, but commenting on every post here to disagree with the question is not what comments are for. – Monica Cellio Apr 22 '19 at 18:47
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    Either common law, or perhaps the jurisdiction relevant to the poster where that can be ascertained. And yeah, there will be grey areas where legality/morality is arguable and I'd generally want to give the benefit of the doubt... but it's hard to see much doubt in this particular case. – Geoffrey Brent Apr 22 '19 at 23:13
  • We make a point to refer questions about the law to law.se, but happily deal with questions of law to decide whether an answer should be deleted? This seems to send a rather mixed message to site users ... – meriton Apr 23 '19 at 9:57
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    @meriton you don't need a law degree to know that things like stealing, hacking, murder, false allegations to police, etc are crimes. Law.se could help with the specific legislations, but most of the general populace are able to tell you some obvious crimes. – 520 says Reinstate Monica Apr 23 '19 at 10:41
  • Yes, but it is not the obvious crimes that get posted as answers. Case in point: The answer that sparked this debate did not recommend stealing, hacking, murder or false allegations to police. It could be read as simply an emphatic denial of misconduct that might be covered by 5th amendment (or similar) protections against self-incrimination. I don't think it is, but the case is not as obvious as you state, making me doubt that banning only obviously illegal stuff will resolve this issue. – meriton Apr 23 '19 at 13:12
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    @meriton uhh knowingly making false allegations to HR (something they encourage in the post) is commonly known as workplace harrassment and retaliation. Both are very illegal in most jurisdictions. – 520 says Reinstate Monica Apr 23 '19 at 13:21
  • @meriton not to mention contempt of court charges from filing fraudulent legal proceedings. – 520 says Reinstate Monica Apr 23 '19 at 13:38
  • Aren't workplace harassment and retaliation crimes of the employer rather then the employee? (A quick google search seems to suggest they are?). And in what way is complaining to HR a "legal proceeding"? ... you see how quickly we get bogged down in legal minutiae? Anyway, that's why I think that the popular understanding of law is a poor guide, because the law is complex and different populations understand it differently. – meriton Apr 23 '19 at 13:50
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    "Aren't workplace harassment and retaliation crimes of the employer rather then the employee?" Nope. Basically anyone can be guilty of the former and people in a position of power over the victim can perform the latter. Even if it is companies that get sued, it's individuals that commit the crime. "And in what way is complaining to HR a "legal proceeding"?" The post also recommends filing a defamation lawsuit against the person who saw them...doing what they were doing. No indication of gossip was shown in OP's post, and even so, it aint defamation if it's true. – 520 says Reinstate Monica Apr 23 '19 at 14:04

Clearly, on questions like this, the HNQ makes normal quality control via up/down-votes impossible. I do not know why all those people upvoted that answer, but it is clear that any downvotes made are being drowned out completely. Currently, the only indication that this might be a bad idea is within the comments, which are much less visible than the question.

While removing such an answer outright is a bit extreme, I think that it would be good to indicate that, despite the high score, many people consider this a bad answer and have down-voted the question.

I suggest that for these cases (independent of whether the answer promotes actions that are outright immoral or illegal), moderators should put a notice on the question that, despite the positive score, it is 'disputed' or 'controversial'. (I'm not sure if custom notices are possible, or how this should be worded) This way, it is actually possible to do quality control via downvotes.

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    Awesome, can I be the person who gets to decide what's bad? – Fattie Apr 22 '19 at 19:36
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    @Fattie I think that with placing notices we can avoid the need to make decisions for individual posts. Just set a fixed threshold of, say 15 or 20 downvotes for the notice to be placed and effect is visible. – Discrete lizard Apr 22 '19 at 19:43
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    Sure, add a "downvote alert" and add an "upvote alert" in cases where an answer has apparent positive (or negative) votes, but in reality, there are a lot of votes each way. – Fattie Apr 22 '19 at 19:48

Quite honestly I have always understood that stack exchange is not for providing any judgement but to answer with solutions to people's problems and let them decide the way they want to live their life. Unfortunately, unethical, and immoral options exist and weighing the pro's and con's of those actions are a real part of life. I personally believe that the unethical and immoral decisions almost always carry way more long term problems that if not treated with EXTREME caution can result in things (even your whole life) spiraling out of control due to their slippery slope type nature. That being said, somebody advising somebody that an unethical choice while advising about the why that choice may have some far reaching implications could easily constitute a good answer. Especially since almost any "good" answer should have a portion of fixing the current problem, and then another learning from the mistake to not have it happen again.


While I agree that this answer in indicative of a very toxic mindset, removing (or otherwise "not accepting") such answers will not remove the mindset itself.

I prefer such answers to remain because they

  • remind me that they are jerks in the workplace,
  • show me how they think and operate so I may recognize them
  • give the community a chance to show them the error of their ways

To express your disagreement, I recommend to write a comment, or upvote an existing one.

In summary, I think Monica handled this perfectly.

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    consider editing to explain how this approach can help inexperienced newcomers (who tend to only pay attention to answer score and ignore comments) find out that the answer is a toxic mindset and not the right way to go – gnat Apr 23 '19 at 18:51
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    Experience is not necessary to read comments. Dilligence is. And since stackexchange filters comments by vote, it's really easy to read through the upvoted comments to get a sense for the community's reaction. – meriton Apr 23 '19 at 20:24
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    @meriton the problem with relying on comments is that they're transient in nature, many users delete their comments especially on controversial Q/As which can make for confusing reading. – dwizum Apr 23 '19 at 20:31
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    Well, the remedy to this seems simple: If you want your comment to remain, don't delete it! And it is possible to write a self-contained comment, you know. – meriton Apr 23 '19 at 20:37
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    I wonder how do you expect a random passer-by to know that particular comments are as important (in fact more important) than the answer. Especially when answer score (about +60) so clearly outweighs scores shown (in smaller font) for comments... – gnat Apr 23 '19 at 21:53
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    ...I am afraid that it just doesn't work the way you think it does. I study hot questions and because of that I regularly visit unfamiliar sites and the thing I noticed is when I am over there, observing high post score really strongly obscures stuff in comments - and this is despite me knowing well that these can be worth checking, so I guess it is even harder for less experienced visitors. – gnat Apr 23 '19 at 21:54
  • I may be weird, but when I visit an unfamiliar webpage, I actually read all the text it renders, top to bottom (except for navbar and ads, of course), until I have what I seek. I didn't need to understand comment scores to do that, because the site only shows to most upvoted comments if there are too many ... but yes, I am starting to realize stackexchange focuses on a different kind of visitor. – meriton Apr 23 '19 at 22:31
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    you are right here, Stack Exchange focuses on a different kind of visitor, and they clearly say so in the tour, "questions and answers, no distractions", and the try to meet that promise so that comments are rather heavily deemphasized UX wise - from this perspective they are mere distraction (not that I complain though) – gnat Apr 23 '19 at 22:45
  • @gnat not to mention that our own rep system treats answers as infinitely more important than comments! – Geoffrey Brent Apr 23 '19 at 23:37
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    @meriton "if you want your comment to remain, don't delete it" - it's not always the commenter who removes their comment! "Discussion moved to chat" happens quite frequently on SE. – Geoffrey Brent Apr 23 '19 at 23:38
  • (on a further thinking) this approach would likely work well on regular posts. In regular cases, high score very firmly indicates quality and usefulness (so that it is even fairly safe to ignore comments - that's where Q&A system really shines, "no distractions") - and on the other side when it gets many votes down it is reflected in low / negative score and people naturally start paying closer attention to comments explaining what's wrong, especially to high voted ones. (Not to mention that negative post score unlocks another useful option that 20K+ users can even delete the post.) – gnat Apr 24 '19 at 7:38
  • ...yeah, I think for regular posts this approach would be perfect indeed. Unfortunately, nothing of that works in hot questions. In hot questions, normal semantics of votes is heavily obscured by upvotes cast on the grounds of entertainment and popularity. People come and see high score and they think it is like in regular cases, an indication of usefulness, and it is hard to impossible to tell that this just ain't so - because whole system works to teach them otherwise (in regular questions) – gnat Apr 24 '19 at 7:38

I would voice my opinion, but what if it gets upvoted and then moderators have a personal dislike of what I wrote? Deleting my highly upvoted answer damaged the community's interests, but at least the moderation's bigotism and singlemindedness has come to light in a genuine fashion. The workplace is only allowed to exist as long at it mirrors the persobal morals and interests of a few moderators.

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    As far as I can tell, your answer was deleted by the community casting a sufficient amount of rude & abusive flags, not by moderators. – magisch Apr 23 '19 at 16:29
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    @Magisch is correct. No moderators cast delete votes or rude flags; ordinary community members deleted the post. – Monica Cellio Apr 23 '19 at 17:09
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    As @Magisch stated, your answer was removed by the community. And just because an answer or question is highly voted does not mean it cannot be removed by the community or if the moderation team deems it appropriate. – Neo Apr 23 '19 at 17:33
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    Clarifying that I am not a moderator. – Geoffrey Brent Apr 23 '19 at 23:41

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