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Laís Carvalho
Laís Carvalho

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How do you deal with Q&A web platform's trolls? (e. g., Stack Overflow, Quora, etc.)

We all run into bugs. The confusing error messages, the debugger which takes too long/doesn't work, Google not helping, you name it!

For most of it, we are just desperate and really need some help from an outsider/specialist. It is at that moment that we tend to turn to Stack Overflow, Quora, Yahoo! Answers, etc. and poor our hearts questions out.

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Occasionally, the feedback we receive on those questions can be rather shameful.

Which made me curious about your personal experience with those platforms.

Let's discuss:

Have you been publicly shamed for publishing a question? What language/platform was it referring to? How did you react to it?

The word on the streets is that the Java and Linux communities are not really nice and welcoming of "newbies stupid questions" - which I don't think are stupid, by the way, but helps to reinforce the point.

Let me know how your experiences have been and if you hold any language-grudge for such reason. I want to know about good and bad experiences.

May Our Lady of Clear Code bless us all.

Top comments (10)

riidom profile image

When people refer to "stupid newbie questions", they usually mean "You could have googled that", in my experience.

If it's an oversight on my side (means: I really forgot to google it), then in chat, I say sorry or ignore (depending on level of toxicity), in forums/comments I just ignore the snarky answer and do not further comment. Because it won't get any better from this point.

If I couldn't google because I lack the terminology, I mention that.
if I googled, but the results solved a similar, yet slightly different problem, or simply didn't work, I link them and quickly mention "is different" or "didn't work for me"

This sometimes lead to zero answers, but rarely to a snarky answer. And if it does, I truly know on which side of the internet the idiot is sitting :)

WRT Linux communities: It depends, in my experience. E.g. is very patient. I never asked there myself, but search results often lead me to this site. About Java communities, I have no experience.

And ofc, your mileage may vary. This is just my personal experience, and I am just an ugly spider, after all :)

laisbsc profile image
Laís Carvalho • Edited

Hello Mx Spider @riidon, I mean... :P
Thanks for your comment. I like your way of dealing with it.

The 'no response' reminds me of the Python Discord channel, where you can post your code and if someone doesn't pick up the issue for 90 min, it expires. No need for snarkiness! Just silence, it doesn't break the soul as much.

My personal issue with the bad answers is how much emotional toll it takes on people. We are in a field where we constantly think that everyone else is smarter/more capable than we are. After days batling with code and sleeping short hours, posting a question on SO (because one does not know what to do anymore) and getting a bad answer can lead to a very bad mental state.

I don't mean to raise the gender discussion here but I cried for days after a snarky comment on my newbie Java code. I even thought about giving up because I was 'stupid' and 'incapable of writing code'. Which is not true!

Coding is hard and if the community is not supportive, newbies will give up even before they are confident enough to post SO questions. In my perception, if one has nothing to contribute with, keep it quiet and wait until it expires. Or ask nicely (!) for clarifying questions.

Thanks for exposing your personal experience :)

almenon profile image

Still pretty bitter that my suggestion got downvoted. It makes me a bit angry just thinking about it. I'm fully aware that the idea may not be realistic, but is it really worthy of such hate that it needs downvotes? Running unwanted commands is not a frivolous concern and I did research before I posted the question.

But I'm taking it too personally, of course. I'm assuming people who downvoted it just did it because they thought the solution would be unrealistic or they didn't see it as a real issue, not because they hated the idea.

How did I react? I posted one comment in response, but after that I simply declined to comment further. I fled the conversation, basically.

laisbsc profile image
Laís Carvalho

I completely understand the feeling with the downvoting. To be honest, I struggled a bit to understand your question but it is always hard to post questions on certain subjects.
The guidance of 'make your issue reproducible' is a good one but sometimes it does not apply.
My wonder of the emotional toll on asking questions publicly and being shamed for doing it seems to be supported here as well.

Thank you for sharing your experience and don't let it get to you! Keep up with the good work ;)

mborus profile image

My experience is that on stackoverflow the trolling and shaming affects people who dare to answer questions more... my motivation to answer questions there has really gone down with time.

Regarding my own dumb questions, I don’t care if people call me or the question stupid. It’s actually valuable feedback, if several people say that the answer is obvious (and googlable) this gives me a hint that restarting the search may work. Much better than silence. Just make sure your stackoverflow user name doesn’t match you other social ids.

Also it’s good to remember that the internet doesn’t owe me free tech support...

laisbsc profile image
Laís Carvalho • Edited

Interesting perspective @mborus ...

The internet does not offer free tech support but then why not just keep quiet instead? My favourite questions channel for Python questions is the Python Discord server. They have several rooms where people can post their questions, snippets of code, etc. and if the question does not get picked up in 30 min to be answered, you lose your right to ask on that channel for 90 min. So, if the question is not clear or the issue doesn't make sense, you won't get an answer. Simple like that, no downvotes and no shame. Mostly controlled by bots (we do love Discord bots!).
They also have quite an extensive manual on how to effectively ask questions, a step-by-step on assembling questions and even a mock-up template on how to best structure them.

And great observation on the SO nickname! I shall change mine now... :P

I wonder what is the future of SO, though. I have been hearing more and more devs saying they feel discouraged to reply questions there due to the exact reason you mentioned. Scenes for the next chapters, I suppose.

Thanks for your comment :) I miss our Word Peril sessions already <3

adamgreenough profile image
Adam Greenough • Edited

I'm trying to solve this problem at :)

A big update coming at the end of this month adding SO format Q&A to take the platform up a notch.

laisbsc profile image
Laís Carvalho • Edited

Hey Adam, thanks for your comment.
I had a look at and I really like the calendar feature with events for the community. Great idea!

Now, you got me curious... how are you going to mitigate the troll/a**hole-effect on your Q&A platform?

adamgreenough profile image
Adam Greenough • Edited

First and foremost I think because we're not built to or planning to scale massively. This seems to be the goal for many communities but not ours. Not scaling means we can take a more personal approach to moderation. In the unlikely event things did start growing too fast, it's likely we'd opt to cap/slow registrations and employ an invite scheme (with unlimited invites from our established members available) until we could grow the moderation.

It is run at low cost by volunteers with no external funding, advertising, etc. Just a small supporter membership available that adds some profile options to help keep the lights on. Even if that was not so popular, I am more than happy to self fund this as very much a passion project.

On top of the automatic filtering you can expect (checking against large spam/forum report databases, Cloudflare threat filtering, etc) so far personal moderation has gone a long way to maintaining a really nice environment.

Every new user, for their first 5 contributions, has to be manually checked and approved each time. The Code of Conduct makes it pretty clear what behaviour is acceptable: Any kind of objective malicious intent/spam is met with a swift ban. Any questionable/grey content results in infractions that quickly add up to the same.

Threads that vere off-topic are either shadowed or locked pretty quickly. 2 or more reports on a post or thread will hide the content until it has been moderated. We don't currently aim to provide a space for political/current events content precisely because of the challenges of fairly moderating this.

Of course all of this depends on the values and subjectiveness of the people doing the moderation and this is always going to be a challenge and a learning experience. I'm currently actively looking for new moderators, particularly those with more diverse backgrounds to make sure we're getting valuable feedback from the widest range of experiences possible.

Since everything is public, people can make their own minds up on the environment we have created so far!

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laisbsc profile image
Laís Carvalho

This sounds quite good! I am so happy to hear there is another platform with such love being built to help the community.
Moderation is a complicated subject, so much so that is the best and worse thing about SO. The community moderates and answers, when small-ish all was wonderful but calling and keep counting on people's personal measures of 'kindness' and 'respect' is rather challenging.
I really like the fact that you have a CoC written and quite openly published on WebWide as well. I think the main lesson I learned from working online with the public is that the Code of Conduct is the backbone for proper behaviour.

I am very excited to see how your platform will grow and interact with the community. Thank you for sharing! :)