This thread is for any further discussion of what happened here. As I wrote there, I think we should mainly focus on discussing what sort of editing of questions should or shouldn't be done; for that purpose we could revive this post, where some relevant things have already been said, including by Arturo, one of the protagonists in the precent kerfuffle. However, since several people, including myself, couldn't refrain from continuing the discussion about the incident itself despite gentle requests to take the discussion to meta, I'm also opening this thread to provide a venue for that as well.

I'll start off by stating where I disagree with you, Bill. As I wrote there, I don't take any issue with your views on how and how not to edit. I do, however, take issue with your attempt to use a general epistemic skepticism to turn around the sufficiently clear facts in a sufficiently clear case. It's true that there may have been further comments that I didn't see. It's true that these might throw additional light on what exactly transpired. But it's also true that we all have enough experience with Theo and Arturo that we can pretty much exclude the possibility that they wrote anything that would have made a comment by the OP telling one of them to stop bitching and calling the other a bitch anything other than wildly out of proportion. I've gone out of my way to acknowledge your view point; I'd appreciate if you could also acknowledge that, whatever your views on editing, a difference of opinion about editing styles among well-meaning and reasoning users is on a different order of magnitude of problem-causing behaviour than a new user who starts spewing insults instead of engaging in argument when they object to something.

For the record, I did not delete any of my comments; I do not recall if my second comment occurred before or after the OP wrote "@Arturo I am flagging you for being a xxxxx", but everything I wrote is still there. The edit to the first comment came because I wrote "reverts" instead of "rollbacks" (blame Wikipedia), and that was the only change made. People may cast doubt on the veracity of the above statements as the wish. –  Arturo Magidin May 29 '11 at 21:21
@Bill: You're continuing to do exactly what I was criticizing :-) Yes, perhaps. However, even in the unlikely case that some unknown user quickly posted and deleted a provoking comment, that's no reason to insult Theo and Arturo. The insults were specifically directed at them personally; Arturo's quote above of the insult directed at him is correct. Concerning the point of this meta thread: We both kept responding after Qiaochu had rightly asked us to move to meta, so I moved to meta, that's all there is to it :-) –  joriki May 29 '11 at 21:35
@Bill: There's a close vote with reason "subjective and argumentative" for this -- is that from you? I don't understand -- you said you agree it belongs on meta, then you displayed an inclination to continue the argument by posting two further comments (I posted one myself), and now you say you don't see the point of this thread? –  joriki May 29 '11 at 21:49
I'm not particularly inclined to participate in this discussion, so I'm stating this just for the record: I did inadvertently introduce a LaTeX mistake in the title and thought the rollbacks were due to that (I only saw that these happened around the 7th or 8th editing round due to the system's design/flaws). So I fixed my corrections, left my comment explaining why I did edit and received a comment "stop being a b...". I did not react to that (I tend not to be offended by trolls) and kept myself out of this discussion. My only subsequent contribution was to vote some of the comments up. –  t.b. May 29 '11 at 22:28
@Bill: I don't understand that distinction between specific and general remarks. As for discussing the issues of how to edit and how not to deter potential new members, I never intended this thread to be for that; my proposal was that this could be discussed in the other thread I linked to. But no-one seems to have picked up on that -- perhaps because that thread had a slightly different focus and just happened to have the title I was going to use -- perhaps we should start a new one focussing on the issues you're worried about? –  joriki May 29 '11 at 23:18
Is it my impression only or has mathSE recently become a less welcoming place? I wouldn't like to see yet another great resource (and fun too!) get abandoned because of that. Perhaps we should all take a deep breath and stick to the math. –  lhf May 30 '11 at 1:37
@lhf If this place has become less welcoming towards trolls who call people they are asking for help "bitch" only a few hours after having arrived here, then that's great and this place will be all the better for it. –  Alex B. May 30 '11 at 2:28
@Bill: Your last comment makes some of the things you seemed to be implying and that were irritating me and I think perhaps others more explicit. Do I understand correctly that you view Theo's first comment as negative comment behaviour, that this for you is the root of the problem, and thus more problematic, or somehow more fundamentally problematic, than crocs' behaviour, and that by referring to "bitching" as slang for "complaining" you're implying that crocs' reaction wasn't quite as bad as we made it out to be? –  joriki May 30 '11 at 3:01
@Bill: I find it hard to believe that, in addition to your baseless criticism of everyone else's behavior, you are actually attempting to mitigate the OP's behavior. Even giving "bitching" a pass as "slang", the OP proceeded to directly call Arturo a "bitch". I don't care who "interprets" what as "negative comment behavior", that's indefensible. –  Zev Chonoles May 30 '11 at 3:26
@joriki Yes, I do think that pedantic critiques about grammar, punctuation, tone, homework, etc often rub (new) users the wrong way. The recent thread is an extreme example of such. The first comment on the OP's first question contained three - yes three - pedantic critiques. That's not a nice way to welcome a new user. Further, once the OP reverted the edit that should have been respected by Theo - just as Arturo respected Theo's reversion back to Theo's nonstandard notation here.) There was no need to engage the OP in an edit war over such minor pedantic edits. –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 3:28
@Bill: This is unnecessarily confrontational. I tried to ask you whether I had understood you correctly, without pretending to know that I had; you had every opportunity to say "no" and clarify what you meant; instead you ignored my question and then referred to it as a "misrepresentation" of what you wrote. –  joriki May 30 '11 at 3:44
@Bill: Kindly don't pretend to read my mind or discuss my motives. As it happens, I was not aware of the change in question, and as such invoking it as an example of a particular deliberate behavior is inaccurate. –  Arturo Magidin May 30 '11 at 3:49
@Bill: Great to hear that you do not condone the OP's reaction. Now, let me approach something from the global direction. Given a new user who posts a question containing content that should be edited (e.g. incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation, excessive use of bold, italics, and CAPS LOCK, and profane and insulting speech), in my opinion the appropriate time for their post to be edited by a +2k user is "as soon as it is noticed". This is because, after it drifts off the front page, there is much less chance the problems will be caught, and the site will lose intelligibility and value. –  Zev Chonoles May 30 '11 at 4:54
So, a new user has posted their question with content that should be edited, and a +2k user has improved their post. At that point, I think we can all agree that a comment from the +2k user explaining what has happened is in order. Depending on how obvious the editor feels the problems should have been to the OP, the editor can vary how friendly or firm their comment to the OP is. If the post is profane, a good response would be a strict "That is not appropriate"; if the post has mild grammar errors, a good response would be "Hello ___, I've fixed ___; the correct word order is ___". –  Zev Chonoles May 30 '11 at 4:54
@joriki, I'm not refering to any points in this discussion in particular, just to a general feeling of unease. Of course, I don't approve name calling and other bad behavior here or elsewhere. My point is just how great resources can become a battle field. And this is sad. –  lhf May 30 '11 at 11:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 26 down vote accepted

More recently I have liked the idea of being overly lenient to new users, and helping them get used to the site. See either this or this. There are certain things people might not realize the first time they ask a question here.

However, having watched the progression of this question, I don't understand why there is even a discussion. The user "crocs" clearly went too far, and displayed completely unacceptable behavior. I fully support a suspension, at the very least.

I am actually wondering, are there any users besides Bill Dubuque that believe the actions by the more senior users were "yet another example of very unwelcome behavior towards new users." ? It seemed clear cut to me at least...

@Eric Please be more careful about claiming I have said things that I have not. Some folks here are quite confused about what my point is. –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 15:12
@Bill: Quote: "@Arturo The above is quite rude and yet another example of very unwelcome behavior towards new users. It is the OP's prerogative to emphasize what they desire in whatever manner they so desire. The OP should not be forced into and edit war as above. It is quite sad that some folks are spending much more time on extra-mathematical issues such as language, grammar, manners, etc rather than mathematical issues. I confess that I am shocked that the OP is now suspended after being harassed as above. If this behavior continues no doubt we will have no new users." –  Eric Naslund May 30 '11 at 15:15
@Eric The above comment was targeted at all the participants of the comment thread. Originally it read @all of them, but then I pulled each name into a separate comment (see the following comments) so that all would be notified. Arturo's name is first only by alphabetical coincidence. The intent was to get all to participate, not to attempt to assign blame to any particular individual. –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 15:19
@Eric One other point to keep in mind. My initial comment expressing surprise about the suspension was written before people explained what they observed in deleted comments. I've already said that I don't condone such comments (whatever they really were). –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 15:27
@Bill: Since I think it has been a source of confusion throughout the comments, what exactly is the point you are trying to make? Perhaps posting a short paragraph as an answer would help clear up a lot of things. –  Eric Naslund May 30 '11 at 15:32
@eric Please read my comments here. –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 15:33
@Bill: I have, and here is what I have gathered: At first you say everyone is been far to rude to the OP. Then evidence appears which shows clearly this is not true. Then you shift to the already discussed topic of global behavior, when really the discussion was about the OP's behavior. Then there are a few confusing posts where people were not yet sure if you were defending the OP's actions or not. Then everyone gives up trying to discuss things since you changed the topic in the middle of the discussion. –  Eric Naslund May 30 '11 at 15:40
I never changed the topic. The global issue of unwelcoming behavior is stated clearly in the first sentence of my initial comment that you quoted above. It has been my primary concern since the original thread, as I have emphasized many times. Also, as I said, I don't believe this is the appropriate thread to attempt to discuss this global issue. So I will not waste any further time here attempting to do so. –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 15:43
@Eric: As I wrote in my answer, the only behaviour I'd regard as negative is the repeated rollbacks. –  Hendrik Vogt May 30 '11 at 15:54

By the time I got there, the post had been "edited" a dozen times, and the comments still visible were as they currently are above my first comment (one comment by Theo, two by joriki, one by mixedmath); I did not know what the "whoa!..." comment was about at the time.

The timeline does not seem to display rollbacks, only edits. I made the first edit at 12:57, and the first comment was posted (with "reverts" instead of "rollbacks") sometime between 1:38 and 1:43 (since it was edited to read "rollbacks" at 1:43). Judging from the imprecise "xxx hours ago" displayed at the revisions page, possibly at around the time my edit was rolled back.

My second comment was posted at 2:44, probably after my second edit was rolled back. Joriki's comment comes 8 minutes after my second one, but that does not tell me if my second one preceded or followed the insult directed at me (that's when I realized what the "Whoa!..." comment must have refered to). By 3:19, the OP had posted his parting shot, an all caps message reading, if memory serves, "I am going to bed you has[sic] your chance b*tc*s". Hence my third comment, "That would be more than two people..."

Added. Thanks to Dori for the pointer on getting the exact time of revisions from the revisions page. Croc made his first rollback of my edit at 1:41; the second at 2:37; that means that his second rollback preceded my second comment, as I surmised above.

Apparently, while "we cannot know what actually transpired", it's still somehow my (and everyone else's except perhaps for the OPs) fault.

Interesting -- I missed the going to bed comment :-) –  joriki May 29 '11 at 21:42
@Arturo: Your last point, though somewhat combatively phrased, is quite to the point. @Bill, how is it that you know exactly what could have been avoided and what experienced users should have done differently while on the other hand being sceptic about even the most basic facts of the case? –  joriki May 29 '11 at 21:56
@joriki: Excellent point. –  Zev Chonoles May 29 '11 at 22:02
@joriki If new users were not continually bombarded with nitpicking criticism of their punctuation, grammar, formatting, manners, etc then it would be far less likely that such incidents would occur. Consider how such negativity is received when it is one's first interaction here. I'm very concerned that this may well scare off some experienced folks who happen to commit such "sins", e.g. using uppercase vs. bold for emphasis. An emeritus prof (with anonymous username) could make such a "mistake" and we might lose one due to such. That's a very high price to pay for such trite critiques. –  Bill Dubuque May 29 '11 at 22:04
@Dori: Thanks, but I think most of us knew that -- that's only accurate to the hour though, and I think Bill's scepticism relates more to comments that may have been rapidly deleted than to the exact sequence of changes. –  joriki May 29 '11 at 22:13
@joriki: My last comment is not posted in isolation to this particular instance. Apparently, it's always my fault. –  Arturo Magidin May 29 '11 at 22:14
@Dori: Thanks, that's helpful! –  joriki May 29 '11 at 22:21
@joriki I have no "scepticism". My remark about deleted comments was meant generally. What really worries me is not the specifics of this incident but, rather, the scenario described in my comment immediately above. It would be very sad if a similar future incident caused a potential new member with much expertise to decide against continued participation. If folks want to critique extra-mathematical aspects of new user's posts then please try to be as gentle as possible, and please strive to keep the initial interactions as positive as possible. First impressions go a long way... –  Bill Dubuque May 29 '11 at 22:31
@Bill (In response to your first comment): The only thing that will make it less likely that such incidents occur is if fewer people with crocs' temper use the site, because in my opinion everyone involved (other than crocs) acted exactly in accordance with how this site is intended to operate. Firstly, prior to making a post, a new user of any website should expect that there will be community norms and actions that they are unfamiliar with, and take them in stride - this applies equally to a teenager and an emeritus professor. However, crocs did not do this. –  Zev Chonoles May 30 '11 at 3:28
Secondly, if a new user has made their post and something that they don't understand or don't like has occurred, established users should explain what happened and the motivation behind it; the established users did do this. Furthermore, the established users should give the new user the opportunity to respond, and explain what they don't like (after all, perhaps the community norms should change); the established users did do this. The new user should then respond in a reasonable way that does not involve profanity or insults; crocs did not do this. –  Zev Chonoles May 30 '11 at 3:28
@Zev The problem would never have occurred if not for the pedantic critical comments. These are are the heart of much friction here. Eliminating such negativity will eliminate many of these problems. –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 3:41
@Bill: The problem would never have occurred if not for the profane and insulting comments. These are the heart of much friction here. Eliminating such negativity will eliminate many of these problems. –  Zev Chonoles May 30 '11 at 4:18
@Bill: It seems to me that a lot of appearance of disagreement without perhaps all that much actual disagreement stems from talk about the one "heart" and "root" of the problem. Perhaps we can make a fresh start: I agree, as I did all along, that you brought up a valid concern, that we should seriously discuss how best to react to posts seen by at least some as deficient in some respect, and this may lead to improvements in our respective approaches that may reduce the number of incidents in which new users get upset and/or insulting and/or put off from contributing ... –  joriki May 30 '11 at 5:16
@Bill: Could you, in turn, agree that a very substantial part of this particular problem was that someone got quite hostile quite quickly, that we don't want this sort of hostility on this site (by the way, that this, too, is off-putting to new users), and that, irrespective of your criticism of Theo's and Arturo's actions, it would be unfair to blame them for "provoking" someone into insulting them like crocs did? –  joriki May 30 '11 at 5:18
@Bill: Again, you didn't answer my question. I've agreed all along that your global concerns should be discussed in a separate thread. –  joriki May 30 '11 at 5:58

One thing that hasn't been discussed in detail is how to avoid numerous rollbacks. In my opinion, the OP's "Rollback to Revision 6" at 23:31:15 should have been the last one: At that point, Theo had already apologized for the typo in the title and corrected it, but nevertheless his changes were rolled back, so one could get the impression that the OP just doesn't want his post edited whatsoever.

Now let me point out that I'm completely OK with Theo's edit, and also with his polite comment that came shortly before his title edit (correcting the typo). So what should one do when seeing repeated rollbacks of the OP? Either be happy with it, or flag it for moderator attention.

However, I'm not sure what the moderator should do. I initially suggested he could lock the post, but this would prevent adding answers and voting, so it should only be done in extreme cases. (See comments below. I think it would be great if a moderator could lock just the question itself, so that it can not be edited anymore, but comments and answers are still possible, or maybe just answers.)

Another possibility: The moderator warns and then possibly suspends the user, but just for the "rollback war" on the post in question (ignoring those comments) this would be too harsh a measure in my opinion.

A bad course of action, in my opinion, is to continue rolling back the OP's rollbacks.

Getting into an edit war only makes things worse, you're absolutely right on that point. If the OP rolls back your edit, don't try it again, even if the edit is completely justified. If an edit war is happening, flag for a moderator. A moderator though cannot lock selectively, locking prevents everything on a question (answers, votes and comments). –  Mad Scientist May 30 '11 at 12:41
But it's not only the edit war that was the problem. This is yet another example that pedantic comments about extra-mathematical matters do rub many folks the wrong way. For every user that reacts angrily there are probably many, many more who simply silently choose to leave the site after taking offense. These issues would be moot if folks would simply stick to math. Folks don't come here expecting to be criticized on grammar, manners, homework cheating, etc. They come here - above all - for mathematics. Please keep that in mind when posting extra-mathematical content. –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 14:36
@Fabian: Are you sure about your last sentence? Have a look at this answer - it is locked although the question is not. (By the way, in this case I found it OK that Theo did another rollback; he assumed that the title was the problem and fixed that.) –  Hendrik Vogt May 30 '11 at 15:48
You can lock answers separately (which doesn't affect the question), if you lock the question all the answers are also locked. From the description of the mod tool: "Posts should only be locked when something seriously bad is happening. A locked post cannot be changed in any way or voted on, and if the locked post is a question, no new answers can be added.". –  Mad Scientist May 30 '11 at 15:51
@Bill: And this has been discussed at great length. Note that I only wanted to discuss one thing here that hadn't been discussed in detail yet. –  Hendrik Vogt May 30 '11 at 15:55
@Fabian: Ah, thanks, this is bad news. Then I'm not sure what should be done. –  Hendrik Vogt May 30 '11 at 15:56
@Hendrik Yes, my comment was more for readers (hence no @you in it). –  Bill Dubuque May 30 '11 at 16:00
@Bill: Ah, OK, thanks. –  Hendrik Vogt May 30 '11 at 16:02
@Hendrik Usually a stern warning from a moderator should be enough to stop an edit war. If the users continue they can be suspended by a moderator to let them cool down. –  Mad Scientist May 30 '11 at 16:08
@Fabian: See my edit. I think that just for the rollbacks, threatening with suspension is too much. –  Hendrik Vogt May 30 '11 at 16:17
@Hendrik Not for the rollback, but for continuing unconstructive behaviour after a moderator warning. You need two people for an edit war, so the request from a mod to stop it should be enough in most cases. Locking, closing and deleting all have significant side-effects, there is no technical solution to prevent it, so you need a social solution. But if nobody listens to the mod, you have to stop it at some point. –  Mad Scientist May 30 '11 at 16:26
@Fabian: Yeah, right, but I would really find it nicer if the mod could just "soft-lock" the question. (Note the wording of my previous comment: I think a moderator warning is some sort of "threatening with suspension" if the mod intends to suspend the users in case they continue the rollbacks.) –  Hendrik Vogt May 30 '11 at 16:34

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