My question comes from observing this question posted by a new user:


I saw in the comments section several friendly and a few sarcastic users (to clarify, I am not against them). They were all suggesting, rightly, that the question is quite elementary and that it is better to refer to the textbook than to come here to ask it.

Then the user asks another question from the same set of problems, and adds "why everyone says not answer my question?". I then posted a cheery message in the comments welcoming her to MSE, and that she must add her thoughts to the question, etc. In two minutes, that question was deleted.

The plot takes an interesting turn when a fairly reputed user posted an answer to the initial question which, according to me, is much of a spoon feeding. Clearly, the user who posted the question did not even have a basic knowledge of what an integral was. It would have been better if the answerer had included how to actually evaluate the integral rather than posting the ready-made one.

This would obviously get downvotes. But the answerer protests against this and in the comments, she insists the OP to accept the answer "to make the down-voters ang." and they end up having a conversation in the comments section and sharing their Instagram accounts!

I believe that such a behaviour from reputed users would encourage new users to behave in a rogue manner. I also believe that downvotes are anything but an opinion.

Shouldn't reputed users be a model for new users? New users often feel that others are being "unfriendly" towards them, which is not true. What can be done to convince them it is actually the other way around?

What should be the general way of dealing with new users like the OP in the above issue?

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    $\begingroup$ It seems many of your concerns have been handled: The inappropriate comments in the thread below the answer were deleted (only mods can do that, or the commenters themselves), and the question has since been deleted (in part, I suspect, by users who followed the link to the question). That said, you ask a few questions that arise from posts like this, that are worth discussing here. (Also note the list of "Related" questions on the right.) $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    May 25, 2017 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I think the most important point to be discussed is the behaviour of the reputed user. Thanks for responding to this issue, by the way. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2017 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I'm reluctant to discuss/target one specific user in a meta thread (and having a community discussion about one particular user is rare on meta, though it's been done and may be appropriate in the most severe of such situations.) $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    May 25, 2017 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ Dear Ananth, I hope you didn't take me as dismissive of your concerns. I am glad you posted about the asker's question you linked, and the inappropriate conversation below the answer. I read your meta post nearly two hours ago, linked to the question, saw for myself what you are reporting about the question, and cast the last of three delete votes. And your question here, prompted me to check it out and to act. Also, I didn't intend to suggest your question was any sort of duplicate of the questions in the right hand column, just that you are not alone at all about your concerns. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    May 25, 2017 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ No problem, @amWhy! I'm more than happy that you chose to respond to the situation. I'm always positive to any constructive comment! $\endgroup$ May 25, 2017 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ >and they end up having a conversation in the comments section and sharing their Instagram accounts! $$\,$$ Did they go out for tea as well? :D $\endgroup$
    – 1110101001
    May 29, 2017 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ > New users often feel that others are being "unfriendly" towards them, which is not true. This is one of those (many) instances where perception is reality. If the new user feels hurt, then he/she has been hurt. "Unfriendly" is in the eye of the beholder. $\endgroup$
    – bubba
    May 29, 2017 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that questions of this kind should be closed, but calling them "off topic", which seems to be the official practice, is really rude. There should be a separate menu item in the list of reasons for closing such questions, saying something polite rather than "off topic". $\endgroup$ May 30, 2017 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ @1110101001, nice try, but there was probably no tea involved. $\endgroup$ Jun 1, 2017 at 0:46

2 Answers 2


I was not able to read the post in question, as it has most likely been closed or deleted. (The link did not work.)

I also believe that downvotes are anything but an opinion.

Without knowing the intentions of the "down-vote" exactly, I think it serves at least one other purpose; namely signaling the OP that something is not right with the question. Of course this could also be done (and should imo always accompany a down vote) by giving suggestions in the comments.

Shouldn't reputed users be a model for new users?

Reputation is awarded for a number of reasons however. I've seen questions get a lot of up-votes very quickly that were very similar in structure (lack of research, own thoughts, clarity, etc.) to questions that even got voted down, often probably because they were either unique, or happened to strike a sweet spot of something that was on a lot of other online users minds at the time. (I am deliberately not giving examples of posts since I am not critiquing anyone.) I also think that, psychologically (and in general), down-votes often generate more down-votes and vice versa for up-votes. But of course experienced users should try and act as models for new users, and in at least most cases I think it works rather well here.

In short: If by reputed user you mean someone with a high (at least up to some extent) reputation (in points), then I am afraid this does not always need to reflect how well the user follows MSE etiquette. This is probably more a question of how and why reputation is awarded, and why it may be of importance to think twice before you up-vote as well as down-vote something.

New users often feel that others are being "unfriendly" towards them, which is not true. What can be done to convince them it is actually the other way around?

I actually felt this way the first time I asked a question on another stackexchange forum many years ago as well. I think this is a combination of mainly three things:

  1. The person feeling this way when asking a question does not know the nature of the forums (i.e. how and why SE etiquette works the way it does), and needs to be told (politely).

  2. The person potentially answering does not know the nature and intent of the question, and thus needs to be told (politely).

  3. The way experienced users (perhaps especially on MSE) write is often rather formal (understandingly so), and may come off as fastidious to new users (who are perhaps used to a more lose way of conversing even in text).

When dealing with correcting new users (in at least non-ridiculous cases), one should try and be polite (but also perhaps even empathetic) and point out that the reason you want them to reformulate things, are so that you more easily may help them (as many users do). Also remember that written language can be interpreted in many ways. (I don't advocate the use of emojis on SE, but don't forget that you can replace them with a kind word here and there.). Lastly, do not jump to the down-vote directly, but at least give the OP a little space to react to the comments. As I said before, I think the down-votes may otherwise generate some perhaps undeserved and unnecessary negative feedback.

In conclusion, I also just think that SE, and perhaps MSE specifically, takes some getting used to, for better and worse (mostly for better imo).

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    $\begingroup$ Re: link did not work. The question has been deleted - users with 10k+ reputation can still view deleted question. In this specific case some version of the post is still visible in Google Cache. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2017 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for presenting a balanced view of the incident. To be honest, I also involved in the "herd-reasoning" you have mentioned, when I was new here. Later on, I realized it was very irresponsible of me. I did not downvote the question in the above case, as it had already received 8 of them. Thanks again for clarifying my statements regarding downvotes and user reputation. $\endgroup$ Jun 6, 2017 at 16:46

Ananth, I do wonder what you mean by "reputed" users. If you mean the experienced ones on Math.SE, of course they should be role models for new users. Yes, if no one answers a question asked by a new user, one should step in and seek clarification. It was really nice for you to be so welcoming to the new user when she posted that other question and told her the classic way to improve your questions, but (I personally think) she shouldn't have added "why everyone not answer my question?" because that can spark a flame war against her. Whatever the "attempted bias" (I'm referring to when you said that the answerer forced the OP to accept his/her answer) was as well conversation was about and the fact that they shared each other's Instagram accounts with those they probably didn't know of wasn't probably a good thing to do.

If this ever happens in the future and turns into cyberbullying, flag the comments! That's why the flagging system exists. Then you can turn the issue over to the moderators and they can take care of the rest. This is my personal opinion and probably the best thing to do in this situation.


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