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If someone uses swear words in chat then they might get flagged by other chat users and subsequently (and automatically) banned.

If someone personally offends a user without using any swear words to the point where the attacked users decides to leave chat for good, nothing happens.

I think there is an imbalance. This hypothetical situation is actually very concrete: there exists a chat user who has so far caused 2 chat regulars and good mathematical contributors (on main) to leave chat for good.

Apart from the fact that I both enjoyed the two users who left chat, it has had a general negative impact on chat: the user who caused them to leave does not seem to make any mathematical contributions. So that now the chat room has been reduced by two people with whom we could have interesting discussions.

My question is: Can there be done anything about this user and if yes, what?

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closed as not constructive by Lord_Farin, The Chaz 2.0, Jonas Meyer, Austin Mohr, Andrés E. Caicedo Jun 6 '13 at 3:36

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ What about flagging his message as offensive? The moderator will come by and try to resolve the problem, I guess - at least I've seen it several times in the chat. Even though the message may use only allowed words, the moderator can asses the meaning correctly. $\endgroup$ – Ilya Jun 1 '13 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Ilya I think it would be rather difficult for a moderator to find anything offensive if the discussion is personalised and targeted at one user. Also, as I understand it, when a message is flagged it will be reviewed by high-rep users, not necessarily by mods. Though I'm not sure. $\endgroup$ – Rudy the Reindeer Jun 1 '13 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ Be that as it may: we have lost 2 contributors so far to a mu-almost-zero-contributor. That worries me. $\endgroup$ – Rudy the Reindeer Jun 1 '13 at 11:48
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    $\begingroup$ If flagging does not help, I can't help thinking: If this user is so annoying/provoking/disruptive, why not put them on "ignore user everywhere"? $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Jun 1 '13 at 11:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin I did exactly this more than a year ago. This post is not about me though. $\endgroup$ – Rudy the Reindeer Jun 1 '13 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ I have voted to close because this is rapidly degrading into a one-sided campaign, partially instigated by the need to vent anger. I don't want to see meta used as a means of public trial. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Jun 1 '13 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Even when giving examples of colorful language (personally I have no problem with colorful language) I think it's best to avoid misogynist, homophobic, or racist language. I have edited accordingly. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Jun 1 '13 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @MattN. That may be a british vs. american thing $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Jun 1 '13 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @NoahSnyder In australia it is ok to use the c-word among mates. I have been told in the US that word is extremely offensive. $\endgroup$ – user38268 Jun 2 '13 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ @MattN. Well, sometimes people offend the whole community and don't get banned, isn't it? $\endgroup$ – Billy Rubina Jun 2 '13 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ Found the comment, Asaf and Jonas. Well, Asaf can take care of himself. $\endgroup$ – Will Jagy Jun 2 '13 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ Is it clear that this user was a major reason for either mentioned regular leaving? While skullpatrol was indeed a thorn in Asaf's side (it was Asaf's contention that he is a troll - that all of his bizarre but consistently occurring "cognitive farts" and strange fixations are designed to annoy & play with others), as well as Jonas', but I was there during the last chat appearance of Asaf and it did not involve skull, and further Jonas' disagreement with moderators over swearing and offense etc. comes to mind as related to his leaving, also not involving skull. $\endgroup$ – anon Jun 3 '13 at 2:53
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    $\begingroup$ @MattN. It's also nice to notice that you're also responsible for the problem you're suggesting. Charlie told me via facebook that according the suggestion in your comment she should also leave the site, because of her lack of contribution. You could look in the title of the question and think about rewriting it: How do I deal with myself? - How do others deal with myself? $\endgroup$ – Billy Rubina Jun 4 '13 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ @MattN. This is weird: If that statement is the solution, you should just tell it to your friends instead of posting a question in the meta. $\endgroup$ – Billy Rubina Jun 5 '13 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Austin: I appreciate the edit. Thank you $\endgroup$ – davidlowryduda Jun 6 '13 at 5:47
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Direct insults are not tolerated on chat, and the spam/offensive flags work well to immediately deal with this. But is is a bad option for more complicated situations that require some context to evaluate.

There are two ways to notify the right people about such situations:

  • Flags for moderator attention in chat (those are different from spam/offensive flags). They are shown to all moderators on chat and don't cause the post to be automatically deleted. Those are not shown to 10k users. You can mention that a user is disruptive and causing trouble there, and some mods will likely investigate this.

  • Write a mail to team@stackexchange.com. This goes to the SE community team, and you can also just ask them to involve the Math mods if you want.

Very helpful in such a case is to cite specific incidents and provide links to them that show the problematic behaviour. The more information and easy access to examples you provide, the easier it is to evaluate the situation. Moderators can access previously flagged content by a specific user, but that might not be sufficient in such cases.

I'll also add that a user being offended might not be sufficient grounds for a chat suspension. There is the "block user" tool that is meant to deal with minor cases. But if a user is behaving in a way that many other users find offensive, or that is generally disruptive, this can be a sufficient reason to suspend that user from chat.

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    $\begingroup$ But I presume if it's only me who flags then it's unlikely to have any effect. How many user flags would be needed to build a case? $\endgroup$ – Rudy the Reindeer Jun 1 '13 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ You don't need flags to make a case, some links to instances of problematic behaviour should be enough to give the mods or SE a starting point to look at this issue. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Jun 1 '13 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ Right, but if it looks as if I'm the only offended person then it would perhaps not look like a strong case. I know there are others, but we cannot write a collective email to the SE team. Can we yet all together present the case to the time somehow? $\endgroup$ – Rudy the Reindeer Jun 1 '13 at 13:27
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The Maths room has unfortunately acquired a little of a network-wide reputation for the misuse of the flag tool. This is regrettable, because I feel it has stifled the use of this important moderation tool to the point where this message slipped through the cracks, unnoticed, for 20 hours. And it sat there on the starred list all along for 20 hours.

Emphasis is mine.

@robjohn Another thing about the situation that bothers me is this: if someone writes "fuck" or "cunt" or similar words they might get flagged and possibly subsequently banned from chat. On the other hand, if you're a passive-agressive little cunt that personally attacks single users without using any swear words then... nothing happens. Something is messed up here, me thinks. — Matt N. May 31st 2013 5:32 PM

You have to scroll up a few screenfuls, climbing up the chain of replies (1 2 3 4), to understand that this was most certainly referred directly to skullpatrol, and not any generic person.

Of course you have to be nice, and Skullpatrol is one of the most flagged users on chat. I haven't interacted with skullpatrol a lot (and when I have, skullpatrol got flagged a handful of times for no obvious reasons), but I haven't seen him call people cunts. His flag history shows plenty of messages that are merely annoying and the only form of abuse worth mentioning is MathJax-based or ping-based. There's very little in his flag report, ultimately, that supports your thesis.

So what you can do is:

  • Never, ever, ever crawl down to their level. Or even lower. I don't know what you were thinking there. Skullpatrol only having ~300 reputation is not a green light to call people names.
  • Stop flagging stuff that isn't worth flagging, or you'll make people afraid of using the tool when it should be used.
    • Aside: Maths moderators (and only them) can see who flags what in a Maths room and punish them accordingly.
  • Yes, please do flag messages that are worthy of flagging, even if swear words aren't directly used. Telling people that they should just give up on Maths forever and flip burgers for a living instead is an example.
    • Make your flags timely. A flag 20 hours after the fact, while the user is offline, is worth basically nothing. Flag immediately. When in doubt, flag. Your regrettable reputation is for poor flagging, not for excessive flagging. It's clear you haven't been flagging enough of the stuff that deserves flagging.
  • Build an history of messages that are worthy of action. This will help immensely moderators in writing the moderator message they'll send your target as they announce them their nice, long and deserved suspension from chat (if any).
  • Of course chat regulars probably have a few accidents in mind and can use the search tool to dig up a few past instances of users being nasty to each other. If you feel you can dig up enough instances of bad behaviour from one user to result in action, do and send them privately to either one of your fine moderators (if they've published their email addresses in their profile page) or directly to Stack Exchange.
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  • $\begingroup$ Right until you posted your answer this thread was actually about a generic user. Given that you point out who it is I will assume that you dislike him. I can't understand why you think that 300 rep means I call him names. I'd call him whatever I think he is if he had 100k rep. $\endgroup$ – Rudy the Reindeer Jun 1 '13 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ But thank you for revealing that he is "one of the most flagged users". I don't remember flagging him ever, as I have him on my ignore list, so I had no idea. $\endgroup$ – Rudy the Reindeer Jun 1 '13 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ @MattN. Of course, your question body also says that "this hypothetical situation is actually very concrete" and the chat message was written by you, so even if I read your message at face value the question on meta was very much about Skullpatrol. $\endgroup$ – badp Jun 1 '13 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ @MattN. No, skullpatrol is not "the most flagged user" by a long shot. He is merely one of the most flagged users; the list includes yours truly and Jonan; the statistic includes the kind of frivolous flags that got the Maths room its reputation to begin with, so don't read too much into it. $\endgroup$ – badp Jun 1 '13 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ Arrrh, sorry that should have been "one of the...". Anyway. Your answer precisely confirms that flagging does not work: "(and when I have, skullpatrol got flagged a handful of times for no obvious reasons". That's exactly my point: without the entire history a flag will look random. $\endgroup$ – Rudy the Reindeer Jun 1 '13 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ @MattN. The list is here for those who have access to make up their own mind. My mind is that most of those messages were either flagged frivolously or for the abuse of MathJax and pings and generic forms of spam, but there's very little actually offensive there. Unfortunately, you'll have to trust me (and others with access) on the matter. If there are bad messages that weren't flagged when they should've, see the last point of my post. $\endgroup$ – badp Jun 1 '13 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt, I've seen the list badp is referring to. I would say that we have the unfortunate circumstance that stuff that wasn't really worth flagging was flagged. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Jun 1 '13 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ @MattN. The merits of your claims are irrelevant. Calling people cunts makes you the offensive problem user on chat. Period. $\endgroup$ – badp Jun 1 '13 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt, as badp said, however annoying some other person might be on chat, the naming is unwarranted. Just don't engage; ignore, or flag, if need be. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Jun 1 '13 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt, be that as it may, we do not vent by labeling people; you of course know that's poor form. I propose we let this slide for now, and flag the next instance of anything offensive you see from some user. $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Jun 1 '13 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry for missing the thread here. I agree with J.M. that we should let this go for now, so I will simply agree with badp that even if provoked and angry, the proper course of action is not to bring it to chat. The great thing about chat is that we can yell at the top of our lungs, punch pillows, bang our heads on walls, and use all the foul (spoken) language we want without anyone on chat knowing. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Jun 1 '13 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ @MattN. Somebody did. I don't know who. $\endgroup$ – badp Jun 1 '13 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ @badp In reply to your claim that the flagging was does for abuse of MathJaX/ping, I would say otherwise. At least in the MSE room, I would not say sp's mathjax abuse was the problematic part. I agree with you in saying that the "ideal" response to sp's messages would be to ignore the user, either using the software or just not reading what he says. However, I have now seen two people leave the chat and I have also seen a big "noisy" list generated (on MO nonetheless) due to the action of the user. tea.mathoverflow.net/discussion/849/… ... $\endgroup$ – user14082 Jun 2 '13 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ @JayeshBadwaik I'm not saying that skullpatrol is the perfect awesomest guy in town. I'm merely sharing what I've found while investigating the situation with the chat moderation tools: pretty much nothing that could justify further moderator action. Whether the room wants to give up on the more sensitive users or on the rougher users, that's up to the room regulars themselves. If you think moderator action is justifiable, see the last bullet point of my post. $\endgroup$ – badp Jun 2 '13 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ sp is a bit quirky and seems occasionally to get hung up on the damnedest things, often connected at least as much with language as with mathematics; when that happens, his persistence can be mildly annoying. None the less, I’ve never felt that he was a problem. (Admittedly, I’m pretty easy-going: I have very rarely, if ever, seen anything in chat that I would even consider flagging.) $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Jun 2 '13 at 12:07

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