February 28, 2023
Toxic online communities

I am quite active on Stack Overflow. However, the atmosphere on Stack Overflow can be pretty hostile. I have experienced this multiple times.

Today was another one of those days. I asked the question whether two tags should be merged. I copied a piece of an external article in to my a question (first two paragraphs) to show why I thought they should be merged, along with the link to the original article. I immediately got a reaction from a certain ‘Thomas’ that my post was plagiarism and that ‘I should know better’ and called it ‘spam’. He did not address the actual question, but immediately voted for a delete. Because he had 85k+ points, he easily persuaded two others to approve the deletion.

I flagged the question for this ‘wrongful deletion’ and I explained why it was no plagiarism. I also asked him to focus on the actual question. Within a few minutes the question was reinstated. However, his agressive behaviour/misstep was immediately removed from history by him (or others with enough rights to do so).

The fact that you can be hostile, but that the traces of it are being/can be deleted, is what makes Stack Overflow a toxic place. Thomas (I will refrain from mentioning his last name) is not damaged by his misjudgement and his agressive approach (attacking me, calling me a spammer and voting for deletion).

Without real consequences people will keep showing this behaviour. They strive for moral superiority, which is typical for many online communities (and men?). We see this not only on Stack Overflow, but also on Twitter. Online communities can easily become toxic communities.

()  Joost van der Schee

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