Stack Overflow is seen by many as the most toxic place on the internet for tech professionals. It’s trying to change that with a fresh code of conduct.
If you write code for a living, you’ve almost definitely visited Stack Overflow. It’s a sensational resource for tech pros, but also a microcosm of a larger issue within tech: People on Stack Overflow just aren’t nice to one another.
Now, Stack Overflow says it wants to re-establish itself as “a community that is rooted in kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect.” It’s also clearly defining its expectations to users. If you’re there to get help, be open to receiving it. Meanwhile, those on Stack Overflow to answer questions should “be patient and welcoming.”
It also asks users to be “clear and constructive,” and ultimately “kind and friendly.”
Stack Overflow also provides examples of “nice.” Instead of saying “you could Google this in 5 seconds,” – a phrase Stack Overflow undoubtedly pulled directly from the site – it suggests the following response:
This is called Invariance and Covariance. If you Google it, you’ll find tutorials that can explain it much better than we can in an answer here.
A new three-point enforcement policy is in place for those who violate the new code of conduct. First, you get a warning. “For most first-time misconduct, moderators will remove offending content and send a warning,” writes SO. “Most issues are resolved here.”
The second step is suspending your account for “one day or more,” depending on the violation. In “very rare” instances, account expulsion is the final step. Stack Overflow admits moderators have full discretion, so it’s very possible an offender could receive multiple warnings or day-long bans before more serious action is taken.
Stack Overflow is undoubtedly aware of its own platform issues. This code of conduct seems to serve two purposes: it helps clean the site up (moving forward), and will polish the company’s reputation. It may also influence the tech community beyond the site itself, given the latter’s reach and influence.
GitHub’s 2017 open-source survey (there was no 2018 survey) shows an outsized number of tech pros have witnessed or experienced rudeness on sites such as GitHub and Stack Overflow. Name-calling, stereotyping, and “serious incidents” were all witnessed by at least ten percent of respondents; 21 percent of those who witnessed rude behavior stopped contributing to projects thereafter.
GitHub’s solution is democratic. It can’t directly control open-source projects, but has created ‘open source guides’ for repo managers. One of the guides is ‘Your Code of Conduct,’ which helps open-source managers know how to enforce violations.
Both GitHub and Stack Overflow are critical for tech professionals, so it’s good to see them proactive about how we treat each other online. Stack Overflow was in desperate need of cleaning up; its former ‘be nice’ policy was a nudge not felt by many. In a blog post, SO admits it “needed to be way more specific about what we meant when we were asking people to be nice.”