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A very popular challenge was recently deleted due to attracting material that could possibly be considered hate speech or offensive to some people.

We probably need an official policy on how much profanity/vulgarity we want to tolerate. Therefore, how far do we want to go? On the one hand, generic insults like "you're an idiot" are clearly harmless and can be amusing in context, but we really want to avoid hate speech and/or direct insults that may be offensive to some users on the site.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Might be hard to censor some vulgarities, given languages such as BrainFuck & JSFuck. Anyway, I'd argue that the generic insults shouldn't be allowed. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Kanos May 29 '14 at 2:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you are misunderstanding the problem. It wasn't deleted because it had a few bad words, it was deleted because it asked for them. Big difference. It wasn't even asking for insults, it was asking for obscenities plain and outright. This is inappropriate in general, not only is it unprofessional, open to abuse, and childish, but as you have seen wide open to offensive and hateful content. I certainly don't want to be part of any SE site that allows this kind of content, especially outright. \$\endgroup\$ – Seth May 29 '14 at 2:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't know people were so touchy. Programmers usually aren't. On the one hand, we don't want to devolve into 4chan, but on the other hand, I don't know how people dare to go outside if they think this site is a hive of racist gaybashers. \$\endgroup\$ – marinus May 29 '14 at 3:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ underhanded is barely any better than code trolling anyway, so it's not much of a loss. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor May 29 '14 at 6:53
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No, that's not why I deleted it. That's why a particular answer was flagged, but one answer with possibly-offensive verbiage was the least of the problems here. I'll let the question speak for itself:

Shortest, simplest code that prints an unexpected obscenity

I thought this would be fun;

Try to come up with some simple code that when run, prints an obscenity or insult to the user in an unusual and unexpected way. When looking at the source code, it should be very difficult to predict that the output is so offensive.

Winner will be decided by votes, which should be given based on the following criteria, in order of importance:

  • Unexpectedness (how well it is hidden in the code)
  • Creativity of Obscenity (i.e. "F!#% You" is not so original)
  • Simplicity
  • Shortness

The question literally asked for answers that were offensive and disgusting. And that's why I ignored the flag and went straight for the question: the flagged answer was doing nothing more than providing the asker with exactly what was requested.

I don't think it makes sense to try and draw a line here. There's no acceptable level of intentional offensiveness; do you really want this to be the site that's ok with intentionally hurting some people but not others? There were a number of other answers providing similar results (all attempted to mask them via the ineffectual spoiler markup), and any attempt to moderate them individually would be in effect saying "these people are ok to go after, these others are off-limits". WTF?

As usual, it was the question that was the root of the problem. So the question was removed. Think of it as a challenge... Come up with a puzzle that inspires the generation of witty insults that aren't required to actually shock the conscience.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you were a bit trigger happy. I obviously didn't call for "real" offensive remarks i.e. racism, hate, etc - and there wasn't any. The insults included things like "Curse you with the hate of Internet Explorer" and "Your mother is a hamster". It was all in good fun. Instead of deleting a really popular and fun question, you could have just edited it to specify your terms. If you're a parent, you are certainly an awful one. That's my insult for you. \$\endgroup\$ – CodyBugstein May 29 '14 at 11:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Imray I propose that a new question be posted which asks for witty (not obscene) stuff to unexpectedly show up. This allows for cleverness, but not at the expense of underprivileged people, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Jester-Young May 29 '14 at 12:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisJester-Young By underprivileged people, do you mean people who's mothers are hamsters? \$\endgroup\$ – CodyBugstein May 29 '14 at 12:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Imray Come on now. You know there were much more offensive answers than that (which I'm not going to quote). I want to see a new question where such answers are not called for or somehow otherwise legitimised. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Jester-Young May 29 '14 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisJester-Young, unexpectedly can't be made objective, so I'm not sure there's any good question hidden in this one. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor May 29 '14 at 16:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor That is true, but in some ways, that goes back to whether we should ban popcon questions in general. As long as we still allow popcons, popular opinion will have to decide what's unexpected. (For the record, I'm personally not a fan of popcons, but it's not my place to push my personal opinions on the community.) \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Jester-Young May 29 '14 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Imray You missed some answers then. I freely admit to being the person who flagged one of the answers; it contained explicit homophobic slurs. Some of the answers were fun and witty, which is why I think Chris has the right idea to start a new question which asks for witty/amusing remarks (because as you say, "your mother is a hamster" isn't going to upset anyone). Presumably people still have the code they wrote, and can repost answers that were acceptable or modify unacceptable ones if they wish. \$\endgroup\$ – WendiKidd May 29 '14 at 21:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WendiKidd So someone put wrote a homophobic slur and you support deleting the whole question? Why not just delete the offending answer? \$\endgroup\$ – CodyBugstein May 30 '14 at 0:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Imray I was responding to your comment "I obviously didn't call for "real" offensive remarks i.e. racism, hate, etc - and there wasn't any. There were; that's a fact. (Not saying you intended for there to be.) I flagged the answer, not the question, and I think a non-offensive version of the Q would be interesting. And that's about where my opinions on the topic end. \$\endgroup\$ – WendiKidd May 30 '14 at 1:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was actually surprised to see the question live as long as it did, but after 9 days, 33 answers (most of them entertaining and harmless), 18,000 visits, 101 upvotes for the question and 184 for one of the answers, deletion wasn't the best decision in my opinion. Deleting the inappropriate answer(s) and locking the question would have been enough. \$\endgroup\$ – Dennis May 30 '14 at 19:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ In response to "do you really want this to be the site that's ok with intentionally hurting some people but not others?": But none of the answers are really there to offend anyone. A piece of interesting code is provided by the answerer, then a factual and objective description of what the code performs is included. The posts are not targeted to anyone. No-one is being intentionally hurt. \$\endgroup\$ – ace May 31 '14 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hopefully not, @ace - but no matter what your intentions are, you can't tell others what should and should not offend them. Someone was already offended by one of the answers, and I would be most surprised if several of the others would cause some serious problems if left visible... So what do we do then, wait for flags / emails / public denunciation and then remove answers? Capricious censorship? That's a waste of time at best, and unfair to the folks writing answers when the problem was that the question asked for response that would by definition be unacceptable to most readers. \$\endgroup\$ – Shog9 May 31 '14 at 19:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Which is why I edited the question to ask for "insult", not "obscenity" (If you want I can explicitly state that answers cannot be too offensive) and I edited the offensive answer to include a warning, such that the only way to see that offensive sentence is to click on the revision history. I understand that there are still some potentially rude answers, but if editing them to remove them can save the question I'll be happy to spend the effort. Because what I think is that by deleting the whole question it is unfair to the folks who actually spent quite some time to write up an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – ace May 31 '14 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ At this point, I suspect the only way to "save" the question would be to remove all the answers that focused on the original "obscene" criteria, @ace. Whether or not that's worth doing is up to the folks here. \$\endgroup\$ – Shog9 May 31 '14 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've made some modifications to the post (based on my judgements). If you think it is acceptable, would you please undelete the post? If you think it still needs work, can you please tell me specifically which answer(s) need editing? \$\endgroup\$ – ace May 31 '14 at 20:25
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Oh, that's where my 300 points went...
I think the question shouldn't have been deleted, but just modified to ask for creative insults instead of obscenities.
My answer was barely an insult btw, and was not obscene at all.

As for the policy, I don't really mind either way. If it really bothers people, then we can ban outright profanities ("brainfuck" not included because it's not meant to offend), but as the OP says, I would be against banning generic insults given in context.

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I am sorry to say, I saw this coming.

To answer the actual question in the title: What should our policy on insults, vulgarity, profanity, and other possibly offensive material be?

The answer is, as has been demonstrated, we don't have the power to decide. I was tempted to cast a protest "close vote" on this very question because of this.

All the mods on Code Golf were letting this run, because the community here knows that this was just a bit of harmless fun, and if anyone had got out of hand their answer would have been deleted.

But we are on a site run by an organisation that has its own policy of zero tolerance on offensiveness and the finger of law has descended upon us. This is the typical policy of being "cleaner than clean" that large organisations have, because of the disproportionate amount of bad publicity that can result from one little infraction. The master mod who closed this question was just doing his job.

Where I think he was wrong, is that I think that posters should have been allowed to keep the reputation they accumulated on this question. I'm not saying this because I gained such a large amount of reputation myself (570, which is absurd for such a trivial and silly question) but because it is not the fault of any of the answerers that this has happened. That is the subject of another question: If a question is deleted, should posters keep reputation gained?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure I'd call SE a "large organization", but then I came here from a company several orders of magnitude larger so I suppose it's all relative. Regardless, I don't see how "we're just a small group" is an excuse for turning a blind eye toward potential problems. At the end of the day, my job here is to lead by example - if I'm not willing to step up and take action when I see a problem, defend it when called to, and respond calmly to criticism, then I can't really ask that of the moderators here either, right? So yes, I was doing my job - and not reluctantly either. \$\endgroup\$ – Shog9 May 29 '14 at 21:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Shog9 the first point I was trying to make is that code golf is not "just a small group," it's part of a larger organization and misdemeanours here could potentially impact the rest of stack exchange (if you count all the users it's an organization of many thousands of people.) The second point I was trying to make is that the way reputation just disappears without trace when (any) question is deleted isn't very nice. That's a separate issue only partially related to this question. Hence I have started a new question on that subject. \$\endgroup\$ – Level River St May 29 '14 at 22:59
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When we flag an answer as "very low quality", we are saying that:

This answer has severe formatting or content problems. This answer is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed.

(Emphasis mine)

I think the same principle should apply to questions. Instead of deleting the post, we should try to edit it to make it fit the site better.

Update: I edited the question to change "obscenity" into "insult", and explicitly stated that no offensive answers should be given. I also edited all answers containing potentially offensive output, replacing the output with:

Warning: The output of this program may be considered too offensive by some, and is therefore removed. If you really want to, you can see it by checking the revision history of this post.


From the moderator tools privilege page:

When should I delete questions?

Closed questions that are of no lasting value whatsoever should be flagged and deleted.

(Emphasis mine)

Do we really think that a post with 101 upvotes and 26 stars have no lasting value whatsoever? Personally, I don't think so. I understand that mods may have a different standard than we mortals, but is it so different that the opinion of 101 users is negligible?


Finally, I would like to draw your attention on the intention of that question (and the answers to that question).

In Shog9's post above he said,

do you really want this to be the site that's ok with intentionally hurting some people but not others?

I agree that posts that use strong languages to offend people should be deleted. But none of the answers are really there to offend anyone. A piece of interesting code is provided by the answerer, then a factual and objective description of what the code performs is included. The posts are not targeted to anyone. No-one is being intentionally hurt.

There's completely no reason to delete the entire thread.


P.S. In the duplicate post, @Chris Jester-Young said

Your question was popular, for sure, but popularity does not make a post "fantastic" or otherwise a good fit for the site

He mentioned programmer cartoons on SO as an example. However it is worth noting that the linked post was locked, not deleted. Can't we do the same?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't defer to anonymous voters. If you see something of lasting value, point it out. \$\endgroup\$ – Shog9 May 29 '14 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Shog9 This is a programming puzzles site, and people come here to solve challenges, for fun. Which is exactly what that post was providing, if you ask me. \$\endgroup\$ – ace May 29 '14 at 15:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do we have any avenue to protest this action? \$\endgroup\$ – ojblass Jun 1 '14 at 23:42
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In my opinion the deletion of this post was not in the best interest of the site. Based on the number of votes and answers it received the community was eager to participate. The person who submitted the question had a great marketing idea.

I am not exactly sure what the mission statement of the community reads but I would image that encourage people to creatively address interesting problems is part of it. The key word there is creatively. Once you impose limits on the way people behave some of their creativity is lost.

The posting of this question was not malevolent. None of the answers could be used to hurt or harm anyone in any way. Quite frankly the heart converting to a middle finger made me laugh and brightened my day. Keep brightening my day by keeping people creative. If someone acts in a way that is hateful or harmful come down on it as you will.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ that heart answer isn't all that "ingenuous" once you notice how it works. It's nothing but a colour blindness test in black and white. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dvorak May 29 '14 at 11:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JanDvorak That's the equivalent of "Copernicus wasn't brilliant, once you notice how the solar system works. It's just a test of motion perception" \$\endgroup\$ – CodyBugstein May 30 '14 at 0:53
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The name of the programming language "Brainfuck" contains the obscene word "fuck", which has a dictionary definition that is too vulgar to quote here. People who program in BF are using this as an excuse to post the obscene word on this website. I don't like this, but I understand the need to identify BF by its name.

The deleted question asked for programs that print an unexpected obscenity. I had more interest in the programming techniques than in the insults, but the question would have continued to accumulate more answers with all flavors of obscene language. Therefore, the best option was to delete the question to prevent any answers.

codegolf.stackexchange.com should not gather obscene language that would scare away me or other contributors.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Whether Brainfuck is problematic or not has been dicussed before extensively. Someone should probably read through both this and that thread and see if we are actually being consistent here. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Jun 1 '14 at 19:00
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The question BrainFuckedBotsForBattling - A Brainfuck Tournament has appeared a few times in the Hot Network Questions feed.

To the uninitiated observer from another SE site, what could "Brainfuck" possibly mean? Most people who see the Hot Network Questions feed will not know that Brainfuck is a programming language, and may take this as an insult or some devious scheme.

Perhaps we should block or censor "brainfuck" in question titles to avoid this? (EDIT: It's been confirmed that titles with "fuck" will no longer show up in the HNQ list.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's no reason to enforce censored titles. It's been confirmed that titles with "fuck" will no longer show up in the HNQ list. So if you don't care about making the list, don't worry about the title. If you do, make it a network-friendly BrainF*ck or BF. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Aug 26 '14 at 12:40

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