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To be constructive, or not to be constructive, that is the question.


After reading this answer, I have concluded that any post and any behavior satisfying the Code of Conduct are welcomed in any Codidact Community.

The Code of Conduct has been written well, and all things are clear in it except the following vague sentences:

We're deliberately not setting out everything that is and isn't allowed - bring your common sense and apply the spirit of this Code.

Always be constructive, especially when giving feedback.

I have had some conversations with some community staff about these sentences and argued against them. I quote some of their opinions and bring my opinion about them just immediately after each of them.

A bit of ambiguity and wiggle room is fine - it allows for the situation being dependent on context. Not everything has to be spelled out or set in stone.

We want to avoid rules-lawyering.

Such statements seem to be very nice. But, the problem is, when and where should we allow people to have their own interpretations of written rules?

If we have a community of right-minded people, such statements are suitable for the community. For example, in academic societies the members have more freedom to interpret the written rules because they are supposed to be right-minded enough to make right decisions.

However, when you deal with a community containing any kind of people, it is not recommended to have fuzzy written rules. For example, we see that statuary laws are clear-cut. Although there may be some disagreements in interpretation of some laws, the community stay alive without any critical law misinterpretation from its members.

Now, Codidact (and any other online communities anyone can join without any restriction but having an email) is a kind of the latter case. So, clear-cut rules are needed for this community to prevent any member from abusing written rules misinterpretations.

Do you think, that you will be suspended here, although you try to act in good faith? And if yes, what makes you think that? (I'm not trying to make you feel "wrong", just want to understand your intentions/assumptions/...)

This is a very good question. Clarifying what I fear, please consider the following example of my real situation:

This post was closed because of being "non-constructive". The user who closed it stated in the comment under this post that they did that because "it was basically a rant." I personally did not have any problem with their opinion about my post, and respect it.

As we know well, many users (including some staff) believe that my meta posts are rants and I am a ranter. With such background, it is expectable that some users (including some moderators) dislike me, so some of them may want to suspend me because of my non-constructive behavior, that is, posting many non-constructive post. No one can question such moderators' decision because they can argue that "constructiveness" is a subjective issue and in their opinions such posts are not constructive.

We empower moderators (or judges in other contexts) to apply them to specific cases. We ensure that there is an appeal process to challenge that application.

(This is the most important part of this post.)

Such an abusable policy also exists on SE. The SE community team trust and empower their moderators to moderate their communities as they like. I do not claim that all moderators abuse their privileges, but if a moderator abuses some privilege, their decision is probably not reverted even if it is wrong because the community team do not want to encourage users to object moderators' (even wrong) decisions.

Some Codidact community staff told me that we will review moderators' decisions if there is some complaint or we have a "Review Panel" and so on. Similar things are also exist on SE in theory; the community team state that you can report such abuses, but no one should expect a reasonable answer from them.

Thus, let us have a set of clear-cut rules to minimize such abuses.

Let us not continue the SE way.

Why should this post be closed?


There's a difference between 'non-constructive criticism' and non-constructive posts'. While I agree that either the CoC or close reasons need to be clarified as to what they mean, 'non-constructive posts' don't (as far as I'm aware) have anything to do with the CoC. From my view, I felt the context of the CoC made it clear, but evidently this isn't the case. ‭Mithrandir24601‭ about 1 month ago

@Mithrandir24601 There was a lot of confusion in chat. Someone clarified that non-constructive posts are not the same as non-constructive in the sense of the CoC, but then it became confusing what either meant. ‭Moshi‭ about 1 month ago

-1, this is exactly the rules-lawyering we are trying to prevent. ‭Olin Lathrop‭ about 1 month ago

3 answers


No system of rules can run only on statutory rules. There is always case law, because no set of laws/rules that people can actually manage will ever include everything.

We are trying to write a clear, succinct "statute" about what we expect on our network. We know that some things will require human judgement, which is why it's important, early on, to specify how decisions can be challenged.

You say:

Such an abusable policy also exists on SE.

SE does have policies that can be and have been abused. SE's bigger problem is that they are not required to follow their own policies and have a track record of bypassing them. SE is fundamentally autocratic, as you would expect from a profit-seeking company that owns a closed platform. SE, just like Facebook and Reddit and Quora, can and does do whatever it wants.

I challenge your use of "also". At Codidact we are working hard to prevent that kind of abuse. But we don't do that by specifying every possible case down to the last detail and then being stuck when a troll finds a loophole to exploit; we do it by establishing core principles including ways to challenge decisions.

You linked to a question that was previously closed as "not constructive". It was closed by one regular user and reopened by a staff member. Sometimes people disagree about whether a question should be closed; it was discussed and remedied. We should probably change the name of that close reason (close reasons are planned for reworking already), to avoid causing confusion. Nobody was suspended, and moderators and staff members aim to apply the smallest correction that fixes a problem. A single snarky or ranty comment or post is likely to get dealt with (deleted for the comment, closed for the post). If it happens more than once someone would try to discuss it with the person. If it keeps happening there'd be a warning. Unless something is way over the line, by which I mean things like direct personal attacks or hate speech or something like that, moderators aren't going to jump straight to suspensions. If they do, they should expect it to be challenged and reviewed.

Our communities are made out of people. People are complicated. We have to all be willing to do our best, presume good intent, and discuss disagreements. We have a baseline set of expectations that will over time be augmented by "case law", reviews, and discussions. Unlike on SE, you can expect transparency, honesty, and the willingness to make corrections when we err.

1 comment

Thanks for your answer. Although I still believe that using the word "constructive" in the code of conduct is not constructive (because it is highly subjective and in practice no one can question any of its interpretations), I prefer to trust your answer because it has good intentions. Please also keep in mind that the SE developers wanted policies like yours but after facing many routine things (such as feature requests, bugs, ...), they now do not have time to remember such policies. ‭MathPhysics‭ about 1 month ago


(from now deleted comments, with some changes, on request from the asker)

In addition to what Monica said, it may be more clear to say, that the CoC isn't intended to be a full "penal code", which names all possible "crimes" and threatens penalties, but more something like a "social contract", according to which we shall strive to interact. Or – if you want the government analogy – a constitution or preamble thereof.

For example we in Germany (and most likely most other countries) have a full penal code with hundreds of articles and a much smaller constitution which has such "fuzzy phrases" as "human's dignity is inviolable". And while that sentence isn't exactly clear at all, courts have been able to follow all kind of nice things (for example a right to at least some social welfare or a right for privacy or no solitary confinement) from it. Applying this to Codidact, we'd have a somehow-fuzzy CoC with some general social rules and then we deduct more specific rules from them by various means, namely community agreement in meta discussions (either broadly network-wide here or more strictly in the single communities; example: "Is the word X banned by CoC?") and by having an independent control institution (= courts in a government), which will be our review panel1.

And, unlike you are worried, the Panel will carefully review every appeal. And do you know why I can say this with some guarantee? Because we have a solid and detailed set of rules of proceedure that will protect your "rights to appeal". ;)

Furthermore, as Monica said, close reasons are also on our rework list. The current list of reasons is (mostly) my fault. I was adding the feature to the codebase and needed to have some start set, ... which could and should have been definitely improved.

I definitely didn't thought of the CoC-version of "Not Constructive" when I added the "Not Constructive"-close reason. The intention was to catch posts, which aren't helpful to anyone (What's 1+1? rather than How to add two numbers?), because answers to them will not teach the asker something new and the answerers won't really learn something new or exciting and the answers are not helpful to other visitors because they are only applicable in the specific use case of the asker.

But, the good news is that we can easily get rid of the reason. Or edit it. And we don't have to wait for a close reason overhaul. If someone would suggest a better name/a replacement, I can update the close reason on every site. If you want to lead that initiative, feel free to start a more specific discussion about the close reason.

  1. I know, I keep deferring this until "future incorporation", but such things unfortunately take time, but I promise we try to start having the Panel ASAP

1 comment

I think you already got it: "Not helpful" ‭ShowMeBillyJo‭ about 1 month ago


I'm all in for using constructive in the Code of Conduct.

In a comment to a previous answer, you wrote:

Although I still believe that using the word "constructive" in the code of conduct is not constructive (because it is highly subjective and in practice no one can question any of its interpretations), I prefer to trust your answer because it has good intentions.

For one, the word is indeed subjective, however, not highly subjective. I'm pretty sure that most people (> 90 %) visiting this site have a somewhat corresponding picture of what constructive behaviour is. It's not about the fine details of this picture but rather its boundaries.

Look at it this way: Most people would agree that arguments ad hominem and name-calling aren't polite forms of communication. Most people would agree that twisting one's words isn't a proper way of communication. Most people would agree that being constructive means to show problems but also to show possible solutions. Most people would agree that complaining about problems without providing alternative solutions isn't constructive.

So the boundaries are pretty much the same for most of the people visiting the site. Details can be discussed and solved, no big problem (for example calling someone with ridiculous names might be appropriate in certain cultures in certain situations).

Of course, it's also a question of the to be expected moderation workload1: In this case, it would be using subjective and ambiguous words to lay out the rules or trying to find rules for nearly every possible situation - what do you think will cause a higher workload? Very likely, the second option as setting out rules invites people to seek ways to legally break or avoid them so that you have to set out new rules and so on. Nevertheless, using the first might lead to situations in which subjective words are laid out as one sees fit, for example: "I don't like this user, so everything coming from him isn't constructive." But for that, we will hopefully have a panel.

  1. Right now, the network is small and most of the people are committed to it, there are few trolls and little abuse. So no need to make it harder than it needs to be. If the network grows, certain situations are very likely to happen several times so that devising rules for repeatedly happening situations is, indeed, appropriate. However, in my opinion, dropping "always be constructive" isn't really necessary as the percentage of the people having a somewhat alike idea of it is always bigger than the percentage of the people who don't.

1 comment

"Most people would agree that complaining about problems without providing alternative solutions isn't constructive." I doubt. ‭FoggyFinder‭ 30 days ago

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