I'll begin with a mea culpa. In the original version of my answer to the following question How do I get a well-rounded understanding of chess openings? I gave the wrong variation. Someone pointed it out with a down vote, and gave the correct variation. I even sent him a post admitting my error, and thanked him for the heads up.

The issue was, in downvoting me the first time, he said, "This answer is horrible...I wish I could down-mod this down into negative territory." Am I (the OP) wrong is thinking that this seems a bit harsh?

After my correction (and reply) he replied,

"Your utter mis-understanding of the positional considerations after 5...Na5 warrant that you entirely delete this answer -- it's a travesty and will only pass on your severely flawed understanding to others with even less knowledge, thereby hindering their chess progress rather than enhancing it."

It's certainly ok to say, "This is wrong, and here's the correct line," or I disagree with your interpretation, here's mine "(with or without a down vote).

But it seems to me that the above criticism goes a bit beyond this. Are my critic's comments within the bounds of civil discourse on this site?

  • 5
    I think the criticism was indeed extreme. I found your answer useful, and I hope that you didn't take the attack personally. I'm definitely interested to hear what other people have to say on the subject. For future reference, if a comment is ever solely a personal attack (this flirts with the line between attack and actual feedback on the answer), you can flag it as offensive. If enough users flag it as offensive, it will be deleted.
    – Andrew Mod
    Feb 18, 2013 at 18:12
  • It was extreme and it was warranted. It was a horrible answer with the potential to grossly mislead others, and as such needed to be pointed out forcefully.
    – user76
    Feb 19, 2013 at 1:45
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    @GeorgeJempty Even the grossest error does not warrant extreme force, especially if inadvertent. Point it out, certainly. Downvote if it's incorrect. If you're afraid that's too off-in-the-corner, by all means, ask your own question (as you did), even link it in a comment to the original answer. Anyone who would have been inclined to take the incorrect information seriously will almost certainly be redirected. In short, everything you did would have been perfectly fine, if only you had eschewed the "extreme" and "forceful" terms included.
    – Daniel
    Feb 19, 2013 at 20:34
  • Trolls abound on the internet. Let it roll off like water off the back of a duck.
    – Tony Ennis
    Jul 13, 2013 at 13:34

2 Answers 2


Those two comments were outside the boundary of appropriate criticism. I deleted them since the only redeeming value they had was the correction to the move order and suggestion to change a mistake, which was promptly followed up on. Any further merit (in the realm of the 5... Na5 remarks) was not sufficiently developed or free from censorious effect. It's important to note that critical comments are completely fine and are allowed, as long as they do not degenerate into attacking. It's not acceptable even to encroach on a personal attack, and your goal should not be to "attack" a post, but rather to correct/enhance it.

It's true that some posts are completely wrong and the answerer doesn't know a thing about what he's talking about, but it will never help matters to call it a "horrible" post, and go on about how it will damage all innocent readers who pass by. Simply state why it is wrong and downvote it. Flag it if it's not an answer to the question.

The comments in question should have been in objective terms (e.g. "your move order is incorrect", "you probably meant 5... so-and-so", "such-and-such is why your assertions about 5... Na5 are not grounded in reality", etc), and not attacking ones. Forceful language, if ever used, should be reserved for hard-core abusers of the site, such as trolls and spammers, and are definitely not in place when directed toward a genuine mistake.

  • I agree with all this. I have made posts were I made mistakes and others pointed out things like "Did you mean..." for example. If it resulted in personal attacks or humiliation, I probably would never post answers or questions which is the purpose of the site.
    – xaisoft
    Feb 19, 2013 at 18:59
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    ". . . not to attack, but to correct and enhance." This. A thousand times. I cannot remember the last time a regular on the Stack Exchange websites I frequent has deliberately written something wrong and misleading. It just doesn't happen. Mistakes happen, but the notion of genuine malice on the part of regular contributors toward unsuspecting readers is ludicrous. Feb 19, 2013 at 20:19

If you don't agree with an answer, simply a downvote and a comment stating that the answer is wrong is sufficient. There is no scope for personal attack on stack exchange.

In fact even if some one is deliberately presenting incorrect answers, down vote from more experienced people will push that answer into oblivion.

  • No. Only on meta do you downvote to disagree. Downvotes on the main sites are for offensive, wrong or very low quality posts, whether answers or questions. You don't downvote because "I disagree".
    – Seth
    Feb 25, 2013 at 17:46
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    Ok what i meant by disagree - was to say that you don't think it is the correct answer. on a query related to chess it is not always straight forward to say that the answer is clearly wrong. Feb 26, 2013 at 5:45
  • @Seth Actually, Novice is right. Offensive and very low quality posts should be flagged (and downvoted). But downvotes are for a) unhelpfulness, e.g. not addressing the question (hence "this answer is not useful" - hover over a downvote answer button) and b) disagreement (since a wrong answer is also not useful). "I disagree" is the polite way to say "you're wrong", mainly because it's possible that they're right and you're wrong. We are all fallible humans; it's unrealistic to expect that everyone knows what's right and what's wrong. SE.com is all about crowdsourcing rightness.
    – Daniel
    Sep 25, 2013 at 12:22

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