Moderator Brian Towers in response to the question "New Fritz 17 User" used the term "RTFM" as part of his original answer.

  1. In the comments, a user called him out for using a profanity.
  2. In response, he told the user something close to "he should get his eyes checked".
  3. In response, I said that I have owned an IT company for 24 years now, and that the "F" is generally considered to the F-word", and said that if he Google it, it returns that as the first result.
  4. He replied that "as a junior programmer" his "spinster" supervisor told him that it was "Read the flipping manual", but he did not edit his answer.
  5. I responded that a "spinster" would not be likely to use profanity, but that it did not change what most people would take that to mean. There was absolutely no trolling, or abuse on my part. I did edit his answer to simply "Read the manual" at that point.
  6. I then called him out on this second deletion, and he claimed it was a "vendetta" and trolling. Weak excuse to cover up his censorship.

Shortly after, he used his moderator powers to delete the conversation. I responded to that and left a message that I believed he abused his powers. He deleted that message too.

Sorry, but if you cannot be called out because you are a moderator, that is wrong. He abused his power to delete a conversation where he was simply in the wrong. There was no trolling or anything else going on there.

Moderation is not censorship, and does not give one the right to abuse the power. This is SO wrong!

What do you think?

  • 11
    P.S. I wonder if the moderators can restore the deleted comments so people can really see for themselves. Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 11:25
  • 9
    I can testify as being a witness to this comversation. Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 14:12
  • 9
    And Rewan, was I at all abusive? I just pointed out what it meant, and that the spinster was likely to clean it up, no? Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 14:45
  • 11
    You were perfectly nice. Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 18:07
  • 5
    I think our mod had a bad day. On comments he said something about read the fliping manual, but the true is I understood read the f..... manual and this is what the first entrance on google says. The fact it was a poor question excuses a bit him, but I think the meanning was clear for everybody. After all I don't think we should make a drama from a poor question and a bad day of our arbiter and top rated user. Let's make peace. I cannot evaluate if deleting the comments is a good decission and I understand PhisMaster too nevertheless
    – user18196
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 20:06
  • 5
    Moderator behaviour is the most important factor to Stack Exchange success. Moderators set the leadership standards for the forums, and a high level of conduct is expected of them. if a moderator is having a bad day, they should maybe give chess.stackexchange a miss, rather than taking it out on the poor juniors here.
    – Laska
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 14:16
  • 1
    rtfm stands for read the FINE manual. getting all bent out of shape over the usage of RTFM is just another example of bullying by those with too much power on stack exchange sites.
    – yobamamama
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 21:53
  • 5
    One of the great improvements in helping each other online of the last 20 years is the decline of RTFM. In usenet or mailing list days I estimate it was a response to about half of the questions for technical groups. I will not belong to a group where RTFM is common. Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 17:24
  • I'm a bit late, but related SE overall meta question: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8724/…
    – JohnP
    Commented Feb 5, 2020 at 20:03
  • 1
    @MichaelWest Indeed... in fact, sometimes the best adjective for the manual might be "head scratching" and in such cases telling me to read the manual when I already have and still have the question is less than helpful.
    – Michael
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 16:47

3 Answers 3


Be nice, and check out our Code of Conduct

Moderators should know it by heart. I don't mean to take sides here, but I see no reason for a moderator not to (try to) empathize. Moderators should not have the excuse of a bad day or the laziness of not writing clearly what they meant. "RTFM" is, at the very least, ambiguous. The interlocutors are not required to know what it means; they may even google it and find out an unintended meaning. Even in the case of quickly having typed "RTFM", they had a simple and friendly solution at hand: edit the answer (regardless of what the initialism meant for them, and regardless of any abusive comments they might have received).

Writing "RTFM" (and standing by it) is comparable to writing “You could Google this in 5 seconds.”, cited in the Code of Conduct as unfriendly.

  • 14
    Arguably, RTFM is an even unfriendlier version of "You could Google this in 5 seconds"
    – corsiKa
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 18:40

Assuming the facts in question are undisputed, this is quite clearly a character fault on Brian's part. However, it is not an abuse of power. This may be confusing, but let me explain.

For a moment, let's set aside Daniel's (valid) point that RTFM is akin to "You could Google this in 5 seconds" which is against the code of conduct.

As a moderator, you will be exposed to people who view the world through a different lens than you, and you should defer to the least objectionable lens when possible. Thus, it does not matter if, for example, you've learned that RTFM is not rude or profane. But if others feel it is, then you should defer to that. If there were literally no other way to express the view, then perhaps it would be up for debate. But since clearly there are other ways to express the view without introducing profanity, there's no need to "stand your ground" on the issue. "Oh, I learned it different, my bad!" is a gracious way to exit, or just simply deleting your comment and the other comment is a less gracious but actually acceptable way to go about it.

The reason it isn't an abuse of power is that comments can be deleted at any time, for any reason, and we should never get emotionally attached to them. They are footprints in the sand, and we can expect weather closer to Mars than the Moon. They can and will disappear, and it doesn't really matter why.

So implying that it's too simple of a question is a CoC violation. Standing ground when called out is a character fault. And I believe that, everyone being adults, we can find a solution and move on. But from a moderator abuse perspective, I'd hesitate to call it an abuse of power simply because comments are so fragile. This is speaking from my 8 years as an SE moderator (wow time flies...)

  • 7
    The problem is that he was informed of the primary, and profane, meaning, and given proof. He chose to delete the conversation instead. When you are a moderator, just because you can, and have the power, when it is something that makes you look bad, it is wrong. Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 18:55
  • 7
    That is, unfortunately, irrelevant. The truth is they distract from the question and should be removed. So he took the correct action for the wrong reason. So you did the absolute right thing to bring the discussion to meta.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 19:01
  • 3
    You will never get me to agree that he was right, morally, or "legally". I disagree that it is irrelevant. Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 19:03
  • Besides the discussion around comments, did I understand correctly that PhishMaster edited the answer to "Read the manual"? In that case, it is not a comment what was deleted, but an edit to an answer, and it is not as easily justifiable. Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 12:49
  • @DanielAlfredoSottile Moderators do not have the power to remove edits. There is a redaction power that can alter a question or answer's edit history but a single moderator cannot exercise that power. A redaction request creates a flag that a second moderator must approve. I find it highly unlikely that a second moderator would approve such a redaction. If it was just an edit, that would clearly be shown in the edit log, which one can debate as a separate point.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 16:11

The use of RTFM isn't necessarily profane or rude; it depends on the context. I sometimes use it at the office (spoken language, and just the initialism, not the words); everybody knows what it's supposed to mean, but when used in the appropriate situation, especially with non-verbal cues, nobody takes offense.

That said, I can imagine there are people who do find it inappropriate for a Q&A site like Stack Exchange. The solution is simple: edit the post:

When should I edit posts?

Any time you feel you can make the post better, and are inclined to do so.

You should respect the original intent of the author (see the sidebar widget on the edit page), but changing 'RTFM' to 'Read the manual' does so. And that is exactly what happened.

Now, regarding the deletion of comments: they are by nature [temporary] (https://chess.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/comment); once they've served their purpose, they're noise and may be cleaned up.

What are comments?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer.

There are simply too many comments on the site to clean up the ones which are no longer needed, but when it happens, please don't assume censorship. Also, they're not meant to hold a discussion:

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

Constructive criticism could here be "please change RTFM to something which is less likely to offend users" but it's easier just to edit the post directly; most active users here have enough reputation to do so. Discussions should be held on Meta (this question is a good example) or in chat. Therefore, I'm going to clean up the remaining comments as well.

  • 11
    Sounds like excuses to me. It was a normal back-and-forth that has been in MANY other conversations, and he deleted what he didn't like because it did not agree with him. Most comment do not get deleted ever. And, sorry, you are wrong. The most common and accepted definition is a profanity. That is like saying "WTF" is not a profanity. Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 12:01
  • 7
    I also have serious questions as to whether I will get a fair shake from the moderation team. You guys have been together for too long, and are tight. It is like trying to get cops to so anything about other cops. Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 12:02
  • 5
    Too long? Brian and I have been elected six months ago. We're not tight; I'm just trying to keep peace here. Hopefully everybody learns from this episode and the best course of action is just to move on. Having a bunch of comments deleted over a different interpretation isn't the end of the world.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 15:08
  • 8
    You have both been on here for years, even if not as moderators. Maybe the best course of action in to simply never delete comments unless the are unequivocally over the line, and abusive. Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 16:41
  • 7
    Either way people in power should avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Deleting stuff that you don't agree with is wrong.
    – user20848
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 19:32
  • 4
    Glorfindel but shouldn't you have openned a chat room and leave the common message "discussion has been moved to chat"?
    – user18196
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 20:27
  • 1
    Deleting stuff is wrong
    – Laska
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 14:17
  • What makes a post 'better' is very subjective. There are some who go around making trivial changes just because they can.
    – yobamamama
    Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 21:54
  • 5
    @Laska On stack exchange, deleting comments is very, very rarely wrong. They are dust in the wind.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 19:15
  • 5
    @PhishMaster "Maybe the best course of action in to simply never delete comments unless the are unequivocally over the line, and abusive" is not Stack Exchange's policy, and you're not going to be able to change it. You don't have a leg to stand on there, and continuing to focus on the deletion is diminishing the strength of the rest of your argument.
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Dec 23, 2019 at 21:22

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