If you spend any time on Meta Stack Exchange or on The Workplace Meta, you may have seen a couple of Feature requests for a new post notice. What you might not have seen was my support for them and request that, if implemented, it be added to Interpersonal Skills as well as The Workplace.

Last week, Shog9 responded and added the post notice to both sites. The wording has changed very slightly (from "Controversial Post" to "Controversial Topic") but it's otherwise the same as what Shog announced in his MSE and TWP Meta answers.

With that in mind... Here's what I've implemented:

Controversial Post — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

We requested the change from post -> topic to help the question's OP feel less "at fault" for asking the question as it's the topic that's controversial, not the post itself.

You can see it in action for the first time on IPS here:

Controversial Topic Post notice

This question was attracting many comments about vegetarian/vegan people that were rude and unnecessary and, in an effort to curtail future comments and any similar answers, I've added this notice.

The hope is that we will not need to use it often, but it's in our tool kit if we need it.

So, along with this post notice comes a reminder:

Remember, we're here to answer the questions that are asked, not the questions we wish them to be.

From the very beginning we've had to deal with users taking a controversial topic and trying to turn it into a soapbox for their own agenda. If I'd had this post notice when the Vegan Question was asked, I would have used it.

More recently, I think it could have been applied to questions like this one about being harassed by friends. The question there is about how to talk to your friends about their jokes but a couple of the answers spent more time trying to educate the asker about the problem they saw in the situation - the OP being sexually harassed - and then arguing with people who disagreed with the attribution of that term than in actually helping the OP constructively discuss this with someone they consider a friend.

The accepted answer there did a good job of this while still encouraging the OP to consider that the teasing may cross the line into harassment and that they should be aware of it and consider addressing it.

If you feel that comments are getting out of hand and are doing more than asking for clarification or improvement but are rather attacking an answer by disagreeing with it, I implore you to flag the comments or the posts the comments are on for our attention and stop responding to them. If someone wants to argue with your (or someone else's) answer, they need to do that by writing an answer of their own that puts forth their solution or by voting on the answer.

Disengage. Flag. Take it to meta if you want to discuss something specific. Don't use posts or comments to argue.

We all have our pet issues... things that we hate to see people disagree with but remember that, often (not always), the subject of the concern is tangential to the concern... So a question about getting coworker vegans to stop harassing you about eating meat is actually pretty similar to a friend harassing you about whether you should be dating another friend.

In these two cases, the situation (coworkers vs friends) plays a bigger role than what the issue is - if you swap the two issues, the solution in each case is largely the same:

  • for coworkers - go to HR and ask them to help you with the situation (since asking them directly hasn't worked).
  • for friends - have a private talk and explain how it makes you feel when they do that and, if they continue despite that, find some new friends.

Both cases are harassment. In both cases, the OP wants it to stop. Let's focus on getting it to stop, not on diagnosing their situation based on a few paragraphs of explanation.

  • 12
    Hi notice, nice to meet you!
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 17:40
  • 4
    A very good idea. We at TWP have been plagued by bicker-fests for quite some time. I hope it works there and here as well.
    – user4548
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 20:48
  • 1
    That's nice. We'll find ample use for the notice, I'm sure.
    – Magisch
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 7:33
  • 1
    Yay, new toys!! (apaul xx hours ago) -> another request/feature? Can we implement some kind of "Paul can't answer for 30 minutes" rule, to give the rest of us, mere mortals, a chance to answer? :)) (just kiddin' and teasin' paul)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 17:55
  • Better late than never @OldPadawan ;)
    – apaul
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 1:13
  • 1
    Similar: questions about how to recover from the consequences of a pastdecision/actoion (whether or not the decision was wise at the time) followed by "answers" which are sermons about what OP "should have done."
    – WGroleau
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


I have to admit I have some mixed feelings about this Q&A. I upvoted the question, because I think encouraging the user to answer the question asked is critical. I have even brought it up on Meta not once, but twice. So to see myself singled out for answering in a manner that didn't address the question is discouraging.

I thought I did address the question. My answer (though framed in the context of sexual harassment) had suggestions like

  • Name the behavior. Whatever he's just done, say it, and be specific.
  • Make honest, direct statements. Speak the truth (no threats, no insults, no obscenities, no appeasing verbal fluff and padding).
  • Be serious, straightforward, and blunt.
  • Demand that the harassment stop.
  • Stick to your own agenda. Don't respond to the harasser's excuses or diversionary tactics.
  • His behavior is the issue. Say what you have to say, and repeat it if he persists.

Remove "the harasser/harassment" and the suggestions are quite valid.

In any case, it's clearly easier to see the behavior of others objectively than one's own. Had I been contacted by a moderator about this answer, I would gladly have removed it. I'm still glad to remove it.

But I'm all for "Answer the question." On that note, this is harder to do on this site than many others, because sometimes - or often - the only honest-and-stick-to-the-question-asked answer is "Nothing" or "You can't". (Well, you can, but it might be illegal.)

  • How can I get my roommate (who I've tried talking to but doesn't listen to me) to do X? (You can't.)
  • I want to cut my sister-in-law out of my husband's and my life. What can I do? (Have her kidnapped and deposited on another continent.)
  • How do I stop my family from constantly talking politics? (Insist at gunpoint that they all wear duct tape over their mouths.)
  • How can I do X (where X is something incredibly painful) without hurting their feelings? (You can't.)


I welcome the post notice. I think it's a great idea, and I'd like to see one on Parenting. But I also think educating users and engaging actively in shaping the culture you want is just as important. Prune comments quickly, close posts with borderline questions asking for an edit of the question with guidelines, etc.

This goes against the grain of mods who take to heart that their job is to do as little as possible, leaving the community to moderate itself. For an active and well established site (e.g. EL&U), this does happen because there are a lot of active high rep users there with privileges, but that's not the case here yet. For a slow site or one without enough active high rep users, like Health.SE, a hands-off approach is equivalent to a death wish.

I don't think this site is doomed, because it's needed, but I do wish a mod had contacted me about my answer. As I said, it's easier to be objective when it's not your own answer. For an IPS site, not contacting me (or maybe I just don't remember?) then highlighting my answer seems a bit passive aggressive in the truest (not meanest) sense of the word.

Edited to add: I have noticed the paring of comments recently, and think the mods are doing a good job overall, but especially in this area.

  • Removing a solid, correct answer for the sake of avoiding conflict with users who only show up to cause conflict seems sub-optimal...
    – apaul
    Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 16:55
  • @apaul - It doesn't bother me. I have a desire to follow rules; that's why when others flagrantly break them, it upsets me (like a recent user's almost 100 serial DV's across a couple of sites. I don't care about the rep; I care about the principle.) But I need to understand the rules/guidelines. Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 17:00
  • 2
    Ah, I have less of a desire to follow the rules when the rules seem misguided ;) It's not about the rep or anything like that, more about the principal. Seems like a better way to handle this situation would be to discourage the users who only show up to stir conflict rather than trying to discourage users who are honestly posting in good faith.
    – apaul
    Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 17:05
  • 2
    The question was "How do I tell John to stop with the jokes, while maintaining my friendship to him and Bob?" and you answered it, although more in a frame-challenging kind of way (i. e. "It's not as innocent as the OP thinks."). There are certainly enough (and better examples) to point to than your answer, e. g. see some of the newly deleted "answers" to interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/6588/… Commented Nov 11, 2017 at 17:12
  • @Tinkeringbell - I agree completely. Which is why I'm in favor of prompt removal of irrelevant comments (even if I'm the one making them!) Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 13:51
  • @Tinkeringbell If that was the thought, you'd think someone would have cleared that up by now.
    – apaul
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 15:15
  • 1
    @apaul, It's in the meta's Catija linked to at the beginning of the post. ;)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 15:46
  • @Tinkeringbell But that's not what Catija is saying here.
    – apaul
    Commented Nov 12, 2017 at 15:50

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