We already have a question discussing how to address answers that are advocating a violent approach. One of the top answers there however, suggests:

Maybe when we have a larger body of examples we'll start to see a pattern that leads to a policy discussion, but I recommend against trying to shut down anything that smells of violence now.

I think the time is come to have such a discussion. Lately, we've had a question where 2 answers were suggesting some form of threats of violence or harassment: this (now edited and locked to remove the threat) and this one (now deleted by the community, offering as one of the options to make her stop out of fear of having to pay damages or to harass her about how evil she is as a person for feeding the dogs unhealthy food).

Both attracted a fair share of custom moderator flags asking the moderators to delete the answers since they're advocating violence/harassment (especially if we were to follow IPS custom and ask for those writers to explain exactly how to do this and provide some back-up as to what worked), and even some rude/abusive flags. Yet, since the question I linked above seems to still suggest that we're okay with such answers, I am unsure how to handle these flags.

Please take your time to read through that other post, see what was already said and if you still agree with it when applied to these two answers.

Some other interesting stuff you might want to look at for making an informed decision:

Should IPS continue allowing answers that advocate violence/harassment?

If so, do we hold this to the same standards as other answers, do we want to know exactly how to do it?

  • 3
    The same question you used for your examples now also has this answer, which takes things even further.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 8:27
  • 2
    @F1Krazy that one can IMO be easily dealt with with NAA flags, since it entirely rules out interacting with the lady. The other two answers are not that easy?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 8:40
  • 1
    Here is another example of an answer that suggests Not Nice/Violent action.
    – BlackThorn
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 16:18
  • 2
    Thank you for addressing this issue. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 17:11
  • Do we want to make a distinction between advocating aggression (includes violence/harassment but also more grey areas) or stick to answers that advocate the legal definition of violence/harassment? I think all aggressive answers should be discouraged but it will be more difficult to enforce.
    – Jesse
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 2:24
  • 4
    It would be helpful to include a quick excerpt or summary of deleted example answers, so folks who can't see them have a basis for comparison when looking at future answers.
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 3:11
  • The first one shouldn't have been edited. But I can't explain why it has so many upvotes. Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 14:27

7 Answers 7


I'm going to be completely honest here and say that trying to have a definitive "yes or no" policy on this is probably not going to work out. The real answer is "maybe sometimes".

There are plenty of situations out there where it would be appropriate to recommend violence to someone:

  • Telling someone to carry and use mace in case they are attacked by a stranger wouldn't be objectionable.
  • Telling someone to fight back might not be the best idea, but it's certainly an option.

So what really matters is the context in which something is being said. While I'm not personally a fan of violence, I'm not going to tell a rape victim that they were wrong in grabbing a gun and killing a person - that's ridiculous. As long as the threat is very clearly explained in appropriate context, then I don't see a strong issue with allowing it.

I don't mean to focus this discussion on a specific answer, but the case that spawned further discussion here is actually a great example of drawing boundaries on what is acceptable and what is not.

[...] that she will have a complicated life if the dogs happen to look at my children. And by complicated I mean hell complicated. Like afraid to leave her apartment complicated.

While I kind of get where this text was probably going, it's not at all clear and confused a lot of people. The target of the violence isn't even clear. The text as read makes it sound like the woman should also be afraid for her life. But it doesn't make any sense to threaten the woman with violence when it's only the dog causing problems.

This is a great example of an unclear threat that can be taken in a variety of ways. It took me several times over reading that post to realize they probably mean "I will hurt or kill your dog if it comes near me, because I know it has a history of attacking people." And that line is a perfectly reasonable thing to say. I would hurt a dog if I thought it was going to attack me too. But this particular line went a bit too far in that it a) widened the threat to the owner and b) made it sound like the threat was valid if they even saw the dog, regardless of whether it was threatening them or even anywhere near them.

So yes, threats of violence can be valid advice and should be allowed, but a blanket policy of "all threats of violence are allowed" is just as bad of an idea as not allowing them at all.

  • 5
    Don't you think that your top 2 examples are just about "defense" or "protection", which seems to be different from "offensive violence". And I think that the violence discussed here is the one that triggers inappropriate, offensive, aggressive behavior.
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 19:51
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    @OldPadawan the question and your answer don't talk about "offensive violence"; they talk about "violence". Barring violence also bars defensive violence. Be very careful when legislating these things. Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 15:09
  • @MonicaCellio: "self-defense" is not what springs to mind from the loaded term "threatening violence"; and "threatening self-defense" is an oxymoron. Then again, what legally does or doesn't constitute self-defense varies hugely by country, state and municipality. So "offensive violence" vs "defensive violence" aren't clearcut. Also, some IPS users are overly prone to label answers as "recommending" or "promoting" or "advocating" violence.
    – smci
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 1:53
  • @OldPadawan quoting from your answer: "Should IPS continue allowing answers that advocate violence/harassment? Short answer: NO [...] Long answer: NO". Note the presence of "violence/harassment", as if they are the same thing, and unqualified bold "NO"s. If that's not what you meant, you might want to edit. Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 18:00
  • @OldPadawan the question put them together, which is why in my answer I said you can't do that. Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 18:17
  • @OldPadawan You're going to struggle to agree on what "offensive", "defensive", or even "violence" mean in any controversial case. The example of "I will kill this known-to-be-dangerous dog if it even comes near me" is an excellently ambiguous one. How about calling the police over someone's non-violent criminal behaviour, knowing they'll be arrested for it; is the arrest "violence"? Is it "offensive" or "defensive"? How about hiring thugs to intimidate someone into returning your stolen property? Does it make a difference whether your country's laws on defence of property permit that?
    – Mark Amery
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 8:17
  • @MarkAmery : I guess you (and some others) are right on many aspects, I'll see what is said next and wait for more opinions and a more clear line anyway...
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 9:02
  • Just be sure that if you recommend mace/pepper spray that you mention it's illegal in certain places.
    – mbomb007
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 14:16
  • 1
    I believe a good rule would be to blanket ban suggesting illegal actions. That would permit the self-defense angle while still excluding the less welcome suggestions of violence.
    – HAEM
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 19:18

Harassment is never ok. The answer that suggests threatening the dog-feeder (as if she should fear for her safety) is very much Not Acceptable. Stuff like that should be downvoted and deleted.

Violence, on the other hand, is sometimes necessary. Defensive violence, such as in the case of a question from a potential victim of violence from others, might even be the best answer. You don't prevent a mugging or a rape by saying "please sir, I'd rather not".

We should not be talking about harassment and violence in the same breath, as if they are the same thing.

Violence needs to be evaluated in context, as this answer says (and as I said on the earlier meta question about violence). Some answers suggesting violence are going to be out of line; some aren't. I'm all for coming up with some guidelines if we can, recognizing that it's a hard problem. Perhaps one of those guidelines is that advocating proactive violence (hit him before he hits you, etc) is not acceptable, while reactive violence might be.

  • 1
    Agreed that harassment is not okay. But do we downvote or delete? Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 14:28
  • 1
    @curiousdannii downvoted and deleted; I've edited. (Downvotes provide signal while the answer is live and help enable community deletion, which is only possible for answers that score below zero.) Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 15:06

Should IPS continue allowing answers that advocate violence/harassment?

Pretty much no.

Violence is not communication. Or, at least, it's a very bad system of communication. So it's out of the picture because it's not on topic of Interpersonal skills.

Harassement is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as :

Behavior that annoys or upsets someone

I think we should be free to suggest answers that may annoy or upset, we should not encourage repeated harassement or harassement as it's legally defined, but strong responses can be effective if used with care. I don't think we should try to be overly politically correct when situations requires us to step up and hold your grounds. If good, respectful things doesn't work, sometimes you should just escalate. (And there is good ways to do it !)

Essentially, you should be able to use things like :

I'm trying to be diplomatic and find a good solution for both of us, but don't fuck with me. I won't let you have your way with me, ever.

Some people are going to be offended or will feel attack by the slightest things anyway. Sometimes people don't want to care about the other, they just want something to stop, we should then be able to be harsh but not abusive. Statements like :

You'll obey or I'll break your knees.

You'll obey or I'll tell everyone about X.

Clearly have no place in here.

  • One example of a very useful tactic that annoys or upsets people is, funnily enough, telling them the truth. You could easily upset someone by telling them you're (e.g.) not interested in going out with them, or annoy them with the broken record method. I like this answer because that type of "harassment" should be allowed.
    – Nic
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 19:18

To some libertarians, every time anyone seeks to impose their will on anyone else it's violence. Being made to pay taxes is violence. Personally I think this is crazy, but I raise it to point out that if a rule is instituted to prohibit answers suggesting "violence" or "harassment" it's going to have to be extremely specific.

I still think that most of the time down votes, not delete votes, are the appropriate tool for dealing with violence advocating answers. Making a threat is an interpersonal approach. Making an effect threat takes a particular interpersonal skill. I can't see how threats in general are off-topic. So don't edit them out, downvote them.

That said, I'm not suggesting everything stands. This site does have trolls, but it's usually not too hard to identify them. I'd want posts to be considered on a case by case basis, but if the post is suggesting some kind of threat because some person fits a particular category (race, gender, sex, neuro, etc.) then that would be appropriate to delete.


Neither Threats or Harassment should be allowed; both border on illegal.

Do not allow any answer (or comment) that advocates for a clearly illegal act (I'm an American, but I'd say "in most countries" to cover the modern world with Internet). In America, even the threat to harm somebody is illegal, in all states of which I am aware. In some states this is called "Threat By Intimidation". For an example from California Law:

CIV § 52.1: (a) If a person or persons, whether or not acting under color of law, interferes by threat, intimidation, or coercion, or attempts to interfere by threat, intimidation, or coercion, with the exercise or enjoyment by any individual or individuals of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or of the rights secured by the Constitution or laws of this state, the Attorney General, or any district attorney or city attorney may bring a civil action for injunctive and other appropriate equitable relief in the name of the people of the State of California, in order to protect the peaceable exercise or enjoyment of the right or rights secured.  An action brought by the Attorney General, any district attorney, or any city attorney may also seek a civil penalty of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000).  If this civil penalty is requested, it shall be assessed individually against each person who is determined to have violated this section and the penalty shall be awarded to each individual whose rights under this section are determined to have been violated.

Even a threat to harm somebody "in self defense" can be considered Threat By Intimidation; e.g. "Take a swing, buddy, it will give me an excuse to kill you."

Some legislators are proposing laws against threatening a lawsuit as a form of threat by intimidation as well. This would be a case where it is legal to file a lawsuit, but illegal to threaten a lawsuit as a way to silence a critic or force an apology; the threat is much cheaper than the filing (and such a filing can backfire in various ways as a frivolous lawsuit resulting in damages).

Proposing "harassment" can easily result in illegal activity, also. Stalking is one example. It can fall afoul of the poorly defined but still illegal Sexual Harassment, or in the USA, Discrimination Harassment (bigotry due to race, color, gender, religion, sexual orientation or sexual identity) that is on the books in some states and can entail huge fines ($25,000 in California).

I would not even allow recommending "violence in self defense" (although learning it is always a good idea).

Or violence in defense of somebody else. Both are legal, but what an OP or poster considers "defense" is not always considered by courts as self-defense. If a respondent thinks this is an answer, then clearly the OP's situation has progressed beyond the scope of friendly advice, they need the advice of police or an attorney and should be told perhaps they need to report a crime, consult their Human Resources department or an attorney. In the USA, many such first consultations are free and lawyers will take them on for contingency (free services on commission; e.g. 30% of whatever settlement is reached, $0 if the lawsuit is lost).

Further, engaging in threats is an invitation to escalation (or violence on the part of the person being threatened).


Pretty much agreeing with previous answers, particularly with "Some people are going to be offended or will feel attacked by the slightest things anyway"!

Harassment has legal definitions that are similar in all countries. It's generally understood to be different from persistence, but not always by the perpetrator. I've seen replies on here where commenters have told a questioner that they're actually harassing the other person - I think this is valuable. On balance, this is probably a topic where discussion can lead to improved behaviour or at least allow others to learn from it.

Violence is sometimes the only response to a dangerous situation but, as others have said, acceptable in self-defence. We shouldn't encourage offensive violence!

Threats of violence are another thorny matter, though. Threatening violence can be a valid & acceptable assertiveness technique - but it requires a nuanced assessment of the situation, as well as some credibility if it's going to work. Abusers of various types can be contained by threats of physical harm where nothing else will slow them down. Instances from my own life:

  • While my weird and very abusive boss was going through one of his intense phases, a previous target of his told me that he'd stopped him by pinning Boss against the wall and threatening to smash his face! Unfortunately that wouldn't have worked for me. But I'd have tried it if I could've given a good impression of being able to carry through.

  • My ex stopped an unknown stranger who was stalking me by answering one of his phone calls and threatening some very colourful violence.

So I don't know. If we continue discussions about violent threats, we run the risk of inviting contributors' escalating fantasies about exactly what they would threaten. On the other hand, my colleague did me a favour by telling me his story (at least I knew one of Boss's weak points) and we should perhaps allow some reference to this possibility.


What Kind of Threats?

Threats of violence are often illegal, nevermind acting on them. If the question seems related to the US or other Western countries, these answers shouldn't remain. A course of action that could to assault or coercion charges is not desirable.

While it is sometimes necessary to escalate a problem in order to solve it, you are at the pinnacle of escalation when the situation merits violence or legal intervention. At that point, it is a matter for specialists and would arguably be outside the scope of Interpersonal.SE---there are other forums for lawyers and martial artists.

The Reasonable Cases

Sometimes people see an exchange as threatening even when it is not a deliberate, personal threat. This is often the case when discussing consequences.

However, "threatening" people with the natural consequences of their actions is often the most effective way of resolving conflicts. An approach of informing rather than threatening is usually best. Unfortunately, some people will never back down without firm resistance.

E.g., if a neighbor lets aggressive dogs wander freely, they are very likely to end up with one or more problems: paying for damages, paying fines, losing their animals, facing criminal charges, etc. Warning or "threatening" them with those consequences may be the best course of action.

Consider the Goal

One of the essential interpersonal skills is resolving conflicts without unnecessary aggravation. This usually means an avoidance of escalation, including threats and harassment (legal or otherwise).

An Example

If an answer doesn't at least appear to consider and reject some means of defusing the situation, it is probably unhelpful.


Your only real option is to tell him that you'll respond physically if he touches you. Follow through if it comes to that, and be prepared for fallout with [parents, school, boss, police]. If you've already spoken to [parents, school, boss, police], there isn't much else you can do.


Just punch him in the face. Don't deal with that kind of disrespect.

While neither answer attempts to defuse the situation, one demonstrates forethought. Every interpersonal interaction has two potentials: alternatives and consequences. An answer suggesting violence without consideration of those two things does not develop interpersonal skills and is likely to create problems.

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