"Attack the post, not the poster" should be removed as a rule

Note: This isn’t meant to be an indictment of or attack on any particular poster. Although the recent ATMB thread was obviously a catalyst for this post, I would ask that we not re-litigate it. This is an opinion I’ve held for quite some time and have only now bothered to put to paper (so to speak).

One thing I’ve always valued about moderation on the SDMB is the lack of reliance on too many “bright line” rules. I like that the mods have broad discretion to determine when board values are being violated and, by and large, I think they do a fantastic job. I’ve likewise always been fond of “don’t be a jerk” as a guiding principle of the Dope. I think it’s exactly the right combination of broad and pithy, and appropriately leans into the subjective nature of moderating an internet message board.

But I also feel that “attack the post, not the poster” is a rule which at best does nothing to contribute to moderation and at worst is actively harmful to discussion on these boards.

  • It’s too easily caught up in semantic debate. A rule that hinges on the difference between “you’re full of shit” and “that argument is full of shit” is inherently problematic. It’s too easy to fall into arguments about wording and intent.

  • It is too often perceived as a loophole. Time and again, we’ve seen attacks on other posters framed as attacks on their arguments or posts, in almost the exact same way we see people disguise attacks on posters as attacks on broad groups.

  • It detracts from the tone and purpose of GD. Saying “that argument is a pile of garbage” or “that post is full of lies” (or whatever would constitute toeing the line of this rule) is absolutely useless in the context of a debate unless it’s backed up with actual supporting evidence and rebuttal. And if you’re doing that, you don’t need the ‘attack’ part at all.

  • I have a WAG (and that’s why this is last) that the quibbly nature of whether someone is attacking the post or poster means less reports as a result of second-guessing whether something is or isn’t actionable.* I further WAG that the quick-posting nature of GD and Politics means reports are more important to help the moderators keep track of what’s happening in very active threads.

*I know I sometimes feel (just a tiny bit) chagrined when one of my reports is dismissed as unactionable, and I try not to make reports unless I feel fairly confident that a rule is being broken. I’m probably still under 50% accuracy.

So my suggestion is that “attack the post, not the poster” be stricken from the list of rules, and that mods simply enforce “don’t be a jerk” more zealously.

tl;dr - I’d like to see this specific opportunity for posters to argue semantic loopholes tossed out the window and replaced with, “Hey, that was a jerk thing to say. Try not to be a jerk going forward.”

Here ends my 2-cent deposit.

I don’t think the rule is meant to allow people to be assholes in GD or P&E. The way I originally understood the rule was that it’s better to say that a post is wrong or false, rather than saying “you’re wrong”. That way, the person who made the post doesn’t feel attacked.

Another example – “this post seems confused – do you mean this or that…?” vs. “you’re confused and you’re not making sense.”

So, “attack” means “argue against what’s in the post, don’t personalize the argument.”

I agree that the “don’t be a jerk” rule should be more heavily moderated in GD and P&E. I’ve often said that bullshit nicknames for politicians should likewise be banned from those forums (Shrub, Obummer, CFSG). While I’m at it, if I were emperor, I would also ban bullshit nicknames for political parties (Dumbocrats, Rethuglicans, etc.). Save that shit for the Pit.

Anyway, I think that people have interpreted “attack the post” to mean “say what you want about the post” rather than “address the points in the post without personalizing it.” I agree with my latter definition, and think that actual attacks should always be off limits in GD and P&E.

I don’t like the rule, but I think it’s the best we can achieve.

There are layers of fail-safes in place to keep it from getting stupid. First, there are human moderators who can make a judgment call, and second, the members can discuss it in ATMB if someone feels that judgment was in error.

I like the rule as it stands now.


ISTM it’s more of a guideline than a rule – “your post is fucking embarrassingly pathetic” would (rightfully) probably be modded outside of the Pit, even though it’s “attacking the post”, because it’s way beyond any sort of normal discourse. The “don’t be a jerk” rule (which really is a rule) works here and overrules the “attack the post” guideline. But I think it’s still a pretty good guideline anyway, since in most cases it is a good thing to follow.

There are a great many people who would have to exert great self restraint to take down an argument, at least on certain topics, without using language like “bullshit”, “garbage”, “drivel”, or “lies”. These people are what we call “passionate”. It comes naturally in the forum where “passion is high because the stakes are small”.

Passion is not necessarily incivility. There is a mountain of difference between calling a person a pile of shit and saying their opinions are shit.


Honestly, from what I can see Jonathan Chance put a lot of work and effort into overhauling the rules for the very difficult to moderate P&E and GD. The Attack the post and not the poster appeared to be the most central rule in the new rules and I have tried to enforce that.

I also try to keep in mind that in enforcement via reports (flags) an unpopular poster is far more likely to be flagged than someone who most of the posters agree with.

I prioritize Attack the Post and not the posters and trying to prevent hijacks. The rest are fairly uncommon.

We also get GD threads without a debate framed and I move those out or close them.

Right, but there’s no reason to say either. It’s not like it’s a face-to-face confrontation and we’re having some sort of lickspittle verbal fight.

Rather than “your opinions are shit”, why not “I don’t understand how you can post that, given x and y.” Or, “I understand that’s your opinion in this post, but it’s not backed by facts, for example cite 1, cite 2.” Or, “my issue with the opinion expressed in your post is that it will lead to (bad outcomes).” Something like that.

All of those “attack” the post without being a jerk about it. If you change that to “you’re wrong about that because of x and y” or “your opinions are wrong because of this or that” or “your opinion flies in the face of the facts”, even though they aren’t uncivil, they would probably make the poster feel personally attacked.

It’s basic to the concept of rational debate. Anything else is ad hominem.

What I don’t like about the wording is that it literally encourages being aggressive against someone’s post. Yes, I get that it’s meant to be pithy and shouldn’t be taken literally, but we shouldn’t be encouraging people to “attack” a post. That seems to give a green light to uncivil behavior and generally jerkishness, as long as it has the fig leaf of being against a post.

I prefer the phrase we use on Wikipedia, which is simpler; “no personal attacks”. It achieves what the SDMB is trying to do, but without the implication of a loophole.

Also, one line in the NPA policy on Wikipedia that’s useful, “Comment on content, not on the contributor.”

“Attack the post, not the poster” is fine, but is only necessary, and not sufficient, to avoid breaking the rules. That is, attacking the post, not the poster, does not let one ignore other rules, like “don’t be a jerk”. If you’re being a jerk while attacking the post, you’re breaking the rules.

These are good.

You are wrong. “I don’t understand how you can post that, given X and Y” does not communicate contempt for the post. In fact it may very well be a lie.

And no, if you demonstrate contempt for someone’s position, that does not automatically make you a jerk.


Why should I demonstrate contempt for someone’s position in GD and P&E. I may have contempt for them, but if I feel I have to express it, I should do so in the Pit.

In GD and P&E, I can disagree with someone, show them cites to back up my disagreement, and offer alternative opinions. There’s no reason to show contempt.

I think there are many people who are incapable or unwilling to participate in dispassionate debate, at least for certain subjects they are passionate about. I cannot envision either forum without such people, as their perspectives are invaluable.

Take a current event for example. Let’s say your rules go into effect, and someone opens a thread to argue that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is justified. A Ukrainian citizen then carefully goes point by point to explain why the OP is wrong, but naturally they also use colorful language to show how contemptable the OP’s argument is. A mod steps in and warns the Ukrainian for being too passionate, because GD and P&E is no longer that kind of forum, and they may have indirectly offended the OP by demonstrating their contempt for the post.


Agree, it’s a good guideline. It’s breaks down when people think that because attacking the poster is always wrong, therefore attacking the post is always OK.

Keep the catchphrase, but explain that “but I attacked the post!” isn’t some get-out-of-jail-free card. And then mod such comments appropriately.

I like that, I never liked the attack word in the rule anyway. But the wording is actually pretty old as I recall.

Such as this?


When I see threads that will likely result in strong feelings, I typically see them moved to the Pit. I could definitely imagine a thread started by some Russian troll saying that the invasion is justified going immediately to the Pit.

And, many times I’ve seen just the dispassionate responses you mention, with a note at the end like, “and, for the rest of my response, I’ll see you in the Pit.”

Your argument is idiotic.

Now, how would you characterize my statement above? Was it useful, did it continue a good debate? Obviously not, it’s exactly the kind of thing that should be against the rules in GD, IMHO, and pretty much any forum except the Pit. Being passionate does not mean the same thing as being a jerk.

The goal of “attack the post” (or the better suggestion of “comment on content”) is not to ensure that no one is ever offended. It’s to foster good discussion and debate.

Absolutely. That language is great. No issue with it. It’s the other phrase that I think might mislead people, and/or give them an excuse to misbehave.

That is sometimes an issue though. We’ve had a few people who just feel too strongly about certain subjects, and break rules in their passion to express them. And that’s not okay. I won’t mention any names, but I can think of a few posters on this board who I generally respect and usually agree with, and enjoy their contributions here. But if they get involved in discussions that involve a particular topic, they go over-the-top. It frequently derails threads and causes problems. And that’s unfortunate, but no, those perspectives aren’t worth it. A discussion forum can’t be the “So-and-So Show”, as often happens.