FAQ - Guidelines and Etiquette on the SDMB

This thread lists the guidelines and etiquette on the Straight Dope Message Boards. Infraction of these guidelines is not as serious as rules violations, these basically reflect what we’d call “good manners.”

Please read the companion threads FAQ - Rules for Posting on the Straight Dope Message Board and FAQ - Technical issue

#1 = Index to Guidelines and Etiquette
#2 = Good manners and common courtesy are expected
#3 = Use descriptive titles when you start a thread
#4 = On resurrecting old threads
#5 = Reporting inappropriate Google ads
#6 = Use of spoiler tags
#7 = How do I find out what happened to a thread or poster that’s vanished
#8 = “Private Messaging” and meaning of “private”

[Note: much of this was written originally by Arnold Winkelried and TubaDiva, I’ve just re-organized it. There was no way to retain the original authorship posts.)

Personal insults directed against other posters are not permitted outside the BBQ Pit forum.

In several forums (Great Debates and Cafe Society, for instance) there’s rarely a “correct” answer. Multiple viewpoints are to be expected. It should be possible to share your views, understand someone else’s views, and disagree with someone else’s views, without the need for personal insults.

Violations of good manners and common courtesy constitute jerkhood, and are a bannable offense. If you must flame, go the forum called BBQ Pit and insult as you please.

Don’t call someone a troll except in the Pit

Trolling - that is, posting inflammatory remarks in order to provoke an angry response - is against our rules. Calling someone a troll is an insult, and thus also against our rules except in the Pit. If you see what you consider trolling, report it privately, either by using the “Report Post” feature (the triangle at right in the bar above each post) or sending a private message to a mod.

We enforce the rule against accusations of trollery stringently - more so than for garden-variety insults. Here’s our reasoning:

  1. Our rule of thumb for insults is that you can disparage the post but not the poster. For example, you can say a post is foolish but, except in the Pit, you can’t call someone a fool.

  2. The prohibition against accusations of trollery is a special case of this rule. Stubborn defenders of unpopular positions are often denounced as trolls, in many cases unfairly. They’re not primarily trying to provoke, they’re just being obstinate. This isn’t against our rules. Stating or implying that such people are trolls is an attempt to cut them out of the discussion. We’re trying to promote debate, not suppress it. Accordingly, we interpret the no-insults rule broadly when it comes to trolling - even an indirect accusation that someone is a troll is likely to earn you a rebuke from a moderator. As indicated above, if you see an example of what you consider trolling, report it privately or take it to the Pit.

  3. To be clear, any use of the word “troll,” “trolling” and derivatives in connection with a specific poster is likely to come under scrutiny. That said, we don’t forbid all mention of the concept of trolling. For example, a comment such as “I don’t think you really believe what you’re saying - you’re just trying to get everyone mad” isn’t an insult in our book and doesn’t violate our rule. However, a discussion along these lines can easily degenerate into name calling. We’ll take appropriate steps if we think a thread is headed in that direction.

  4. General discussion of the rule about trolling is permitted in the About This Message Board forum; accusations of trolling are not. Do not attempt to use a general discussion to insinuate that so-and-so is a troll. If you believe the rule against trolling is being flouted, you’ve gotten no satisfaction via private channels, and you wish to make your case in ATMB, be aware that you face a high burden of proof. The fact that someone persistently makes arguments you consider silly or obnoxious doesn’t in itself constitute trollery, and your assertion to the contrary is likely to earn you a rebuke.

  5. Some users have personal agendas they post about obsessively. This isn’t trolling, but it can get out of hand. We reserve the right to tell such people to dial back or stop posting on a particular subject. However, we don’t feel obliged to do so. It’s OK to call attention to an obsessive poster on ATMB, but we’ll be the judge of whether action is warranted.

There are lots of threads, and most people don’t have the time or inclination to read through every one to discover which ones they’re most interested in. Please, when you start a thread, be sure the title you create is reasonably descriptive of the topic.

Bad title: “This is neat!”
Good title: “The new CD by Enya is neat!”

Bad title: “What do you think?”
Good title: “What do you think about the President’s new tax ideas?”

Your cooperation is requested and required.

And yes, it is possible for people to see the first sentence of a thread by allowing the mouse to roam over the title and get a quick preview. But we really want the thread title alone to be sufficient guide.

And please, don’t put spoilers in thread titles!

Also, please remember that we have lots of posters from different countries. Dating conventions in much of the world is DD-MM-YY, while in the US it’s MM-DD-YY. Please be considerate of posters in other countries, and avoid confusion by using the month abbreviations. Thus, “2/3” may be ambiguous, but “2 Mar” or “Feb 3” is clear to all, regardless of location.

When linking to a Web page featuring video or audio, or a large file such as a .PDF, please make a note of it in your post so readers aren’t caught unawares by the sound or by a document that may slow down their computers. Readers are advised to use a mouse-over to preview links before clicking.

Please be cautious about resurrecting old threads (that is, posting to a thread where the prior post was many months or years ago.) These are called “zombie” threads, and we are uncomfortable about them for a number of reasons, including(but not limited to) that such threads:[ul]

[li]Might open old wounds. If there were hard feelings and high emotions long ago, and they’ve been quieted down, why stir them up again?[/li][li]Revisit issues long dead (e.g., some rant by a poster who has since been banned or left)[/li][li]Can be unfair. The people who posted long ago may not be around to respond to your comments, or may have forgot that they even posted there.[/li][li]Can cause confusion (e.g., some public/newsworthy event that happened long ago but seeing an old thread title might imply it was new or recurring – a thread from Sept 2001 titled, “NYC attacked!” for instance.) [/li][li]Really old threads don’t show the names of posters. They got dropped when we migrated to VB, we didn’t know why then and we still don’t, but it’s pretty much irrelevant now.[/li][/ul]
So, rather than post to an old thread, you might want to start a new thread with a link to the prior discussion, and some comments in your opening post explaining what that old thread was about.

Now, with that as overview, there is a difference in approach in the different forums.

  • In Comments on Cecil’s Columns, Comments on Staff Reports, Games Room, General Questions, and Straight Dope Chicago: We’re less concerned about resurrected threads. The reasons we dislike zombie threads don’t usually apply. We’ll generally leave such threads open, unless there is some compelling reason for taking moderator action,

  • In the other forums, and especially the Pit: moderators may choose to leave the thread open or to close it. Frankly, if it’s a long thread and the mod doesn’t want to read all the way through to see if whether there are problems, the mod will probably think it’s better to err on the side of closing.

(Note that “thank you for answering my question” is just plain good manners, and acceptable. However, reviving an old thread just to say “I agree” is considered bad form. If you’re going to resurrect an old discussion, at least add some value.)
Bumping your own thread
If you start a thread, and after a while think you would like more comments on it, you may be tempted to “bump” the thread by adding a post to make the thread reappear back at the top of the forum list. We strongly discourage this practice, but since the boards are so busy sometimes a single “bump” will bring about good results.

Our guidelines:[ul]
[li]Wait until a suitable time has elapsed (at least, until your thread is no longer visible on the first page of the forum)[/li][li]Bump your thread only once[/li][li]Do not make a habit of always bumping each of your threads[/li][li]When you bump your own thread, it is preferrable to include additional information relevant to the original post, which may encourage others to respond[/li][li]Posting a thank you to those who responded to your question is not considered a “bump”[/li][/ul] Generally, we prefer you start a new thread with a link to the old thread. Often, an old thread includes statements from posters who are no longer members, and so cannot reply. It’s therefore “unfair” to re-open old discussions; such practice is usually called a “zombie thread.” (A general guideline for “old” would be a thread older than three months.) However, the rules on reviving old threads are different for the different forums. In General Questions, Comments on Cecil’s Columns, Comments on Staff Reports, and Cafe Society, it is acceptable to revive an old thread if you have some substantive comment to add.

Some of the Adsense material served up has been the subject of email and online complaints to board management and the READER. However, this is the wrong place to complain.

The Reader has no editorial control over what Google displays as ads. We can all complain about the ads, but going to the Reader will not fix the problem.

To complain about a Google ad you feel violates Google’s own Adsense rules, please see here:
How do I report a (Google Adsense ad) policy violation?

Complaining to Moderators or the READER is ineffective; we can’t do anything about it.

We have added a spoiler tag to enable members to post “spoilers” to movies, TV shows, puzzles, etc. Please note that this makes the moderator’s job just a little harder, because we have to highlight the text to read the contents of the post, so do not overuse the tag; include it only where the post warrants.

When do you need to warn of spoilers? [ul]
[li]Obviously, if the material is new, some people will want to experience it for themselves without knowing the plot. A TV show you see on the U.S. east coast will not be seen for several hours later on the west coast. And perhaps not for weeks or months in a different country. Also, many people record shows to watch later, so just because the show have been aired doesn’t mean everyone has seen it.[/li][li]Although a work may have been well known for quite a while, some folks may still be unaware of particular plot points. Agatha Christie has been dead a long time, but there are still new students and others coming to her mysteries for the first time, who don’t want to know that the butler did it. On the other hand, anyone who doesn’t know that Dorothy could have gone home anytime by clicking her heels, well, the hell with ‘em. [/li][/ul]

It should be evident from these examples that we can’t give hard-and-fast rules about when to use spoilers. Instead, we have guidelines that involve common sense and courtesy: if you’re revealing a major plot element that could ruin the first-timer’s experience, then DON’T.

Also, please don’t put a spoiler in a thread title. “This week’s episode: Raymond dies!” is NOT a nice thing to do.

Now, the technical part. How to do spoiler tags:

(1) In the thread title, say "Spoilers"
When starting a new thread, the easiest (and probably the best) way to warn for spoilers is simply putting the word “spoilers” in the title of your thread.

This approach means that no one will stumble into the thread by accident, who doesn’t want to see spoilers. It’s therefore the recommended approach when you’re starting a thread.

(2) Within a post, use spoiler tags
Within a post, the spoiler tags put text within darkened boxes that must be manually highlighted to be read. To use spoiler tags, enclose the text you want to conceal after an opening tag and a closing tag. Here is an example of how to do this:

You type:
In the movie version of Agatha Christie’s WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

Marlene Dietrich plays the cold-hearted wife

This will appear in your post like this:
In the movie version of Agatha Christie’s WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

Marlene Dietrich plays the cold-hearted wife.

For more information on usage, see Forum Rules for Cafe Society and see Post #4, since spoilers tend to be more of an issue in Cafe Society than elsewhere.

If you have a question about a thread or poster who “disappeared,” please DO NOT post an inquiry. In probably 95% of such cases, the thread (or poster) that vanished was an attention-seeker – a spammer , sock, or troll. They’re out for any attention, even negative attention, and we don’t want to give it to them. They disappear, as do their posts. And as do posts about them.

So, if you have a question about such, please email a moderator. DO NOT post your question. DO NOT give these folks any publicity, acknowledgement, or recognition.

If you try to get such a thread via a link, you may get an error message that says something like:

That probably means that the post or thread you’re looking for has been deliberately “disappeared.” Email a moderator if you wnat more information in a specific situation.

(This post deliberately blank to get the Stickies in the right order)

We offer the private message function as a convenience for our members and guests. It is not the goal of the Straight Dope Message Board to operate a mail server.

A private message is a posting intended, but not guaranteed, to be read only by the recipient you specify. Neither the moderators nor the administrators of the SDMB have any access to PMs exchanged between members, unless a PM is specifically forwarded to a moderator or administrator by either the sender or the recipient.

Although it’s called a “private” message, remember that once it is sent, the sender has no more control over its further use and distribution than he or she would a public posting on the message board. There is no guarantee of privacy in these messages, and you assume the risk that any PM you send might be made public by the recipient.

Since they are treated as postings, the rules of conduct for private messages are the same as those of the general forums of the Straight Dope Message Board, starting, but not ending, with our most basic rule: Don’t be a jerk.

Posted September 21, 2009