FAQ - Rules for Posting at the Straight Dope Message Boards

This thread lists the Rules for posting on the SDMB. These are the Major Rules and the Important Ones: violations have serious consequences.

First, be sure to read the Registration Agreement

This post is basically a “table of contents” for this thread and these rules:

#01 = List of Rules
#02 = How and when do I report a post?
#03 = What’s the policy on copyrights?
#04 = How do I know which forum to post in?
#05 = Are there any forbidden topics, like sex and drugs?
#06 = What happens to rules violators?
#07 = What are the rules about file-sharing software?
#08 = Must I post in English?
#09 = What links are permitted? What’s “workplace safe”?
#10 = Are there any rules on insulting the other posters?
#11 = Can I modify other posters’ quotes?
#12 = Can I edit my own post?
#13 = What’s with ignore lists and buddy lists?
#14 = What are the rules on profile signatures?
#15 = What if I want to change my username?

Please see Site Feedback Forum for Technical issues

[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.]

Fixed Links {What Exit?} 06/08/2021

Q: I see something posted on the message board that I think breaks the rules. What should I do?

A: Use the REPORT BAD POST button – the little exclamation point in the red triangle in the upper right corner of each post. When you click on that button, you will see a box above a message that says

Type in the box to let the forum moderators know why you’ve flagged the post.
This doesn’t have to be a long and complicated message: “spam” or “personal insult” could be enough. On the other hand, if you want something specific done, such as a thread title change, or if there’s a personal insult hidden in a lonnnng post, then please be specific, to help save the moderator’s time.

Since the message board is so active, and the moderators are unpaid volunteers, we appreciate any assistance that our members can give us. We can’t be everywhere, we can’t see everything, so we rely on you to report infractions of the rules.

Q: What happens next?

A: Using the REPORT function automatically sends emails to all the moderators in the forum where the problem post has been made. The moderators who receive the email will look at the post you’ve reported and decide what action, if any, is needed.

Q: What if I’m not sure if the person is breaking the rules or not?

A: Report the post anyway and let the moderators sort it out. We would much rather get a dozen reports that don’t need acting on than have someone decide not to report a problem because they’re not positive there’s an actual violation of the rules.

Q: What should I do when I see someone “trolling” on the SDMB?

A: Do NOT publicly accuse another poster of trolling. (The only exception to this is in the forum called BBQ Pit where it is permissible to use the term “troll” as an insult.)

Accusations of trolling and similar misconduct are subject to staff discussion and a review of the poster’s history. Trolling is an especially contentious issue, as it is inherently open to interpretation; “stupid” or naive beliefs can often be sincerely held. These discussions are private and disclosed only when actionable offenses are found; we do not want posters to feel persecuted.

As for the correct procedure, we prefer that you either report the post in question or PM a moderator with your perspective and cites. This is then forwarded to the mod loop. Please note that a short, coherent and well-cited PM is the best way to get your point across; we usually analyze just the facts and leave the poster’s analysis/opinion out of the discussion.

Please note that while the moderators can appear unresponsive to inquiries, that’s because moderator discussions can take days of back and forth. Most topics sent to the moderators are discussed, but occasionally yield no consensus or a decision to take no action. But we’re always watching you!
Q: Doesn’t that make me a tattletale?

A: The SDMB is a community, and we rely on all of our members to make it a community where people want to be. Since it’s a community that’s active around the clock, and since the moderators are unpaid volunteers, we appreciate any assistance that our members can give us. We can’t be everywhere, we can’t see everything, so we rely on you to let us know when there’s something that needs attention. If you see someone being mugged on the street, calling the cops is NOT “being a tattletale.”

Q: What do I do if there’s something that needs action from a moderator, but it’s not a rules violation?

A: There are other reasons for reporting posts besides rules violations, a lot of them pretty minor. Examples include:

• A thread started in one forum that should be moved to a different forum
• A thread with open discussion of plot points in a book, movie, or TV show that needs a spoiler warning in the thread title
• A thread with a confusing or misleading title, or one that would benefit from a “TMI” (too much information) warning

If you see a thread like this, use the REPORT button exactly as described above – it’s not just for rules violations! However, please be specific about what you think needs to be done (the mods won’t always know automatically what title change is needed or what should be covered by spoiler tags.)

Q: What happens if I want to change or correct something I said – can I report my own posts?

A: If you want to edit your own post (for example, if you made a coding error), you have five-minutes after posting during which you can do so. If you miss that time limit, you can REPORT your own post and explain to the moderator exactly what you’d like changed. Note that moderators will not accept edits that are total revisions; once you’ve posted, you’ve posted. But we will be happy to help with typos, mis-coding, etc.

You can also use the REPORT THIS POST function to ask that a thread be closed. To do this, click REPORT for the OP (original post; the first post in the thread) and give your reasons for wanting the thread closed.

Our sponsor, the Chicago READER, has a strict policy on respecting copyrights and copyrighted material. They don’t want their stuff used by others without permission, and so we don’t use stuff created by others without permission. Basically, The policy is : don’t do it.

The rules of the Straight Dope Message Board are enforced by volunteer moderators who are not all legal experts in these matters. So we offer a set of guidelines that may be more conservative or stringent than the law in your jurisdiction, but that we think may help avoid the copyright violation issue. In this as in many other matters we depend not only on moderator enforcement, but also ask for the cooperation and goodwill of our posters.

Suggested guidelines:
(1) If you are going to quote something from an article, quote less than 5% of the source. Include a link to the article if the article is available online.

(2) Only quote directly in very rare circumstances. Instead of repeating a source word-for-word, read the article, attempt to understand it, and rephrase what it says in your own words. Again, include a link to the source if the source is available online. Otherwise indicate a reference to the source (e.g. Science News, issue x, pages yy-zz).

(3) Minor changes in quoted text are permitted, as long as such changes are clearly identified (e.g., ellipses … for omitted material, square brackets for added material, etc.) Changes that alter the tenor or interject editorial comment are not permitted. If you want to comment on a quote, do it outside the quotation marks or quote tags.

(4) If you’re quoting from short works – such as song lyrics, poems, short prose, etc: please quote only what is sufficient to make your point. Generally, that would be a few lines at most. If you want to refer to long passages, provide a hyperlink to a site that has rights to reproduce the material.

Basically, read the forum descriptions. We try to separate discussions and threads, based on the type of discussion (rather than the subject matter, generally speaking.) The distinction between forums can be somewhat subjective and a bit fuzzy.

PLEASE NOTE: It is generally not a big deal if you inadvertently post in the wrong forum, a moderator will move it. We have the forums as a convenience to other posters. Having your thread moved is not a slap in the face, nor a warning, unless you’re doing it persistently.

You are allowed discussion on almost any topic, but…Note that the Registration Agreement prohibits:


Drugs that are illegal in the US: You may discuss the effects of drugs, but not where to obtain them. Limited discussion of past use of drugs is OK, but discussion of current use is not. Please include a disclaimer that the drug is illegal in the US.

Sex: The medical approach is OK, the Penthouse approach is not. If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and/or contact a staff member before you post.

Copyright violations: Are NOT OK, under any circumstances. For copyright rules, see Post #3 in this thread… and see the Registration Agreement for “illegal acts.” We consider that discussions of P2P and file-sharing are pretty much discussions of how to evade copyright laws. The excuse “I just want to download public domain movies and Linux distributions” is lame. Very.

Many of the services that used to operate illegally/without paying royalties are now in compliance and so discussion of these services would be allowed, they’re legitimate. But we do not want to see recommendations of companies and programs still remaining that operate in violation of copyright law.

How to get around the law: Discussions about legal methods (avoidance) are acceptable; discussions about illegal methods (evasion) are not. Again, see the Registration Agreement.

Calls to Action: Threads calling for folks to take actions (political, charitable, personal, etc) are prohibited unless there is prior approval from a moderator or administrator. Do not instigate members to take action for or against any issue or entity. Do not post phone numbers, email addresses or any other personally identifiable information of any entity in this regard. Exceptions for valid and noble causes may be made with the advance permission of a moderator or administrator.

Depends on the rules broken, whether the offenses are repeated, etc. Basically, persistent and continued rules violations may result in posting privileges being suspended or lost.

If you break a rule, a Moderator will generally warn you about it. Warnings can be serious (usually called “official” or capital-W “Warning,” usually posted in the thread)… but often emailed as well, so be sure your email address is up-to-date.

An individual warning isn’t usually the end of the world, although that depends a bit on what rule is broken. A well-meaning poster will suffer no further consequences. Repeated offenses or a consistent pattern of rule violations may result in a 30-day suspension or banning. Warnings usually drop off the radar after a year or two; we’re looking for persistent repeated offenses or patterns, not for the occasional goof that we all make from time to time.

If a paying member and reasonably long-time poster is suspended or banned, we usually announce this in the About This Message Board forum. We try to strike a balance between informing our members about what’s happened, and respecting the privacy of the individual. If you don’t see a thread in this forum with an explanation, then the person was either a sock puppet, a spammer, or a banned person trying to sneak back in.

Also, please remember that you may not be seeing all there is to see. If someone had four or five inoffensive posts and is banned, you probably didn’t see the 20 spam posts that led to a porno site – they’d be “disappeared” along with the poster.

While we post the reasons for banning a long-time poster, we really don’t want to post reasons for sock puppets, banned persons trying to sneak back in, or spammers – we don’t want them to have more publicity. The publicity is what they want. If they don’t get it, maybe they’ll go away and leave us alone.

If you’re dying of curiosity and really MUST know or you won’t be able to sleep nights, then email a Moderator. We’ll be happy to tell you offline.

(* - A “sock puppet” or “sock” is a person with multiple usernames, including “repeat guests.” A spammer is a person trying to sell things or just annoy with multiple posts leading to some website of no (or harmful) consequence. A banned person trying to sneak back in is a banned person trying to sneak back in. These are all violations of our registration agreement, and incompatible with the sense of community that we’re trying to build.)

File-sharing software (used to distribute files over a peer-to-peer file-sharing network) still has nebulous legal status in the United States of America (the location of the parent company behind the Straight Dope Message Board), and is often used for copyright violations.

At the SDMB we take copyright violations seriously and this is an issue close to the heart for the owners of the SDMB (the Chicago Reader). For this reason, we ask our posters to refrain from discussions on how to use file-sharing software at the SDMB.

Debates on the legality of this practice are allowed, but do not ask questions of the type “How do I get this peer-to-peer sharing software to work?” or “Can someone help me find a copy of (song or movie clip) using peer-to-peer sharing software?”

The Straight Dope Message Board is owned by a publication based in the USA. The common language of all the moderators of this message board is English. For that reason we ask that all posts on this message board be made in English. The staff members need to be able to read and understand posts made at the message board.

Exceptions include requests for help with translation, explanation of foreign language words or expressions, foreign words or phrases that have come into English, etc.

We allow links to almost everything except things that would violate our other rules (for example: pornography, advertising, instructions on how to break the law.)

In accordance with the Registration Agreement:

However, we have two policies (in all forums):
(1) Links should be described (in your text, outside the link itself), so that people know what they’re clicking on; and
(2) all direct links should be “workplace safe” (the “two click” rule)

In more detail:

When posting links, please be courteous to your fellow posters: describe what you are linking to. It does not have to be a lengthy description, but “See this political cartoon” is better than “This is funny!”

If your link is primary to the topic when starting a thread, please explain not only what the link is, but why you are linking there. Don’t just post a link to a news story or video and expect people to start a conversation about it.
INCORRECT: “Ain’t this cool?”
CORRECT: “This looks like the coolest electronic cat-feeder ever!”

This means in terms of sounds as well as visual content. A site that is not safe for workplace is sometimes called “NSFW.” Note that being “workplace safe” doesn’t just mean that there’s no nudity or explicit visible sex. A page with a flashing banner in large, bright colors that says “Hot Nubile Young Teens” would NOT be workplace safe. The criteria is: if your boss walked by while that was on your screen, would it cause her/him to stop and stare, and would it potentially cause problems at work? If yes, then don’t provide a direct link.

Please understand: we’re not trying to impose censorship. We just don’t want anyone inadvertently clicking on a link to something that could be career-limiting if their boss happens to walk by. Lots of our members read the boards during work hours, and it’s easy to accidentally click a link when you’re scrolling or mouse-over-ing or whatever. We basically don’t care where you link as long as no one can get there accidentally.

The goal is to set things up so that no one gets to such a website unintentionally; it requires TWO clicks, rather than just one click, to get to a site that is not safe for workplace. That’s our two-click rule.

EDITED WARNING: It appears that a software hiccup means that the noparse-command can be undone. PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS APPROACH.
[del]- The best and easiest approach is to use the tags [noparse][noparse] and [/noparse][/noparse], put around the link. Those tags will disable a link, but leave it visible so those who want to go there can do so via cut-and-paste into their browser. Be sure to alert folks that the link is not workplace-safe! (Note that the quote tags will preserve the noparse tags.)
You type: [noparse][noparse]http://www.straightdope.com[/noparse][/noparse]
You get: [noparse]http://www.straightdope.com[/noparse][/del]

  • Use spoiler tags around the link. This will hide the link under a spoiler black-out, and those who want to go there will have to click twice (once to SHOW the spoiler and once on the link.) Please be sure that there is some alert OUTSIDE THE SPOILER TAGS to let folks know that the link is not workplace safe. Again, the quote tags will preserve the spoiler tags.
    You type: [noparse]Link to a nude picture, not workplace safe: http://www.marilynmonroe.com/about/photos.html[/noparse]
    You get: Link to a nude picture, not workplace safehttp://www.marilynmonroe.com/about/photos.html
    Note the warning is OUTSIDE the spoiler tags. And note that spoiler tags can double-nest, for added security.

  • Deliberately mess the link – for example, putting in extra spaces or an extra character. Anyone who wants to go to the site can do so, just by cutting and pasting and removing the extra bit; but no one can click there inadvertently.

  • Use an indirect approach, requiring a second link. For instance, you post a link to some innocuous entry screen or home page, from which the person clicks on some button (told to click on Photo 342, say) to get to the NSFW material.

  • It is also possible (but not desirable) to turn off the button below the entry screen, “Automatically parse links in text.” That way, someone will have to activate the link first, so that anyone going there will be doing so deliberately. This is not a recommended approach, since if anyone quotes that prior post, the link will be re-activated. Use of either (a) the [noparse][noparse] and [/noparse][/noparse] tags or (b) [noparse] and [/noparse] is better.
    Please warn people about slow-downloading sites
    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.
    No jack-in-the-box links
    We’re tired of seeing that site with a picture that has a face jumping up with a scream, or similar. If you’re going to post a link to that site, or another site that is intended to startle/annoy by a sudden sound/image, check with a staff member first.

Generally, you may not directly insult or personally attack other posters. The strictness of this rule varies a bit by forum, but the basic rule is that you should attack what the other person says, not the other person. This rule applies to all insults, including jokes and quotes from books & movies, as others may not get the joke. Using smilies (e.g., “You’re a jerk ;)”) does not make insults okay.

The only exception is the forum called The BBQ Pit, where flaming other posters is permitted, although even the Pit does have rules. Please read the Forum Rules for the BBQ Pit before posting there.

Hate speech directed against any race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, or gender is a violation of our rules in any forum, as outlined in the Registration Agreement.

And please note the difference between an insult directed against a person and an insult against a large group.
ACCEPTABLE: “Anyone who likes the music of Enema is soulless and lacks taste in music.”
NOT ACCEPTABLE: “You like Enema’s music? Then you’re soulless and have no taste in music.”

Falsely attributing a quote to another SDMB user, or modifying another’s post in order to cast him/her in a bad light, is grounds for revocation of your posting privileges. We allow parody quotes under certain conditions. Here are the permissible options:

a. Quote attributed to real SDMB user. Quote must be accurate, whether displayed using

tags or ordinary quotation marks. Normal editorial rules apply: that is, you may indicate omitted portions of a quote by the use of ellipses “…” or devices such as [snip]. You may add text to clarify a word using square brackets (e.g., “her [the sister’s] friend”), but you may not add editorial comments or edit a quote so as to change the substantive meaning; nor may you substitute text such as “some blather” or “more nonsense” inside the

tags or quotation marks. This applies to all forums including the Pit.

b. Unattributed quote (no name). Unattributed parody quotes are permitted in all forums provided they don’t violate other SDMB rules.

c. Parody attribution. In the Pit only, parody quotes may be attributed to a parody username, provided that (a) the parody username is obviously satirical - we’ll be the judge of obviousness; and (b) no other rules are violated. Quotes attributed to parody usernames are not permitted in other forums.


  • The mods don’t routinely check quotes for accuracy. If you see a violation of the above rules, please report it.

  • The above rules apply to quotes of SDMB users only. We encourage accurate quoting of off-board individuals in a serious discussion; links are recommended. If it becomes apparent you’re derailing a discussion with fake or misleading quotes of off-board individuals, we reserve the right to take action.

We allow you to edit your own post within a five-minute window of posting. We’ve felt obliged to put in a time limit to avoid abuse, such as re-writing history. What you’ve said is what you’ve said.

If you’ve made a serious typographical error – bad coding, say, or typing “now” when you meant “not” – and the five minute window is gone, then email a Moderator. (Or, REPORT the post above or below yours, and be sure to be clear what you mean.) We’ll be glad to fix it for you.

Ignore list - After much deliberation, we decided to keep the ignore list (and buddy list) available to members. Part of the reason we were hesitant is because we didn’t want to see flame wars caused by PosterX telling PosterY “you can say whatever you want to me, I don’t care because you’re on my ignore list.”

Hinting that any particular person or group of people is on your ignore list is very strictly frowned upon. Revealing the usernames of people on your ignore list is forbidden at this board outside of the forum called BBQ Pit

Buddy Lists - Basically, the same rules apply. Try to be discreet about who’s on your buddy list, and don’t use it as a tool to irritate / hurt the feelings of other members.

For the curious: there is no way to tell (for example in your options screen) if you are on someone’s ignore or buddy list.

Who can use signatures?
Anybody can type a signoff at the end of a post, or may have signatures set up in their profiles (to set one up, click “User CP” on the menu bar at the top of each page, and then choose “Edit Signature” from the menu on the left).

How long can my profile signature be?
Your signature should not be more than 4 lines in length (including blank lines) when the browser window is seen on an average size monitor. If your signature is deemed too long, then a staff member may ask you to change it and/or change it for you.

Can my signature have links to my blog or website in it?
Provisionally, yes.

Are there limits on what I can link to in my signature?
The link must be to a site you have a personal interest in or association with; you can’t act as someone else’s agent to post links. Links to sites promoting porn, criminal enterprises, or other ventures that in our opinion are at odds with the Straight Dope’s ignorance-fighting mission are strictly forbidden.

How many times should I include my signature in a thread?
Once per thread should be sufficient for people to admire the pearl of wisdom included in your signature. If you post multiple times in a thread it is recommended that you only include the signature in one of your posts.

What if I copy and paste the same text at the end of each of my posts? That’s not a profile signature.
As mentioned above, text included at the end of all your posts is indistinguishable from a profile signature and should follow the rules for profile signatures and links. However, see below about simple signoffs.

Are there any other restrictions?
Please do not use signatures that distract users with large fonts, flashy colors, and other oddities. Signatures are meant to make a statement without taking away from the discussion in the thread.

**I like to sign my name at the end of each of my posts. Is that OK? **
You can do a simple signoff of the form:

[complimentary close - optional]
[your name]

… at the end of each post. By “complimentary close” we mean some brief valedictory such as “regards,” “peace,” etc. Please don’t push the envelope.

If you want to change your username, or if you forgot your password, please please please do NOT just register under a new username. Contact any Moderator, and we’ll be glad to assist you in getting your name changed. A list of moderators may be found here.

We want people to be responsible for their posts. There is history and there are consequences to what you post. We do not permit “sock puppets” for exactly that reason – they are a way of not taking responsibility for what you post, and of trying to avoid consequences. That’s not acceptable here.

It’s similar with name changes. If you re-register under a different name, you’ve severed the contact with the old name. That’s not acceptable. We’re happy to change your name and it will reflect throughout your history.

Well, we’re happy to change your name once. Twice, you’d need a damn good reason. We’re not about to change your name every other week.

(This post is deliberately blank to re-order stickies on the front page)