What constitute personal insults in Great Debates

I got a formal warning from **Marley23 **for personal insults in Great Debates for this comment.


In response to this Post by ITR

Which I found very condescending. And the phrase ‘an intellectual like you’ was a personal insult meant to imply I was a phony intellectual (aka an idiot). So I asked Marley23 if we are allowed to hint at insults but not use them directly. He said no, and said ask the question here.
However in this thread Blake and wmfellows were fighting back and forth.

And instead of offering a formal warning, Marley23 offered an informal one.
I am confused. When it comes to personal insults what separates a moderator not noticing/caring from giving an informal warning from giving a formal warning?

What separates a personal insult from comments not being a personal insult and what separates formal warnings from informal ones from moderators not even bringing it up? Why is the phrase ‘an intellectual like you’ not even worth an informal warning while ‘without being an asshole’ is worth a formal warning? Both are hinting at insults (one implies being stupid, the other implies being rude) without being direct.

It was. We don’t encourage that, but condescension or terseness is not the same thing as insulting someone. Maybe I should have told ITR Champion to cool it as well, but he didn’t break a rule. We don’t encourage condescension and rudeness, and we might tell people to tone it down, but we don’t give warnings for it for the most part. Personal insults, like calling someone an asshole, are against the rules. And if you insult someone indirectly by saying he’s a moron, that’s still against the rules.

Blake and wmfellows got testy with each other, but the rudest comment was probably “what’s your bloody problem of late?” That’s impolite but they didn’t insult each other. I told them to tone it down but I don’t think “mate” and "cobber’ deserve a warning. They’re sarcastic barbs but not insults.

It seems that personal attack around here translates very specifically to calling someone a bad name. This is an extremely odd interpretation to me. To me it merely means you attacked the person, not the post–you didn’t comment on what was said, you commented on the character of the person.

From what Marley is saying, it seems it is okay to insult someone by being sarcastic. So it seems someone could come up with a nice word that would work. Angel? Niceguy? I guess I’m alone in finding sarcasm to be 100 times more insulting.

As for the OP’s quote: replace “being an asshole” with “acting like a jerk,” which is all it really means. It’s a personal insult that’s in the freakin’ rules, so I don’t see how you can get in trouble for it. (Think about it. For a mod to accuse someone of breaking it, they have to call the person a jerk. A bad name is a bad name.)

Being condescending ought to be against the rules, since its purpose is to make the other person mad–perhaps even to get them to break the rules.

I can’t speak for GD specifically, but I can speak for the SDMBs in general. We’ve wrestled with this in the past, BigT, and we’re always torn between two opposing desires for the SDMB. On the one hand, we want people to be polite and civil and have interesting discussions, without degenerating into the kinds of crap one finds on other discussion boards. On the other hand, we don’t want to be restricting people’s speech, censoring, or limiting what a poster can say. We usually come down on the side of not wanting to prohibit any more than we have to. We want to encourage free expression, even of ideas that we don’t like.

We thus draw the line fairly carefully. We don’t want to tell people they can’t be sarcastic or condescending, snide or cleverly poking.* So, there are clear insults like “You’re being an asshole” that get warnings. And there are less clear insults like “You’re being too intellectual.”

Yep, that’s pretty much it. That’s a fairly clear distinction. There’s always some grey area, of course, but that’s a simple guide and what we use.

I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying here, but the mods are exempt from the name-calling TO THE EXTENT that they do have to say, “You’re breaking this-or-that rule.” Thus, mods can indeed (in formal and informal warnings) tell someone “You’re being a jerk” or “Stop trolling.” In this case, it’s shorthand for “Your last post showed evidence of violating one of our rules, viz., being a jerk.” Otherwise, mods are subject to the same rules against name-calling as everyone else. Is that what you meant?

  • [sup]At a certain point, of course, poking, prodding, etc becomes jerkish behavior, and then we do step in. But that’s in extreme cases, usually. And that’s when people aren’t being clever or amusing in their method. :)[/sup]

I think you’ll be somewhat lonely in finding “angel” more insulting than “asshole,” yes. Don’t get me wrong, we discourage rudeness, but for the most part we restrict ourselves to banning personal insults, not rudeness, sarcasm, or some other things. You can be sarcastic in expressing your opinions. It might not be the most helpful thing in a debate but I don’t think it’s practical for us to demand nobody ever be sarcastic. We ask that people be civil and mostly that means they shouldn’t insult each other.

Because it’s insulting and because in the context of a rules violation, it’s junior modding, which is unhelpful.

Condescension’s more difficult to define than insults, for the most part, although I am in agreement that ITR Champion was being condescending. If we broaden the rule from “don’t insult people” to “don’t be condescending, rude, snide, sarcastic” and so on I think that would make things a lot less fun around here. People can’t call each other names but the tone here does take some cues from the Straight Dope column, where Cecil does all of those things. And he gets to insult people, but then, he’s Cecil.

Well, at least I’ve gotten you to admit that a mod is above the rules. That’s a start.

And I don’t see how saying someone is “acting like a jerk” is a violation, as I am obviously addressing the post, not the poster.

Okay, so that was a bit out of line. I’m sure you found it insulting, too, but, what you seem to be saying here is that I won’t be punished for that. We’ll see.

I was also tempted to add in the word angel, just for kicks. I’m pretty sure I could make it more insulting than the other words. But it was a bad example. Perhaps this would be better (not directed at anyone in particular. I’m too chicken to test that.)

“You are the smartest person I have ever met. You’re the only person I know who can redefine words in such a way that you aren’t guilty. I mean, it doesn’t make you a hypocrite at all. In fact, you are most definitely NOT an asshole.”

My point is that you guys are creating your own loopholes, and essentially encouraging people to use them. Tuba once asked why people seem to enjoy taking pot shots at one another. This is why–you give people just enough leeway to make other people mad, but not enough for that person to fight back in any decisive way. This creates an environment of hatred between these two people. And, so they are going to attempt to hurt each other as much as they can, without getting in trouble themselves.

Man, my example should have been,

“If the only way you can have fun is to denigrate others, than you are the very definition of a jerk.”

It’s condescending, but it doesn’t insult anyone in particular.

My impression is you are allowed to make direct insults as long as they use sarcasm and irony.

For example, being direct and saying ‘you are an idiot’ is not allowed, but saying ‘it must be hard being so smart, I bet the nobel committee is knocking down your door’ is ok.

Saying ‘an intellectual like you’ is a way of saying ‘an idiot like you’ using irony and sarcasm, which is a personal insult. So perhaps if I had responded to ITR by saying ‘without being such a considerate person’ instead of ‘without being an asshole’ that would’ve been ok.

Point is, personal insults directed at someone seem ok as long as you use sarcasm and irony rather than being direct.


Okay, I promise this is my last post on this subject (unless someone specifically addresses me.) I know you guys frown on multiple posts in a row.

I’m not sure I made my point clear, and I engaged in a bit of hyperbole. I think what you call “merely condescending” is just a hidden personal attack. I don’t think people should be rewarded for finding ways to insult people. It’s just finding a loophole in the rules.

The tone in Cecil’s column seems to more be affectionate teasing (what seems to be called snark around here). And I have no problem with that. But there was nothing affectionate about the insult that started this thread. It was specifically meant to denigrate the person. It violated the rule (that tomndebb has told me only exists in GD) that one should not attack the person, but the post.

I am a big fan of words being defined in context. In the context given, intellectual has the opposite of it’s usual meaning. The poster using it was definitely engaging in an ad hominem, i.e. insulting the post and not the poster. This is not supposed to be allowed in GD. And I feel that the poster got away with it because of a technicality. It wasn’t just condescending.

I do think you guys generally do a good job. I just see these small outliers, and think you could do just a little bit better. I hope you guys do not feel insulted.

Aah! I can’t believe it took me more than five minutes to recognize the addition of Wesley Clark’s post, which wasn’t there when I started the previous one. (I was trying to make it as perfect as possible.) Forgive me, but I find ignoring a poster to be insulting, so I’ll go ahead and include my addition in this post.

ETA: While what you [Wesley] are saying seems to agree with what they are saying, it doesn’t agree with “Insult the post, not the poster.” I’m starting to think that rule doesn’t really exist. This is a shame, as it makes debate completely pointless. Yay indeed.

Wesley Clark notes that “being direct and saying ‘you are an idiot’ is not allowed”. But apparently “I’m not saying you’re an idiot but, your posts suggest that” is perfectly acceptable. As, apparently, is “you are a pathological liar on this issue”. Or at least if you say those things and it is reported, no action will be forthcoming from the Moderators.

See the posts here and here.
In the first example someone proclaims that another poster is “not entirely sane on the subject”. In the second, someone declares that they would not “call me a liar, but…”

I reported these posts, and so far no Moderator response has been forthcoming, which leads me to believe that such statements are perfectly acceptable.

These seem to be a perfect example of what is being discussed here. People coming up with “clever” ways to insult people. And these are far more blatant than the ones cited earlier.

Yesterday, someone in thisGQ thread was warned for saying that only a dick would take a certain action. Yet here we see people very “cleverly” calling someone else insane and calling someone else a liar getting away with it.

I would have thought that if you can’t call another poster a liar and you can’t call another poster insane, and can’t even *imply *that poster is a dick, then these sorts of comments would also be verboten. But apparently not. guess the rationalisation is that these statements are technically not attacking the poster, so they get a pass. But that is the sort of “letter-not-the-spirit” nitpicking that I’d expect from a 6 year old. And a 6 year old wouldn’t get away with it either.

I really would like a Moderator to comment on this issue. Is it now acceptable to use these sorts of backdoor methods to insult other posters? What are the limits to this

Can I say “You’re batshit insane on this issue” and get away with it?

Can I say “you’re lying on this issue” and get away with it?

Can I say “I won’t call you a dick, but your posts here suggest that” and get away with it?

Can I say “I won’t say you’re a goat-felching, child rapist but your posts here suggest that” and get away with it?

Seriously, I would like clarification on these points. I could almost understand if the Moderators thought the comments I reported were borderline, so no official warning was issued. But for them to be ignored altogether seems incredible.

I’ve tried to keep out of these discussions on Moderator inconsistency, but these two, particularly the one directed at Der Trihs are just too baffling to easily ignore, especially in light of the decision that you can;t say that behaviour is dickish. They seem like direct insults, yet they elicited no response at all form the Moderators when reported.

What are you really looking for here, Blake? I thought Dex summed it up pretty well (quoted below). Are you looking for a laundry list of pre-approved insults that you can use? Are you looking for pre-disapproved insults that you can report?

Our point is that we don’t want to bring in the lawyers and write a 20-page definition of “insult,” nor are we trying to play mini-SCOTUS and develop a body of precedent that ties the hands of both the moderators and the members. Our preference would be for people to embrace the spirit of the “don’t be a jerk” and “don’t insult other posters” rules, and just disagree in a civil fashion.

The problem with that is you end up in situations like mine where someone uses sarcasm and irony to call me an idiot, and when I use a direct insult to refer to them as an asshole in retaliation I get an official warning and the other person gets no warning (official or unofficial).

And as warnings build up I risk being banned or censured in some other fashion. That is what bothers me. There are penalties to getting official warnings. I can’t speak for Blake’s situation, but had I only gotten an unofficial warning I don’t think the issue would bother me. But official warnings carry penalties as they build up.

Why would Warnings build up?
You have been through one event where you reponded to sarcasm with direct name calling and were Warned for that action. Do you intend to resort to name calling in future encounters?

Quite often the reason quoted for someone being banned is that they had a bunch of warnings. It’s never been mentioned that they had to be for the same thing.

And I don’t think this is a good idea. While a single Warning could be for something that was an accident, multiple warnings imply blatant disregard for the rules. It becomes probable that the person will break the rules again in the future.

In my user CP it says a warning for personal insults never expires (it also says it is worth 0 points). I don’t intend to resort to name calling, however with the vagueness of the rules (both for attacks and counterattacks) combined with the fact that warnings may never expire, I do not know what that means long term as far as membership.

In another thread the Admin said a few warnings really don’t mean anything as long as it isn’t a pattern, so I’m not really concerned about the issue.

Simple answers to my simple questions.

I’m looking for clarification on the acceptability of apparent insults that already have been used. If someone is going to call Der Trihs batshit crazy in GD, why should he not be able to respond in kind for fear of overstepping some invisible line.

These aren’t subtle, debatable jabs, are they?

Someone called me a liar by saying “I won’t call you a a liar… but all your actions say you are”.

Someone called der trihs a lunatic by saying “I know this will insult you and I don’t care: your completely insane… on this topic”. They actually aknowledged in advance that they knew what they were saying was insulting.

I can understand that you don’t want to print a list of acceptable insults. But these insults have already been used, and they have been reported, and they received no moderator response at all.

I am asking why they did not even receive even an unofficial admonishment. If you won’t explain why when I ask, then really we are left with no alternative than the obvious: that these insults are now perfectly acceptable.

And getting lawyers involved? Come on.

You can warn and then ban a poster for saying “That action you engaged in was the action of a dick”. But suddenly you need lawyers to unofficially caution a poster who says “That action you engaged in was the action of a liar” or "“That action you engaged in was the action of a lunatic”.

Come off the grass.

You really need to better than that. If you had admitted that the Moderation in these cases was inconsistent, I could accept that. But to say that there’s such a gulf between these examples that one gets an immediate warning and the others get ignored because it requires legal advice to sort out?

Get real.

Great. So how about when we report posters doing exactly that, you either respond, or explain, when asked, why you don’t respond? Is that realy too much to ask?

Disagreeing in a civil fashion is wonderful, but when someone starts saying "your actions are those of a liar"or “your actions are those of a lunatic”, that is hardly civil, now is it?

You guys want us to report insulting and jerkish behaviour, right? You don’t want us to respond with our own insults and jerkery, right? So hep us out. When we report these blatant insults to you, the least you could do is explain your reasoning in failing to even acknowledge them.

It is ludicrous to give one poster an official warning (that leads to his banning) for simply saying that a certain type of behaviour was dickish, while ignoring another poster calling someone mad or a liar.

As Wesley Clark notes, that leaves us posters in a position where it is impossible to know what responses are appropriate. If we report someone for saying our actions make us insane or liars, we are likely to get absolutely no response. And if we reply in kind by saying that their actions make them dicks, we are likely to get official warnings.

And apparently “I won’t say you’re being an asshole, but…” and “You’re being an asshole on this subject” are so unclear that they get a complete pass. Not even an unofficial warning. Der trihs has been insulted at least three times in this manner in that thread. And no Mod response at all.

Does anybody actually believe these insults are unclear? Does anybody believe that either of those statements is anything less than saying “You’re being an asshole”?

I will take a stab at these using just common sense and what I know of the rules lets see how the mod’s agree.

1.) Very borderline more acceptable would be I strongly disagree with your views on this subject. I doubt repeated use of this would be tolerated.

2.) Acceptable if you provide a cite to back up your assertion. People do lie and should be called out on it.

3.) Buzz common sense says you’re being a jerk

4.) Buzz again common sense says its a jerk thing to say.

Blake I haven’t seen the thread with Der trihs but if its anything like 3, and 4 its a clear insult. You are saying it with out saying it is just plain old saying it on the internet. When its readable on your screen and to others its no longer something you are just thinking aloud in your head.