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This question is linked to one of my answers in OR Stack Exchange, but I will not provide a link because I want to protect the identity of the person(s) involved in the story below. If you are reading this, I urge you to please ignore the individual(s) (it could have been anyone), and focus on raising awareness on the behavior instead. It is the kind of behavior we might be used to and tend to look the other way, especially in old-fashioned math environments. It is a sign of people's ignorance, not bad intentions, and this post is about saying that this is not ok.

If you are one of the people involved, shame on you.

So, I originally made an incorrect assumption (quite basic mistake really), and answered an OP's question incorrectly. This was pointed out to me in the comments, so I acknowledged my mistake, edited the answer by crediting the person who pointed out the error, and as far as I can tell the answer is now correct, and of course very different from its original form.

Up to this point, everything is very healthy and normal to me. What happened next, less so.

The person who pointed out my mistake, and whom I credited for the fix, now had complaints about how my new (correct) answer was discussing other things, which of course it did, it was edited and I maintained the narrative of the original answer.

I invited this person to chat (mainly to thank them for pointing out my mistake and to avoid bloating the thread), but somehow they felt that the way they should follow up my thanking them was to publicly post that my (now correct) answer should be withdrawn, and then disappearing.

Soon after, the OP (incorrectly) told me my answer was wrong, and another user who wrote an answer to the question (and did not actually answer the OP's question as directly as I did), suggested that I should withdraw it, also without further explanation.

This is an account of the events that transpired, which leads me to the question:

Are our users supposed to withdraw an answer that is correct simply because they didn't get it right on their first try? Do we prefer to punish people even after they fix their answer just to discourage mistakes?

This behavior is disturbing and feels toxic to me because this is not the way I operate nor do business or science, neither offline nor online. It is the responsibility of all of us to speak out against bad behavior because this is the only way to protect the members of our community.

I believe in people's right to make as many mistakes as they want and I help them iterate until they get it right, and I expect to be treated the same way. This behavior comes across as bullying to me, especially since the user in question has more reputation than I do and hence their word carries more weight. The way everyone else perceived my answer was affected by that, especially considering my answer had 3 upvotes before that person got involved. I started getting downvotes once a user with higher reputation suggested that I delete my answer, even though the answer was now correct. Weirdly, being open about making a mistake seemed to make things worse.

Just to be clear here, it's not like my feelings are hurt or anything. I make my living in the solver industry so I have this kind of behavior for breakfast, and I rain down fire when I identify it. We are not children, and this is not ok.

It is perfectly fine to point out mistakes and post new answers if we feel we have something better to contribute. It is less fine to bomb other people's work and then disappear.

I always have and always will speak out against bullying, especially in science, and against people who abuse their authority (even without realising it), as virtual and benign as it might be in this case. Most of the time people don't even realise how their behavior comes across, which is why it's important to speak out and say this is not ok.

I feel very strongly about maintaining an environment where people feel safe to make mistakes because in my view this is the point of this platform - to discuss, learn, and help each other.

I of course feel very uncomfortable discussing this because it not my intent to damage people's reputations. This is not about the people, it is about the behavior.

I am sharing how this whole shebang came across to me as the recipient of this behavior. I might be off the mark, and this post is not meant to blame anyone or to accuse people. I am a big man, and I will get over it, but other people, especially young people will never come back to the website if they are treated like this.

Btw, I am perfectly aware that simply because I perceived this in a certain way it does not mean I am right. Again, this is not to accuse people. My intent is to openly talk about how we should treat people here and what is or is not ok, especially if we want this community to grow, and retain young people who are very much mindful of being bullied or witnessing bullying.

Therefore, it is my responsibility to say that I felt bullied for making a mistake, and I am here to say that this is not ok.

I want to know what the community thinks, especially our moderators.

Is this the kind of place where people should just delete their answer if they don't get it right from the get-go? Is this the kind of place where I can doom someone's contribution to downvotes simply because I have more reputation without providing an explanation or helping them get it right? Is this the kind of place where people should feel unsafe about speaking their mind?

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry that you had to witness and even be on the receiving end of such behavior and thank you for writing this post. $\endgroup$ – EhsanK Mod Mar 15 '20 at 15:26
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I agree with @EhsanK's answer about maintaining a civil tone in comments. I also want to add that it is 100% OK to get answers wrong, and to correct them. There is no need to withdraw an answer if you stand by it, even if the answer was originally wrong and has now been corrected.

Note that I'm not vouching for the correctness, or lack thereof, of any particular answer. I'm just saying that as a general policy, there's no problem correcting an answer and having it remain in place.

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You can find several similar posts on Meta SE about the tone of some comments or how to deal with those who are rude or just trolling. If I summarize the best action in all of what I read it comes down to this:

Flag the comment as "It's unfriendly or unkind. This comment is rude or condescending." or "Something else/Other" for moderator attention.

Now, one of those posts I came across was "Let's hold language in comments to the same standard as posts" which has a checklist for all of us to follow. I post the checklist here as well:

If folks do the following things:

  • Avoid unnecessary sarcasm (which, especially online, is almost all sarcasm). There are ways to get it right, but it's hard, and opportunities to nail it are rare
  • Avoid subtle put-downs and rhetorical statements like "Did you even try Googling?" or "Are you too lazy to run it and see?"
  • Avoid accidental misinterpretation of your comment by being deliberately explicit about your intent. For instance, if the question is about 'foomatic': "I'm not asking rhetorically; I really want to help you with this, I just want to be sure you also searched for 'foomatic'" is a lot better than "Did you even search? what for?"
  • Flag not just comments that clearly cross into the territory of being rude, but also those that seem more like condescending / mean-spirited 'jabs' than actually attempts to help someone (use "Other" if it seems problematic, but doesn't quite fall into obviously rude)
  • Lead by example by spending 50 - 100 more characters to deliberately show that you at least considered how someone would receive your comment
  • Refrain from commenting if you're not willing to make an earnest attempt to check for tone. Remember, comments under questions can be more visible than answers, and we're all accountable to the perception they create
  • Try not to provide full answers in comments; if you end up working a problem out in comments, please move it to an answer. We know you're trying to help, but the system expects answers to questions. If we're reiterating that comments are ephemeral (and they are), we have to caution against leaving good information in them that needs to last, too

... we'd be in a much better place.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, that makes sense - I will flag the comments as appropriate. $\endgroup$ – Nikos Kazazakis Mar 15 '20 at 22:35

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