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Regarding: Am I being a "mean" instructor, denying an extension on a take home exam

Discussion has been extensive and the tone has been ramping up. But that's not what motivates my Meta question. Rather, I am writing because I see several red flags suggesting the OP is behaving like a provocateur. I don't know the gender of OP but for simplicity I will use he.

Here are the red flags I see:

  1. OP has been increasingly argumentative. OP has posted a question on Academia SE. If he is not happy with the analysis and opinions other users have shared, he is free to take them on board or ignore them. Nothing is accomplished by arguing, around and around. When he has disagreed with someone, he has added no documented or documentable information, or new logical points, he has only just cranked up the volume.

    As an example, OP wrote a comment in response to the answer by Mayou36 which clearly stated he wasn't interested in other users' opinions. I'm afraid I can't quote the comment, because I neglected to copy it before I flagged it, and it has now been removed.

    Currently visible example: "this answer is just trying to demonize me."

  2. OP has been hypercritical of one of his students, which is tangential to his question. This has gotten now to the point of a personal attack on an individual student, who is under age. (To be clear: I am NOT saying that personally identifiable information about the student has been revealed.)

  3. OP's "case" against the student keeps growing, ad infinitum. The OP has been gradually adding scattered additional information about the original question through multiple comment threads. Although the best case scenario is to include all relevant information in the original question, I appreciate that more is sometimes elicited through comments. Then OP should add it to the question, either by incorporating it into the text of the question, or by creating an addendum at the bottom of the question.

    More and more disorganized diatribe about the student keeps getting added here and there and everywhere. Examples: "The student did refer to his other classes as 'a joke;'" "I know the school and I can confirm that it is an inner city school with extremely low standards and they teach 99% to just pass the standard exams... I've even heard they give mult choice tests where the answer is always the longest response."

My question: what can be done in such a case, where an OP is baiting SE participants and attacking an individual, who is under age? How can we make clear that provocateur-like behavior is unacceptable on Academia SE?

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  • I just noted that your title and last sentence ask something different … – Wrzlprmft Dec 6 '16 at 6:52
  • @Wrzlprmft - Oops, you're right. Okay, I took out the last part because I don't think that without moderator help we would have enough unity of purpose. But I also took out "moderators" from the title, to allow for community support, and to make it more vague. – aparente001 Dec 6 '16 at 9:50
  • Re: original title, I think you misunderstand the role of diamond moderators on SE. Moderators have a very specific set of "extra" abilities, mainly: deleting comments, migrating questions, suspending users who repeatedly/knowingly violate SE policies, and seeing parts of users' profiles that are not visible to "regular" users (mostly to aid in finding sock puppet accounts, etc). (Other less commonly used moderator abilities: renaming/merging tags, redacting edit histories to remove personal information at the OP's request, locking posts in an edit war, editing "on topic" page in the help center.) – ff524 Dec 6 '16 at 18:19
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    Most of the "moderation" that goes on here is actually community moderation. If you're asking diamond moderators to do something that doesn't involve one of those special abilities, it might not be something that's within the moderators' role. – ff524 Dec 6 '16 at 18:45
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I have not followed the question in question very much, but I think a more general answer is more useful and desired anyway. I answer under the assumption that your assertions on the situation are true, but this is not to be taken as an assessment of that specific situation.

There are several mostly separate issues here:

OP has been increasingly argumentative.

When he has disagreed with someone, he has added no documented or documentable information, or new logical points, he has only just cranked up the volume.

This is a typical issue. Do not let this provoke you. If you feel that no new arguments have been added, state this in a friendly manner once. Should the opponent to continue to comment, ignore them. If you feel that the comments degrade into noise or offensive territory, flag them.

OP has been hypercritical of one of his students, which is tangential to his question.

This has gotten now to the point of a personal attack on an individual student, who is under age.

If the attacks happen in the question or answer, edit them to a more neutral description, stating this as an edit reason. Should these edits be rolled back by the author, flag the respective post for moderator attention, and leave it at that.

Should the attacks happen in a comment, this comment is probably leading nowhere anyway. Flag for deletion. Should the comment be relevant, include the information in the respective question or answer and make it neutral on the way. Then flag the comment for deletion.

Sidenote: I do not think that the underage aspect should affect any of this. Whether somebody deserves to be talked about in a condescending manner is irrespective of age.

OP's "case" against the student keeps growing, ad infinitum.

Then OP should add it to the question, either by incorporating it into the text of the question, or by creating an addendum at the bottom of the question.

Addenda should be avoided. There is no reason to document the history of a question as the edit history already does this.

Apart from this, it does not sound as if the information in question is any relevant, so just ignore the respective comments or flag them. Should they be relevant, edit them to the question yourself (see above), then flag.

Should the question change to an extent that the current answers are invalidated, ask the asker to stop editing / adding information. Should this not work, flag for moderator attention.

General reaction to provocative behaviour

Slightly increasing provocations are the hallmark behaviour of trolls¹ who feed on aggressive reactions from regular users. The best behaviour is not to feed the troll: Stay calm and friendly, assuming good intention, in face of first provocations. Most trolls show their real face if they run against this. If this happens, stop reacting, and flag possibly inappropriate content. Should the provocations stop, there was no troll to begin with or they have retreated. Either way, the good guys win.


¹ Just to be on the safe side, I repeat that this is not to be taken as an assessment of the example situation.

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  • "Should the attacks happen in a comment, this comment is probably leading nowhere anyway. Flag for deletion." Does it matter what reason one gives in the flag -- if so, which do you suggest? – aparente001 Dec 5 '16 at 21:31
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    @aparente001 either "not constructive" or "too chatty". Probably in these cases "not constructive" as comments are designed to improve the question/answer. – StrongBad Dec 5 '16 at 21:42
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For what it's worth, I don't find the OP's site behavior to be problematic.

Fundamentally the OP did invite critique by posting the question in the first place. (This also serves as a passing comment on another meta question, which I believe is calling me to task for being overly critical of the OP's behavior, including use of the word "obnoxious." But that's almost literally what he asked for: critical discussion of his behavior.) This means that he was fundamentally more open to hearing other perspectives than someone who would not seek to post such a question.

In my dealings with the OP in the course of my answer and other comments, I felt like he was for the most part taking in what I was saying. He was also defending himself, which seems perfectly natural. I know very few people who respond to criticism (even criticism they invited) without some defensiveness.

Is (again, as the question directly asks!) the OP being a bit "mean" with regards to the student? Well, the gist of my answer (already one of my most popular answers on this site, which is a bit weird but so it goes) is yes. But again, the possibility of that is what brought him here in the first place. I don't agree that the OP is engaging on a "personal attack" on his underage student. I would presume that the student is not active on this site or reading this question, and if he is then I don't see how this would cause him any particular distress. In fact the OP doesn't say anything truly personal about the student; he just describes him as a student. Again, I emphasize that much of my answer urges the treatment of students with more compassion, fairness and professionalism than the OP seems to have evinced in the situation...but I still don't see anything out of line or inappropriate here.

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Through a wall of text, the linked question asks if what happened was acceptable procedure. @PeteL.Clark's answer in particular makes an excellently argued case that it was not. While the situation is somewhat unique/novelistic, his answer alone makes me strongly object to deleting the question, but probably also to closing it.

I think (and might be wrong) that few people other than OP of this question felt triggered by what is currently visible in the linked question - or, in my opinion, could justly feel so. There are some sharp remarks in comments one direction and the other, but nothing too bad. This means that the current procedures in place, and the actions of moderators, are well able to handle like cases within the current framework, relying on community feedback of course. If anything, it shows that academia.se is quite healthy.

I hope it stays that way, and keeps questioning when a user feeling offended by a thread represents a sizable part of its community, and when not.

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  • Originally a comment to Strongbad's answer, but it seemed to make additional points. – gnometorule Dec 5 '16 at 22:17
  • Maybe it does ask if something is an "acceptable procedure", but comments by the OP make me think otherwise. If that is the question, then an edit to highlight that would be really useful. I think then everything about the student could be deleted. – StrongBad Dec 5 '16 at 23:06
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In this case, my preference would be to close the question. I am not sure what the actual question is and whatever it is, it doesn't seem like a good fit for our site. Given the up votes, as a moderator, I am not going to act unilaterally. In this case, closing the question as "unclear what you are asking" would probably resolve the situation.

Sometimes when discussion type questions are not getting closed, you can bring attention to them in chat, like I have.

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  • I'm going to ask a question for my own understanding: how would closing the question help? How would that stem the flow of negative remarks from the OP about the student and his school and his cousins and his aunts? – aparente001 Dec 5 '16 at 22:48
  • It would either result in an edit making the question clearer which would in turn lead to better more concise answers and less discussion or make the question go away and get eventually deleted. – StrongBad Dec 5 '16 at 23:02
  • Sorry if this is a stupid question, but how does it make the question go away? – aparente001 Dec 5 '16 at 23:06
  • @aparente001 closed questions cannot be answered, eventually drift off the front page, and high rep users can vote to delete questions that cannot be salvaged. – StrongBad Dec 5 '16 at 23:09

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