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A Code of Conduct, dare I say it


TL;DR: I've just created a Code of Conduct, and I'd like your feedback on it.

Let's see if we can make a better go of this than Stack Exchange, hey?

It's mostly based on the Community Covenant CoC, with some adaptations to make it make more sense as applied here.

Have a read through, and leave any feedback you have in an answer here. I'll make the document mod-editable, so it's not just me who can make changes to it. While the current state of the document is the sort of thing I'd recommend using, it's up to you exactly how you want it to read - the only strong recommendation I'd make is that some form of CoC is almost always necessary.

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7 answers


I was hoping that our code of conduct could be something closer to the "be nice" model, something like this:

  • Be respectful and polite.
  • Presume everyone else is doing so, too.
  • Be open to constructive feedback.
  • Well-meaning people on a worldwide, multi-cultural platform can accidentally say things that are taken poorly. If you're on either side of such a misunderstanding, presume good faith and try to work it out amicably.
  • We will not tolerate harassment based on any personal characteristic.
  • If you see something, say something (privately in a flag or constructively in public). We take violations seriously and will follow up.

I really don't think we need a bunch of bullet points about what specifically counts as harassment and which special groups we protect and so on. If anybody feels like something abusive is happening, we need to deal with it without getting into rules-lawyering ("you didn't say Pastafarians are off-limits!" or whatever).

Plus, mine's short enough that people who read any of it will read all of it.

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Yup, I did wonder about the length of it. One of the things that I have picked up in looking around at this stuff is a general sense that to make groups that are commonly discriminated against feel safe, there needs to be some specific acknowledgement of harassment - not necessarily the giant list of things that's in there, but perhaps adding a bullet point of "we will not tolerate harassment based on any personal characteristic", o.e., would go some way towards that. ArtOfCode‭ 12 months ago

That works. I want to see one bullet point, not one page -- it's disproportionate otherwise. There are all sorts of behaviors that are problematic; expanding at length on one of them is problematic, and expanding on all of them at length is differently-problematic. Let's keep it short and sweet, based on common sense, and empower moderators and the community to say "no, that is Really Not OK" when needed. Monica Cellio‭ 12 months ago

I am definitely in favour of brevity in this instance, primarily since those operating in good faith rarely need the specific proscriptions (and can simply be warned/corrected if they do slip up), while those not will only use them as an excuse to rules-lawyer. The main downside of the short version is that it requires more trust in the mods' discretion, and, well, given why we're all here in the first place, I somehow doubt that will be an issue. AmaiKotori‭ 12 months ago

Auditability is the antedote to relying on moderator discretion. So long as (a) other moderators can review and (b) the recipient of a sanction has an escalation path, I think we'll be ok. Granted we don't really have the latter right now (other than a public complaint), but ultimately I hope our site will be part of a network and then there will be oversight of all the sites. (Codidact is intended for networks, not individual sites.) Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago

I've just updated the CoC - let me know what you think. ArtOfCode‭ 11 months ago

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It's too long, and it's filled with squishy prescriptions. Yes, we won't tolerate harassment. But I think it is a mistake to try and define every possible form of harassment.

Make it a law of intent, not of specifics. (It's a real thing, laws of intent, and the "intent" of a perpetrator is determined by judges or juries. Intent is the difference between murder and manslaughter.)

Set a policy of escalating punishment, if it is clearly (in your role as a human being) somebody's INTENT to harass, insult, frighten, discourage or otherwise hurt feelings or denigrate someone, they will be warned, suspended, banned, in some escalating fashion, based on the severity of the transgression.

Same thing for "Be Nice." We are humans reading, we can pretty much tell when somebody is being insulting, or snarky, or dismissive, or using dominating language to assert authority they don't have. None of that is nice.

Perhaps those need to evolve to include specific clarifying examples if there is actually a misunderstanding of something, but obviously a CoC is allowed to evolve, you can add those examples when true clarification is needed, which is rarely.

I would like to see some Bill of Rights. Is profanity automatically prohibited? My writing contains profanity, because in my experience, about 99% of adults use it times. But even "damn" offends some people, am I not allowed to use "damn" in a question or answer (presuming my intent was not to insult anyone)?

Can we talk about religion (or lack thereof)? Can we talk about politics? Can we talk about sexual acts? Can we talk about racism, or abortion rights? All of those are fair game in novels, in newspapers, in movies. All those things will offend some people.

Does "being nice" mean this site is suitable for kindergärtners, or is it actually for adults writing to capture something about real life?

EDIT as response to modified CoC:

That's better. I would take minor issue with the following, the prescription to "take it in good spirits". :

Be open to constructive feedback. If others offer feedback on your content or your communication, take it in good spirits. Conversely, if someone tells you they don't want feedback, don't force it on them.

I would suggest: Be open to constructive feedback. Insulting feedback should be flagged. If it isn't insulting, presume it is intended to help. If someone rejects your feedback for any reason, logical or not, stop pushing it.

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I've just updated the CoC - let me know what you think. ArtOfCode‭ 11 months ago

@ArtOfCode I updated my answer. Amadeus‭ 11 months ago


Perhaps my favorite CoC would be the one currently used by the Ruby language quoted here:

This document provides community guidelines for a safe, respectful, productive, and collaborative place for any person who is willing to contribute to the Ruby community. It applies to all “collaborative space”, which is defined as community communications channels (such as mailing lists, submitted patches, commit comments, etc.).

  • Participants will be tolerant of opposing views.
  • Participants must ensure that their language and actions are free of personal attacks and disparaging personal remarks.
  • When interpreting the words and actions of others, participants should always assume good intentions.
  • Behaviour which can be reasonably considered harassment will not be tolerated.

And yes, I'm familiar with the backstory behind that CoC and how it stands in opposition to things like the Contributor Covenant that ignore the principle of charity.

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I've reviewed the updated CoC, and overall it looks pretty good. I like the basic and short approach, and I like it being based on common sense and sound logic. I feel it's what every CoC should strive for. I just found a few wording issues which I'd like to bring up:

This Code of Conduct applies to all uses of this website, and any physical meetups of its community.

I'm not sure about that last half. This is the CoC for this website. Disregarding whether we legally can extend the CoC for the website to the lives of its members beyond the website, I doubt we should extend it in such a way. If people from this community meet up in RL, it's down to them how to act. When they come to the site, they have to abide by the CoC, but beyond the website, we have no say in the matter, and neither should we. I would remove the last half of that line.

We will not tolerate harassment of anyone based on any aspect of their personal identity

Two things here. One, I would add the word intentional before harassment. In the guideline above it, we mention that accidents happen. Accidental harassment can certainly happen. I don't want to see this harassment guideline turn into a weapon for people who decide they are being 'harassed' by someone they don't like (obviously we aren't at that point yet, but in the distant future...).

Second, I would remove the whole second half of the guideline. We will not tolerate intentional harassment of anyone. Period. I don't care why someone is being intentionally harassed. It should be enough that it's happening. Keeping the second half could lead to problems (again, not now, but possibly later) where someone might claim they weren't harassing based on personal identity, and then could make a big deal out of us taking issue with their actions.

Then again, I might be reading way too much into this. But that's what I noticed on a first pass-through.

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Removing the "personal identity" bit makes sense to me. I recall a report of a man who claimed he was fired because of his Christian faith, and the response was something like "he wasn't fired because he was a Christian, he was fired because he refused to do this specific work" - where the specific work would have meant going against his beliefs. I can imagine a similar attempt to weasel out of this one. Pastychomper‭ 11 months ago


I love it in its current form.



And primarily, it deals with being nice on an individual level, not on putting people in a mold.

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Keep it "safe-for-work" (SFW). It's fine to discuss controversial topics, but discuss them in an adult manner without letting the discussion get heated. Discussing topics of sex and sexuality is likewise allowed, but explicit sexual content is not allowed as this site is open to under-18s.

I'd suggest that this rule is too strict, especially if this CoC is going to be used across a network of Q&A sites. There are several contexts in which you might want to post something that plausibly or definitely counts as "explicit sexual content", like:

  • On a writing site, discussing an explicit excerpt from some erotica.
  • On a biology site, discussing the biology of the penis or vagina by way of annotated images, or discussing mating behaviours of animals with accompanying video
  • On a machine learning site, constructing and posting an adversarial example of a pornographic image that tricks an AI porn filter into thinking it is benign

I'm also unsure why under-18s in particular are relevant to that rule. Are you trying to match some jurisdiction's age of consent, or film rating rule's? Why?

I'd suggest something much more permissive and which doesn't mention any particular age, like:

Don't post explicit sexual content except in posts where it is directly relevant to the question being asked.

There are situations where that will be overly permissive, of course, but that seems like the right direction to err in if this will be a network-wide CoC. Presumably, individual sites will have leeway in interpretation and freedom to impose tighter rules, but won't be able to do away with rules explicitly listed in this CoC - so any explicit rules should cover only the most clearly unacceptable behaviour and leave the edge cases and nuances to be hashed out later.

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This isn't planned to be a network CoC - this is just for this site. Codidact's network will have its own CoC, when that gets going. This particular rule is there to protect me personally - since I'm hosting this site, if there's any question of distributing explicit sexual material to minors, it's me that'll cop the blame for it. Under 18s are relevant because under 18s are said minors in both the US (where the server is) and the UK (where I am). ArtOfCode‭ 11 months ago

That's not to say I expect anyone here to attempt that sort of skullduggery, of course. It just gives me a defense to point to in the worst case scenario, which makes hosting this a more tenable long-term position for me. ArtOfCode‭ 11 months ago

@ArtOfCode Aha, got it - I misunderstood Monica's comment above saying "This is proposed language for the Codidact network" to refer to your proposed CoC. Mark Amery‭ 11 months ago

Sorry about that @Mark; I meant the text at the link I posted is for Codidact, not specifically Writing. Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago


I just heard about this place (thanks icanfathom). Willing to give it a try. Of course, the first thing I checked on was the code of conduct and, no surprise at all, the only item of contention in the code of conduct is the harassment clause. So let me offer some suggestion on why harassment clauses are so contentious, and what might serve as an alternative.

I note that many community codes of conduct start by saying that they aim to be a safe space for "everyone". This is impossible. Codes of conduct exist to exclude, specifically to exclude people who want to behave in a certain way. Codes of conduct exist to specify that this is a certain kind of community, and that certain kinds of people are not welcome. That is the only terms under which community is possible.

Yes, that is very sad. But it is also human. As long as there exists an opinion or behavior X, for which some people feel offended and/or harassed by the assertion of X, and some people feel offended and/or harassed by the denial of X, your can't have a peaceful community of everyone. And there are lots of values for X in this world.

The problem with a specific harassment clause it that it makes plain who is excluded, destroying the illusion that this is a place for "everyone". The problem with a vague "I'll know it when I see it" harassment clause is that it is open to contention, and to people campaigning to have their particular X explicitly included in the code, which is exactly what happened at SE. You can hope that does not happen for a while, but the possibility is always out there.

In fact, harassment clauses (and hate speech codes) are now frequently used as ideological filters to exclude people from various places of influence. (For a long time, anyone who wanted to hold office in Britain had to take the "oath against transubstantiation". The purpose of this was to exclude Catholics from positions of influence. (This may be a plot point in a story I am thinking of writing.)) One you institute one, however pure the intention, you leave yourself open to this kind of attack. If you truly want this to be a place for writers of every stripe, then you would be well advised to defend against any attempt to bring in an ideological filter via a harassment code.)

A community is a collection of people with shared values. It excludes people who don't share those values. People in the community don't have to share all their values. They just have to be able to coexist peacefully with other people based on the values they do share. They have to tolerate in that community things they might not tolerate in another. To be stable, a community needs some core values that are central to its reason for being a community. It needs its members to agree to abide by those values, even if they find some of the actions of other members of the community upsetting in ways outside of the community's reason for being.

One of the values commonly shared by writers is freedom of expression, which includes both the freedom to say what you think, and also the freedom to not say what you don't think. I don't think you want a generic code of conduct here. You want a code of conduct specific to the common values of writers.

But I'm not advocating for an anything goes policy here. Just because we value freedom of speech does not mean that we have to exercise it in all situations. If you want to say that God does not exist, I will defend your right to say it. But if you walk into a church or a synagogue or a mosque in the middle of a service and say it, I will applaud as the cops carry you away for disrupting a religious service. Context and purpose matter.

So, let me propose a pair of simple and time tested rules that I think will serve a community specifically of writers well, will define and accord with our shared values, and will make a harassment clause unnecessary:

  1. All discussions must be on topic. Don't talk about subjects that are outside of the purpose and scope of this community or the particular subject under discussion.

  2. No ad hominem arguments. Address the idea, not the person. Saying the moon is made of green cheese is okay. Saying that people who believe the moon is made of green cheese are idiots is not okay. Saying that the orbital characteristics of a moon made of green cheese would not match the observed orbit of the moon is okay.

And if perhaps we really need to make the point:

  1. The expression of an opinion (excluding ad hominem statements) is not to be construed as harassment, no matter how much you disagree with the opinion.
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Related discussion on the Codidact forum: It's a long thread; I've linked to the message that quotes the latest version (proposed by Art). This is proposed language for the Codidact network (specifically, the one this group of developers hosts). I've argued there that the baseline should be light and sites are free to augment with concerns specific to them, like religion sites might have some additional expectations. Monica Cellio‭ 11 months ago

So here's the thing. I believe a clause covering harassment is necessary, because it ensures that it's there for those who insist on following the rules to the letter, and because it's a valuable thing to have for some folks. I think we disagree there, but that's okay. [1/?] ArtOfCode‭ 11 months ago

On an orthogonal issue - this isn't my community. I've never participated in Writing, and I'm here only as a facilitator, so I don't want to force things on the community here that y'all don't want. On the other hand, if this site is likely to move to the Codidact software when that's available, that may come under Codidact's code of conduct, which may be different from something y'all come up with independently. [2/?] ArtOfCode‭ 11 months ago

Strikes me that the best option here is to leave it up to the Writing mods - i.e. the people who are heavily invested in this community - to decide which course is best for the community here. (cc'ing @MonicaCellio here.) [3/3] ArtOfCode‭ 11 months ago

@ArtOfCode, I was just reading through the thread that Monica pointed to, and as I was reading it, it occurred to me that there is a certain futility in trying to establish rules of conduct that people are asked to agree to up front and which they can then appeal to in cases of dispute. For me, as least, it puts me in the position of saying, can I subscribe to every implication of this code, and the answer for me is often no, as it was in the SE case. Mark Baker‭ 11 months ago

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