This touches on both How can moderators prevent an 'in-crowd' forming? and How do you deal with a back-seat moderator? issues, but I don't think it's the same angle.

I have noticed, in myself but also in others, that some users can follow a specific path through a Stack Exchange community. They come in, maybe with a question, but quickly discover that the community appreciates their answers. They adapt well to the system, and rapidly gain reputation. Attracted by the reputation game, they develop intrinsic motivation of returning to the site and participating, and become a valued community member. Their reputation gives them access to a wide range of community instruments, and they are present enough to take a look at every single question in a small community, or maybe every question in their tags in a large community.

At the beginning, everything about the site is interesting. It is fun both to read and answer questions, and sometimes to ask one's own. But at some point, there is some habituation. And the user starts disliking questions which fail his personal expectations. For example, he may start feeling like a real expert (because he notices he can answer 85% of the questions on the site really well), and when he is confronted with a question outside of his area of expertise, he starts arguing that this kind of question should be off topic, because it really isn't about the main point of the site. Or he just gets bored of the newbs who find endless ways of running headfirst into the same wall and ask what to do. On Stack Exchange Cooking, it is interesting to explain once in depth how the protein in muscle behave under heat and when they are overcooked and your meat becomes a shoesole because of this. But there are at least two questions per week whose short answer would be "just stop overcooking your food", mostly posted by new users. The bored user can start downvoting questions just because he is bored by them.

Also, when new users come in who unwittingly break a rule, they can be met by this kind of user who brisquely tells them off. The old user doesn't want to be mean, but in his impatience he doesn't realize that the new ones couldn't know the rule and need more guidance than just seeing a close vote on their question.

A handful of such users can form an in-crowd which is quite hostile to new users, and is one of the reasons for the problem mentioned in the first linked question. The high presence and little patience leads to the user frequently taking actions which are correct community moderation (so they can't be told off for overstepping their rights), but done in an unfriendly way towards hapless newbs. This is disruptive to the site and its openness. Also, I see it as a bad sign when a single person starts seeing a community site as his personal playground (and I confess I have been guilty of this to some extent).

How can we as moderators support these users without alienating them? How do we stop them from influencing the site too much and driving it into a direction the middle-tier rep users disagree with? From scaring off new users who feel stupid after these users' intervention (because they dared to ask a question which was too simple and/or boring and got a searing comment, or because their question got downvoted or closed without explanation)? How do we help them divert the energy they are investing in the site in more community-oriented behavior?

  • 3
    This is the $64,000 question, isn't it? Anyone who manages to provide a comprehensive solution should probably be hired to the community team immediately.
    – Air
    Jul 31, 2014 at 23:33

5 Answers 5


I would suggest modelling the behaviour you want the senior users to adopt. Ignoring for the moment downvotes, because they're entirely anonymous, that could mean:

  • leaving pleasant welcoming comments (that may include some direction) on questions that don't meet the quality bar
  • closing duplicates quickly, and making sure the new user knows it's not a punishment or a slapdown to have a question closed as a duplicate
  • removing comments that are whatever this year's LMGTFY and What Have You Tried? are
  • editing unclear questions to make them clearer
  • leaving instructional comments on off-topic, too-broad etc questions (and getting them closed quickly) in the hope they'll be edited into something site-worthy, by the OP if that's the only person who can add the required information or narrow the scope.

This has several advantages. If those new questions are dupes, getting them closed reduces the irritation the senior user experiences. If they were hard to read, editing them removes the aggravation of wading through hard-to-read questions. This alone will make the senior users a little happier. Next, if the senior user still manages to find something to be irritated about, whatever cheerful contribution you have left might be the nudge that keeps their snarky comment untyped - and if they leave a snarky comment anyway, at least only half the comments on the question are snarky.

If those senior users see the sorts of edits you're doing over time, they will come to realize the cultural norm of this site is to fix problems, not yell at newcomers for not doing it right, and they're likely to join in the fixing brigade instead of the yelling brigade. I do understand that this requires the effort of creating the fixing and welcoming brigades, but I think that expecting tired and snarky seniors to notice that possibility themselves and start without being led is even more optimistic than I am capable of being - and I'm very optimistic indeed.


I think the key here is your statement "The old user doesn't want to be mean". If that is true, then all that should be necessary is to talk with the users who are causing the community to become unfriendly and hostile. If they are reminded of what it was like to be new once and it is pointed out how it comes off to a new user, it may help them to check their actions a bit more closely and offer feedback rather than just the (generally correct) criticism without explanation.

If this fails, it becomes a judgement call of which is a bigger threat to the community. If the user is being overly offensive in how they approach new users, this IS actually a problem and can be address through disciplinary action. This includes if the user is generally perceived as hostile towards other users if they are sufficiently hostile to be driving users away and costing more value than they bring.

If the user simply down votes or close votes without explanation, then it only really takes a few active users who ARE explaining politely to help the user understand. It might not make a great first impression, but it also isn't the worst, particularly if those explaining make sure to point out that down votes and close votes aren't a bad reflection on them, so long as they learn from it and don't keep asking questions that don't fit.


I think that this is an interesting question to ask because it deals with not only the mindset of the new users, but also that of the middle-tier users; you can't force either to change their behavior directly, and they're both equally difficult to guide for different reasons.

I think that a good way to approach this as a moderator would be to step into both users' shoes and examine their perspectives (which you have done in your question). If you consider that neither one quite understands the other, you can talk to both in a way that convinces them to take the other's perspective.

People new to the subject aren't going to like experienced people who don't even want to give them the time to learn, and those with experience aren't going to like people who ask questions that are obvious to them. The best thing to do, in my opinion, would be to avoid talking to either directly as a moderator unless absolutely necessary. The only time you need to step in as a moderator in these cases is if a certain line of rudeness is crossed; however, as a user (you can still act as a normal user with a diamond beside your name), you should do whatever possible to encourage each to consider the other's view, which should resolve most issues.


I think the partial solution may lie in the execution of the advice rather than the content. If the advice is positive rather than critical, then new users feel less ashamed and embarrassed, or maybe even less angered, and will then potentially contribute more - whilst still educated with new advice. We should all still be of the mindset that no question is a stupid question, besides the one you don't ask.

To ensure high ranking users do not besiege the new users, additional documentation could be introduced on how to deal with assisting said new members. This could entail the best ways to approach newer users, and highlight issues such as the fact that newer members are less aware of the rules and haven't had time to acclimatise to SO's stricter Question & Answer format.

  • I agree with this view, but my question was less about what we want to achieve and more on the lines of how to achieve it. How do we help others develop this mindset when we see they don't have it, but are high-profile and frequent-acting enough that their actions contribute a lot to the community culture?
    – rumtscho
    Jul 29, 2014 at 22:05
  • Forgive my misunderstanding. Perhaps introducing some documentation from the SO administrative team? I shall update my answer accordingly.
    – Talisman
    Jul 29, 2014 at 22:07

I've personally run into this issue on some of the bigger Stack Exchange sites. I had created a question, and from what I thought, it was very relevant to the topic, and was a good question. However, within 5 minutes I had about 10 people closing my topic, etc.

I think that for the standpoint of a new user, it is important not to scare them away with their first contributions to any type of a community, Stack Exchange included. Honestly, for new users, I think that questions that are semi-off topic should be allowed, but, for new users in their first 1-2 questions. This would be a hard thing to enforce or implement, but, it's what would be better for the new users. and Everyone knows that new users are just as important as the mega veterans of a community.

I think for new users coming into a community like stack exchange, it is important to help the new users more than to hurt them. I don't think that any newbie wants to have their posts closed within 5 minutes of posting it, and I think that those users are less likely to participate actively in the future than the people that have not had that type of experience.

  • I think the question was asking how to deal with the other users, not the new ones. It looks like your implied answer to that is "tell them to tolerate low-quality contributions from new users because engaging them is more important"? Sep 18, 2014 at 1:27

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