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Bob and I are both regular posters on an online forum where participants can comment on each other's posts. In the past, it's happened several times that we commented on the other person's post, and our exchanges did not lead to any productive outcome. Eventually, I unilaterally decided to stop commenting on Bob's posts and more generally to avoid interacting with Bob (for example, the forum has an associated chat site with an ignore feature; I ignore Bob).

Bob did not agree to stop interacting, however, and kept leaving comments on my posts which did not abide by the forum's politeness norms. After several complaints, the moderators of the forum told us both to stop interacting. This was fine by me — I just continued what I was doing — but I think Bob wasn't happy with it. He complied at first, but now he's back to commenting more and more, and again with a heavy dose of ad hominem attacks.

It's not the case that Bob is incompetent. Rather, he has his hot buttons and can't or will not refrain from jumping out when duty calls. I don't have a problem with any other user. I don't know if Bob has problems with other users; if he does it hasn't been apparent in the chat.

It's gotten to the point where if I make posts on certain topics, I know that what I would naturally write would trigger a reaction from Bob, so I have to choose between posting anyway and expecting a disparaging comment, or refraining from participating. I'm tired of the disparaging comments. At the same time, other than this one case, this is a friendly, interesting community which I don't want to leave. I don't want to push Bob out, either, but I'm at a loss how to cope with him.

The platform does not offer any way to block one user from commenting on another user's post. The only technical solution is to ban the user altogether (for a duration chosen by the moderators), which would be a pity because Bob does make worthwhile contributions. What can be a human solution? Either involving me, or the moderators, or both.

From my side, “stop interacting with Bob” is what I'm already doing, and it isn't enough; “stop participating” isn't an acceptable solution.

The platform, in case you hadn't guessed, is Stack Exchange. Obviously I'm an involved party, so my presentation cannot be unbiased. I considered asking from a moderator's point of view rather than as one of the users, but I didn't feel I could write an unbiased post that way.

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I've been in your shoes and I've also been the moderator trying to resolve such issues between other users. Here's what I've learned:

For the targeted user: if the comments are inappropriate per the rules of the site, it is completely appropriate for you to bring those comments to moderators' attention using the normal site mechanism for that, such as flags. Don't try to use the flags to have a conversation with the moderators; just flag comments as rude or not constructive or whatever as appropriate.

For the moderator: if there is a pattern of inappropriate commenting from one user, whether he's being inappropriate to lots of people or just particular targets, you need to deal with it before it becomes a broken window. Those comments aren't only seen by the target; they're seen by everybody, and if you tolerate them your site gets a reputation as one that tolerates such behavior. That's when users start backing off and when others decide that maybe they don't want to start participating after all.

In this case it sounds like the moderators have already gotten involved (they told both people to not interact). If someone is ignoring that warning, the moderators need to take stronger action, possibly including a temporary suspension. It's unfortunate that the suspension would also prevent constructive participation, but it sounds like this situation is already costing constructive participation elsewhere -- the posts the target is now not making. So ignoring the problem is not free.

Sometimes a user suspended for bad behavior goes away, sometimes he comes back and keeps doing the bad thing, and sometimes he learns from the experience. In my experience someone who's invested a lot in the site won't just go away, and I've seen people really wake up and change their behavior after a short suspension. (I've even agreed to cancel an in-progress suspension once after a conversation with the user in which the mods were persuaded that the lesson had been learned -- and it was.)

For the bystanders: If two other users are engaged in an ongoing disagreement that's affecting your enjoyment of the site, remember that you can raise flags too. Sometimes it's the input from non-involved parties that is most helpful to the moderators.

For all users: If there is some place where discussion about the site happens (this post mentioned chat), it might be a good idea to have an impersonal discussion about what y'all are trying to do there. Is there a problem with the site rules? Do people not understand the rules? Do some understand but believe that their duty to Correct Wrong or otherwise evangelize takes precedence? If there are disagreements about how the site ought to work, then even well-meaning people might find themselves straying into questionable territory, so maybe the community needs to talk about that.

But don't make it about Bob; as soon as someone thinks it's about particular people, you lose the ability to have the general discussion. Talking about specific users like that is uncomfortable for a lot of people, and if the moderators are already taking steps, they probably can't reveal that.

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If it worked for a while to have a mod ask him to ignore your posts, why not just have them give him a reminder that he shouldn't be doing that. If he's breaking community policies because he gets riled up by your posts but nobody else sees anything to get riled up about, then that is a problem and if he ends up having to be removed, it isn't your fault.

Ultimately it is on him to follow community rules and you can work with the moderators to try to be as gentle as possible, but if he flat out refuses to follow the rules, he has to go.

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Apparently, I'm Bob. Of course, I only know this because you failed entirely to follow the excellent advice offered here by Monica Cellio, to wit:

But don't make it about Bob; as soon as someone thinks it's about particular people, you lose the ability to have the general discussion.

I've always been told there are two sides to every story - and I feel the truth of this keenly now. Believe it or not, I object to being described as one that makes ad hominem attacks on others, and think it worthwhile to point out that such an insinuation might itself be considered an ad hominem attack in the first place.

On that note, your question seems to place all blame for your negative interaction with some other person on that other person. You might have better luck, though, by honestly considering another worn aphorism: it does take two to tango. Rather than considering yourself above reproach, try instead to look honestly at any situation which makes you uneasy objectively and consider that you might be as at fault for your own discomfort as the other.

If you cannot adopt a fully objective outlook on your problem, then you do have the right to ask for the opinions of others that they might help. But when you do so, try to refrain from stating your opinion and instead tell the facts as they happened - or - and better still - provide cited examples of the exchanges in question and state nothing at all. You're not likely to get anything but advice you've already given yourself if you frame your problem for others exactly as you already see it. Give them a chance to see it differently so that you might benefit from a fresh perspective.

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    consider editing so that this reads less like a rant, see How to Answer – gnat Mar 25 '15 at 6:52
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    @gnat - Is there a particular edit you might recommend? I tried to keep it short, and stick to three main points: 1) two sides to every story; 2) culpability is key; 3) focus on fact. What do you consider rant-like, exactly? All things equal, I'd rather talk about unix, but this was hard to ignore. In your link, by the way, it states that opinion-based questions shouldn't be answered, so maybe no one should have answered at all? – mikeserv Mar 25 '15 at 7:05
  • paragraph that starts with "I, by the way, have a very different opinion..." sounds somewhat detached from addressing the question asked. Statement "There's a lot of text in your question" rather belongs to comments, probably as well as request for examples (such a request is not ranty, I mentioned it only since you asked in general). Also it would help to see what in the question makes you think that asker's goal is self-improvement – gnat Mar 25 '15 at 7:09
  • @gnat - these are good points. I am considering it. The I thing is kind of key to the two-sides point, i think, but probably there's a better way to do it. The self-improvement bit might be stripped altogether... The text in question part, though, i do feel belongs. I'll mull it over and if I feel an edit is worthwhile, maybe ping you when i make it if youd like. Thanks anyway for your time. – mikeserv Mar 25 '15 at 7:14
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    @gnat - any better? I like it better. – mikeserv Mar 25 '15 at 7:32
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To be honest, the extra information you're giving:

From my side, “stop interacting with Bob” is what I'm already doing, and it isn't enough; “stop participating” isn't an acceptable solution

The only technical solution is to ban the user altogether (for a duration chosen by the moderators), which would be a pity because Bob does make worthwhile contributions.

What can be a human solution? Either involving me, or the moderators, or both.

sounds to me like you don't want a solution. You want to sit around the table and talk with each other and feel like the victim. I don't know why "stop interacting with Bob" isn't a good solution.

The platform, in case you hadn't guessed, is Stack Exchange.

Well just flag his posts?

This question just sounds like someone wants people to join his side.

No I don't know this "Bob" you're talking about.

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