Stack Overflow Adopts New Code of Conduct
Written by Sue Gee   
Thursday, 09 August 2018

Since its inception Stack Overflow has had the explicit policy of "Be Nice". This has now been expanded into a Code of Conduct with the aim of promoting "kindness, collaboration, and mutual respect."

Stack Overflow was founded in 2008 by Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky as a programmers' question and answer site. It has grown into

the largest, most trusted online community for developers to learn, share their knowledge, and build their careers

with more than 50 million developers visiting the site each month.

The "Be Nice" policy was part of the site's original FAQs where it was expressed as:

Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you. We're all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor. 

Despite this exhortation Stack Overflow has a problem with inclusivity and is often perceived as being unwelcoming to newbies.

Now, after a consultative process with the Stack Exchange community a brand new Code of Conduct has been drafted,re-drafted and has gonce live to address these issues and to replace the existing ‘Be nice’ policy with a clear statement that is intended to be:

more formal, far less ambiguous and way more informative.


It is illustrated with this graphic which appears to suggest co-operation, colaboration and inclusivity.

The CoC includes the statement:  

We created this Code of Conduct because it reinforces the respect that we, as a community, expect from one another. Having a code also provides us with clear avenues to correct our culture should it stray off-course.

It also makes explicit:

We commit to enforcing and improving the Code of Conduct. It applies to everyone using Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network, including our team, moderators, and anyone posting to Q&A sites or chat rooms.

Enforcement  will be the responsibility of the moderation team on a case-by-case basis with three levels- Warning - for first time misconduct; Account Suspension - for repetitive misconduct or behavior containing harassment, bigotry, or abuse; and Account Expulsion - for very rare cases of harmful destructive behavior. 

The main tenets of the new code are:


  • If you’re here to get help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Follow our guidelines and remember that our community is made possible by volunteers.


  • If you’re here to help others, be patient and welcoming. Learning how to participate in our community can be hard. Offer support if you see someone struggling or otherwise in need of help.

  • Be clear and constructive when giving feedback, and be open when receiving it. Edits, comments, and suggestions are healthy parts of our community.

  • Be kind and friendly. Avoid sarcasm and be careful with jokes — tone is hard to decipher online. If a situation makes it hard to be friendly, stop participating and move on.

It also provides these examples of unacceptable behavior by way of put-downs and unfriendly language with friendly alternatives: 


In the blog post introducing the new document, Tim Post states:

As far as our rules go, nothing really changes: we’re just clarifying that we don’t have space for belittling language and condescension, while more deliberately setting people’s expectations surrounding what to expect when problems are flagged. By resolving some ambiguity, we’re able to apply the rules that we’ve had for quite some time more consistently, resulting in fewer instances where it seems like we didn’t have any rules at all.

Tim Post also notes that the CoC will be reviewed, writing

Our CoC is what we call a living document. It’s designed to change over time to ensure that it remains relevant by continuing to meet the needs of our communities. Every six months or so, we plan to find out how folks feel about how things are going by asking both new and experienced users about their recent experiences on the site.

So will the new CoC have the desired impact? There have been negative, and even sarcastic, comments about it on relevant area of Meta Stack Exchange, but these have tended to be down-voted. One possible reservation is that it requires more time to respond in a friendly manner than simply answer someone's question. Only time will tell whether formalizing the be nice policy also results in a higher proportion of Stack Overflow questions being satisfactorily answered. 


More Information 

Stack Overflow: Code of Conduct

Get to Know Our New Code of Conduct


Related Articles

How To Ask A Successful Question on Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow: A Code Laundering Platform?

Stack Overflow Considered Harmful?

Stack Overflow An Old Programmers Home



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Last Updated ( Thursday, 09 August 2018 )