In the comments to question 299123 (now on hold for being too broad), the user makes it clear that he wants to log onto a node in a cluster and use screen.

His problem is that on this particular node, screen is not installed. I commented that maybe he should ask his system administrator about why this was so, and he replied that they weren't supposed to run interactive sessions on these nodes, and how would he solve this without involving the admin?

My question: What's the course of action when someone wants help with breaking a local rule, in this case using a node in a cluster interactively even though they are not supposed to? Flagging for moderator intervention? Help them solve the issue at hand? Do we care?

Or, posing the question more generally: Should we help people to be antisocial?

I'm asking as someone actually using one of those compute clusters, and has to live with people running jobs outside of the queuing system.

I'm also the person who, once upon a time, asked question 209398, which may not be entirely surprising.

  • I'm not sure we're always aware of the local rules or laws. I would leave it to the sysadmin or employer to enforce any desired restrictions. I have also pointed people in the direction of their local sysadmin.
    – Jeff Schaller Mod
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 23:10
  • As far as I know, the Stack Exchange network does not enforce other's policies. I'm not sure social/antisocial have anything to do with it. Off-topic, many corporate policies are unreasonable or pathological because a company is not a natural person and it does not have a moral compass. There's no literature indicating a company has the attributes of a natural person; but there is research indicating companies are psychopaths in the psychology journals. I think its better to be antisocial rather than being a psychopath.
    – user56041
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 3:14
  • 2
    @jww Psychopathy is characterized by antisocial behaviour, but that's a side note. I'm not asking about how SE or anyone may enforce policies. I'm asking "what's the course of action when someone (and I should have added seems to) wants help with breaking a local rule", i.e. "how do I behave in accordance with SE / U&L rules in circumstances where I interpret someone else's behaviour as going against what I considered good conduct". The general consensus is to either ignore them or to help them.
    – Kusalananda Mod
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 6:47
  • 3
    If he says "we're not supposed to X" then I'm certainly not going to help him do it on a computer he doesn't own, especially when he apparently doesn't want the admin to know he's doing it. Nor would I recommend that anyone else help. Though my SE experience tells me somebody is going to.
    – WGroleau
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 3:22

3 Answers 3


This is an interesting question. I believe the key to the situation is that Stack Exchange is not geared to handle individuals, but individuals' questions, with a preference for questions applicable to many people.

In general I would say do not assist someone to break local rules or laws. If there is a valid general question, you can and should answer it. If the asker's intentions are unclear (or if the answer you're giving could be abused), preface your answer with a disclaimer and admonition to follow the rules.

If the asker clearly states his intention of breaking the rules or breaking the laws, do not help.

We can provide know-how if it has any valid white-hat use. We can advise not to put it to black-hat use. We can't prevent black hats from ignoring that advice and misusing the provided information (not in an online setting, anyway), but we can withhold information when the questioner is overtly defying the laws/rules.

A simple example to illustrate this is the difference between the two (invented) questions:

  • "I'm locked out of my Linux server; how can I reset the root password?"
  • "My co-worker is away for two days and I have physical access to the Linux server in his cubicle; how can I reset the root password?"

The technical answer would be the same, but the latter question should be downvoted to oblivion and remain unanswered.

The former question should be answered, but with a preface to the effect of "Please only reset the password if it's either your personal server, or you're the authorized person to do so. That said, you can do this by...."

tl; dr: If someone is being antisocial, downvote and comment. If it's very overt and they are unrepentant, flag for moderator attention.

  • 2
    “If someone is being antisocial, downvote and comment.” No. “Antisocial” here is really name-calling. Don't do that. Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 22:29
  • Note that in this case, the asker has not stated any intention to break any law or rule. This is purely an inference on Kusalananda's part. Commented Jul 31, 2016 at 22:30
  • @Gilles, a fair point, but I followed my own advice and answered the general question rather than looking very particularly into the specific case cited. :)
    – Wildcard
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 1:27
  • 1
    @Gilles It is an inference on my part and possibly even unfairly so. I'm quite ok with being proved wrong. I have difficulties unplugging my ethical conscience though, as it is clear that we have someone that at least wants to violate the wishes of the administrator of this shared resource (although he might not be breaking a written rule or agreement). It is clear that this is my private issue though, so I can do nothing else but thank you for your input.
    – Kusalananda Mod
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 6:07

There are two reasons why you shouldn't worry about “breaking rules”.

One reason is that the assertion that the user wants to “break local rule” is an assumption on your part. You have no way to know whether this is true. There is quite a leap of faith between “I want to install Screen” and “I want to bypass the job scheduler to run my jobs ahead of other people”. Logging in, and using Screen, could also be useful to monitor jobs executed via the scheduler. You're assuming bad faith on the part of the asker. This is not nice, and being nice is not just a good idea, it's a rule!

Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions.

(Not to mention “Don't be a jerk”. Calling someone “antisocial” because they want to install Screen?)

The other reason why you shouldn't worry about “breaking rules”, or at least not close or flag on this basis, is that answers are for everyone, not just for the original asker. Very occasionally we get a question where it is actually clear that the asker is up to no good. But this certainty comes from context, it is not intrinsic in the question. Someone else may have exactly the same question in a different context which has no moral implication.

Asking how to install Screen is certainly not an unreasonable question. All we need to know to answer this question is: the system is RHEL, the user is not root (and can't get the administrator to do it), and what happens when the user tried to install Screen manually (“I tried to install, but failed.” is not enough information, which is why the question in question should be closed). Why the administrator doesn't cooperate is irrelevant — they may be on vacation, or overworked, or incompetent — so you shouldn't judge the question on this basis.

Of course, nothing compels you to answer a question. If you don't like a question, just move on. If you think a question won't be useful to anyone, downvote. But please refrain from flinging accusations around.

See also circumvention of security or policy

  • 5
    I really hope I'm not "flinging accusations around"! To make it clear: I have definitely not called the person in this particular question antisocial. The word "antisocial" was used in the generalisation of my question here. I'll be taking your advice and "just move on", at least in relation to the specific question.
    – Kusalananda Mod
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 6:20

I think we must have democracy here, if someone believe for some unknown reason that the user is right, this someone have the right to say that in the comment (he had the right to be wrong, the comments exist to say things without any warranty), and that can prevent a user to be punished without a discussion and show to us the another point because sometimes, we can be wrong about the local rules too and misunderstood the user question (not in that case, but whatever)... I think this kind of discussions are nice and can improve our respect for the people before judge they. In the other way, that' true too, if every moderator think the question is beautiful right, but i personally think is not following the rules, why cant i comment saying this- and if i am right and can prove that, this will not be good for the moderators to reconsider?

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .