Human values violations in Stack Overflow: an exploratory study

Sara Krishtul, Mojtaba Shahin, Humphrey O. Obie, Hourieh Khalajzadeh, Fan Gai, Ali Rezaei Nasab, John Grundy

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A growing number of software-intensive systems are being accused of violating or ignoring human values (e.g., privacy, inclusion, and social responsibility), and this poses great difficulties to individuals and society. Such violations often occur due to the solutions employed and decisions made by developers of such systems that are misaligned with user values. Stack Overflow is the most popular Q&A website among developers to share their issues, solutions (e.g., code snippets), and decisions during software development. We conducted an exploratory study to investigate the occurrence of human values violations in Stack Overflow posts. As comments under posts are often used to point out the possible issues and weaknesses of the posts, we analyzed 2,000 Stack Overflow comments and their corresponding posts (1,980 unique questions or answers) to identify the types of human values violations and the reactions of Stack Overflow users to such violations. Our study finds that 315 out of 2,000 comments contain concerns indicating their associated posts (313 unique posts) violate human values. Leveraging Schwartz's theory of basic human values as the most widely used values model, we show that hedonism and benevolence are the most violated value categories. We also find the reaction of Stack Overflow commenters to perceived human values violations is very quick, yet the majority of posts (76.35%) accused of human values violation do not get downvoted at all. Finally, we find that the original posters rarely react to the concerns of potential human values violations by editing their posts. At the same time, they usually are receptive when responding to these comments in follow-up comments of their own.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of The ACM International Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering (EASE) 2022
EditorsJocelyn Simons, Rafael Prikladnicki
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery (ACM)
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781450396134
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventInternational Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering 2022 - Gothenburg, Sweden
Duration: 13 Jun 202215 Jun 2022
Conference number: 26th (Proceedings) (Website)


ConferenceInternational Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering 2022
Abbreviated titleEASE 2022
Internet address


  • Human Values
  • Stack Overflow
  • User
  • Violations

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