12

The Stack Exchange developers instituted a Be Nice policy for all of their sites.

Be nice.

Whether you've come to ask questions, or to generously share what you know, remember that we’re all here to learn, together. Be welcoming and patient, especially with those who may not know everything you do. Oh, and bring your sense of humor. Just in case.

https://meta.stackexchange.com/help/be-nice

I think it would be a good idea to remind people of this when they make snarky comments. We could either reply to their comment with a link to the Be Nice policy, or a link to this thread.

I think a lot of people on this forum want to be witty, but are unaware that sometimes their wit comes across as belittling. People should be mindful that kindness comes before wit.

I'm creating this thread so that others can share their thoughts, and perhaps commit to calling others out on hostile or demeaning comments.

It's also worth sharing that this problem has been discussed before:

  1. Bring back the summer of love (ELU Meta Forum)
  2. Summer of love, by Joel Spolsky, Co-founder and CEO

Some not nice things I've noticed:

  1. Questions not worth asking. I sometimes get the impression that my question is not worth asking, and have to spend time defending myself.
  2. Answers picked apart. I feel like, if people sense any weakness in an answer, it gets picked apart in a way that's not constructive.
  3. Speaking from authority. Sometimes people claim that your question or answer does not follow the guidelines. But they cite no guidelines to back themselves up.
  4. Carelessness with tone. The fact that tone is hard to discern from writing does not provide an excuse, but rather an obligation to make one's intentions clear and one's kindness felt.

Suggestions for improvement:

  1. Positive feedback. Since we're kind of skewed towards negative feedback, I think it would be helpful if users made an effort to give more positive feedback, especially to newbies.
  2. Pointing out the guidelines. It would be helpful to point out the guidelines to newbies, without shaming them for not having read them already.
  3. Migrating ELL questions to ELL. Members who have the privileges could make an effort to migrate ELL questions to ELL.
  4. Close-vote nicely. It's important to close-vote off-topic questions. But it's just as important to be nice and not make a snarky comment.

Examples:

(I'm compiling a list of examples, but omitting the name of the author. The goal is not to shame anyone, but to raise awareness of the problem.)

Let me say this in as a nice a way as possible: It is clear from the guidelines that this is not a place for people learning the English language to ask questions, especially if they are basic questions and/or they evince no research. Yet, my question to you is why do you keep answering such questions... one of many examples. This question should be close-voted for no research. It is actions like yours that only encourages more ELL questions here.

This comment was directed at me in this thread. The tone of the question made me feel vilified.

And are people really being "draconic"? Or are they just dragon things out? Perhaps you meant draconian. (Sorry, the tone was meant to be lighthearted.)

I actually double-checked that draconic was okay to use, and it's a synonym for draconian. (1) merriam-webster.com/dictionary/draconic. (2) en.wiktionary.org/wiki/draconic. I chose to use it because it sounded better in the sentence.

I actually double-checked. Then you actually missed my point.

The above was also taken from this thread. The play on actually felt a little bit like an attack.

Beneath is a question that I asked.

Example: He came up with a catalogue of things his father said or did which upset him.

Is the use of "catalogue" correct in this example? I personally think so, as the word derives from the Greek καταλέγω, which means to "recount, to tell at length, or make a list" (1).

Yes, it is normal; but your argument from Greek is irrelevant.

Actually, what I gave wasn't an argument, it was a reason for thinking so. Why not share things we find interesting?

Yes it was.

An argument makes a claim. It attempts to persuade. I did neither. I simply shared my hypothesis.

And I am pointing out (by the link I referenced) that your hypothesis is without foundation. If you rely on etymology to determine (as opposed to suggest) the meanings of words, you will often get them wrong.

I was offended in the above thread because the commenter is acting like a know-it-all; and, furthermore, acting like he knows my intentions better than I do. To say that you think something is correct because of etymology doesn't mean you know something is correct because of etymology. A hypothesis is not the same thing as an argument, and it's perfectly fine to share a hypothesis.

Below is a question I asked and the ensuing comments.

Question: Since English is a stress-timed language, why have poets chosen to write in iambic pentameter? Doesn't the language already have a natural rhythm without resorting to meter? And isn't that natural rhythm already quite close to iambic pentameter?

Commenter: This question doesn't really make sense. Poets chose to write in Iambic pentameter because they wanted to. Why did they want to? Well, you need to ask a historian but I imagine the traditions derived from Latin and Greek were factors. Languages with word stress patterns do, of course, have their own rhythm, but it's inevitably irregular and in the mind of classically influenced poet an irregular and naturally occurring meter is probably insufficient. That's why they tend to work English's natural stress pattern into a precise meter, such as iambic.

Me: I think I'm asking whether the natural rhythm of English is really so different from iambic pentameter that a precise meter is called for. It seems that the definition of a stress-timed language is regular stress patterns, which already accomplishes what meter sets out to do. Although here's an interesting thought: perhaps meter serves not only to highlight regularities, but also to highlight irregularities? That is, accenting syllables which we wouldn't expect to accent.

Commenter: No offence, but this question seems to be more about your dismissive attitude towards Iambic pentameter than an actual question. Many English speaking poets evidently did feel there was something special about, which is why they worked so hard to fit the natural rhythm of English into it's meter. Many modern poets don't use it, well obviously, many modern poets don't even care about meter. "what, if anything, is the natural rhythm of spoken English?" This question doesn't really make sense, English doesn't have a strict meter, there are just natural linguistic patterns in stress.

Me: You misinterpreted my comments, then! I do not feel a dismissive attitude towards iambic pentameter. On the contrary, I enjoy a lot of poems and plays written in this meter. This enjoyment is what led me to reflect on the meter, and why some of the authors whom I admire choose to employ it.

Commenter: But the question you're asking isn't really about English. You're basically asking why many English speaking poets chose to fit English's natural time stressed rhythm to Iambic pentameter. The only answer is because they wanted to, why they wanted to might be better explained by a historian. The natural rhythm of a time stressed language will never as regular as a poetic meter, so no doubt they thought it more beautiful or perfect when the meter was exact. Why they often preferred Iambic is probably down to its historical significance. There's little else to be said.

The above is another example of a commenter acting like a know-it-all. It's not constructive to say, I don't think your question makes sense. Or to go on and say, There is little else to be said. That's simply not for him to decide. Others might have something to say; and in fact, others did have something to say. There was a great answer to my question. The reason we have close-votes is so that we vote on whether a question gets closed. This is not a court case where we need a prosecutor.

  • 8
    You should provide examples of hurtful or rude comments, you don't have to name the users, just report what they "said". Then the users can, if they want, explain what their comments meant. – Mari-Lou A Nov 28 '16 at 5:40
  • 7
    It's also worth reminding that it's incredibly hard to convey tone in brief comments, and what might sound polite to me, is brusque and dismissive to another. – Mari-Lou A Nov 28 '16 at 5:42
  • 6
    I'm very close to closing this as "Unclear what you're asking", I'm afraid. Members are regularly reminded of the Be Nice policy, including via private reminders. Could you make your question explicit, please? – Andrew Leach Nov 28 '16 at 9:08
  • 4
    @AndrewLeach I edited the title to help make my question explicit. The question I want to ask by this post is, Can we make this community nicer? I think this thread could be a good place to brainstorm ways of doing so. – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 9:32
  • 3
    Can you be more specific in what is not nice so that the rest of us will be able to address you discussion question better? What particular not nice things are you referring to? Is it (thinly veiled) name calling? Or is it holding too strictly to the rules? or what? – Mitch Nov 28 '16 at 14:41
  • 5
    This issue comes up from time to time on Meta, there must be something true if sometime new users have the perception that ELU is an unfriendly place. Probably regular users see as "normal" the way they relate to each other, but it may just appear "unwelcoming" to the eyes of new visitors I suppose. – user66974 Nov 28 '16 at 15:08
  • 2
    @Alan Carmack You can't control other people's behavior, you can only control your own. The most productive thing to do is to actually solve the problem, rather than just being mean or complaining about it. I don't think this is an unsolvable problem. See my list of suggestions. – ktm5124 Dec 1 '16 at 20:49
  • 7
    My observation has been that citing the "Be Nice" policy is as often an attack vector as not, which is to say that the citation is frequently directed (either deliberately or accidentally--it's often difficult to say) at people who were being nice, by their lights. This site is multicultural, and multi-subcultural; niceness differs from culture to culture. Anticipating an objection, or should I say a claim: other than at obvious extremes, niceness has no common ground. Notwithstanding their insistence upon a necessary a priori 'rightness', mods also use the same vector. – JEL Dec 2 '16 at 7:34
  • 1
    The only real way to avoid playful corrections being interpreted as snarky would be to ban them outright. There is always a threshold for what is considered acceptable versus offensive; some are going to be offended no matter what you do. The question of what's good for a community of volunteers is likely different than for a group of friends but should differ from a business setting. – The Nate Dec 2 '16 at 15:15
  • 4
    If an answer is wrong, pointing that out is constructive. "Picking apart" generally means that the flaws are being identified. This sort of critical analysis, when meaningfully done, helps teach those who read it why it's wrong. There is no obligation to go further and explain how to recover the answer as that's not always even possible. A critique is only useless when it's incorrect. – The Nate Dec 2 '16 at 15:28
  • 3
    @ktm5124 - Exactly. Your perspective is off by quite a bit, and this is more of an emotional issue than an actual one. – anongoodnurse Dec 2 '16 at 18:44
  • 4
    I fear you may have a very sensitive soul, too sensitive for the Internet, and interpret people's words in a negative light to reinforce a belief that many are snarky, condescending or mean spirited. Now, there are users on EL&U who fit this description, but I don't particularly see evidence of it in the examples you cite. Oh, and believe it or not, there are users who feel I tend to nitpick, lack sympathy, or am even pretentious... moi?! (Learn to shrug off the criticisms, nobody here really knows who you are. We are all strangers to one another in the real world.) – Mari-Lou A Dec 2 '16 at 19:28
  • 2
    @MetaEd isn't it a little different for meta? some discussion is OK? – Mitch Dec 2 '16 at 21:42
  • 4
    @MetaEd - meta is exactly where long comment threads are permissible. I have on rare occasions seen a comment thread on meta moved, and thought very ill of the moderator who was responsible. – anongoodnurse Dec 2 '16 at 22:43
  • 5
    I have to stop after this because real life is demanding my attention. Someone can write a comment I find appalling, but that doesn't mean he/she is a mean person. Occasionally I appall myself (in real life, not on ELU.) Someone can be impatient, testy, tired, burnt out, hurried, harried, unthinking, momentarily uncaring, fed up, argumentative, bad at self-editing......but this is not meanness. – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Dec 3 '16 at 0:33
16

Be nice is one part of the Stack Exchange model. Civility is strongly encouraged.

That said, it’s not the only policy that applies. When I’m on ELU and I click the Ask a Question button, I notice this simple prompt:

enter image description here

If more users paid heed to such simple guidance more closely, I believe ELU would quickly become a much “nicer” place.

Personally, I think it’s easier to find so-called belittling comments on questions that are scant in details and show no research than to find such comments on questions that are well-researched and richly detailed.

Insofar as manners go, ignoring site guidelines from the get-go could be considered a form of rudeness, too.

  • 2
    And of course, this is exactly "pointing out the guidelines" which @ktm5124 wants to be pointed out to newbies. There are two helpful links at the bottom of that dialog. – Andrew Leach Nov 29 '16 at 16:42
  • 1
    But just because people aren't following the rules, doesn't give others the license to be mean. Trying to argue otherwise would almost be absurd. – ktm5124 Dec 1 '16 at 20:17
  • The problem with migration -- which you mentioned in a comment since deleted -- is that Rule One is poor questions should not be migrated (actually, it's expressed more crudely than that). So the majority of questions asked on ELU are not migrated. – Andrew Leach Dec 1 '16 at 20:37
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach We're talking about two different policies, and just because one is violated doesn't mean the other should. ELU has its own policy; Stack Exchange has a be nice policy. We should try to enforce both. There's no basis for doing otherwise. – ktm5124 Dec 1 '16 at 20:37
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach Then they can be close-voted, without snarky comments. – ktm5124 Dec 1 '16 at 20:39
  • 4
    Yes. If you find snarky comments, flag them. You have already been asked for concrete examples to include in your question. – Andrew Leach Dec 1 '16 at 20:39
  • @AndrewLeach I added the idea of migration to my original post under Suggestions. I will also add the idea of nicely close-voting off-topic posts. – ktm5124 Dec 1 '16 at 20:43
  • @AndrewLeach I also added some examples. I would be interested to know what you think of them. – ktm5124 Dec 1 '16 at 21:12
  • 4
    @ktm5124 - RE: just because people aren't following the rules, doesn't give others the license to be mean. I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I think my answer states that. I'm just pointing out that there are two sides to this problem. – J.R. Dec 1 '16 at 23:04
  • 3
    @ktm5124 Since you ask, I think those examples are irrelevant here. They are not examples of snarky comments on questions from the main site, which is what your question is about. While the bold type might not have been used, I actually see nothing wrong in those comments here, and I've dismissed the "rude or offensive" flags on them. – Andrew Leach Dec 2 '16 at 8:39
  • 2
    @ktm5124 How does interpreting "be nice" as a requirement to avoid sounding stern or reproachful make the site better? – The Nate Dec 2 '16 at 15:00
  • 6
    @TheNate - I agree with that. I've seen plenty of instances where folks felt like they were being singled out, picked on, and put down when the commenter was in fact trying to be helpful and respectful. In other words, snarkiness is often perceived when it isn't really there. Sometimes it takes awhile to learn the norms of the community and understand the true spirit of a remark. The meta question here suggests there is too much snark and not enough civility, yet I'm starting to wonder if the OP isn't merely overreacting to a few isolated cases. – J.R. Dec 2 '16 at 16:29
  • 1
    @The Nate I think you guys underestimate how easy it is to hide venom behind words. I also think that it is not nice to rebuke someone in an online Q&A, especially over something as harmless as answering ELL questions. Better to gently reprove than to boldly rebuke. – ktm5124 Dec 2 '16 at 18:26
  • 6
    Sorry, I still don't see it. As I said in my answer, the best way to avoid "snarkiness" is to ask a richly detailed question. Your iambic pentameter question had very little, so it generated a lot of comments. I think John Lawler's follow-on questions are legitimate; I wouldn't call them venomous. Instead of whining about a perceived "hostile" attitude, try regarding it as constructive criticism, and let that motivate you to improve. – J.R. Dec 2 '16 at 19:50
  • 2
    @aparente - Just for the record, I don’t get upset with people who don’t "follow site guidelines,” and I would not advocate that mindset, particularly when dealing with newer users. I hope my answer here hasn’t been misinterpreted. – J.R. Dec 5 '16 at 2:11
12

I want to point up an important part of the “Be Nice” policy: two constructive steps you can take when you see a hostile, disrespectful, or unprofessional message, whether or not it is directed at you personally:

  1. Flag it.

  2. Disengage.

Both of these steps are important. Step 1 will get moderators involved to protect the site and the community. Step 2 will help de-escalate the immediate situation.

For example, if someone posts a demeaning comment, it helps if you do not reply (disengage), and instead flag the comment.

  • It would be nice if truly offensive comments which were flagged were not declined without an explanation. Mods have the ability to offer an explanation on the flags they review. I've flagged plenty of comments as offensive, and even argued in chat with mods about them. In one instance, someone called me two ugly names. The mod declined the flag. In chat, his reasoning: "It's not as if he called you a cunt." Dead serious. – anongoodnurse Dec 2 '16 at 23:03
  • 1
    @medica It depends on the type of flag. Comment flags lack the "explanation" option in the mod queue. – MetaEd Dec 2 '16 at 23:10
  • Frankly, because of the penalty associated with the offensive flag, the mods are way too reluctant to accept them. I'm a mod and I used to comment on comment flags all the time. – anongoodnurse Dec 2 '16 at 23:12
  • 1
    @medica I can only say that I just handled an offensive flag on a comment, and I had only three options: delete, edit, and dismiss (decline). There was no option to decline with an explanation. This comment makes me think it's been this way for several years. – MetaEd Dec 2 '16 at 23:15
  • Have you never seen a place to comment on a comment flag? That is most curious. When I first became a mod, I used to thank people for their flags or leave other comments. – anongoodnurse Dec 2 '16 at 23:20
  • 1
    @medica I'll be watching for it, but I think that applies to flags on posts. Bear in mind I was only recently elected and I still have a lot to learn, though. – MetaEd Dec 2 '16 at 23:23
  • @medica - The situation you described is truly shocking. Would you be willing to cite the specifics in Meta? (I'm not sure if it's best done here or in a new question.) Then the community would then have the opportunity to encourage the moderating team to deal effectively with the offensive comments you weren't able to get addressed through flags. – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 2:27
  • @aparente001 - this happened a long time ago with someone who was then a new mod, so no, I'm not inclined to do so; he is a good mod and there's no need to rehash that incident. I tend to deal with people with whom I am having a problem directly first and meta only if that fails (I've asked for private chat rooms with mods - and users - to discuss differences.) Meta is for problems with the site, not problems with individuals. If this is brought up by someone else in meta as a significant problem, I'll support that as best as I can. – anongoodnurse Dec 4 '16 at 13:26
  • @medica - Thank you for explaining. // I guess I'm not getting your main point of your first comment to this post. If it's water under the bridge, then could you distill for me what the take-home message of your comment should be? // Btw, how do you ask for a private chat room with a mod / with a user? Just curious. – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 14:46
  • @aparente001 - the take home message is in the next comment: mods are too influenced by the penalty associated with the offensive flag to accept it appropriately. They would rather have an offensive message flagged as "not constructive" (which carries no penalty), which they will accept. – anongoodnurse Dec 4 '16 at 15:13
  • @medica - What is the penalty associated with the offensive flag? MetaEd wrote, "I had only three options: delete, edit, and dismiss (decline)." Where does the penalty enter in, and what is the penalty? Also, have you tried "other" as a work-around, and if so, how well has that worked? // You spoke of asking for a private chat room with a mod / with a user. How do you do that? – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 15:17
  • @aparente001 - many of your questions can be answered with a simple search. Try searching SE Meta. – anongoodnurse Dec 4 '16 at 15:23
  • @medica - I have tried. My best understanding about private chat rooms, but your comment made me doubt this, was that only moderators can create a private chat room. Re the penalty, even our fearless moderator MetaEd has not understood what you were getting at with the penalty. // A specific question for you, based on your expressed concerns (above), was have you tried "other" as a work-around, and if so, how well has that worked? Are you willing to share your experience in this regard? I don't mean to pry, but it seems relevant here, especially in light of your comments to this answer. – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 15:42
  • @MetaEd - Do you know where the penalty enters in, and what the penalty is? – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 21:12
  • 1
    I upvoted this answer. Both of the specific suggestions provided are excellent. Flagging definitely gives better results than confronting. Going around in circles tends to get everybody more entrenched, rather than helping people find their common ground. That is why disengaging is such good advice. – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 22:15
7

The motto for this site should be

We'd like to help you out, just as soon as we can figure how you got in.

— Kevin

The reason is structural, built in, if you will. The site is a soi-disant place "for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts." And there is a group of people who take that seriously and proprietarily. They treat this place as High Table in the Hall (or perhaps the Fellows' Common Room), and they want to see deep questions, expect meticulous research and scholarly citation for both questions and answers, and wish to curate an archive of definitive answers.

Unfortunately, these folks are locked in a deadly embrace of mutual incomprehension with people who don't (and I maintain, can't) meet these standards. Frustration is inevitable, and this sometimes leads to a certain amount of — shall we say — brusqueness?

My advice is to forgo your own cyber-umbrage, even if in principle it's warranted. After all, you know nobody here. How important in your life can our attitudes be?

And imagine the result of commenting on every piece of snark with a link admonishing "Be Nice".

  • +1 "We'd like to help you out, just as soon as we can figure how you got in."... LOL – NVZ Nov 28 '16 at 16:45
  • I think there's a better solution than just "live with it and you'll be inured". For one thing, it could turn away new users who don't want to go through the process of acclimating themselves. I think it would be helpful to have official policies and guidelines that we can point to, whenever there's a dispute, instead of trusting someone's authority, especially if they aren't a moderator but only a high-rep user (2k, 5k, 10k, you name it). – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 17:07
  • I do think that responding with a link to the Be Nice policy is a fine way of defusing tension. For the same reason that it's an official policy, and not just something that someone clever or witty had to say in a clever-sounding way, as if speaking from authority. I think that's one of the main problems—the presumption of authority. I could understand if a moderator were to say something authoritatively, without citing guidelines or policies. But it's another thing for someone else to speak that way. – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 17:09
  • I think that might be an unreasonable expectation. But even if it were reasonable, I think there should be a kinder way of enforcing the rules and informing people of their existence. – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 17:39
  • 2
    Also, the guidelines are in a somewhat hard-to-find place. There's no link to it on the main page, you have to click the Help dropdown and then Help Center. I know this sounds easy, but practically speaking, since there is already so much on the screen when you load this page, it's the last place to which your attention gets drawn. – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 17:41
  • @NVZ Intellectual integrity requires me to inform you that this saying isn't original with me. I stole it from a friend (Thanks, Kevin.) many years ago. – deadrat Nov 28 '16 at 19:07
  • 1
    @ktm5124 It could turn away new users 1) I think this is pretty much the intent, so you really need to deal with the site's cultural tension. 2) You many have a point that attitudes have turned the site into the intellectual desert that it is, but it's hard to run the controlled experiment. – deadrat Nov 28 '16 at 19:13
  • @deadrat We could simply compare to other Stack Exchange sites. I've been an active member of many, and I feel like the resistance I encountered here was on a completely different level. – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 19:15
  • Still, I question your intention. Why do we want to turn away a lot of new users? When it becomes okay to exclude people, it's hard to draw the line on what's acceptable. – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 19:16
  • 2
    @ktm5124 whenever there's a dispute I'm not sure I understand. What dispute? Only rarely does a snarky comment become a dispute. trusting someone's authority How does trust enter into this? A high-rep user is just someone who has provided content judged useful. 2k, 5k, 10k, you name it OK, how about 37K? – deadrat Nov 28 '16 at 19:17
  • @deadrat I'm simply saying, when someone makes a claim about policy, it doesn't matter how much rep they have—it would be useful and fitting to provide evidence of their claim, especially when requested. – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 19:18
  • 3
    @ktm5124 You may have misunderstood me. Why would you think this is my intention? It isn't. I don't think comparisons to other SE sites will help much. I don't think other SE sites operate in the same cultural (for lack of a better word) environment. – deadrat Nov 28 '16 at 19:21
  • 1
    @ktm5124: Well, good luck trying to make everyone follow your suggestions. You don't need to convince deadrat; you need to convince the people deadrat is talking about. – herisson Nov 28 '16 at 19:29
  • 1
    @deadrat Claiming that someone is not following the guidelines, without citing the guidelines, is a presumptuous argument from authority which I've encountered on this site, made worse by a carelessness with the tone that comes across. – ktm5124 Nov 28 '16 at 19:56
  • 9
    @ktm5124 I don't think either of us is "nitpicking". And if you think no sane person would argue with your position, I'm afraid you're wrong. There's a significant group who feel that the mission of the site is more important than a welcoming attitude. I may disagree with them, but it's not an irrational position to take. The steps you advocate don't seem harmless to this group; they think these steps will undermine the integrity of the site. If you want to change their minds, it will take more than pointing out that they're insane. – deadrat Nov 28 '16 at 20:00
6

An issue I had when reading this question was something that you yourself bring up in a comment:

You can't control other people's behavior, you can only control your own.

Because of this, I don’t think it’s a simple matter to make the community nicer. So rather than trying to do that, I am just going to focus on what I’ve been doing already: answering questions, commenting on questions and answers, voting posts up and down, posting links to related posts, voting to close, reopen, delete, and undelete questions.

You suggest calling out any comments I see that I find unkind. I am not convinced that I should try to do this. Call-outs take effort, especially since it’s easy for a call-out itself to cause offense. If I commited to this course of action, I’d have to spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to word these messages. And even if I made this effort, I might get it wrong and end up offending people in the attempt to make the site nicer. I don't think that would be helpful.

The other issues and suggestions are about topics that I already have thought about, and I would guess many other members of the site have thought about as well.

Things that you say are not nice:

  • Questions not worth asking. I agree that it’s not enjoyable when people act as if a question is not worth asking. I also think that some questions are actually bad. And sometimes, "bad" questions are salvageable with editing. When this is the case, a comment pointing out weaknesses of the question may actually be useful. It's easy for such a comment to just be rude, of course, but I don't think there is an easy way to determine how to classify comments on questions.

  • Answers picked apart. As The Nate says, critical comments are often constructive and they can be very useful. Personally, I would strongly resist any attempts to discourage leaving critical comments, because I want to learn about any weaknesses in the answers that I write or the answers that I read. Of course, commenting should not take the place of downvoting and posting an alternative answer, but I don't really understand how it would help anyone if people were silent about the weaknesses of answers.

  • Speaking from authority. I agree, it's more useful to cite relevant guidelines. That's what I try to do when I leave a comment about site guidelines. But it's not totally useless to post a comment without a link. It at least notifies the owner of the post about the general kind of rule that might be relevant.

  • Carelessness with tone. I don't know how to respond to this point. I try to watch my tone in comments and posts. I have no control over the tone of other people's comments, and as I mentioned above, I am not convinced it would make things better if I committed to calling out any comments that seem to me to have an unkind tone.

Suggestions for improvement:

  • Positive feedback. Are we skewed towards negative feedback? I actually don't know. Regardless, the main methods of positive feedback I know of are upvotes and comments. I already use upvotes on content that I find helpful. I might comment if there is something in particular that I think it would be useful to point out, but this takes more effort and I feel like it may just add noise. Newbies may need more positive feedback, but it's frequently exhausting to actually take effort to do this, since there are many new users and a large proportion of them don't stay even if they get positive feedback.

  • Pointing out the guidelines. Members already do this. I have a document filled with pre-written comments with explanations and links to the guidelines; I mentioned some of them in this answer. I know some other site members have a similar methodology. Sometimes it helps, often these comments are just ignored.

  • Migrating ELL questions to ELL. This already happens, a lot. (In fact, I'm inclined to think it happens more often than it should. There are issues with migrating low-quality questions that have been mentioned for example by Catija in the comments here.) People on this site are very aware of the existence of ELL, and often try to send learners there.

  • Close-vote nicely. I agree that it's best not to leave a snarky comment when close-voting. I try to avoid doing this, or upvoting comments like this. I don't know of any way to prevent any member of the community from doing this, however.

  • 2
    In addition, the OP (@ktm5124) strikes me as argumentative, and this is evinced not only here but in arguments they've engaged in in ELU comments. They could consider that engaging in long arguments in the comments section is not an example of being nice. Appears to me that they are the sort of person who insists on getting their own way all the time. – Alan Carmack Dec 3 '16 at 16:45
  • 1
    @AlanCarmack - I don't know if the OP is argumentative or not. Let's suppose for the moment that s/he is. I don't think that's necessarily the same as not being nice. Also, isn't it best to try to separate out one's opinion about the OP from the meat of the question? – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 2:31
  • 1
    @AlanCarmack - I've now finally finished reading the whole page (almost!), and while I did see unproductive argumentativeness from the OP on this page, I feel more strongly now about the opinion I expressed in a tentative way in my previous comment (yesterday). Being argumentative does not equal being not nice. Being argumentative is being argumentative. (Speaking argumentatively, ha ha.) – aparente001 Dec 4 '16 at 22:45
6

I see two problems with adopting a policy of systematically and publicly calling out commenters for remarks that one or more other site participants interpret as "not nice." First, I think that such challenges are difficult to lodge politely. How do you call out a site participant for failing to be kind without implying that the person is in fact unkind? And how is posting that charge not a species of public shaming? Perhaps the person making the charge considers the criticized commenter guilty of serious rudeness and so feels uninclined to shed a tear on behalf of the transgressor's bruised feelings. But I think public shaming is inherently problematic, whether the person doing the shaming is a blackhearted troll or a squeaky-clean, newly minted member of the anti-brute squad.

Second, I don't think that calling out misbehavior to the community at large (as opposed to flagging it for consideration and action by the site's moderators) is a healthy thing for the site. To the contrary, I think it gives inordinate power to site members who have their antennae out for opportunities to be aggrieved on their own or someone else's account, who tend to think the worst of others' motives, and who are quick to demand vindication of their (or others') rights against the wrongs they believe they (or others) have suffered. Hypervigilance against the endless danger of microagression inevitably leads to endless discoveries of the crime.

To me, the notion of English Language & Usage as a safe place where no one ever says anything that upsets anyone else, and where that safety is enforced by an eternally watchful citizenry continually vetting everything everyone else says, is far from ideal. I would prefer that participants begin by imagining that we're all on the same side, collaborating to produce useful, interesting questions and answers. And when a comment falls glaringly short of that ideal, and it isn't possible to write it off as an error of phrasing or construction, or as a temporary and uncharacteristic departure from good behavior, I would rather that the site moderators take up the case with the transgressor in private. I don't think that the intellectual equivalent of walking on eggshells all the time is good for the soul, and I don't see how a community becomes friendlier, more welcoming, and more collaborative by giving the most aggressively sensitive person in the room unilateral authority to determine for the community what constitutes a hurtful or otherwise unacceptable comment.

That's not to say that EL&U is a paragon of friendliness, welcome, and encouragement. Some participants at this site have a tendency to tell newcomers, in effect, "you can't play here until you prove you're good enough." It's a recipe for bad feelings, and sometimes there is a bullying aspect to it. But a policy of public shaming for rudeness, I think, would only drive the existing hostility toward newcomers farther underground, leading to an increase in anonymous and unexplained negative conduct: no-comment close voting, no-comment downvoting (which is already very common on the site, maybe in part because downvoters sometimes get burned by angry downvotees when they tried to explain their downvotes), and no responses to provocative questions on Meta.

In my view, the best way to improve the treatment of others at this site is to try to live up to the behavior you consider appropriate yourself. That seems to have been the upshot of the question and answers given at Bring back the Summer of Love (aka Make new users feel more welcome), a Meta post that drew a tremendously positive response (47 upvotes, 3 downvotes at last count) and some outstanding responses. The discussion there may even have contributed to better behavior by site users, by encouraging site participants to be more thoughtful and less dismissive of newcomers.

The current net positive vote of +11 (20 upvotes, 9 downvotes) on the present question may be taken as evidence that EL&U participants are ready to start calling out rudeness whenever they encounter it; but I suspect that at least some of the upvoters are simply agreeing with the proposition that the site could be nicer than it is and that established site users should make an effort to treat visitors better than they sometimes do.

The best thing about the poster's question here is that it honestly expresses the poster's view of what constitutes unacceptably unkind behavior, offers a possible solution to the problem, and then invites others to weigh in with their views on the same subject. That's the sort of debate we ought to be able to engage in—politely but without suppressing our own opinions for fear of upsetting someone—on a site that by and large respects intelligent discussion.

You must log in to answer this question.

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