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Lately I’ve been a bit put off by the abrasive tone in a decent part of the comments, both towards submission content and in reply to other comments. It seems wrong to downvote such comments as “troll”, since they often have a sensible core message, even though that comes closest. So, in the spirit of encouraging people to treat each other “nicely” (as stated as a goal on https://lobste.rs/about), I’d like to suggest to add a downvote reason “unkind”.

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    I think this is both a sensible and a delightful idea.

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      (the immediately following line is written to display contrast with the parent post while retaining structure, not to be mean to the parent or to endorse suggest a particular approach)

      I think it’s neither sensible nor a delightful idea. ;)

      It helps to elaborate more, and none of the 41 people that evidently agree with you seem to be posting beneath you to expand on the point. :(

      Actual opinion follows:

      I’m in support of civil and kind communities (see writeup on the friendlysock experiment ). All of us should always have useful discussion, and when we invariably disagree we should always do so politely and without attacking the person with whom we share a difference of opinion. It’s okay to speak ill of an idea, it’s almost never okay to do the same of a person.

      That said, time and time again things like troll or other flags tend to get used to bludgeon other users outside of their initial purpose. I’m not sure if there’s a good solution to that, and in the meantime would propose that we tolerate a little bit of off-topic discussion when it comes up in the form of gentle reminders for folks to stay polite and be more charitable in their posting.

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        If we want to fix the fundamental problems with irate comment sections everywhere, we need to make kindness a first class notion and optimize for it.

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            Direct, blunt communication is easy for me to parse. Attempts to insinuate that I’ve made a mistake are not. I’m not particularly good at guessing intentions.

            I don’t think anyone is advocating a specific way of communication. This is not customer support communicating with customers.

            I think the issue is these two hypothetical replies to a factually incorrect statement.

            This is incorrect. The Foo method will return Baz in this case.

            I can’t believe I’m reading this drivel on a programming forum! Anyone familiar with D– knows that the Foo method returns Baz, not Bar! You must have been dropped on the head as a baby to think otherwise.

            Both are “blunt” but one is rude and unkind.

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              ‘Not unkind’ does not mean ‘must be kind’, there’s a simple, profound difference.

              It’s hard enough to communicate without wondering…

              On a technical forum, when is it worth communicating if you don’t have the time to consider whether you’ll upset someone else? I don’t see any urgency in discussions of the merits of systemd.

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                That’s a lucid and sympathetic account of your stance. I would say it is also kind in just the way I hope communities can encourage.

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              Sensible: asking people not to be unkind avoids the downward spiral of negativity ruining threads, and eventually, the whole community. A ban on unkindness is not a requirement to be kind, you can be neural. It’s not hard to spot unkindness, it’s mostly obvious and unambiguous.

              Delightful: most platforms are net negatives in peoples’ lives because of unkindness. It’s a delightful idea to create a tool which lets this community be different.

              HN is a community that allows unkindness, and it is the worse for it. This is a change that would improve Lobsters by making it even less like HN.

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                While the friendlysock experiment is much appreciated, your posts are still often frustrating for me to read due to their unnecessarily discouraging nature. There remains work to be done. Would you like to know when your posts are not as effective as they could be? It’s a lot of energy to provide this kind of feedback, and you usually won’t get any unless it’s over the top offensive.

                You’re probably wondering “what have I said that sounded unkind?” but I don’t have time or emotional energy to do the digging, but that information would already exist for you if this tag existed. I know you want to improve, and this tag would help you.

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                  I also feel this way about @friendlysock’s comments. They consistently have a neutral-to-negative affect and are rarely substantive in the way that friendlysock seems assured that they are. I don’t know if the friendlysock “experiment” is ongoing, but that post does not match my experience of the author’s online presence. But I never comment because 1) it doesn’t seem worth it and 2) friendlysock himself tends to call these digressions off-topic. It would be great if there was a way to hide users in the way that one can hide submissions.

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                    Would you like to know when your posts are not as effective as they could be?

                    I’d like an explanation more than a flag, certainly! :)

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                      Sure, but that’s a rather expensive act of charity, and over time I just learn to use this site less instead of donating energy to help someone optimize their communication.

                      As you get feedback when you cross a boundary, you learn to avoid that boundary. For this reason, we must be judicious in our choice of the boundaries which yield information that we can learn from in desired ways. The current boundary for feedback is quite a bit above the threshold where I feel like I’m worse off for having read a comment. This is subjective, but the weighted response of this thread seems to indicate that I might not be in the minority here.

                      I am quite appreciative that you are interested in applying this information. But it ain’t cheap to give out.

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                        It’s not an act of charity so much as the cost for having a well-functioning community.

                        If we value the quality of discourse and discussion, it makes sense that we might from time to time have to give back in the form of polite guidance. Flagging without explanation only muddles the feedback required to promote good behavior.

                        Thank you for your comment, since it helped me figure out how to articulate something. :)

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                    I like the take from the orange site’s guidelines:

                    When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. “That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3” can be shortened to “1 + 1 is 2, not 3.”

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                      troll was used as a general “i disagree with you but i can’t/won’t say why”.

                      At the end of the day, if people are not willing to entertain different thoughts, challenge their own world view and preconception and strive for internal consistency, then they won’t. No amount of clever setup will change that.

                      People use the downvote system the same way they use the comment system. They decide what they are going to do (disagree/downvote) and then they reach for the closest way to do that (rationalisation/call ‘troll’). You can’t change people that do not want to change.

                      But if you want my ‘clever’ way, simply make everybody write a 30 words explanation of why they are downvoting. Then you list the explanations on every post.

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                        troll was used as a general “i disagree with you but i can’t/won’t say why”.

                        Yup that’s my biggest issue. I don’t mind being labeled a troll if I’m trolling, but I’ve seen it used a LOT when the reaction was actually more like HOLY CRAP YOU ARE SO WRONG which is not its intended purpose IMO.

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                          Note that my post higher in this is currently marked with +2 incorrect (with no clear explanation of how it’s incorrect) and +1 troll (despite it being neither troll nor its trollishness being explained).

                          Like, in this very thread, we see how we folks are likely to misuse yet another option.

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                            That’s an excellent point. I think many of us were responding because we like the idea without actually considering how effective the implementation would be.

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                            I’ve used “troll” on a few occasions where someone is just not engaging in what I consider to be a constructive discourse, mostly when a significant part of their reply consists of a logical fallacy (e.g. red herrings, moving the goal posts, etc.)

                            I guess this could be phrased as “HOLY CRAP YOU ARE SO WRONG”, but in my experience people using a lot of logical fallacies are generally not interested in constructive debate, merely “proving” their pre-conceived notions about something, which could be considered “trolling”, kind of.

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                              I guess this could be phrased as “HOLY CRAP YOU ARE SO WRONG”, but in my experience people using a lot of logical fallacies are generally not interested in constructive debate, merely “proving” their pre-conceived notions about something, which could be considered “trolling”, kind of.

                              That seems like a fairly big assumption on your part, does it not? You’re ascribing both motive and expected future behavior to someone based on essentially being wrong.

                              Rather than marking them troll, why not take the opportunity to let them know they’re using fallacious arguments?

                              I get it if you’ve done this and they persist, but off the bat? Not so much.

                              Brass tacks: I can see wanting to downvote such behavior, but are they actually being a troll?

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                                Note I don’t do it “off the bat”, but if you just keep replying for the sake of it then you’ve clearly stopped caring about constructive discourse and just want to “win” and/or have the last word. That’s not just “being incorrect”, I think.
                                It’s fine to be incorrect, I generally don’t even bother to downvote it, but it’s another to reply with silly come-back “zingers” to score “argument points” to “win” the argument.

                                Essentially, if a reply makes me go “ahh, come on man, that’s just lame” then it’s beyond being just “incorrect”. “Troll” is a very nebulous concept, but I like the broad concept of “needless arguing”. I don’t really care about their motivations, the end result is the same.

                                Rather than marking them troll, why not take the opportunity to let them know they’re using fallacious arguments?

                                Because it’s time-consuming, frequently not effective, and I have other things I want to do with my life.

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                                  Because it’s time-consuming, frequently not effective, and I have other things I want to do with my life.

                                  Then - just my $.02 please feel free to disregard, but consider simply walking away rather than (in my opinion) misusing a flag?

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                          I don’t think it should be ‘worth’ a full point of downvote, but I’m not sure if differing penalties depending on downvote reason is implemented.

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                        What kind of comments/remarks have you seen with an “abrasive tone” that you would flag (wouldn’t link to them, just copy/paste the relevant parts).

                        In general, I find that Lobsters is doing pretty well – better than the vast majority of communities I’ve seen – but there are many discussions I don’t read.


                        A personal note on “abrasive” communicating: as a non-native speaker from a country where the culture is very direct (Netherlands), it took me quite a long time to communicate well in English in the absence of body language (i.e. over text, like here).

                        It’s one thing to know a language’s vocabulary, grammar, and idioms. It’s another thing to use them as a native speaker expects. I worked remote for an Irish company for three years, and I learned a lot about communicating in English during that time. There have been quite a few cases where I unintentionally was more abrasive than I wanted to be. The feedback from coworkers about this was an invaluable learning experience, and if I re-read some stuff I wrote four years ago I often spot things I phrased far more abrasive than I intended.

                        The sample size here is just one (i.e. just me), perhaps other people are just better at language/English than me. I suspect part of the problem was that my English was in an “uncanny valley” of being very literate/fluent, but also not quite good enough to fully grok the effect of everything I typed (sometimes this was just a matter of punctuation!) This is different from some of my other non-native coworkers, who were clearly non-native speakers. If they say something awkward/abrasive, then it’s clearly just because they’re not good at English. I was usually not given the benefit of the doubt here.

                        At any rare, my point here is, “abrasive tone” doesn’t mean “the author intended it like that”, or “the author it is a jerk”. Sometimes it clearly is (e.g. if you call someone an asshole there is little doubt), but often times it’s more nuanced.

                        Hence my request for some examples.

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                          I’m probably guilty of knowingly making abrasive comments that motivate this proposal:


                          The thing about alcohol and money kind of makes sense, but if you actually think the human dependency on food and water is analogous to meth addiction, then you are a moron.


                          You completely and utterly missed the point.

                          Mastodon, Synapse, and GNU Social all implement a mixture of blacklists, CAPTCHAs, and heuristics to lock out spambots and shitposters. The more popular they get, the more complex their anti-spam measures will have to get. Even though they’re not identical to internet mail (obviously), they still have the same problem with spambots.


                          Uh, what?

                          […]

                          I have no idea what the OP is doing, but it’s weird.


                          Most of them are returning like for like (I’m pretty sure the one comparing meth to food, in particular, was not made in good faith) but I probably should have just not responded at all. The last one, I probably should’ve left out the first paragraph, since it seems unnecessary.

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                            Most of them are returning like for like (I’m pretty sure the one comparing meth to food, in particular, was not made in good faith) but I probably should have just not responded at all.

                            Rudeness is a systemic factor like anything else. If people are being rude because one person is constantly trolling them, then sure, we should call out the rude people… but we should also do something about the troll.

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                              How would you feel about:

                              1. People downvoting the comment(s) with “Unkind”?
                              2. People replying with comments like “Please change your tone, no need for that language”?

                              Would you be annoyed/offended by one or the other (or neither/both)? And what would, if anything, help you change your tone. This is assuming your comment is either in reply to a “nice” comment or that the parent comment got the same treatment (downvote or replies to change their tone).

                              Ultimately, I think everyone here wishes to change the community for the better, and silencing or kicking members that contribute with insightful, if aggressive, comments should not be a goal.

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                                I would prefer a PM to either of them, since it allows me to edit the comment without cluttering up the main thread.

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                                If you’re interested in some feedback (I’m letting myself risk a guess that this might be your motivation behind posting this comment?): personally, I would agree — to me at least the first two do sound abrasive. The last one actually not so much; I mean, the “Uh, what?” seems to express surprise and lack of understanding, which I believe is more than OK (problems with understanding happen often in discussions, as it’s sometimes genuinely hard to convey thoughts precisely in any language). Although, an “I think I may not understand something” might be an even “gentler” variant. As to the very last sentence, I’d add “to me”, i.e.: “it’s weird to me”. This could make it less of an attempt at absolute, authoritative judgement, and more of a subjective opinion, which tends to be easier to receive. As to the 2nd comment, again, changing the “You completely and utterly…” prefix to a softer one, say, “I believe you may have…” could give the interlocutor some generous benefit of doubt. In the first one, I’d say not responding may be not that bad of an idea; especially per the Internet’s very own “Do not feed the troll” adage from the older days — or, at least, calmly explaining that you feel the interlocutor may have not spoken in good faith, gives them some chance to rethink their statement, and maybe take it back or rephrase. On the other hand, as far as my experience goes, namecalling (moron etc.) seems rather to purely aggravate people; I don’t think I ever seen anybody react in any good way to namecalling…..

                                Hope this helps! And… really sorry if I misunderstood your motivation!…

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                                  I’m pretty sure the one comparing meth to food, in particular, was not made in good faith

                                  I was though. You made an inherent assumption that survival is worth stealing for but pleasure is not. Your belief that is particular valuation is so True that it is inviolable and anybody who tries must be trolling.

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                                  I work with someone who writes like you said you used to. I remind myself that the problem is with me, not him, and besides, his communications are very clear and valuable.

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                                    Tell him!

                                    I had no idea until people told me, and the only reason people told me was because I asked, and the only reason I asked is because some people told me some people found it hard to get along with me (I had no idea!) Turns out the adjustment in phrasing was small, but it made all the difference in my relationship with some coworkers.

                                    I was more than happy to make these adjustments, but … I can’t make them if I don’t know that I need to.

                                    It’s kind of like complaining about someone’s music being too loud. I’ve complained maybe 5 or 6 times over the last ten years, and most of the time the response was “I’m so sorry, I had no idea!” Some people are assholes who just don’t care (happened twice), but most just don’t realize how their behaviour is affecting others, and they have no way of knowing unless you tell them.

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                                      No, because he shouldn’t change. He communicates clearly and accurately, not aggressively, and there should be more people like him.

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                                        English is a tool. If I were swinging an axe incorrectly, I’d want to be told, so I could be safer and more efficient with my efforts.

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                                          Is that to help you or him? You might want a cultural change, more people “like him”. But do you think that is the best thing for him as an individual and his career?

                                          Here is someone who was literally in the position that person is – and they are screaming “Tell him!”.

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                                    I’m very for this. I’ve leaned to use”troll” for this but this is more aptly put and could be a teaching moment.

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                                      I agree. Troll seems pejorative and might lead to more defensiveness than calling a comment unkind.

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                                      Previous related discussion.

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                                        Interesting, it’s been a year.

                                        That thread links to this closed issue, which has some worked out proposals that make a lot of sense to me: https://github.com/lobsters/lobsters/issues/376

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                                        I think it’s better that if you find the tone objectionable, you say so in a comment. This can be combined with a downvote for “troll”, if required.

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                                          In principle I agree, but

                                          (a) such replies take quite a bit of effort, and if I’m not in a particular let’s-try-to-make-the-world-a-better-place state of mind I’d often tend to leave the discussion instead. If I’m not the only one, that might well have an overall negative impact on the community.

                                          (b) those replies strongly risk moving discussion off-topic (and would be rightfully downvoted “offtopic”.

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                                            such replies take quite a bit of effort

                                            Indeed they do, but that’s arguably a feature and not a bug. The reason for that is that other sites (say, the orange site) tend to really quickly move into a state where you have downvote brigades, hiveminds, and so forth–all issues that are made much worse by having an easy flag.

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                                              I’m not convinced that having an “easy flag” to specify explicit disagreement with tone instead of inaccurately downvoting a comment as “troll” has these negative consequences you claim. Why do you think that?

                                              Perhaps you are arguing from a point of view where you feel that there’s already way too much downvoting and moderation going on, and take issue with this particular proposed refinement of the downvoting mechanism because you perceive it to affirm the undesirable status quo? Pure speculation on my part of course, my apologies if I’m misjudging your motive.

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                                              a) Oh, I have flagged a comment “troll” and not expanded on it a few times.

                                              b) I do not believe trying to guide people towards constructive behavior is off-topic. If people see it that way however I will eat the downvotes.

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                                            I’m very strongly in favour of objective, civil, polite discourse. I don’t think anything is gained by penalising people if their tone is a little abrasive.

                                            To be blunt (in full acceptance of the irony here) I would much rather that people post abrasive content than risk them self-censoring for fear of appearing “unkind”. I’m afraid that lobste.rs would cease being a haven for constructive discussion, and become some sort of Stepford-esque echo chamber instead.

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                                              You can disagree with something without being a jerk about it. I think that’s something we should all aspire to.

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                                                I agree (and think that “being a jerk” is quite a different thing to “being abrasive”, but maybe that’s just my reading of the terms).

                                                However, I’ll take “abrasive and correct” over “nice but wrong” any day of the week, and I fear that encouraging downvotes over tone will result in the loss of some of the former.

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                                                  I’ll take “abrasive and correct” over “nice but wrong” any day of the week, and I fear that encouraging downvotes over tone will result in the loss of some of the former.

                                                  Fortunately, these are not the only two options. An ideal solution would discourage the “abrasive and correct” in favor of the “non-abrasive and correct.” In such an environment, “nice and wrong” comments are welcome because they spark informative discussions.

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                                                    Which is why a downvote, as they’re currently implemented, isn’t a good solution. Some sort of separate flag might be, though. Provide an easy way for readers to nudge posters to edit their posts for tone.

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                                                      “Nice and wrong” comments that require other people to expend effort to correct them are not kind.

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                                                        The “incorrect” flag covers those, however.

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                                                      Perhaps the “unkind” vote should have zero affect on karma, but still deprioritize the comment? That way it’s less likely to generate feelings of defensive?

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                                                        Being unkind seems very karma-related to me

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                                                          It could just be some CSS that provides visual feedback from the downvote action to the voter. Like a big red mechanical button that isn’t wired up to anything, but feels satisfying to press.

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                                                        You certainly can. But anger and frustration, like other human emotions, have circumstances where they are objectively justified and reasonable. One would say that in software development, for example, we aren’t really facing the questions of life and death, and getting worked up about something like that is silly. I agree that a lot of anger in comment sections is, indeed, silly – but not all of it.

                                                        Let me bring an example. Recently I found out that one company, which is developing a technology which have been my main “specialisation” since 2012, have decided to move around different modules and in the process deleted documentation for one of it - so from new version on, instead of automatically generated API specification, with all classes and methods, I would have to refer to guides, organised by topic. This change is completely unnecessary, and will make my day-to-day work much harder. I spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, at my job, and something that they have done will make me a little bit more miserable, every day. And they don’t even have any reason for it. And a forum post that I’ve written, with detailed explanation of the issue, and then tweeted at them, have gone without a single reply.

                                                        Now, if I would encounter the person who was responsible for this decision here in the comments in a relevant thread, I think that venting my frustration, while staying civilised, would be an appropriate response. Don’t you?

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                                                          And yet, being direct is often seen as being unkind. I’m strongly against ranking people on kindness – in addition to being very vague, the norms are highly cultural.

                                                          I sometimes wonder if we’d be better of getting rid of votes entirely, and rely on people using their words.

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                                                            highly cultural

                                                            But surely we’re seeking to build a lobste.rs culture?

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                                                            100% agreed. In my experience you’re also more likely to effectively get your argument across. However, it is a skill that requires effort to learn and apply – at least in my case.

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                                                              but you can’t guarantee that people will interpret your politeness as such

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                                                              I would much rather that people post abrasive content than risk them self-censoring for fear of appearing “unkind”. I’m afraid that lobste.rs would cease being a haven for constructive discussion

                                                              The opposite is also true: some people stop posting after too many negative interactions, which also reduces participation.

                                                              You call it “censorship”. Frankly, I’m starting to strongly dislike this term. It’s carelessly thrown around far too often. Every community has social norms, and online communities are no exception. If I’m an asshole to my friends then at some point they’ll start shunning me. If I join a football club (or scout group, or choir, or whatever) and act like an asshole then sooner or later I’ll be asked not to come next week. Would you call this “censorship”? I wouldn’t.

                                                              I stopped posting on /r/programming at reddit after being called a “moron”, “idiot”, “retard”, accused of having an IQ lower than 65, was told that I “fucking suck at making software (and I guess generally anything)”, was told that my opinion was “hates speech” in two separate recent incidents (both over a technical disagreement, wtf?!), and just general unconstructive/aggressive/belittling/etc. word choice.

                                                              It’s not that I’m that sensitive, but if you spend a lot of time writing a weblog post, or make some software, and you get told any of the above (which are all real quotes) then that’s … not great. It’s not that I get angry or “offended”, but it’s also not fun and if it happens a few times I’ll stop coming back (as happened on /r/programming). I think most people participate in these communities just for the fun of it. Sure, you also learn new stuff, but I think fun is an important – if not the most important – part for many.

                                                              Constructive discussion can only happen if everyone feels like they can participate without the fear of being mistreated (belittling, aggressive replies, insults, etc.) If there is such a fear, then I will guarantee you that some people simply won’t post at all.

                                                              I’m not sure (yet) if a flag is a good idea here for other reasons (I’ll make another top-level comment about that), but I do (strongly) disagree with your sentiment.

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                                                                I definitely use this site less over time because of the loud frequent posters who often carelessly put down people with insensitive wording. When I was junior I was able to justify spending the emotional energy listening to technically correct jerks, but nowadays it’s pretty rare that I get anything other than anger out of their childish communication. I only come on lobste.rs now when I’ve got pretty high emotional buffers, because otherwise it’s likely to just make me feel worse.

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                                                                  I’ve only been here for a few months, so I can’t comment on Lobste.rs specifically, but I can comment on two general observations:

                                                                  • Often >90% of the problems come from ~1% of the people.
                                                                  • As a community becomes larger, it becomes harder to manage because mods don’t see most of what’s going on (making it harder to identify patterns).

                                                                  In many ways it’s the same as traffic; if you drive or cycle home you may encounter 100 drivers, so if just 1% is reckless driver then you’ll meet one most days. Also, like traffic, it’s hard to completely remove these people unless they commit gross offences. You can break traffic laws and be reckless for pretty much your entire life, and suffer very few consequences.

                                                                  Most of us act like an asshole sometimes; I know I do; I have pretty strong feelings about certain political topics, and sometimes I just have a bad day. But I’m not consistently an asshole. I think they key here is not to look at individual comments too much, but rather at long-standing patterns. There are just a few mods here, and they probably don’t see most of what’s going on. So the ability to see things like “hey, this user is responsible for 28% of all unkind flags” is the critical bit.

                                                                  I don’t know if this needs to be tied to downvoting. Could just be a separate flag. I don’t think it matters too much, as long as there’s an admin panel to see an overview.

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                                                                  This is exactly what happened to Slashdot too. The loudest, most aggressive users gradually took over the comment section, and the more rational voices left. That site is now a quagmire of hate speech. I think it is a good idea to get ahead of it on this site, because it could happen here too. I like the discussion environment of this site, and I don’t want to lose yet another community.

                                                                  I think that the idea of shadowbanning from reddit could be combined with the stack overflow style of flagging bad behavior. If nobody can see abusive or trollish comments, then they don’t accumulate comments and effectively don’t exist (i.e., not rewarding bad behavior). Those users will either correct their behavior or stop posting altogether.

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                                                                    I’m sorry you experienced that behaviour. I have myself, largely for holding unpopular political opinions[1] . It’s even more fun when people attack those positions in a social situation, before realising that someone in the group actually holds them :)

                                                                    The behaviour you describe crosses way beyond “abrasive” to downright abusive. I’d be okay with a flat out ban in the case of someone who called another poster a retard, for example.

                                                                    By “abrasive” I mean posts that might be terse, strongly critical, or dismissive. That is, posts that have issues with tone. Things that could be charitably interpreted as well intentioned.

                                                                    [1] I guess you’d call them Objectivist, for want of a better term. Strongly socially and economically liberal. The former is common in Australian tech circles, the latter rare. People here usually assume party-political alignment, so if you’re say in favour of open immigration, they assume you’re also in favour of progressive taxation.

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                                                                      The reddit example is of course much more extreme than anything I’ve seen here; but it does clearly illustrate the point that people can stop posting (“self-censor”) due to lack of moderation, too.

                                                                      By “abrasive” I mean posts that might be terse, strongly critical, or dismissive. That is, posts that have issues with tone. Things that could be charitably interpreted as well intentioned.

                                                                      A good rule-of-thumb is whether a comment makes you go sigh, “eh”, “pff”, or something similar, either by actually saying it or saying it “in your head”. You can be critical of what someone said and not evoke such a response. My previous comment was critical of your post, but I don’t think if evoked a “pff” response (or at least, I hope it didn’t!) but it’s not hard to imagine that it could with some stuff rephrased.

                                                                      I know this is murky and unclear, but that’s the way language works, especially in a global community with different cultures, etc.

                                                                      I think the key thing here is that “abrasiveness” accumulates. If you encounter an abrasive comment on occasion then that’s okay. Most people are abrasive some of the time (I know I am); that’s just the way things work. The problem is when people are abrasive most of the time, and you encounter abrasive everywhere you look.

                                                                      I don’t think singular abrasive comments are a problem, or that people should be punished for it. But if they’re constantly making them then there is a problem that should be addressed. Also see my other reply in this thread: https://lobste.rs/s/xnjo8g/add_downvote_reason_unkind#c_kqtuqr

                                                                      Analogy: Lobste.rs keeps track of “self promoters”; people who frequently post links to their own websites. Is this preventing people from submitting links to their own site? Not really; but it does help keep track of people who spam links too frequently. I think a potential “unkind flag” should work the same way.

                                                                    2. 2

                                                                      “Censorship” is certainly an overused weasel-word nowadays. Moderation is (generally) not censorship.

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                                                                      Just to clarify, this kind of “bluntness” is of course perfectly acceptable. If you’d labeled my suggestion a “crap idea” on the other hand…

                                                                      1. 4

                                                                        And that’s the rub, isn’t it? I have no problem with having my ideas called crap, but don’t like calling people “crap”. Others might be more sensitive than you, and then you have a ratchet that moves in only one direction, as people say less, challenge each other less, and so on.

                                                                      2. 4

                                                                        Just to piggy-back on this a bit. I wholeheartedly applaud the heart behind this suggestion, I prefer that the tone be kept civil and polite here. However, kind/unkind might be a bit too subjective and might unwittingly stifle conversation. My concern is that for one person, a simple disagreement with an idea could be deemed “unkind” regardless of tone. My skin might be a little thinner, so my unkind trigger finger might be more prone to fire. I think troll covers abrasive behavior and perhaps some kind of flag could be used to alert moderators when issues arise and tone sinks too low in a conversation.

                                                                      3. 9

                                                                        I’d argue that “unkind” might be inaccurate. It’s possible to be kind and abrasive. Perhaps “rude” or “impolite” would be a better term.

                                                                        And I agree: every community has social norms. Violating a community’s social norms and then complaining that you’re the victim when called out on it is silly.

                                                                        1. 2

                                                                          I’d much prefer “rude” to “unkind”. “Kindness” is more about how something is received; “rudeness” about how it is delivered. I can be unkind to someone by very politely telling them that they are wrong, depending on how they react to criticism.

                                                                          1. 3

                                                                            True. The example I was thinking of was an email we had to send to a local meetup telling people they had to bathe and treat the waitstaff politely if they wanted to show up. It was abrasive, but it was a kindness…

                                                                            (And, sadly, necessary…)

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                                                                          I think it’s good to give people feedback when they’re being harsh/unkind but I don’t think it’s worth a downvote.

                                                                          A downvote to me is like saying “this comment doesn’t belong here”, as opposed to “thank you for your comment but I wish you were kinder in the way you wrote it”.

                                                                          1. 4

                                                                            This is a good point. I agree that my downvote in that situation would be “please express that differently”, not “don’t express that”.

                                                                            On the other hand, in-thread discussion seems to risk derailing the discussion, and is a bit too explicit of a lecturing stance. (I imagine I might react more positively to some relatively subtle expression of “I really didn’t like your tone” than to being called out publically.)

                                                                            1. 4

                                                                              “in-thread discussion seems to risk derailing the discussion, and is a bit too explicit of a lecturing stance. “

                                                                              In the political metas, most of the community already voted in favor of such comments in any thread where they thought something needed calling out. They also have been doing that for years now. So, this risk is already standard practice here.

                                                                              Might as well follow that practice by simply pointing out the problem in a civil way. They’ll have a chance to improve.

                                                                              1. 3

                                                                                What about some sort of flagging mechanism for tone? Wouldn’t have to be restricted to abrasiveness; could easily include things like sexist / racist terms, etc. It’d be orthogonal to correctness (i.e. regular upvotes / downvotes), and could be filtered on separately.

                                                                            2. 14

                                                                              I feel hurt when I see other people being punched unnecessarily. It has made me spend less time on this site when I’m not in high spirits. I’m happy to use “troll” in situations where someone is clearly treating someone else like a punching bag, but I would like to be more specific sometimes. I like the idea of flagging something as “unkind” instead, in the hopes that it provides more specific feedback for the commentor. They may not have realized that their words were less effective in conveying their sensible core message than they realized.

                                                                              We should strive to have cheap mechanisms for helping people who want to improve their communication skills to do so, as well as ranking objectively true yet hurtful content below things that are objectively true without so much toxicity.

                                                                              1. 8

                                                                                ranking objectively true yet hurtful content below things that are objectively true without so much toxicity.

                                                                                I’m strongly in favor of this. Some people on this site seem to value correctness above all else when it comes to ranking comments, but for me, kindness and civility are more fundamentally important. It doesn’t matter how true your comment is if it’s also condescending, insulting, dismissive, bigoted, or hateful. I just don’t enjoy reading things like that—even if they aren’t directed at me—and I think that to ignore this dimension in favor of correctness is to forget that this site is a place for people to communicate, and that if you want those people to keep coming back then you must treat them well.

                                                                              2. 7

                                                                                I’ve noticed some of these comments as well. The ones that stand out in my memory were directed at the poster, and not the content. Which makes me think that “off-topic” would be appropriate, since “troll” implies the commenter’s motive is suspect, and that’s not always the case. “Off-topic” doesn’t ding his or her motives, but just points out that what was said isn’t really relevant to the discussion. Attacks on a person - intentional or otherwise - aren’t advancing the mission of this site. So I guess I would start with “Off-topic” and escalate to “troll” for something egregious that’s clearly intended to provoke a reaction.

                                                                                1. 7

                                                                                  It’s a slippery slope for any disagreement to be viewed as “unkind” if it’s not completely defanged of tone.

                                                                                  On the internet, padded rooms paradoxically seem to echo more, not less.

                                                                                  We should strive to be excellent to each-other, and for mean-spirited comments that are specifically to rile someone up and get attention, we already have the troll tag. Pointing out that somebody is wrong without dancing around it is a very necessary act sometimes though, and we shouldn’t be biasing people towards agreement for the sake of not getting downvoted. Discourse without disagreement becomes very boring very quickly.

                                                                                  1. 5

                                                                                    Yes, yes, yes. I want to be able to express that however true, sincere, and non-trolling a comment is, it should also not be aggressive or sneering, but respect the other person, and so maintain an atmosphere of psychological safety on this forum. Unkind / uncharitable / hostile are all suitable names for this downvote reason.

                                                                                    1. 2

                                                                                      I find the position of being overly concerned with the risk of someone finding a comment aggressive or sneering, psychologically unsafe for the community and vulnerable individuals, in the medium and long-term.

                                                                                      1. 2

                                                                                        So is a spectrum between ‘a community where unkind remarks are common and accepted’ and ‘a community where unkind remarks are called out.’

                                                                                        In the first case, people can feel psychologically unsafe because anybody can make an aggressive reply to what you said – that makes everyday conversation tiring, and it makes being open about your weaknesses especially difficult. In the second case, you say that people can feel psychologically unsafe because their remarks risk being judged unkind.

                                                                                        Some differences to note between these two extremes:

                                                                                        • Whether your comment is respectful is within your control. Whether other people will sneer at you is within their control.
                                                                                        • I understand that some neurotypes might find it hard to estimate other people’s reactions to their posts, and so this rule might cause anxiety. In the other case, other neurotypes would find it hard to maintain a happy mood in an environment where unpleasant comments are common. I do hope we can be understanding enough to accomodate both neurotypes – this is not a ban-happy forum, in my experience.
                                                                                        • In both cases members have to learn something: to avoid using hostile phrases, or to truly not care about being attacked. I think the former is easier to learn, and it’s certainly easier to teach/explain how to do it.
                                                                                        • Even while one can fall afoul of the ‘don’t be unkind’ rule, the same people can also benefit from it. For example, I could have taken the comment above in bad faith, and attacked some fictional personal values that lead to advocating that unkindness is OK. The kindness rule would discourage such an unwarranted attack.
                                                                                        • Psychological safety has a very specific meaning: it’ not just ‘I’m secure I won’t be attacked’, but also ‘I can be honest and open about my cares, worries, or weaknesses, and people won’t attack/exploit that, but will react in an understanding manner’. This is more likely to flourish in an environment where people are encouraged to be kind, than in one where being unkind is considered OK.
                                                                                    2. 8

                                                                                      I have not noticed the mentioned tone in comments. I’m not convinced this is necessary, or justified, or constructive.

                                                                                      I think we should not behave as “snowflakes”, and some amount of harsher communication should be tolerable, even if not being a preferred way of communication.

                                                                                      Notice that being unkind is different (much milder) than being rude. Justice is often unkind, but never must be rude.

                                                                                      1. 13

                                                                                        I’m thinking of comments judging opinions as “utter crap” and questioning “what people were smoking”; does that qualify as “rude” instead of “unkind”?

                                                                                        I don’t think this is about being a “snowflake”; I’d certainly prefer to have people around who are put off by that kind of expression.

                                                                                        Note also that I’m not suggesting civility be the primary criterion; it’s certainly secondary to inaccuracy, trolling etc.

                                                                                        ETA:

                                                                                        Maybe “rude” would be a better flag though? It’s a bit more explicit, and there’s less of a risk of invoking the whole “snowflake” topic?

                                                                                      2. 7

                                                                                        A lot of these arguments revolve around “a better community” vs “losing useful contributions.” Here’s a thought experiment I’ve been using to explore my own position on it:

                                                                                        Imagine you have an invite-only, in-person meetup group. You have authority to ban anybody from coming. Recently, you’ve been having issues with one person. He’s polite, tolerant, and always has insightful things to say. There’s just one problem:

                                                                                        He smells bad.

                                                                                        Really bad.

                                                                                        This is entirely his choice; he just refuses to clean his clothes or do any kind of personal hygiene. We’ll also assume that he’s not a health concern: he doesn’t do anything that would get people sick. He just smells bad.

                                                                                        People are continually complaining about how they can barely breathe around him. You brought this up several times with him (possibly while wearing a gas mask), and he refuses to take a shower. He’s still compassionate and insightful during meetings. But he won’t take any action to smell less bad, full stop.

                                                                                        Do you kick him out?

                                                                                        1. 3

                                                                                          While I like your thought experiment because it focuses on a different dimension of this matter, I think that in the case of this forum only a subset of users will find the odor foul. Probably, most won’t mind and some might even find it refreshing.

                                                                                          1. 2

                                                                                            Exactly, like a very polarizing cologne or perfume. Some of the members love it, a some can’t stand it, most don’t care one way or another. The person has been asked to stop wearing it but it is an important part of their identity. Now it is interesting!

                                                                                            1. 2

                                                                                              The “smelly person” brings a certain number of contributions, but does he bring more than the sum of all the people who find his odor foul? If they stop coming to the group because of the foul smell, is it worth it?

                                                                                              I think it’s always better to teach the foul smelling person to shower and interact with the group, than to tell the group to “just disregard the smell”. And if mr. Smelly continually refuses, tell him politely that this is a requirement to be part of a the group.

                                                                                              In our case, I agree there is a distinction between “direct” and “rude/unkind”, where the former might rub some people the wrong way while still being with the acceptable norm, while the latter should never be tolerated.

                                                                                            2. 2

                                                                                              Do you kick him out?

                                                                                              Yes. In my mind it isn’t even a particularly perplexing question. But, I think when extended with what /u/madsudaca said it becomes far trickier.

                                                                                              1. 2

                                                                                                Of course we kick them out. I fail to see how you mean for this to apply to the present discussion though, could you elaborate?

                                                                                                1. 3

                                                                                                  A few threads here are people worrying it will reduce free discussion and useful contributions. I think people don’t realize those are spectrums, and we’re already willing to sacrifice useful contributions for other benefits, like “people can breathe again”. So it’s not an absolute decision of values, but a tradeoff like any other. One I’m personally strongly in favor of making.

                                                                                              2. 4

                                                                                                Thanks for the suggestion! Usually for meta feature requests it’s helpful to have examples of things to help justify it. Would you (or somebody similarly-minded) post some examples of these abrasive posts?

                                                                                                1. 1

                                                                                                  I’m sure you’ve looked through the other replies, but there’s a couple of examples of phrasing in this thread, e.g.:

                                                                                                  https://lobste.rs/s/xnjo8g/add_downvote_reason_unkind#c_9lad7g https://lobste.rs/s/xnjo8g/add_downvote_reason_unkind#c_3r3i0s

                                                                                                  The last time this came up also has a bunch of examples.

                                                                                                  (I disagree with the idea that we should link concrete comments on a similar level to the accessibility discussion up there, since in this case it would involve publicly shaming the authors in a meta-thread like this.)

                                                                                                2. 4

                                                                                                  Isn’t that covered by “troll” already?

                                                                                                  1. 16

                                                                                                    Once upon a time, ‘troll’ referred specifically to trying to provoke a reaction.

                                                                                                    For instance, deliberately misunderstanding someones point and arguing past them was a common ‘troll’ tactic.

                                                                                                    1. 4

                                                                                                      It was almost immediately widened to include downvoting and flagging users making points that people didn’t like. Ask me how I know. :)

                                                                                                  2. 4

                                                                                                    I’m in favor of this if it leads to fewer of these comments. I tend to downvote them with troll / incorrect, but “unkind” might be a good addition.

                                                                                                    Here’s an example from HN. I have seen some of these type of comments on Lobsters too. Basically they have no information in them other than that the commenter wants to blow off some steam or make themselves feel good.

                                                                                                    https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19410412

                                                                                                    Came here to say exactly this. The post’s author has no idea what language designers are thinking about.

                                                                                                    1. 5

                                                                                                      you absolute buffoon, why I oughtta…

                                                                                                      Being aggressive, potentially starting a flame war… I think troll is appropriate, oft misapplied however

                                                                                                      1. 3

                                                                                                        I think there is a need for an option that is usable when someone is being rude/insulting without trolling. Unkind seems too ambiguous, though. Direct communication is important, and I think if we flag that content because it’s not phrased kindly, we’re doing the community a disservice. But when people are outright jerks (i.e. calling someone names), they need to be called on it.

                                                                                                        1. 3

                                                                                                          This sounds nice. “Unkind” seems general-but-useful enough :)

                                                                                                          EDIT: I made a PR in case that helps move this along: https://github.com/lobsters/lobsters/pull/663

                                                                                                          1. 3

                                                                                                            I think it’s good to give people feedback when they’re being harsh/unkind but I don’t think it’s worth a downvote.

                                                                                                            A downvote to me is like saying “this comment doesn’t belong here”, as opposed to “thank you for your comment but I wish you were kinder in the way you wrote it”.

                                                                                                            1. 1

                                                                                                              I fall into the same boat as you. I think it is worthwhile feedback, but don’t know if I think it should count as an actual downvote.

                                                                                                            2. 3

                                                                                                              reminds me of some subreddit policies to “be respectful” and/or “remember the human” (e.g. /r/sandersforpresident rule 1)

                                                                                                              1. 3

                                                                                                                Completely agree and support this.

                                                                                                                1. 3

                                                                                                                  I think kindness is the wrong word. A highly critical comment is often by it’s nature not very kind, but it can be valuable. It also doesn’t necessarily have the abrasive tone you are talking about though.

                                                                                                                  How about “obnoxious”? Or maybe “nasty”?

                                                                                                                  1. 3

                                                                                                                    I don’t think any type of voting down - or up for those who like to stoke these types of fires - is the appropriate reaction here. The problem with downvoting is that it stimulates the echo-chamber type of reaction which plagues sites like HN where any opinion which goes against the current dogma quickly gets voted down into the grey area. If you see something you’d want to press that ‘unkind’ vote on I’d much rather you add a response to the discussion, for two reasons. The first reason is that a response makes it possible to tell the person you’re responding to exactly what she has done wrong in your opinion. The other reason is that it takes a bit more effort to respond so the knee-jerk ‘like/dislike’ response is suppressed.

                                                                                                                    1. 3

                                                                                                                      I personally don’t think kindness should be a value we need to strive for. OP suggests he has been put off by some comments, but who’s to say maybe he’s not being overly sensitive about them? Maybe it’s an opportunity for OP to develop a tougher skin and become more resilient.

                                                                                                                      1. 4

                                                                                                                        Experiencing adversity is often an opportunity to become more resilient, yes—but intentionally inflicting adversity on someone has a name: cruelty.

                                                                                                                        1. 2

                                                                                                                          What about a trainer making things harder for his pupil? What about a parent no being overly protective of a child? What about a teacher giving a student a hard time for slacking off? It seems to me that these are instances where you intentionally inflict adversity for the own good of the individual. Besides, I think you’re being extreme by suggesting that the perception of unkindness in a tech forum is akin to experiencing cruelty from someone else. I’d prescribe gaining some perspective on what cruelty really is.

                                                                                                                          1. 2

                                                                                                                            You’re right; there are situations in which adversity is called for, and being mean on the internet is generally not the worst thing you can do. My point is that saying, “I don’t need to be nice, you just need to develop a thicker skin” is an attitude that leads to callous indifference.

                                                                                                                      2. 2

                                                                                                                        Totally love this idea. I’ve had several commented downvoted with “Troll” and while I may have been guilty of being overly enthusiastic in my viewpoint (a character flaw I’ve been working on for years :) I don’t generally consider pretty much anything I post as “Trolling” unless it’s meant in the obviously humorous / ironic vein, and then, if someone tags a comment with that, I deserve it whether kidding or not :)

                                                                                                                        Update: I do believe you’ve hit a nerve :) This may be the most upvoted meta post since friendlysock’s post on raising the quality of discourse

                                                                                                                        1. 0

                                                                                                                          But I like being unkind…

                                                                                                                          1. 3

                                                                                                                            Assuming you are serious - why?

                                                                                                                            1. 1

                                                                                                                              Joking aside I think being harsh is called for at times. Especially in response to displays of chauvinism.

                                                                                                                              1. 1

                                                                                                                                You can call out chauvinism effectively without resorting to insults and name calling.

                                                                                                                                1. 0

                                                                                                                                  Chauvinism is an extreme case example but it’s very much fairy tale thinking to believe that being kind to chauvinists will have any impact on their behavior.

                                                                                                                          2. 1

                                                                                                                            There is already a downvote reason for “incorrect”, which seems innocuous to me relative to “unkind”. I think it’s okay to be wrong, provided you are willing to accept gentle and thoughtful correction.

                                                                                                                            However, the word “unkind” literally means “not kind”, and I also think it’s okay to be “not kind”, provided you are also not being harsh or mean (that is, in a neutral tone). Perhaps “mean” or “brutish” or “hostile tone” would be more precise.

                                                                                                                            1. 3

                                                                                                                              However, the word “unkind” literally means “not kind”

                                                                                                                              Maybe we’re heading into bikeshedding territory here, but my dictionary defines “unkind” as “inconsiderate and harsh to others,” and anecdotally this is always how I’ve heard it used. It would be correct (if odd) to describe a neutral statement as “not kind” but it wouldn’t really be right to call it “unkind.” For that reason, I think that “unkind” is a decent choice for a downvote label.

                                                                                                                            2. 1

                                                                                                                              I think this is a great idea.