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Has anyone noticed that adding smilies to comments or posts frequently changes the tone to make it seem less negative?


Keep in mind that when someone says something verbally, much of their expression is nonlingual, and all nonverbal expression is flattened out in media like stackoverflow, which is text only (All tone, body language, inflection, etc are stripped). It's difficult to realize exactly how this affects communication, but it subtly alters the meaning of anything you wouldn't say in a flat monotone while looking at the ground and not moving.

Smilies in text only medium

I personally use them in my comments or posts to add additional emotion or meaning to a statement (often because it looks more dickish than I really meant it), or to draw attention to sarcasm. Things which appear to sound cold or rude might get a smiley to make them seem less so.

This question's title

I'd imagine you would interpret it differently without the smiley face. It's this sort of thing I'm talking about.


Recently, there was a SE blog post about mean or rude comments. It was pretty clear that comments with a smiley in them were less likely to be considered derogatory or offensive then those without, and that many of them would seem that way in the absence of the smiley.


Who else does this? Am I alone? Has anyone else noticed it? Should presence of smilies alter your decision about whether to report something as offensive?

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closed as not constructive by Al E., yoozer8, Bart, Rory, Martijn Pieters Oct 5 '12 at 19:49

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This is off topic ಠ_ಠ – BoltClock's a Unicorn Oct 5 '12 at 17:27
Everything is terrible :D – bobobobo Oct 5 '12 at 17:51
I don't think it's that "difficult to realize exactly how this affects communication." Smileys are only a subset of modifiers in language; consider phrases like "I think," "maybe," "just", "lol" etc. These affect tone and mood as well, perhaps even more subtly than emoticons, which I feel are one of the most obvious modifiers. I'm completely with @Pekka on this one: language evolves constantly, and subtle templates appear and disappear every year (memes, anyone?) Rather than categorize and focus on the effects of one, I think it's more effective to just "take it all in". – Andrew Cheong Oct 5 '12 at 18:41
Smilies simply can't replace the taking of care about what you write. – dmckee Oct 5 '12 at 19:43
I'm more concerned with the amount of bold and headers in this post than I am with smileys. – casperOne Oct 6 '12 at 2:47

I'm not completely sure what kind of answer you're expecting. In the end, Smilies are just one Stilmittel, one more layer of the final message. Some comments will be rude despite a smiley; some will not be rude despite an absence of smileys.

I guess a smiley does not change the way a comment should be judged: just take it in, smiley and everything, and if its entirety feels offensive to you, flag it.

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2 – Bart Oct 5 '12 at 17:25
But stackoverflow is a site for professionals, and professionals don't use smileys. <ironic smiley> – Wug Oct 5 '12 at 17:26
You seriously overestimate professionals. – Bart Oct 5 '12 at 17:26
@Bart: That's incredibly unprofessional of you. You should have given him a wink at least. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Oct 6 '12 at 16:17

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