An extension of this question.

When a user shows some some major conceptual mistake in his or her question, I often see users post answers and comments that are only marginally helpful and are often condescending. Two examples follow.

This image (very tall—displaying it inline would hurt readability), derived from this post on Physics, points out an issue with earlier revisions of the OP's question, with comments that belittle the OP. Is this the tone we want users to see here on Stack Exchange?

This older question on Stack Overflow has one answer which simply tells a user to read a book. Again, consider the comments to this answer. While this issue has been discussed before, I think there's a more serious problem evident in the voting patterns.

If you look at the vote counts for both the answers and comments, it becomes evident that users like bashing others for being wrong, and, more critically, users like seeing other users getting bashed about the mistake. This is perpetuating the negative conduct we don't want to see here on Stack Exchange.

Consider the following comments:

+12: Consider the possibility that you yourself do not understand what we are getting at. – Emilio Pisanty (source)

+21: ~Shadow No, you don't understand. – anon (source)

Do these comments really deserve that many upvotes?

Should we remind users not to condone this kind of ad hominem incivility (through voting or otherwise) and remind users to follow the code of conduct when posting? What's your take on this issue?

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    If I look at those contributions (and not merely the hand-picked two comments) I would possibly upvote them because they make good points. Not because they are bashing the OP. Perceived tone could possibly be an issue, but the points made do seem valid. – Bart Nov 19 '14 at 17:35
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    Telling someone to read a book on the subject isn't bashing them, it's merely indicating that the scope of information needed to really understand the answer is well beyond what can fit into an SO answer, and so other sources, such as a book, are the more appropriate medium for getting an answer to the question. – Servy Nov 19 '14 at 18:45
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    I read absolutely no hostile, rude, bashing, or otherwise personally negative intent in the comments or answer in your screenshot. The final sentence comes the closest to an ad hominem, but it is in fact about the question itself, and uses the anonymous reflexive "one" as a pronoun (instead of "you") to keep emotional distance from the asker. For Tiamat's sake, the answerer even wishes the OP a "good day" before signing off! The answerer is calmly and patiently explaining the fact that the question does not make sense as asked. This is not a piece of evidence for the problem you percieve. – Josh Caswell Nov 19 '14 at 20:45
  • @Josh, "good day" really means "good-bye" and can sound rude in this context. It gives the impression that the user does not want to hear any more about the subject from others. – bwDraco Nov 19 '14 at 20:51
  • How would you prefer someone express "I'm done with this comment thread"? That's a perfectly reasonable thing to want to say. – Josh Caswell Nov 19 '14 at 20:54
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    We have gone down the rabbit hole. "Good day" and "have a nice day" have a snarky tone?! Should I tell someone to "f--- off" when I hope they enjoy the rest of their evening, then? "End of discussion" is what parents say to whiny kids, not how you speak to a peer. That's flat-out condescending. – Josh Caswell Nov 20 '14 at 0:46
  • My apologies for the comment. – bwDraco Nov 20 '14 at 0:51
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    I'm not seeing anything rude, condescending, or could otherwise be perceived as bashing in that first example. I see a question asker misunderstanding a concept, having it explained why the concept is irrelevant, and the asker doubling down on the misunderstanding. – fbueckert Nov 20 '14 at 14:57

Here is a pattern that happens all the time throughout the network, not just on Physics. I'll use a sample question that I hope everyone can see the misconceptions in:

When I am in London next week, I want to visit the Eiffel Tower. What time does it open?

Now imagine an answer or comment that says "dude, you can't do that, the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, not London." Metaphorically, that's what's happening in your Physics question and happens every day on one site or another.

The OP replies "don't patronize me, answer my question which is perfectly clear. What time does it open?"

Some people reply with an actual answer (the calibration people in your physics example) and just ignore the misconception entirely. Others keep explaining that you'll need to take the Chunnel train over to Paris and so you should plan to leave London around midnight and by the way are you admissible to France and so on.

The OP gets mad at all the chitchat about France and tells people to stop it and to just answer about the Eiffel Tower. The commenters start to get snarky and point out the Paris information is utterly and entirely relevant here. Other people upvote those comments - maybe for their snark, but maybe for their factual accuracy. After all "you don't understand" can be factually correct, and is not rude.

Someone else comes along and says "why are people upvoting snarky comments? Can't we all just get along?" and another thread starts here on Meta.

If you see a comment that is offensive (calls someone a name, uses rude or mean words, suggests that a question/answer or its author doesn't belong in the community, brings in material unrelated to the post such as previous posts by this author) then flag that comment. If there are a lot, flag the post and tell a mod that most of the comments are action-worthy. Edit meanness out of answers. These are all good actions to take.

But some other action? Some big cultural change that allows nonsense onto the site because the author of the nonsense thinks it's great? To tell those who know what's right and what's not that they should pretend something is right in order not to hurt the feelings of a new poster? I don't think so. To tell others who see a mistake not to agree with the person who pointed out the mistake? AT ALL, EVEN WHEN IT'S NOT RUDE? Give me a break. Upvoting "No, you don't understand" is not and will never be a rude or hostile act.

  • Well, there goes my answer. You've just written it and have done so far more eloquently. +1 – Bart Nov 19 '14 at 18:00
  • I will concede in advance that using all caps and bold together, and the phrase "give me a break" verge toward the rude, but are not hostile. – Kate Gregory Nov 19 '14 at 18:01
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    Part of the problem is that it's difficult to read tone, and all the other subtle nuances of a statement, when it is typed rather than spoken. I personally try to err on the side of caution when approaching misconceptions like this, by first stating in my answer what the misconception is, then assuming that the OP agrees with my corrected version of what their question should be, then try to answer that question. I avoid statements like "no, you are wrong" because in many cultures people can get offended by such direct language. It minimizes the likelihood of a conflict in the first place. – allquixotic Nov 19 '14 at 18:03
  • All of that said, I do not disagree with your answer at all, nor your personal approach to how to deal with these kinds of issues. You may find that you have to deal with a greater frequency of OPs pitching a fit when you say things like that, but hey -- it's your choice to want to fight those battles or not. – allquixotic Nov 19 '14 at 18:04
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    There's also that bit of advice that (hopefully) every high schooler learned in English class when critiquing their classmates' papers: when you are writing a critique, always focus your critique on the paper -- the writing itself, or what it says or implies -- and not the individual who wrote it. "You are wrong", or "You do not understand" is a much more inflammatory statement in many peoples' minds than "This statement (paraphrase it) is incorrect; here's why". It's much harder to misinterpret it as hostile when you focus on the material rather than the person. – allquixotic Nov 19 '14 at 18:11
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    @allquixotic it's great advice, and what I would prefer to see. But rudeness/hostility etc exist on a spectrum. Plenty of blunt and neutral statements could be made more polite and helpful, yet are not rude or offensive. Rude or offensive comments should be flagged. It is not wrong to upvote a neutral statement you think is correct. Upvotes are not reserved only for the politest, most helpful, and most welcoming of comments. Reminding users not to condone incivility by upvoting correct comments that could be more polite, though they are already polite enough for SE, is not needed at all. – Kate Gregory Nov 19 '14 at 18:31
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    I agree with your last sentence, and I really don't care about the upvotes, either; it is a user's prerogative to upvote/downvote content on the site as they see fit, and that isn't "offensive". I think the grandparent OP that the OP refers to captures the essence of how I feel, but I don't think that the recommendations offered by the OP here are going to improve the situation. This question identifies a valid problem, but the proposed solution seems like it would not have much of an impact. – allquixotic Nov 19 '14 at 18:41

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