Imagine you came to this site, asked a question, and got a response that simply said "You are wrong!", and nothing else. Who would want to be on a site like that?

I hope it goes without saying that it's in all our interest to grow JLU into a larger community. What might not be so obvious is that to do so, it's not good enough to have quality answers, which I believe we have a lot of. We also need to have a community that makes both new and existing members feel welcome and supported. And that shouldn't be so hard - we're just here to learn a language, after all, and why should anyone take flak just for asking questions about it? Why would anyone even want to give anyone flak for not knowing something? When questions don't conform to site standards, we have guidelines and systems for dealing with it, making negative commentary completely unnecessary.

Unfortunately, I think there are trends of negativity on JLU. For example, there is either a person or group of people who habitually go around downvoting questions without any explanation. However, that is not what I'm addressing in this question.

I'm not going to name names because I believe in the SE ethos that it's behaviours that should be addressed, not people. But, in any case, what follows is a series of comments made recently that are not only completely unhelpful, but hostile to the goals of making JLU a place to learn. What they all share in common is that they simply tell people that what they have said is wrong, without any information that helps anyone learn or improve their Japanese:

作詞 does NOT mean "lyricist".

You translated 気持ちが悪かった too literally. It does not mean what you said.

Whose translation is this?? It is very inaccurate right from the start. "(It) refers to the people you receive profit and favours from"?? That is not what the original says and that is not what the word means, either. The word just does not refer to "people", period.

There is no system for downvoting comments, and if you were a relatively new member, why would you stick around to that anyway, or see what kind of argument might ensue? If I received any responses like these when first joining, I'd have ditched this site in a heartbeat. I've been subject to this kind of comment (not one of the ones above), and it has reduced my enthusiasm for this site, because I don't want to have to deal with getting complained at just for asking something.

Update: Responses below have made the case that, if the phrasing could be made more palatable, comments that simply point out mistakes, are helpful. However, I think analyzing the comments above, or ones similar, in terms of their helpfulness might be too narrow a focus. People have options, other sites and methods for learning Japanese. If JLU is merely a place where people providing comments and answers do not feel any obligation to do so in a positive and supportive way, then the site loses, regardless of whether or not the comment is, in fact, helpful. If I could go to one site where help is framed in negativity, and one where the policy is to be supportive, I'll go to the site that is supportive. So, it's about the goals of JLU. Do we really want JLU to be known as "The place where people will tell you you're wrong"? I can't see a site like that attracting or keeping members. However, "JLU is the place where everyone is helpful and nice about it" is a site I'd be proud to be a part of and has a good chance at success.

So, my question is, what can be done to get JLU members to recognize that being positive and supportive are just as important as providing information? It seems the only way to address it is with combative comments, but I think that just leads to either arguments or entrenched defensiveness. Is there any other methodology that we have at our disposal to foster a supportive environment and weed out the unnecessarily negative commentary?

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    Thanks for starting this discussion up on meta Dave. I've been trying to think of how to do it myself but couldn't think of a way to do it which wasn't too instigating in itself. – Darius Jahandarie May 6 '14 at 4:10
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    Regarding the update: That's a large part of the reason why I stopped using SO itself. I like the concept, but as a relative hobbyist it felt like unless you were breaking new ground in software development you were treated like you had no place being there in the first place. – Kaji May 12 '14 at 13:19
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    @Kaji, I agree. There is a pervasive attitude on many sites, SO included, that people receiving help should be grateful for the help contained within hostile phrasing. However, I believe communities can only get away with it so far as there is no competition. SO is in high demand so there is no pressure to encourage diplomacy. JLU is an up and comer, and there are alternatives, and it will lose if other sites are more welcoming. I believe that ultimately, so will SO one day, if in the future someone else comes along with a better community support model. – Questioner May 12 '14 at 14:47
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    What's interesting to me is that there are three downvotes on this question. So... there are three people who think it's not worth this site being positive? They are against being supportive? Who knows... they never explain themselves. Kind of proving my point. – Questioner May 13 '14 at 2:57
  • @DaveMG: This is a pretty significant wall of text... and there are several parts of it that someone could reasonably disagree with. "So, my question is, what can be done to get JLU members to recognize that being positive and supportive are just as important as providing information?" in particular, I suspect many people completely disagree with. I don't believe we should place being positive and supportive above, or even and equal level with providing accurate information about the Japanese Language. We are a language information site, not a self-esteem summer-camp. – jkerian May 15 '14 at 1:03
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    @DaveMG: Also, this discussion has brought out some significant differences of opinion over whether the issue you're complaining about is worth any new policy or rule or whatnot... people might simply disagree with your examples. (The fact that there are several answers that significantly disagree with points in your post, yet you still claim that people "never explain themselves" is... interesting) – jkerian May 15 '14 at 1:08
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    @jkerian, Point taken that people might object to the value of positivity relative to being informative. However, the "we're... not a self-esteem summer-camp" argument is a hollow straw man. Nothing said here says people need coddling. Just that no one should be subjected to cold hostility masquerading as "straightforwardness". Also that if this community wants to prize information over interaction, JLU will eventually lose out to sites that understand the value of friendliness. – Questioner May 15 '14 at 1:10
  • @jkerian, I think your parenthesized point slightly missed the point, though I guess it depends on what you take to be the meaning of a downvote on a question to be. Is downvoting a question saying that it should not have been asked, or an expression of disagreement? At the time I commented on the three downvotes, no one expressed any reason why this isn't a worthwhile topic of discussion. Maybe that's not why they downvoted... but who knows? Partly my point is that if you don't say why exactly you're downvoting, all you're doing is conveying vague negativity that is open to interpetation. – Questioner May 15 '14 at 1:17
  • @DaveMG: Civility is required, "supportive" is quite a bit beyond that. Regarding, "Also that if this community wants to prize information over interaction", I think the stack exchange system has been pretty consistent here. We value information and actually make interaction fairly difficult. (ergo the lack of a decent forum system for a discussion like this). Downvoting on meta has a very clear meaning of "I disagree", this is pretty well established. It's hard to tell exactly what they disagree with because, frankly, the original post is so huge. – jkerian May 15 '14 at 1:18
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    @jkerian, If people can't form an articulate response because of the length only states to me that they didn't have enough ability to process it and so maybe their downvotes don't represent a thought out response. But your other point about SE discouraging communication only supports mine. Precisely because one has to go work against SE's discussion-discouraging process to make a negative comment, then that demonstrates a clear commitment to conveying hostility on the part of the person doing it. – Questioner May 15 '14 at 1:26
  • @DaveMG: "If people can't form an articulate response because of the length only states to me that they didn't have enough ability to process it and so maybe their downvotes don't represent a thought out response". Now, I ask you... is this civil? It's ad-hominem, with a particular (but unknown to you) target. Insulting other people's intelligence seems like exactly the thing you're trying to discourage (and in fact, is something we moderators will edit/delete if it's flagged/seen). So why are you doing it here? – jkerian May 15 '14 at 1:38
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    @jkerian, it's not ad hominem, as it discusses an action (not reading something), not an individual. To be "ad hominem" something has to be directed at a particular source, definitively. No one was attacked by my statement, or the principle behind it, which is this: if someone is not going to comprehensively read a post, for whatever reason, then that person is not in a position to comment or pass judgement on that post. That's not ad hominem at all, and I can't even see what's unreasonable about that standpoint. – Questioner May 15 '14 at 11:27
  • By the way, we lost the "& Usage" part of the name, so the "JLU" acronym is out-of-date. I think lately people have been saying "JLSE" or such. (But I really like the sound of "JLU"! I miss our "U"!) – user1478 May 15 '14 at 13:49
  • @DaveMG: It'd definitely not civil. It's not respectful. It's blatant name-calling as an excuse to avoid an argument. And what you said in your response isn't even close to what you said originally. – jkerian May 16 '14 at 4:50
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    @DaveMG Today I came across this article about downvotes. Food for thought . . . I'd like to address the points you've made here further, but it's going to take me a separate meta post to do it, so I'll need some time to put my thoughts in order. – user1478 May 16 '14 at 20:25

Comments that point out mistakes are a good thing.

I don't see anything wrong with this comment:

You translated 気持ちが悪かった too literally. It does not mean what you said.

It points out a mistake in a neutral tone. For whatever reason, the commenter decided not to give an alternative translation. That's okay. It would be more helpful if they gave an alternative, but knowing where you've made a mistake is helpful all by itself.

Pointing out mistakes is a good thing, and we should encourage it. That doesn't mean people should be rude about it! But the comment above seems neutral to me rather than rude, so I have no problem with it.

But let's not SHOUT in our comments.

Let's look at another comment:

作詞 does NOT mean "lyricist".

Here, the tone feels less neutral. The all-caps NOT makes it seem like the commenter is shouting. I'd really prefer if comments were either neutral in tone or friendly.

One of the rules here says Be Nice:

Civility is required at all times; rudeness will not be tolerated. Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you because we’re all here to learn, together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know, and bring your sense of humor.

The comment above is borderline. It doesn't say anything rude or mean. The only thing that makes it seem harsh is the all-caps NOT. If the comment were written like this, it would probably seem less harsh:

作詞 does not mean "lyricist".

This seems fine to me. But let's look at the longest comment you shared:

Whose translation is this?? It is very inaccurate right from the start. "(It) refers to the people you receive profit and favours from"?? That is not what the original says and that is not what the word means, either. The word just does not refer to "people", period.

The double question marks ?? and emphatic , period. ending serve the same purpose as the all-caps NOT. If we remove those, we go a long way toward a more neutral tone:

Whose translation is this? It is very inaccurate right from the start. "(It) refers to the people you receive profit and favours from"? That is not what the original says and that is not what the word means, either. The word just does not refer to "people".

It's still a bitter pill to swallow. It's pointing out that the answer is wrong! But that's helpful. It tells us that the question isn't yet answered and prevents us from learning something false, and that makes the site a better place.

Commenters don't need to tell us what's correct.

Telling us that 作詞 doesn't mean "lyricist" is helpful all by itself. As you can see from the comments, we figured out the problem and the answer was amended, and this probably wouldn't have happened without the comment.

It's true that the author could have been more helpful. They could have written something like this:

作詞 doesn't mean "lyricist", 作詞家 does. 作詞 without 家 refers to "writing lyrics".

And we should encourage comments like that. However, I don't think it's right to insist that a commenter provide a correction when pointing out a mistake. There are a million reasons someone might not want to post an answer of their own—maybe they don't have the time, energy, or inclination, for example.

What about the comment on the etymology of おかげ? To provide an alternative, they'd have to write up an entire answer. And no one here is obligated to write answers. They're not being paid, have signed no contracts, and we can't demand that they volunteer their time to do so. And if they're not going to do that, for whatever reason, letting us know that the existing answer is wrong is at least a first step.

So I'm glad we get comments telling us when things are wrong, even if they don't supply useful alternatives. Learning that an answer is wrong can be a bitter pill to swallow, but it's a pill we need to prevent us from learning things that are false.

I just wish we could sugar-coat that pill a little bit.

  • You mention that cases where emphasis that makes a comment seem more negative are borderline. In such situations, do you recommend we report it? Or should we just privately note that it would be friendlier with a certain minor change? – ssb May 5 '14 at 5:29
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    It's tough to give a guideline, because I don't really feel these comments have broken any rules. But if you flagged the comments above containing "NOT", "??", or ", period.", I would edit them to be more neutral in tone. Small indicators like these make a big difference in tone, in my opinion. – user1478 May 5 '14 at 5:33
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    Italics work in comments as well. "This is not what it means" is still emphatic, but a lot friendlier than "This is NOT what it means". (Write _not_ or *not* to italicize not.) – Earthliŋ Mod May 6 '14 at 0:56
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    I agree that a large part of it is tone issues that make things sound a lot meaner than perhaps intended. Contracting helps even more: "作詞 doesn't mean 'lyricist'." – Darius Jahandarie May 6 '14 at 4:12
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    Respectfully, I disagree that it's only the presentation that conveys hostility. It takes about the same time to write "作詞 doesn't mean 'lyricist'" as "作詞 means 'lyrics'". Choosing to devote equal energy to writing an empty negation in place of providing the sought information conveys a pretty clear subtextual message of, "I think your question is stupid because you did not know a fact that is so obvious to me, it doesn't merit discussing". There is a clearly implied, and unjustified, accusation, contributing to the recipient of such a message feeling much less enthused about JLU. – Questioner May 7 '14 at 5:54
  • Please also see my updated question with an added paragraph generally addressing some of the concerns in the responses. – Questioner May 7 '14 at 7:20

It's a tricky situation. Comments that are downright rude and unhelpful are against the rules, and such cases should be flagged for moderator attention. Many of the cases in question, though, do not explicitly break any sorts of rules. They are not directly insulting, and they do address some sort of issue in questions or answers. The only problem is the harsh and assertively negative tone. But as far as I know, there are no rules against negativity. There have been cases in the past where certain comments have gone too far and have been deemed overly harsh, and in those cases the comments were either edited or removed.

That said, as much as I think it's important to discourage this sort of negativity, I feel it oversteps the bounds to institute rules against, for example, any form of unconstructive negative criticism, especially when it is helpful to some extent. While it may not be pleasant to get a comment and a downvote saying "you are wrong, period." it just doesn't feel like grounds for removal. In such a situation, my opinion is that we should engage the specific comment on civil terms politely requesting further elaboration or offering our own expertise that helps to defray some of the negativity.

It may be tempting in some situations to lash out and vent frustration, but especially if we're worried about how we present ourselves to newer members or people of lower levels, we should be careful to avoid such behavior.

If a comment breaks the rules, report it. If the current rules are too lax, then perhaps someone else can suggest changes for discussion. In all other situations engage it honestly but with civility. Most importantly, though, do not turn the comment section into a place to argue or otherwise air dirty laundry.

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    The problem with Many of the cases in question, though, do not explicitly break any sort of rules is that a comment does not have to break any rules to be flagged. Half of the flag options are subjective: rude or offensive, not constructive, too chatty. To me if it feels rude (which, FWIW, all of the comments presented by the OP sound rude to me), I flag it. That way, the responsibility to handle the situation is given to the mods and I've done my due diligence in trying to minimize negativity. – istrasci May 8 '14 at 17:11

For the record, the tenor of the comments here have put me off any future attempts to answer questions.

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    I don't see any rude comments, deleted or otherwise, on any of your answers. What sort of comments have put you off from participating? – user1478 May 6 '14 at 22:50
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    @snailboat, I think an aspect of the issue I was raising is that the site suffers not only when one member is negative to another, and a person feels slightly attacked, but also in a general sense when members see other members being rude to anyone. It might be that no one has said anything to momerathe directly, but, having seen a general negative tone, momerathe feels the community overall is not supportive enough to want to become engaged further. – Questioner May 7 '14 at 3:24

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