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I don't think the problem is so much negativity as it is tone. I think HN is still a very civil place (relative to many other communities), but anyone can see that hostile jabs are gradually getting more popular, and hostile jabs are, for whatever reason, an infectious meme and when you are seeing a lot of them, it takes a lot of restraint to keep from tossing them in yourself.

A particular example of a recent top-voted comment comes to mind (I'm not going to identify it because my purpose is not to name and shame), which was full of perfectly legitimate and constructive criticisms, but the tone of the comment was, well, mocking.

And what's the point of that? Making legitimate criticisms and dressing them in derisive language is a great way to raise an army of contempt against someone, but why?

If you want the target of your criticism to take the criticism into account, you need to express it civilly. You don't need to find positive things to say, or even claim that you think there's a kernel of good idea to be found (although genuine compliments are great too, of course). All you have to do is be polite and respectful. Imagine that the creator of what you're criticizing has just shown it to you excitedly. Read your comment, and decide if what you're writing is something that an acceptable member of society would say to that person face to face. Not the content, but the actual words.

And if you don't want the target of the criticism to listen to you? Then maybe you should just keep your thoughts to yourself.

I have a sneaking suspicion it was my comment. If it wasn't, then you've made me think very hard about what I wrote (it was a mock email). It was pretty harsh, and now I think of it the tone was unwarranted. I thought it was amusing at the time and held truth to power, but now I think it was a dick move.

I can't remove the comment now, but I can consider making my criticism more constructive and positive. With the email, my concerns were legitimate, but I could have just expressed what those concerns were, not satirized the original email.

That wasn't the comment that I had in mind, but I'm glad my comment made you think about it. I'm certainly not going to claim immunity to this effect myself. I'm sure if I went through my comment history, I'd find some harsh comments of my own. I do make a conscious effort to notice it before I submit, but it's easy to slip up.

There's no denying that writing a smackdown is fun. We just have to remember that it's not harmless fun.

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