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I flagged the following comment on an answer

Downvoted because you seem to misunderstand the word ....

as "unfriendly or unkind." The flag was declined. Why? This comment was not to me. It was addressed to someone else. But as a user of this site, I wouldn't want these types of comments to be considered a norm here.

The comment is not constructive. It doesn't explain an issue with the answer, but instead attacks the author of the answer. It is certainly "unkind." It's really just a poor substitute for an insult.

Or is there something that I am missing?

I don't want to link to the answer for the simple reason that I don't think this type of comment should ever be an acceptable form of discourse (certainly not in the context in which snide sniping is seen as an unwelcome distraction).

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    To be clear: You're not linking the specific comment because you don't think the issue is particular to the situation, but rather you feel that any comment that starts with those words should generally be rejected as unfriendly?
    – Nat
    Jun 15, 2022 at 6:43
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    For the general-case: I think I could imagine scenarios where someone answers a question based on a misunderstanding of a term used in the question; then, it wouldn't seem unreasonable for someone to write such a comment.
    – Nat
    Jun 15, 2022 at 6:49
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    The specific answer is this one politics.stackexchange.com/a/73622 and the issue with the answer, in my opinion, seems to be exactly the problem described by the comment you mention... I don't know how else you could describe a mistake with the definition of the word "declare". I'm a new user here so maybe my standards are off, but I don't see how the comment is unfriendly in the slightest - surely it's better to attribute the incorrect answer to a mistake rather than being intentional misleading?
    – Silver Fox
    Jun 15, 2022 at 8:02
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    @Nat no, it's still making it personal. If there is a problem with the answer, then the comment should deal with that. There is no need to discuss the author of the answer instead of the answer itself. But a putdown like "you just don't get it" always has the potential to be unkind. The subject matter is the answer. There is no need to make it the person who wrote the answer. There is a very high chance that a person would get defensive if they engage with that kind of comment.
    – wrod
    Jun 15, 2022 at 8:39
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    @Nat instead of "you don't seem to understand X," a constructive comment would say why there seems to be a misunderstanding. For example, "the answer seems to suggest that X means FOO, but in this situation it actually means BAR."
    – wrod
    Jun 15, 2022 at 8:45
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    It might be going too far to dismiss such comments as being "unfriendly" if it's more a matter of eloquence. This is, I think I can appreciate where you're coming from -- that, often criticism could be worded more eloquently, perhaps reducing risk of offense and generally contributing to a kinder, more inviting tone. Though I suppose some might be concerned that, if we start deleting folks' well-intentioned comments as "unfriendly", such a treatment may suffer from the same lack of eloquence that it'd be critiquing.
    – Nat
    Jun 15, 2022 at 9:31
  • @Nat I am afraid the best I would do in response to a comment like that is ignore it. A stranger telling me that I don't understand something tells me that they are assuming more than they know. They simply don't know me. And it's just as likely that I do understand something and have a different view from them or that they understand less than they think. Let's just say that it's very common that strangers on the Internet make fools of themselves by telling me that I "don't know anything" about topics which are subject matter of my expertise.
    – wrod
    Jun 15, 2022 at 9:37
  • @Nat and not being able to explain, why something is wrong, is the 1st sign that someone actually knows less than they think.
    – wrod
    Jun 15, 2022 at 9:46

2 Answers 2

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Well, telling someone they misunderstand something may be veering into condescension when in fact they do not, or when it's a matter of opinion/interpretation of some ambiguous words. On the other hand, people do occasionally misunderstand things. Completely forbidding such remarks that some statement may be a result of misunderstanding something takes caution/courtesy/protocol a bit too far. If you want to be extraordinarily meticulous about this, one could [re]phrase that as "this answer seems to misunderstand the word ..." but that changes little in the substance of the remark, IMHO.

It is "not constructive" to just tell someone they misunderstand something; it is constructive to explain why one thinks that's the case...

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I declined the flag because I don't think that the comment, which raised a perceived issue with an answer to explain a downvote - is unfriendly or unkind. I think the comment itself; 'Downvoted because you seem to misunderstand the word "declare".' concisely explains the user's issue with the answer, and I don't believe it veers into condescension. The use of the word 'seem' - to me - leaves open the possibility that the commenter is mistaken, and invites the author of the answer to further expand their answer to explain their use of the word declare. Furthermore, as LongBongSilver pointed out in their comment, it's generally preferable to attribute an answer one believes to be incorrect to a misunderstanding, rather than an intentional effort to mislead.

While rather succinct, I think the comment falls in the constructive criticism column as it explains the commenter's issue with the answer, and guides the author in improving it. The comment could be improved by explaining why the commenter believes the definition of the word has been misunderstood, but I don't think the lack of this information makes the comment unkind. If users are unable to raise misunderstandings they perceive within content, it would be rather hard for us to curate the site as a repository of quality Q&A.

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  • Thank you for explaining your reasoning. I am going to post a comment disagreeing with it though. I don't see how this can be used as further guidance on what is or isn't an acceptable form of discourse.
    – wrod
    Jul 21, 2022 at 18:28
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    It does not comment on the answer. It comments on the answer's author. It doesn't specify the perceived (by the commenter) nature of the misunderstanding. It doesn't say something along the lines "you seem to think X means Y, but it means Z." Since it does not provide, or suggest, an alternative, it's not constructive by definition. It doesn't offer any actionable suggestion. It's a flame because it puts in question the author's capacity to perform rudimentary tasks (like understanding a plain-English word).
    – wrod
    Jul 21, 2022 at 18:28

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