Only You Can Prevent Flame Wars
Let's try to keep the tone civil in our comment threads.
To me, the best way to encourage civility is by modeling the behavior. That kind of behavior would include:
I don't need to belittle someone in order to raise myself up or feel better about myself. If I can't stick to factual information and documentation, then my response doesn't "hold water".
There are times when things can become heated and the best response will be no response. It's at those times when it's important to keep certain things in mind:
Think about whether you want to appear like a child arguing with another on the schoolyard playground or whether you want to behave like an adult in modern society. Ask yourself the questions I've posed above and I think the answer will become apparent. This isn't a question of whether it's necessary to be antagonistic or to critical, instead, it's one of learning how to focus on delivering messages that convey facts. Cite the forum's rules, official documentation, plus any learning or training resources that are available. Make factual observations about expected behavior and you should do fine.
Here are links to answers on two questions that I think demonstrate how to be positive in delivering information that others may not want to hear. A: Why answer a question without up voting it? where I quote cropredy and A: How to encourage better questions? where I share some of the "canned responses" I've used here for years which others now use as well.
Sometimes, it becomes necessary for us to be somewhat antagonistic in our criticisms. Whichever side of such criticism you are on, try to approach the situation with humility and grace. If you are being criticized, do not get defensive, get introspective. If you are the one delivering criticism, try to have compassion and tact.
One key tenet that helps me (even if it is hard to apply consistently) is to assume positive intent.
there's nothing wrong with conflict. Conflict can provide fodder for deeper understanding. Healthy, generative anger can push us to make positive change. Things go sideways when we stop disagreeing about ideas and start disagreeing about our shared humanity.
If it seems like someone is trying to take advantage of the system, then show them how to avoid giving that impression. If it seems like someone is attacking you, pause and consider what the community norms are. How familiar are you with the rules and etiquette, and how well do your words and content conform to them?
When trying to express tact in a situation where you feel like someone doesn't deserve your respect, templates can be incredibly helpful in moderating tone. As someone who often feels compelled to constructively criticize (and hopefully teach), I find them indispensable. Below are a few templates I like to use:
No matter what criticism you deliver, a good way to start is:
Hello @username, welcome to SFSE! Please take a moment to visit the [help], scroll through the [tour], and read [ask].
This template renders as:
@usernameor it will have the opposite effect!
A common follow up is some variation on:
And if the post shows particularly little effort:
Some closing words. If you think someone else in the comment thread is a blithering idiot and you need help controlling your rage, put the keyboard down and remember:
Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.
Never argue with an idiot. People watching won't be able to tell the difference.
I find the best way is to just answer the original question to the best of your ability. If the asker cannot run with what you posted, someone else will eventually help, no need to put in such effort that you feel emotionally involved.
If someone asks how to add using the following mathematical equation "2+2+2+2=8", answer the original question. Instead of saying "2+2+2+2=8 is a security vulnerability, 2^3=8 is a superior". The poster did not ask for how to use exponents. He asked how to add!
How about a simple downvote icon specific to civility? If someone is snarky in their comment we can mark it as uncivil even if there might be useful content... one of the reasons folks get rude is that they are competitive with regards to ranking... so maybe civility factors into our overall score. It could have its own icon... maybe a handshake or a peace symbol.