Stop Copy-Shaming Me

Lexie Martin recently published a very good article on NNGroup.com about copywriting and its impact on a user’s decision making. A key takeaway:

The copy that you use in choices on your interface asks people to agree with a statement. That statement is often about themselves or the actions that they wish to take. It’s important from a user-experience standpoint and from a business perspective to write interface copy that supports rather than undermines the decision-making process. Trust, expectations, and positive self-image all shape the associations that users will have with a product. An honest, direct presentation of choices creates trust and positive emotion.

Lexie Martin, Interface Copy Impacts Decision Making

I have, on more than one occasion, in more than one place, complained about Tumblr’s “hide this post” menu options. Here’s a recent screenshot from my iOS app:

A screenshot of the Tumblr iOS app; the options to hide a post are "This particular post sucks," "Unfollow art," and "Flag as inappropriate".

This is needlessly manipulative and negative. The choices are “this is objectively bad,” “stop showing me new things in a given category,” “this is probably pornographic or harmful,” or “withdraw my objection.” Who enjoys this? The reasons you might hide a post are many, beyond just “I don’t like this.” They can be “I keep seeing this and don’t want to because it’s getting repetitive,” for example. Or how about: “I like a subset of this genre, just not this particular topic or tag set.” This option set not only makes the user feel worse about engaging with it, it also limits the amount of information the algorithms can use to show the user something they might truly enjoy.

It’s “Copy-Shaming” at its finest – making someone feel a negative emotion in hopes they won’t take action at all. In the article, Lexie Martin refers to this as a dark pattern, and I wholeheartedly agree. I’m not convinced Tumblr even put that much thought into it, which is not an excuse at all.

I wanted to see if the problem was still there on the browser version of the service and I noticed something interesting. In two separate posts, I saw an “X” in the top right corner to hide a post. The helper text that appeared on hover read:

“This isn’t me,” which I think is more appealing to the user while still being colloquial.

“Make this disappear,” which removes the user AND the post author from the equation. It puts the focus of the action on the post itself, irrelevant both of the person who created/shared it and the person viewing it.

Of the two, I think “This isn’t me” is a better option overall, because this could be taken as “Show this user fewer posts of this type with these user-assigned tags.” “Make this disappear” also has value but it’s not tied to any motivation. I get the sense that the system isn’t using this data in any case, because “This Particular Post Sucks” seems to have no lasting impact on the kinds of things I see or the authors of those things.

I hope someone at Tumblr is paying attention to what Lexie Martin has to say about the use of copy as a tool. Users have their reasons and learning those reasons can help them make the service a more delightful experience.