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Over the past several weeks, moderator comment deletion has been regular and heavy handed. I'm generally good with this (I'm on record as saying I'm far more likely to delete an entire comment stream than a few single comments when it's my job). But it would be good to both evaluate this behavior to make sure it continues to be constructive, and to enact some reasonable limitations on the policy.

Some data on recent comment deletions would be really good. I don't think this is available in the data explorer, but perhaps the community team could be called upon to provide it?

There are a few types of comments that rarely merit deletion and can be harmful if they are deleted. It would be good to make sure that these kinds of comments are not getting deleted:

  • Comments that indicate an answer is incorrect.

  • Comments that point to an uncorrected flaw.

  • Comments that add additional sources that have not yet been edited into an answer.

Generally if these comments lead to a stream of discussion this is not constructive, but when it's a single comment or two pointing to flaws/incorrect assumptions/flat wrong details, they are important supplements to upvotes and alternate answers and should be preserved.

When we are trying to provide good information to people, comments that are critical of an answer, that correct flaws and provide sources are important tools for both readers and voters to properly evaluate whether the answer is correct or not. Generally moderators are not supposed to be making these judgements so comments that are critical of answers should stand.

Ultimately without the data to know how many of these kinds of things are being deleted it's hard to make a judgement. However, the sentiments of several people in chat are that critical and otherwise useful comments on answers are being deleted and that this is harmful to the site. It would be helpful if we had access to the data to evaluate our comment deletion practices.

As far as data, a random sample of comment (or comment stream) deletions from the past 30 days would probably be sufficient to try to determine how the current comment deletion campaign is going and if there are any adjustments that need to be made.

To be clear. I am NOT arguing the preservation of extended discussions. I am requesting data on comment deletions and ultimately a preservation of singular comments or short exchanges that add useful information or correct errors.

Addendum:

Comment deletion is about to become a whole lot less important in general. There is a pending feature request that will prevent old comments from showing up, much the way that they do on questions with more than 30 answers (I'm working on getting a timeline for this, I'll report back when I've got a better idea of when it will be implemented). This means moderators can spend a lot less time dealing with comments and the site will still look very clean.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have issues with the fact that this question has been asked by a prominent (~20k rep) member of the community, and has been well voted up, but the only real answer has been "no, suck it up", and that's from the person who is the cause of this question. This needs discussing, not dismissing. \$\endgroup\$ – Duncan Matheson Jul 11 '13 at 2:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DuncanMatheson Everyone's welcome to submit an answer, no one's stopping you or anyone else. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jul 11 '13 at 2:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was hoping that a mod or someone who knows more about the workings and policies of the site, and who has more political standing, would suggest an answer. It's not realistic to say I'm in the position to enact change, only support it. \$\endgroup\$ – Duncan Matheson Jul 11 '13 at 3:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ The other mods aren't saying anything because we're all agreed on the policy, but I can ask them to chime in here if that'll help... I just get all the hate because I take the time to explain it. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jul 11 '13 at 17:28
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I've definitely had comments on one of my own answers suddenly deleted, because a mod simply didn't realize that the comments were relevant and necessary. They saw them as pointless rules wrangling when it was directly addressing a concern of the user who asked the question.

That doesn't sit right with me, and I don't understand how it helps the site. If both asker and answerer think a clarification is necessary, the comments should at least stay up until the issue has been properly addressed. If a mod thinks the comments are getting too chatty, that isn't a reason to delete what's already there.

e: Since someone commented here, I guess I should point out that I have since quit using this site over the comment deletion issue. (I haven't had any such issue with comment moderation on other sites.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the policy-approved answer is that the comments should've been upvoted, as an indication to the mods that they're considered valuable? \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jun 20 '13 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Essentially yeah. Upvote comments you want to keep around. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 20 '13 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @waxeagle These comments should not have been kept permanently, but should have been kept long enough to make sure the issues had been addressed. (i.e. for a day or two.) Is upvoting appropriate in that context? \$\endgroup\$ – starwed Jun 24 '13 at 4:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @starwed upvotes, self deletions and obsolete flags are the way to go. (upvote until incorporated, delete your obsolete comments, flag one or more remaining comments as obsolete) \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 24 '13 at 12:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoting comments doesn't really do anything. I've seen valuable upvoted comments deleted as one of those "purges" that sparked this Meta. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Jun 2 '15 at 9:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since someone commented here, I guess I should point out that I quite using this site over the comment deletion issue. (I haven't had that issue on other SE sites.) \$\endgroup\$ – starwed Jun 2 '15 at 13:07
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Do we agressively delete comments on RPG.SE?

  • Yes.

How much?

  • Approximately two thousand in the last three months. That seems like a lot of comments, but not when you consider there are 32k comments on the site, per the data explorer. That's about 6%. I don't know what other stats I can give you. The comment deletion process is simple, and doesn't track reason deleted like we track close reasons or flag reasons. I'm also not aware of a way to pull out comment flags, or their reasons.

Most of these were flagged, noticed by the moderator team to be chatty (read: prone to start a flame war), or pulled from the aforementioned query which shows very long comment threads which are mostly invisible (due to the five comment limit) and, in my experience, prone to start a flame war.

In my time as moderator here, the majority of problems we've had to deal with have been comments, or more particularly flame wars in comments. Since comments are generally viewed as second class citizens, we have taken the policy of actively pruning them (again, especially the long threads), similar to how fire fighters clear brush.

Firefighters clearing brushImage from Wikimedia commons

To try to avoid this.

WildfireImage from Wikimedia commons

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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree that chatty = flame war. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Jun 2 '15 at 9:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jason_c_o prone to start is not the same as is. Experience has shown us the association exists, but there's no false equivalency being claimed. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jun 3 '15 at 10:39
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All RPG.SE mods continue to routinely delete comments given our policy in Why are site comments being deleted? and general SE-wide opinion on comments (Note the new network functionality coming that'll hide comments after 7 days unless upvoted, we are pretty much doing that, just manually...). Bad comments go immediately, non-useful ones (+1s, -1s) go after a while. We leave stuff that has multiple upvotes though (unless it is part of a comment war or otherwise bad-on-its-face).

To specifically address waxeagle's three areas in question:

  • Comments that indicate an answer is incorrect. These are deleted along with comments indicating an answer is correct - +1's and -1's alike get reaped after some time unless they add some other value.

  • Comments that point to an uncorrected flaw. If it's a flaw of fact they are more likely to get left and if it's of opinion they are more likely to get deleted, with upvotes having an effect on their disposition. "You miscalculated DPS, it's 2.7" will stay. (Ideally, it would get incorporated into the answer to improve it and then deleted!) "I disagree with your playstyle" or "You say monks are fun but they suck" will go. Your answer is the place for your own opinions.

  • Comments that add additional sources that have not yet been edited into an answer. Usually left, though like everything it's situational, if it's part of a 20-comment thread then unless it's upvoted it's probably going to go with the rest of them. We evaluate everything on a case by case basis, value stays.

This has become a "hot topic" on the site again likely because there has been more comment deletion than usual recently, for two reasons.

One, Brian put together a query to find super-comment-laden questions - http://data.stackexchange.com/role-playing%20games/query/116350/posts-with-the-most-comments. This has led to us cleaning up hundreds of comments in the last month, though mostly on old, popular questions. We still leave the most constructive/upvoted comments (which is why there's still a bunch of questions with 20-40 comments on them). I will note that if you want any kind of data on comments, comments deleted, who posts the most comments, etc., that interface can give it to you - query away.

Two, when people start flaming and getting rancorous, we wipe them out fast. We've been forced to do this as a result of the recent monk flame war and sock flame war. When comment wars flare, we delete comments more aggressively to promote civilized behavior.

If anyone feels like a specific comment that adds value was deleted, they can bring it to our attention and the mods will review it.

Comments are temporary post-it notes to improve an answer. You are welcome to disagree with an answer, clarify the question, etc. However, "You are wrong" comments, if not incorporated by the poster, do indeed get cleared. If you have a competing opinion, post your own answer and let the people vote on its helpfulness. What is happening here is that other answers are being upvoted more than theirs and some users want their "This answer is wrong!" comments to stick on the higher voted answers, to "warn the right thinking" about the incorrect wrongthink of that answer and point them to his "correct" answer. Tough. I know it's sometimes hard to understand that people find others' answers more helpful than yours, but when they do, you don't get to coattail onto higher rep answers to get your opinion out. Some site users feel obliged to comment "wrong!" on every other answer but theirs in a question. We don't like that, it's not the SE way (it contributes to bullying, flame wars, and bypasses the innate democratic mechanic of the site), and yes those will get deleted after a while. The "while" is shorter the more mod attention has to come to a Q&A because of flags and other signs of contentiousness. Those posters can either a) make a more compelling case in their comment to the answerer so that their feedback gets incorporated, b) focus on their own answer's quality to get it more votes, and/or c) accept that people in the community found someone else's answer more helpful and move on. You generally don't contribute an answer unless you think you're right, but you can't be the "winner" all the time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments purged as obsolete from consensus in chat after substantial answer revamp - go back to it! \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 21 '13 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I say "page 199 of the rulebook proves this answer is wrong", would that be classed as indicating it is incorrect and deleted? Even if it treated as a flaw of fact, it will still be hidden after 7 days: how should I keep this important factor before the audience? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Lymington supports Monica Jun 21 '13 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimLymington see the answer and subsequent comments from Shog on the feature request linked here and in the main post. Comments that meet a certain upvote threshold will not be hidden. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Jun 21 '13 at 16:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I don't know if anything was happening on other answers, but when you say "recent monk flame war": the comments on my answer were not a flame war, they were rational discussion. Your purging has removed valuable clarification that did not deserve to be in the answer itself, but an addendum to it. You're also creating a hostile environment by destroying contributions, not "promoting civilized behaviour". \$\endgroup\$ – Duncan Matheson Jul 11 '13 at 1:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DuncanMatheson comments are for improving questions and answers and then deleting. In your answer's case, it was not part of a "flame war" but part of regular cleanup of a month-old question and comments. All those comments' useful content can be neatly summed up and I attempted to do that. If you disagree with how I did it, take a crack at it yourself. To me the substance was "we think you're wrong that the monk can do trip and stuff well" and you noted good reasons that it can. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jul 11 '13 at 1:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk I think your view that "comments are for improving questions and answers and then deleting" is the problem. Comments should not be destined for deletion automatically, and that's also not the policy. \$\endgroup\$ – Duncan Matheson Jul 11 '13 at 2:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you read the policy and its links to SE-wide comment policy? Because it says that among other things. What are you really objecting to? Someone else editing your question? It wasn't done well enough (great, fix it)? Or revert it, if you really don't think it should have been edited? I'm in chat now if you want to discuss and not just grouse "for the record" or whatever. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jul 11 '13 at 2:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's nothing in the policy that says that constructive comments should be deleted. Constructive comments can be valuable but sufficiently tangential to the answer to not be included. Alternatively, there's no reason why comments that have been later included in the answer should be deleted: they provide content, and can stop the same (comment) question being asked multiple times. \$\endgroup\$ – Duncan Matheson Jul 11 '13 at 3:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ #1 is indeed possible. In many cases they should be included, however, and in this case they seemed direct so I included them. You are welcome to delete the info back out if you think it corrupts your answer. #2, there's no point - the info is already in there. The only people who will ask the same question are those not bothering to read the answer \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jul 11 '13 at 3:19

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