# What to do about comment misuse?

In the recent community checkin post How is the community doing? [2018], the two most highly voted complaints (at the time of this writing) are about comment misuse - namely:

We have existing guidance on comments:

For metrics, we have deleted 2000 comments (exactly! That's weird) in the last month. It was 2000 comments over three months in 2013 per Can we re-evaluate our comment deletion policy? (or at least have access to the data?), a 3x growth over 5 years (not bad really given overall site growth). But since only mods have comment deletion ability, it's a large part of our workload.

The fact that the community feels strongly about this warms the cockles of an old mod's heart, because early in the site many people didn't understand the harmfulness of using comments in these ways and there was quite some arguing about it that you might see going through those older guidance posts. (How dare you delete comments, it's censorship, etc etc.) It's nice that proper use of comments has become normative, and it certainly helps that the community has been flagging and such.

The question is, what can we do (other than what we're doing now) to further reduce the misuse of comments?

• Have the number of flagged comments increased in conjunction with deletion? Apr 27 '18 at 16:46
• I've posted all the metrics I'm able to get my hands on. The normal site analytics pretty much completely ignore comments. I don't have breakdown of flag types, but over the last month there have been 1000 flags and in my experience the majority are about comments. So yes, comment flagging has definitely gone up, the community's pitching in. Apr 27 '18 at 17:00
• Gotcha, just wondering if the increase in deletions is because of increased reporting - and that seems to be the case. The system is working! Apr 27 '18 at 17:01
• Well, it's also from increase in volume. But subjectively, the number of comments we deleted in 2013 from user flagging was somewhere on the order of "two" as opposed to a large percentage nowadays. Apr 27 '18 at 18:51
• comment flagging has definitely gone up, the community's pitching in -- the desire that the system gets the benefit of community moderation is improving. That's my read, but I am not seeing what you are seeing. (Is this a problem? With 4 diamonds now, has your flag tasking still gone up?) Apr 27 '18 at 20:01
• 2000 deleted comments per quarter -> 2000 deleted comments per month. And flags don't (usually) delete comments, they just bring them to our attention to do so. So yes, flag tasking has increased 3x and each of us has to handle like 500 a month or so. Apr 27 '18 at 20:40
• The button to move comments to a chat room could appear sooner. It only shows up after a very long debate, so people don't really know how to debate elsewhere May 1 '18 at 12:46
• @BlueMoon93 and even then only if the algorithm flags it (often if there is more than one person involved it doesn't manifest).
– Rubiksmoose Mod
May 1 '18 at 14:03
• I’m ambivalent about that. I’ve been doing a lot of moving comment threads to chat because it’s easy and people are 50% less lippy about it. But I’m starting to think it’s envouraging the behavior instead of just insisting on proper comment use and deleting inappropriate use. May 1 '18 at 14:31
• @mxyzplk I actually think the moving to chat thing has been good overall. Usually it kills the thread, but I've had very productive discussions from comments moved to chat. I haven't seen anything that would indicate that people are learning the wrong thing from it though.
– Rubiksmoose Mod
May 1 '18 at 16:06
• A note to answerers... We have some folks dropping in to criticize how we handle comments on RPG.SE. That's not what this meta Q is about - we have other metas on what we consider misuse and the local community, in the linked checkin post, wants them to be misused even less, so this question is about how to do that. We get that not every SE site enforces comment quality as much as we do - but on the balance, that's what the community thinks works for us here. So while we appreciate your opinions on allowing comment discussion like some other SEs, they're off topic for this question. May 14 '18 at 2:07
• I linked this to a discussion on meta.SE and am protecting it so off-site folks don't randomly dump on it. Jun 28 '18 at 0:08

## Don't call it a "comment"

With this feature enabled, you can't "add a comment". You can only "suggest improvements":

This is only a change in wording, so the mechanics of it aren't any different (e.g. it still requires 50 rep). The real change is psychological.

The change in wording has been very successful on Area51. It was also tested on regular Q & A sites.

On Interpersonal Skills, which has objectively worse comments than this site and a similarly strict comment policy, this feature was tested for a month and the results are out, which Shog describes as "an improvement" but not a "dramatic improvement". The same experiment (but this time for two months) also ran on The Workplace.

• Indeed, a "comment" implies discussion and discourse (for example, RFC). If that's not what comments are for, they should never have been called that in the first place. Oh, speaking of, suggestion for improvement: drop a dictionary reference for comment supporting the reason this action is a misnomer. May 13 '18 at 17:41
• @Tsaukpaetra, what does "drop a dictionary reference for comment supporting the reason this action is a misnomer" mean? I think I'm having a parsing problem here.
– Joe
May 20 '18 at 8:56
• @Joe since comments are supposed to primarily be suggestions for improvement in the answer, it was my suggestion that a dictionary definition should be added to the answer to support it. May 21 '18 at 9:06

From How do comments work? on Meta.SE:

A user may delete one of their own comments at any time by clicking on the (x) icon that appears to the right of the comment's timestamp when the comment is moused over.

Comments that are flagged by multiple users are deleted automatically. The number of flags needed is based on the comment's score. It currently takes "3 + (Score / 3)" flags to delete a comment. Comments containing certain keywords can reduce this amount.

Moderators can delete any comment, or purge all comments from a post. They also have the ability to move all of a post's comments to chat.

So not only will flagging bring misuse of comments to moderator attention - if enough people do it, deletion will be automatic. So you have the power!

• I didn't know that flags can lead to automatic deletion! I think that's a big deal and should be emphasized more--I didn't see it in the "Why are site comments being deleted" meta. Apr 27 '18 at 17:59
• That's 'cause I just found it out. Not sure how long it's been the case. Apr 27 '18 at 18:47
• I didn't know that either, but... even if it were more common knowledge, I'm not sure how it would impact an individual's decision to flag. Apr 27 '18 at 22:10
• It eliminates the "well I'm sure someone else flagged it" syndrome and also encourages them to spread the word via comment and chat to get others to also flag. Apr 27 '18 at 22:32

Flag Backtalk

It's helpful for us to know what flags are "business as usual" and which are people actively arguing about the site rules; we figure everyone can handle the former but we're here for the exceptions (the latter).

Unfortunately, people especially from "not around here" don't always get our ways and some of them are going to get upset. Can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Some folks will leave the site if they can't comment when and where they want - unfortunate, but in the end then we don't want them here. One of the stock mod message/suspension reasons is excessive discussion in comments, and we'll use it if people just refuse to play by the rules the community expresses to them.

• "Some folks will leave the site if they can't comment when and where they want - unfortunate, but in the end then we don't want them here." How does this fit with the new "be more inclusive" attitude that is (should be) leaking over from Stack Overflow? Apr 30 '18 at 16:10
• "Inclusive" does not mean "let anyone do anything whenever and however they want," and the new SO blog post doesn't say that. How "inclusive" are the other no-real-rules forums out there? A lot less than here, and that's a fact. So while approachability can be improved, people that just don't want to do things the way we do it here can move along. Apr 30 '18 at 18:58
• I think (hope) that the company is going to be working on better tools, so that when mods delete "comments in answers", people get a better explanation of why. May 7 '18 at 20:19
• I know it can be intimidating for people to snap back at you while I don't find it intimidating (rather, I find it annoying) your guidance to flag for intervention should nip most problems in the bud. May 7 '18 at 22:20

Don't Engage

You know how your mother said it takes two people to have an argument? Well, she was right.

Sure, it's unhelpful when someone posts a comment basically saying "you're wrong and I disagree" on your answer. But responding to them, short of an addressing an actual factual issue they're suggesting you look at, tends to devolve into a lengthy "Is not! Are too! Is not! Are too!" session. That's what votes are for, if 100 people think your method of handling problem players is bad they'll vote you down, one comment doesn't make a difference.

If there's a legit critique proposed - edit emendations into your answer, or don't if you disagree with them. Flag the comment as obsolete either way because you've handled it. Don't argue in comments.

At most, you should curtail a comment argument with a single comment saying "I disagree with that and my answer stands, but feel free and contribute your own answer." Or if you really want to hash it out with them, a chat link to take it to chat.

(If you didn't know, [chat] in a comment automagically expands to Role-Playing Games Chat--you don't even need to dig up the link!)

• This is a big one for me. If I've made a comment and someone responds negatively I almost never, on sober reflection, actually need to respond to it. Opposing viewpoints can be allowed to stand =) Apr 27 '18 at 19:46
• I'd like this answer better if this had not been the result (on one occasion) where I offered a feel free to contribute your own answer which got reported as being hostile by that user who then went on to bitch about me in chat. Apr 27 '18 at 20:04
• Unfortunately, people especially from "not around here" don't always get our ways and some of them are going to get upset. Can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Some folks will leave the site if they can't comment when and where they want - unfortunate, but in the end then we don't want them here. Apr 27 '18 at 20:43
• There should be awareness here of norms across the rest of the StackExchange network, especially on the very large sites; the co-branding does encourage the belief that there are similar cultural norms in place. Yes, those norms include “no arguing” but they also include “respect what others say” and deleting comments does not feel respectful. May 13 '18 at 19:47
• @DonalFellows Comments are temporary by design and by the rules, and we’ll keep pointing that out and acting on that here regardless of how understaffed the big sites are. If people want their contributions respected, first step is respecting the site’s rules and putting them where they belong so they’re not removed and can be properly appreciated. We respect contributions; we welcome them with big answer boxes. Jul 12 '18 at 4:35

Tell Them To Quit It

Make yourself a stock comment, possibly with a link to one of the main metas on answering in comments or commenting. Make it pleasant, and then reuse it. When someone is answering in comments or otherwise misusing comments, post it there. That will help them, especially new users or even old users who are just letting their fingers get out ahead of them a little, realize what the normative behavior is and that it bothers other site users.

For example,

That's for answering in comments, but you can do similarly for ongoing comment discussion.

Here's the text above, but in copy-able format:

Hello @user!  While it's great you're trying to help, here on RPG.SE we believe that answering in comments is harmful to our format, and those comments may be deleted taking your hard work with them.  Please consider answering in an answer instead.  Here's a reference on our policy: [Should users refrain from answers (or partial answers) in comments?](https://rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/q/6533)

• I strongly believe that this is going to be the best tool for preventing answering in the comments. Deleting doesn't prevent anything: the poster may not even know their comment was deleted and certainly not why unless a comment is left to explain. Equally (if not more) importantly, leaving a comment makes our comment policy visable to new and experienced users.
– Rubiksmoose Mod
Apr 27 '18 at 18:08
• This is a good idea since there doesn't appear to be any mention of or link to the policy from the front page. A new user is unlikely to be aware that the policy even exists. Apr 30 '18 at 15:05

# Educate users, make policies visible by leaving comments

I consider this answer to be in agreement with mxyzplk's answer, but I feel like the rationale here is different in a way that is important in the discussion.

Aside from the obvious things we should already be doing (not answering in the comments, flagging answers in comments aggressively) I do have a proposal that I think might be useful.

I think that we should try to always leave a comment when see an answer in the comments (after flagging/deleting). I know we do do this, but I don't think we do it enough.

The reason I say this something we should be doing more is that as a new user this was exactly the way I learned how to behave. Seeing "comments are not for extended discussion" and "don't comment in the answers" comments in a lot of places is what helped me learn what is accepted in the community without having to make those mistakes myself first. It makes sense that this could be the case for other users as well.

Additionally, if the comment tags the person, they know that their comment was removed and why and hopefully won't do it again. This is helpful in cases where the person just leaves a comment then never reads the question again.

And, to be clear, this is something that every person in the community that has the rep to comment can and should be doing. This is not the sole responsibility of diamond moderators.

tl;dr When you (yes you) see an answer in the comments, flag it then comment saying that it goes against our policy. Doing so should create a greater awareness of the policy for new and experienced users alike.

This answer was spawned from my answer to a previous question (one of the answers that actually inspired this question): How is the community doing? [2018]

• If people think this is splitting the vote or confusing the discussion I can delete this, but I do think that the rationale is important.
– Rubiksmoose Mod
Apr 27 '18 at 18:14
• Let me add - please, you as a user do this. Since we're handling 2000 flags, as mods we don't have the time we'd like to always leave comments when we delete inappropriate comments. When you flag a comment for deletion, if you also leave an instructional comment you are upping the likelihood it'll happen and relieving pressure on a small set of mods to always be doing it. Apr 27 '18 at 18:50
• @mxyzplk I actually used to do that a lot more than I do now. The reason I've stopped is because more often than not a 'please don't answer in comments' comment will get an argumentative or defensive response from the author of the flagged comment Apr 27 '18 at 20:32
• @Wibbs but isn't that the exact sort of thing that needs to happen? This is the policy and a very important part of the system. Certainly arguments in the comments are not good, but if the user thinks answering in the comments is correct, that is something that needs to be addressed. Getting the whole community on board and educated is the only viable solution to reducing or eliminating the issue.
– Rubiksmoose Mod
Apr 27 '18 at 20:35
• @Rubiksmoose absolutely - I just don't have much of a stomach for that kind of nonsense :) Apr 27 '18 at 20:42
• @Wibbs A few weeks ago, I started doing that "this looks like an answer" again in comments, and even added a few "please don't answer in comments" and have not yet seen push back. It will probably boil down to a 'case by case' thing. (And I do have the stomach for the push back, if it comes. :) ) Apr 27 '18 at 21:17
• This is the best thing to do for all site policies, not just answers in comments. It is helpful for new users to learn. Apr 28 '18 at 18:33
• @Wibbs Anecdotally, I seem to get a lot better responses when I say "Please don't answer in comments. Here's our policy on that." compared to when I used to say "Don't answer in comments." The first even sometimes gets a pleasant/appreciative response sometimes. Apr 28 '18 at 22:44

# Don't mis-identify valid comments as misuse

I tend to add comments (in lieu of a downvote) when I see an inaccurate answer. This gives the answerer a chance to improve his answer, or discuss my feedback. I prefer this approach over giving someone a drive by downvote with no explanation. This is even the preferred way of doing things on the Stack Exchange sites, as evidenced by the UI you receive when you use the downvote button, see the screenshot from the RPG site below.

Recently, I have personally observed that my constructive comments get deleted (without even notifying me that they've been deleted!). It's very valuable to have discussions in the comments about the veracity of an answer, even if the comments are incorrect. By having a visible log of the discussion, you can address common misconceptions, and avoid more people commenting about the exact same issue. Deleting discussion comments just invites the same comments from different people ad-nauseum.

• @SevenSidedDie You appear to be misinterpreting the SE FAQ. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/19756/how-do-comments-work says that “comments are disposable”, giving reasons why this is so, not that they are temporary. These are critical semantic differences; meta.stackexchange.com/questions/182295/… goes into more depth about why deleting comments isn't done in general (basically, it causes too much user confusion). May 13 '18 at 20:00
• @Donal I’m not interpreting, I’m conveying both the mod team’s view, and Staff’s view. I am providing references, but this isn’t a court of law where SE’s policies can be overturned with a textual analysis. May 13 '18 at 20:39
• No, comments are absolutely temporary. "Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer." is how they get introduced on the comment privilege info page. They're transient -- they are temporary and also disposable, and we dispose of them. Shog9 mentions deleting them is tedious, but we've got a moderation volume on RPG.SE right now where we're still fine with doing that, as well as having RPG community-specific reasons for doing so. May 13 '18 at 21:00

# Make a button to automatically start a chat room where one could write a comment

It is currently possible for a mod to move a comment thread to chat. Once a threshold is reached, you can also press a button to move to chat a thread you participate at.

However, sometimes I understand that I want a chatty discussion about something instead of suggesting improvements. It would be nice to always have a button to open a chat room that will be automatically linked in comments as if comments from this thread were moved to chat.

It could be a good idea to call the "add a comment" button "suggest improvements", as mentioned before, AND also have a button called like "Open a chat room".

• Or consider “not doing that...” May 3 '18 at 20:51
• I fully support this feature request and have voted for (and answered) the proposal on Meta SE: see Should "move-to-chat" be provided on demand (as a button perhaps)?. Unfortunately it’s not possible for RPG.se to do this—it is a new feature that can only be added by SE’s development staff. May 3 '18 at 23:21
• @SevenSidedDie Is there a way to manually create a sort of "linked chat room" like the one that is automatically created by the existing tools when comments are moved to chat? May 3 '18 at 23:23
• There isn’t a way. May 3 '18 at 23:23
• Manually create one? You've certainly got the rep to create a chat room which you could then link in a comment: "Hey, I find this really interesting and hope you pop into [new room here](linky link link) to chat about it." But at that point I'd actually suggest just dropping the same comment with the magic [chat] link in it rather than going to the trouble of making a room that may never get visited. May 5 '18 at 0:15

Over on Robotics, I have several Copy-pastable comment text for common problems with questions templates related to comments. I use these frequently, but I've also seen non moderators help out with problem comments using my templates too.

Since you can go and read the full text, I won't copy them here, but the main thing that I try to get across is that comments are for helping to improve questions and answers, and are distracting, so we try to keep them to a minimum. I also explain that comments should be considered ephemeral and that any comment which no longer actively helps to improve a question or answer may be deleted at any time to tidy up a post.

# Fix the problem instead of hiding the symptoms

I know that stackexchange really loves the format of asking a precise well-phrased and well-researched question which is then answered with a precise well-phrased and well-researched answer. Unfortunately that's not always how it goes. Sometimes the question comes from a misunderstanding. Sometimes you have an incorrect assumption. Sometimes you cannot phrase your question properly because you are asking about a thing you don't know about.

For example when you have a question of the form "How do I do X?" someone might want to answer "There is an obvious answer Y, but that is a trap." That is not a proper answer, or at least it shouldn't be. But it also doesn't ask for clarification, so it should not be a comment either. It's also too important not to say. So people just put it in a comment anyway, because it's the best of the existing options.

While the community is fairly good at deleting those comments it is extremely frustrating to have your valuable contributions deleted which can lead to more problems later on.

At least not answers and comments that are currently accepted. Identify what those are (besides the above example). Find a place for them. Once you do that "comment misuse" and more importantly frustrating users will be less frequent.

In case you think there is no such thing as a valuable contribution that is neither an answer nor a comment I propose you use the following rule: Instead of flagging or deleting comments that are answers convert them into answers. You will quickly discover that many of those comments that were being deleted for being answers are not answers either.

• Alas, this suffers from the problem that all SE sites are structured very specifically as question-and-answer sites (it's deep in the site metadata) so responses definitely need to be answers as much as possible. However, a “you could, but don't do that” response can be structured as an answer. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to explain why the question is on a wrong basis and how one might back up and try something else instead. Which is sort of what you were talking about providing, but in a far more constructive form (and I've had plenty of reputation from doing exactly this). May 13 '18 at 19:53
• This sounds like it needs system-level changes, or changes in the base policies of how Stack Exchange instructs us to handle comments at all, which isn't something we can handle ourselves. That last paragraph sounds like it suggests many times people attempt to provide an answer or solution in comments it makes for a crap answer, which I completely agree with & is part of why I'd like to see people not doing that. (If it wasn't an attempt to answer or solve the question, chances are it never got removed for that reason.) May 13 '18 at 21:11
• @doppelgreener It doesn't necessarily need system-level changes. The community guidelines could simply say that anything that adds relevant content and is not an answer is a valid comment.
– nwp
May 13 '18 at 21:41
• Given that the rule is in place in order to ruthlessly force users to focus on the core activity of the site as near to exclusively as possible (writing/editing question and answer posts), this suggestion could use an analysis of how that design goal would be impacted and whether the result would be a net positive for overall site design goals. May 14 '18 at 16:17
• @SevenSidedDie I could argue that stopping "ruthlessly forcing users" would reduce the complaints about "meta police delete-rampaging through the site". Would it really though? Would the number of users increase due to the site being less hostile? Would that destroy the existing culture? Would it be a net positive? I have no clue. I'm not sure a well-funded study could figure it out with significant accuracy either. Has such an analysis been done for the current policy of mercilessly deleting content? I would like to see it.
– nwp
May 14 '18 at 16:42
• It's not so much that an analysis has been done, as it's the founding goal of the site. If one is going to propose removing a rule about comments, which exists exclusively to support that goal, the proposal rather needs to engage with the reason the rule was made. If that foundational goal is unfamiliar enough that a proposal doesn't treat it as a central issue, that undermines the proposal. Basically — the answer would be improved by showing that it's on the same page as the SE Staff about why comments exist. Without that demonstration of being on the same page, it has little chance. May 14 '18 at 16:47
• I'm familiar with "focus on Q&A" and I think it is a pretty good model. I am unfamiliar with "delete everything that isn't exactly Q&A" and I don't think it is a good model. Chat and Meta exist. They are not Q&A. Stackoverflow doesn't delete answers in comments and neither does Codereview. RPG is the only site I've seen deleting content like that, but then again I'm only somewhat active on 3 of the many more sites, so maybe they are just outliers. I don't have the expertise and energy to champion a proposal to stop deleting content. All I ask is that someone keeps an eye on the casualties.
– nwp
May 14 '18 at 17:01
• Chat and meta are different sites with different rules. SO is too big — the mods would like to delete comment-answers, but the mod team cannot scale to that problem. Other small SEs don't follow the rule — but Staff thinks they should. Regardless, it's the rule that they be deleted, and — like all rules at SE — casualties are often intended because it filters out those who do not want what SE is made for. So it's time to get familiar with that. May 16 '18 at 22:53