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Moderators shouldn't be allowed to delete comments. Why can't we use the normal process of flagging to remove offensive comments?

Sometimes, entire discussions get wiped out because a diamond moderator deletes all comments from a post. IMO, this serves no purpose, and unilaterally ends a discussion leaving no trace of it.

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If it's absolutely necessary to allow deletion for cases of abuse, perhaps providing a way for another moderator to undelete them would also work –  jmfsg Feb 12 '10 at 20:48

10 Answers 10

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Comments should be deleted when necessary.

But

A record of their deletion and the content of what was deleted should be retained so that instances of moderator abuse can be investigated by other moderators.

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I would be surprised if a change record wasn't made for moderator activities, although perhaps the actual comment text isn't preserved in the record... –  Adam Davis Feb 12 '10 at 21:08
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@Pollyanna: Comments aren't deleted at all; they're just marked as deleted in the DB, their text is kept. See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/36827/… –  balpha Feb 13 '10 at 9:25
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It's not even really about moderator abuse. It's more about removing actual information. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 23 '12 at 21:25

It is pretty hard to discuss this without an example of the type of contents being removed. I have a confession: I've deleted more than a few comments in my time (feel free to start the downvoting). Comments and sensible levels of discussion can be healthy, but if a thread gets derailed by a swathe of comments that don't relate to answering the question then damage is done. Especially if the comments relate to a situation that is (or has already been) easily fixed, such as duplicates, formatting, etc.

I obviously try to minimise any loss - we wouldn't destroy "all" comments just because a single comment was unacceptable. But sometimes genuinely an entire comment war is just noise.

Do you have a very specific scenario you want to raise? If not, I'm not sure it is an answerable question...

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Hard to cite examples when they've been deleted... ;-) –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 21:00
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Due to the timing of this proposal I'm pretty sure his specific scenario is: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/39267/… –  Andreas Bonini Feb 12 '10 at 21:01
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@Koper - do you mean the actual meta discussion, or the superuser thread linked? –  Marc Gravell Feb 12 '10 at 21:02
    
@Shog9 - ok; not "cite", then; "paraphrase"... –  Marc Gravell Feb 12 '10 at 21:04
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@Marc: well, the question Koper linked is as good an example as any. Should be something like 30 comments just on the question itself... –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 21:20
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@shog9 and as others have noted in that very question, none of the comments were worthwhile. But you gotta have your traffic accident with blood on the streets to PROVE there was a traffic accident with blood on the streets, right? Yeah... –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 21:35
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@Jeff: I read those comments as they were being left. A perfectly good discussion, up 'till someone started deleting bits and pieces of the conversations. At that point, sure, it was a disjointed mess. Maybe if the folks with the big trucks started pausing at intersections there wouldn't be so much blood on the road... (really? You're arguing that moderators' ability to arbitrarily delete comments is good because it allows you to clean up the messes left when moderators arbitrarily delete comments?) –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 21:39
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@shog9 not every user-generated byte committed to memory is sacred. Particularly in comments, which are meant to be lightweight and ephemeral. If you want to post content more likely to survive, do it in an answer.. this is 100% [status-bydesign] and you are certainly an experienced enough user to know this by now, which makes this whole discussion perplexing. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 21:43
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@Jeff: On those rare occasions when I have something on-topic and worth saying, I put it in an answer. The comments I leave are mostly a courtesy response to someone - either the author of the post or some other commenter. Because comments do work for that sort of back-and-forth, while answers don't - remember your argument that posts+comments were the "threads"? I do my best to use the system in however manner works best. Which all kinda goes pear-shaped when stuff randomly disappears. I'm not asking that every word typed be etched in stone; merely that capricious deletion be curtailed. –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 21:51
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@Jeff: We are talking about Meta, that is supposed to encourage discussion, unless I have misunderstood you and this place is only for bug reports, helping newbies and making feature requests without any discussion made. The only thing resembling a threaded discussion (the only way to easily understand how one develops and gets to a conclusion) are comments. What is so wrong with discussion/comments in Meta that you feel the need to wipe them out whenever they get to a certain length/level of controversy? –  perbert Feb 12 '10 at 21:53
    
@shog9 well, your definition of "capricious" is far too broad for my tastes, since (per your answer) it is awfully close to "every comment is sacred unless it is spam or illegal." That's absurd. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 21:58
    
@voyager shall I produce stats demonstrating how rare comment deletion is relative to the corpus? answer incoming.. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 22:02
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@Jeff: capricious == unexpected. If you refreshed the page to find the comment you just typed gone, I suspect it might well strike you as unexpected, random, capricious. It doesn't bother me in the least that a comment I left last month is no longer around, but when comments are cleared between the time I post a reply and finish up a phone call, that's unexpected. Remember when users above a certain rep level could delete any comment left on a post? I suggested that this was unhealthy, and asked for at least some sort of indication - you removed the ability and that worked great... 'til now. –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 22:04
    
@Marc: FWIW, someone reminded me of this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37345/37354#37354 Had a nice little discussion going in the comments, before they were all deleted and... the same discussion started back over again. Now, I did eventually update my answer to try and cut short the repeat, and yeah, I probably should have done that anyway... but it would have been nice to have the back-and-forth visible while doing so rather than trying to remember the gist of it. –  Shog9 Feb 13 '10 at 0:53
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@Shog9 - meta is somewhat different IMO. As long as the comments relate broadly to the sites and/or question/discussion I generally leave them well alone. There was that one notorious incident with the waffle comments, but I don't think anyone can argue that they were on-topic... –  Marc Gravell Feb 13 '10 at 9:31

Agreed... I don't really get this behavior. It's become extremely* common, especially here on Meta, and the reasoning doesn't hold up. I could understand quick deletion in the case of spam, or illegal content... But most of the comments I see removed are pretty benign.

The mass-deletion of extensive discussion might make some sense on SOFU, but given that Meta was created in part to provide a place to discuss matters pertaining to SOFU, it hardly seems appropriate to squelch those very discussions.

The system was set up to remove comments (and questions, and answers) that had been flagged n times, for some value of n. If that's not happening fast enough, then perhaps n needs to be reduced; otherwise, it should be left up to the readers to decide what is appropriate (again, excluding things that would create a liability for the site itself such as spam and content that breaks US law).


*Ok, so that's an extreme exaggeration - somewhere over 3% of comments on Meta are force-deleted. Perhaps I've just been more observant lately... Still annoying when it happens, but at these levels probably not worth a complete ban on deletion. It would be nice though, when a conversation is still "warm", if moderators would ease up on the big red button - it may not seem likely that any of us actually have jobs that distract us from continually refreshing the page, but it is frustrating to return and find a dozen or so comments gone without a trace or explanation.

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I agree that this should be different on Meta vs SOFU. With 13 moderators here, it might be worthwhile considering a system whereby two moderators are required to delete comments. On the other sites, though, I'd rather see drama be quenched quickly so it doesn't draw more users into the fire. –  Adam Davis Feb 12 '10 at 21:05
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I'd rather see a system where Meta didn't have 13 moderators. Notice how Joel and Massa just do their work quietly and without fuss? –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 21:14
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no, it is up to both the readers and the moderators to decide what is appropriate. We have both elements here and this will always be true. If you don't trust the moderators, then that's a different issue. The idea that everything except for "spam and content that breaks the law" should be allowed is unbelievably naive. If you want to start a site and run it that way, be our guest, we'll be happy to refer people to it. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 21:41
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"If you want to start a site and run it that way, be our guest, we'll be happy to refer people to it." == shut up or leave. Nice! That's the attitude... –  alex Feb 12 '10 at 23:40
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@Alex - It's not "shut up and leave" it's "You are niave, and it appears you are only going to gain wisdom through experience. I invite you to do so" or "I do not believe you. Please go and prove me wrong, and I will eat my words." –  Adam Davis Feb 13 '10 at 5:56
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Heh... Funny thing... For a little while, I had the ability to delete comments on SO. Anyone's comments. And I used that ability, at least at first: clearing out off-topic sub-threads, removing comments I felt were rude (and then removing comments that referred to the removed comments)... And guess what? It just made a mess of things. And lots of people had this ability, and so there were lots of little messes. Although I didn't ask for it, it was a Good Thing when this ability was removed. (and no, I can't provide evidence of severity or scale; no one outside SOTeam has that data). –  Shog9 Feb 13 '10 at 16:16

From the perspective of trying to limit drama, and keeping discussions appropriate and on track, I just don't think this is a good idea. Sometimes nonconstructive comments should be removed even if the community hasn't flagged them.

Comments are superfluous. Helpful, but not the main mission of the site. If a comment contains important information then that information should be included in a new answer, or edited into the appropriate answer.

Ideally nothing critical is captured in comments, and should the site lose all comments, then the information it still has should be as useful and helpful (though perhaps not quite as interesting) as with the comments. That's not true, but it is the ideal.

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right, this is the other implicit message -- if what you have to say is important then man up and say it in an answer! –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 21:45

The only time I really use the "comment delete" ability on SU is to clean up migrated posts to SU from SF/SO. I will sometimes go through and remove "belongs on superuser" and similar type comments to clean them up as most of the time, as the question is now on the correct site.

I do read any flagged comments, but just because only one person finds a comment offensive does not mean it needs to be silently deleted. I also do get annoyed when people (comment OP's and moderator removal) remove a comment when their are many responding to that comment. Then you have these broken comment threads that can become very confusing. Sometimes the master wipe comments needs to happen, but not often. I try and read through everything to make sure it can be read clearly after a removal of some sort.

As for the removal of this ability, I would be ok with it's removal if that is what needs to be done. I wanted to mention though how I find it useful in keeping the site clean.

As for meta, I think everyone does a pretty good job here with community moderation and really does not require much of any "moderation". Meta may not have lots of traffic, but the people here are actively involved. I do like seeing honest on-topic positive and negative discussions of the trilogy, the features, the requested features, and overall site issues/suggestions.

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It's become extremely common, especially here on Meta -- @shog9

"Extremely common"? Well, let's look at the stats.

On meta to date:

Total comments: 86,789
Deleted comments: 9,174
Deleted comments by owner: 6,011
Deleted comments by non-owner: 3,062

So 3.52% of all comments have been removed by a moderator -- roughly 1 out of every 28 comments on average.

Is that "extremely common" to you?

(for perspective, as of the time I composed this answer, this entire question and all the answers have a grand total of 24 comments.)

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anyone else getting tired of the moderator abuse cries? –  RSolberg Feb 12 '10 at 22:13
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Oooh, goody... Numbers! So at this point in time, somewhere around 3 out of every 100 conversations have been removed. How does that compare to, say, SO? –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 22:14
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Crazy to me that 1 in 10 comments created is deleted... I'm curious if that number will go down now that there is the ability to edit... –  RSolberg Feb 12 '10 at 22:15
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The number is irrelevant. If there are comments asking a moderator why they did something (which is entirely appropriate in a comment, but not in an answer) then deleting those comments without addressing them is inappropriate and leads to allegations of moderator abuse. Moderators can abuse their privileges all day, they just can't get caught. –  George Stocker Feb 13 '10 at 1:54
    
There may be an inconsistency with numbers from Stack Overflow. Remember that you used to be able to delete any comments left on your own post. That would mean that moderators have deleted less comments than the numbers would suggest. –  Brad Gilbert Feb 13 '10 at 2:55
    
@george only moderators would be able to see it anyway, so regular users could just cry "moderator collusion" regardless. If you're really worried about it, script up something that retrieves every page you've been to and archives it, so you can compare what's been removed, etc. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 13 '10 at 3:33
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@Jeff Atwood You guys have a financial incentive not to turn the community against you, your elected but unpaid moderators do not. I figure you'll keep things from being abused because of that. –  George Stocker Feb 13 '10 at 17:30

We don't want the StackOverflow sites to become the trash heap of the internet. A bunch of comments passing insults, even without offensive words, is still just a bunch of junk that needs to go away.

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true, though in this case it was more general cleanup of a very disjointed and totally out of date discussion, rather than incivility in particular. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 21:45

I sometimes ask to remove sub-threads of comments because they are of no use. For example, the threads where I exhibit an awful misunderstanding of what is asked for/answered about. After expressing that I got it I sometimes ask to delete this stuff, and I'm glad that the site is not flooded with useless stuff badly understanding users leave there.

So I think that the ability to remove comments should be preserved. It does a lot of good things.

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It's been my experience that anytime there was a wholesale delete on comments from a thread, it was warranted. How many discussions with people like the one we should not name turned into flame wars providing ZERO value to the site other than a distraction?

I think it's great the mods can quickly delete the comments. I'd think they already track this on the back end, so I have no concern here.

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wow... I guess it is unpopular to not bash moderators... –  RSolberg Feb 13 '10 at 0:25

I upvoted it anyway, but I only half-agree and I have a much better solution:

Prohibit them from deleting comments unless they are blatantly offensive (as in really, such as "[expletive] you piece of [expletive] [expletive] [expletive]", not "offensive to the spirit of my ideas" or stuff like that).

Deleting discussions for apparently no reason (as it recently happened here) shouldn't be allowed.

By "prohibit" I mean "tell them not to do it" (and take action against them if they do, but I don't think it will ever go this far).

EDIT: removing "noise" comments (0 votes, no replies, etc) as it sometimes happen on very popular question should be allowed as well. All I want is that discussions don't magically disappear without explanation.

EDIT2: another cool idea would be to allow 10kers to see them anyway.

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Adding a policy would work too, or at least a way for another moderator to undelete them –  jmfsg Feb 12 '10 at 20:46
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The problem here is that "offensive" is horribly subjective: one or two users shouldn't be deciding what's appropriate for everyone else. When a comment gets scores of readers and < 6 flags, I have a hard time believing that it is so shockingly bad that it must be immediately wiped from the site! –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 21:03
    
@Shog9 I do agree that it is somewhat surprising to see certain comments and even answers being flagged as offensive. I very often end up removing flags because for the life of me, and I have very low standards, I can figure out what is offensive regarding the flagged item. I rarely delete comments unless they are my own, as I did tonight. The only exception I make is migrated questions where often the 10 belong on SU comments are no longer required. –  Diago Feb 12 '10 at 21:53
    
@shog9 " I have a hard time believing that it is so shockingly bad that it must be immediately wiped from the site!" no, you seem to have a "hard time believing" that comments cannot be downvoted. And that's what masks a lot of bile, hate and anger in the comments. "oh, nobody flagged that, it must be OK." uh.. no. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 22:15
    
@Jeff: uh... I don't see flags. When one comment disappears suddenly, I assume it was either flag-deleted or user-deleted. When a comment and all the comments responding to it are removed, I assume it was moderator intervention. Almost everything I write here is based on assumption, wild speculation, and occasional input from my Magic 8-Ball - I have no behind-the-scenes information on any of this, and welcome any opportunity to be proved wrong in my guesses! –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 22:30
    
@shog9 sounds like what you want, then is the ability to downvote comments and see those downvotes displayed. This goes very much against comments being lightweight, so it's unlikely to happen, though. (my response is the same: use a friggin' answer, not a comment, if that's what you want!) –  Jeff Atwood Feb 12 '10 at 22:52
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@Jeff: that's... not really what I'm asking for at all. Look, I don't lament the removal of threads that have truly gotten out of hand, and I'm trying hard to avoid losing focus here. I'm just asking for discretion. Like it or not, when discussing things that are near and dear to the hearts of all involved, it can get a bit dramatic... but that doesn't have to mean it always has to end that way. A warning comment or brief lock prior to hitting that "delete all" button could serve to instruct as well as restrain... –  Shog9 Feb 12 '10 at 23:20
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..and also not incite the "why was this deleted" questions that will often arise afterward. If only it was understood what was going on, we'd all be failing around in the dark hitting each other just a little less, no? –  Ether Feb 13 '10 at 5:38

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