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Moderators cannot see deleted comments, although deleted comments are still present in the database. I think it would be a useful feature for moderators to be able to see deleted comments.

At the moment, if a user complains about unwarranted deletion of a comment, I can't really respond to it if I didn't delete it myself, as I then have no idea what happened. It doesn't help resolving such issues if both sides are arguing on the probably inaccurate memory of the comment, and there is no way to get the accurate text of the comment.

We're currently working around that on Skeptics by copying deleted comments to the mod-only chat, but that solution can't really scale with increased traffic.

After some more thought and after reading the answers here, I agree that deleted comments should not be visible on the main site itself, as that would only clutter the interface with mostly useless information. Instead the list of recently deleted comments should just be a mod-tool, that just lists comments deleted by mods or flags. It would just be another link in the mod-tools and not distract on the main site.

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The problem here is that you're worrying about "unwarranted deletion of a comment" complains. Comments are just noise; they're not an integral part of the site. If the user has something to say that they really think should stick around, they should post it as an answer. –  Cody Gray Mar 31 '11 at 12:57
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@CodyGray I disagree. Some comments (i.e. ones pointing out a mistake or additional information about an answer) are useful. They might not have enough substance to be answers on their own and that's okay. –  Anna Lear Mar 31 '11 at 13:11
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@Anna: I'm not saying the comment feature is useless or should be removed. Gosh, that'd be ironic, seeing as I just left one. I'm just saying that it's hardly worth getting into an uproar about a comment being deleted. I find it hard to believe that moderators are removing comments such as those you describe. –  Cody Gray Mar 31 '11 at 13:18
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@Cody: Were comments merely noise, they would not exist. Comments are the proper place to contribute useful information that may not directly solve the question in one fell swoop. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 24 '11 at 14:46
    
Deleted Comments seems to ALSO be visible in chat AFTER deletion... Or is it my high rep that shows them there? –  mplungjan Apr 10 '12 at 9:14
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4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

On most sites, deleted comments are primarily just junk and expired content, most of which becomes too worthless to even bother tracking. There's also the common practice of using comment deletion to make a post-5-minute edit, which means a lot of mostly duplicate comments are just hiding in the seams of the site. I'm aware that Skeptics has a bit of a unique issue with how comments tend to run.

The other thing is that deleted comments would produce a lot of noise were they visible. The ability to see them, currently, could only be used for one thing by moderators - review. We cannot revise, reverse, or otherwise interact with these things in any meaningful way like we can do with deleted posts. They thus stand in our face as if actionable, when there is nothing that can be done. And in the vast majority of scenarios, there isn't anything that should be done. The fact it's deleted is the signal that it already has been done.


Contrast this with our visibility to deleted posts. We don't see them in the questions list, but we can view any profile page to see all deleted posts of a specific user. Yet even though this is automatic, it doesn't produce that much noise (aside from different "total questions and answers"). Part of it is because their context is more like a itemized data catalogue - you're searching through a list of items and they just comprise additional elements in that list. The other part is that there is no hint of importance or need to take action - the highlight just tells you the status without meaning to draw special attention.

Deleted comments primarily sit in the flow of a question. There is a lot of data that is parsed, and it is not in the same fashion as a catalogue. They interrupt the flow of that data, especially in the case of noise and junk (the majority of them, and the reason why we flag and delete most in the first place). Even if it were an "opt in" method as your closing paragraph suggests, that instead places a "highlight of importance". Like the number of spam flags, it implies that the presence of deleted comments means one should investigate or even monitor these, especially when the number changes. But there isn't anything to investigate or even do to them.


I'd be more of a fan if we had a reference utility, like with migrated posts. Something that can be looked at when necessary, and is otherwise outside our normal daily routine. Due to the nature of how comments work, I'm not sure how it should be constructed in a way that would be effective. Review of specific incidents is the main reason we would ever need to see deleted comments. Outside of such a utility, I feel that visibility of deleted comments would simply produce far more noise than signal to moderators. There are some incidents in which it'd be a super big help, but the vast majority of deleted comments serve no purpose to ever be reviewed. It feels like it would interfere with our job.


This has now been implemented

Moderators can now view any deleted comments on a post, via an option on the post's menu that aptly says "show deleted comments". It is only usable if there exist deleted comments. I'm happy enough with this implementation, as it falls in line with the points I made about their visibility.

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I agree that deleted comments should not be visible by default. Maybe just a mod-tool that lists recently deleted comments (with filtering by user possible) would be enough. But I still think the ability to view deleted comments is useful, although that probably varies by site. I don't think any other SE sites has as many meta-discussions about deleted comments as Skeptics. –  Mad Scientist Mar 31 '11 at 13:54
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I think Grace makes good points here; it would clutter the UI for deleted comments to show up all the time, but having a small View deleted comments link on posts which have had them removed would provide helpful insight, especially in situations where comments got explosive and may provide context to future interactions with the user. –  nhinkle Jun 22 '11 at 5:57
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It's a decidedly ugly interface, but that's probably by design. –  mmyers Jun 24 '11 at 14:40
    
I like the implementation, too. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 24 '11 at 14:47
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I completely agree.

Furthermore, deleted comments should have the same visibility rules as deleted answers: visible at 10k on launched sites and 2k on beta sites.

It would improve the transparency of moderation and make the choices of deleting evil comments much clearer.

In young and active sites like Skeptics.SE, this would be terribly useful.

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Deleted answers are visible to 10k users. Is that what you're suggesting? (I don't care too much about seeing deleted answers; I guess seeing deleted comments as well might mess up the view a bit, unless it would be optional.) –  Arjan Mar 31 '11 at 9:24
    
Yes, 10k on launched sites and 2k on beta sites. –  Sklivvz Mar 31 '11 at 11:34
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Okay, I surely would NOT want to see deleted comments. –  Arjan Mar 31 '11 at 11:37
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I think this would create more problem than it would solve. –  Borror0 Mar 31 '11 at 11:50
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I would think this should be a moderator-only function, not available for users. For regular users deleted comments would just be noise. –  Mad Scientist Mar 31 '11 at 12:17
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Engage slippery slope argument #842, "Comments are not primary content"

Comments are useful, and while we had to pull teeth to get Jeff and Joel to allow them in the beginning, they are still not intended to be first class citizens. If something important is contained in a comment, it should result in an edit to the post to which it is attached.

Such useful comments should not be deleted, and indeed they can only be deleted if enough people find them offensive, or if they are flagged and a moderator deems them worthy of deletion.

In other words, the bar for deleting a comment is high enough that there is little need to make it easy to review deleted comments.

At best such a feature would result in too much navel gazing.

At worst it would give people fodder for their cannons:

  • Why was my comment deleted?
  • Please find deleted comment x and tell me what it said, it's vitally important to national security!
  • I disagree with comment x's deletion that I found while browsing randomly, who do I verbally flog?
  • I deleted my own comment as it gives private info and I knew I could delete it once the message was received and it wouldn't be visible, but now 10k users can see it!

Further, it implies that comments are important, rather than the side content that they really should be.

While it might be nice to have this feature, I don't see that the "problem" it solves is worth solving, nevermind outweighs the problems this feature would cause. I highly doubt that the content in deleted comments is so valuable that we need a way to debate whether it should be deleted or not.

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"they can only be deleted if enough people find them offensive, or if they are flagged and a moderator deems them worthy of deletion". You forgot "or if the person who posted it suddenly deletes it when they probably shouldn't have", which is the case I see 100% of the time -- one person deletes all their comments in a comment thread, and suddenly all the other comments make no sense –  Michael Mrozek Mar 31 '11 at 13:45
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I don't think users should be able to see deleted comments, this should be a mod-only feature. And people are already asking why their comments are deleted on Skeptics, which prompted my request. It is much easier to just tell them a specific reason that having to enumerate all possible reasons because I did not delete it myself and don't know why it was deleted. –  Mad Scientist Mar 31 '11 at 13:48
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Just to state that I would not mind that my deleted comments are visible to moderators, if they want that.

(Not being a moderator and never being part of some comment war, I cannot tell how useful it is. Hence no vote on the feature request, and this CW answer for those who want to agree/disagree about making deleted comments visible to the moderators.)

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