When multiple comments in a comment thread ought to be removed (especially if they're all for the same reason), should I flag each of them individually or flag the parent post for moderator attention?

I've usually adopted the former strategy - flagging each comment with the same flag reason, often a custom one copied and pasted. I had always assumed the following things that led me to follow this strategy:

  1. Flagged comments were discretely marked as flagged in some way when the reviewer viewed the question (much like how I can see others' pending suggested edits now that I have editing privileges).
  2. By individually flagging all the comments that needed cleaning up, I was allowing the flag reviewer to see at a glance which comments needed removing, thereby providing them with useful additional information that wouldn't be available if I flagged the entire parent post.
  3. By flagging comments individually, rather than flagging the whole post, I was letting my flags be handled by anyone with 10k+ rep and access to the mod tools, rather than having to be handled by a diamond moderator.

However, I just read this post (now deleted) by Shog9 that makes me suspect that approach is misguided, and question whether any of my assumptions about how comment flags work are actually true. Notably he says:

If you'd pinged me once for every comment in that thread you found noisy, I would probably be plotting my revenge instead - at very least, I would think you very rude for doing so. Yet, that's exactly what you're doing when you start flagging multiple comments in a single thread: instead of taking a few seconds to describe a problem, you're attempting to use a moderator as a tool to do your bidding, without any real effort to communicate.

He also said some more stuff on the topic - I think there was something about huge offensive boxes blotting out the UI when he views questions with multiple flags - but I now can't recover it any more because that question was deleted while I was in the process of writing this one, and it doesn't seem to be available in the Google cache.

Much of the flagging and review system is still a black box to me as a low/mid rep user, and it's difficult for me to figure out what flagging behaviors are appropriate and helpful when I have no idea what actually happens when I flag a comment. (The Privileges section doesn't mention comment flags anywhere that I can find. I don't even know who reviews them at the moment, and can't find a Meta question anywhere that addresses that.)

Could somebody provide some input on when (if ever) flagging lots of individual comments in a thread is appropriate, and when flagging the entire parent post is? A pretty screenshot of the UI of the relevant review/mod tools, demonstrating the effect of each approach, might also be helpful for understanding this, if that's not asking too much.

  • Back when we had flag weight, if each of your comment flags were deemed helpful, you would get more flag weight than if a flag on the whole post was helpful.
    – user215114
    Oct 27 '13 at 22:04

Thanks for posting this - that question was a bit of a train-wreck, I'm afraid.

The core of my answer was that you should do your best to communicate as much relevant information as you have in as efficient a manner as possible: if the situation is complicated or at all unclear, a single "other" flag wherein you summarize the problem is a lot easier to handle than numerous flags on individual comments, and probably not much harder for you to generate.

Now, if the problem with a comment is obvious from the text of the comment itself, then flagging each comment individually is fine - "thanks" / "me too" / "#$@&(*#$&" comments can be deleted easily enough without any additional information.

But if removing the comments requires a moderator to review an entire comment thread and pick out which bits are no longer relevant, or verify that an edit has indeed obsoleted a good many of them... Then multiple comment flags don't really accomplish much. Just flag the post, summarize the problem, and let the moderator deal with it. This is especially true when the bulk of a thread should be removed.

Chances are, the problem will be handled just fine either way - but if you're particular about how things are done (as the author of the previous question appeared to be), then a bit more care up-front will pay off.

Related: Add possibility to remove comment noise (fancy edition)

  • 3
    This is where I was attempting (and failing) to go with my answer.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Oct 27 '13 at 22:15
  • 1
    Cool, the instructions here are easy to follow and I'll comply with them from now on. I'm not fully clear on the rationale behind them, though, since I have no idea what the UI you guys see when handling flags is like.
    – Mark Amery
    Oct 27 '13 at 22:21
  • 1
    Yeah, don't worry about the UI, @Mark - hopefully, we'll be able to change it to be less... useless... when dealing with lengthy comment threads at some point. Just picture a chat log where every flag is a moderator-ping that includes a link and some small bit of text, and do whatever you can to make this as efficient and... not-annoying... as possible.
    – Shog9
    Oct 27 '13 at 22:23

Comments are ephemeral, so one should not really worry about which comments need deleting — usually it's OK to delete all of them. Even if it isn't, the same advice applies:

Just flag the parent post with a short description of the problem and ask for the moderator to delete the comments. The mod can then have a quick look and delete some or all comments as necessary.

Flagging individual comments will just create a duplication of work, especially on a site like Stack Overflow where there are lots of other flags for these to get buried under. Basically, instead of one mod looking at the thread once and then cleaning up, you may have multiple mods each taking time to read a single flagged comment. Not ideal.

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