I keep seeing this more and more (and on sites other than SO):

  1. A question is asked about a practical problem

  2. People post comments (at best) or even answers (even worse) that are eloquent, highly voted, and totally offtopic/irrelevant, amounting to things like "You shouldn't be asking this question", "You are asking the wrong question", "Why do you even want to know", "Your shouldn't be solving this problem but another problem" (the latter is known on StackOverflow as X-Y problem).

    I'm especially concerned with the first two comments.

There are tons of examples; the last one I saw today was on Workplace. The question " How can a workplace rally after everyone's salary got leaked? " generated the following comments, all upvoted:

  • Why are you asking this question on behalf of your friend - is your friend responsible for the salary distribution? Is your friend part of management? If not, it's none of your friends' business how the management copes with it. The management sets and implements policy, they get to deal with the consequences of their decisions

  • sorry, but your friend is unethical. He fired someone for sharing salary info? At the same time he was screwing over his employees salary wise, including with gender-discrimination? And now he wants to "fix" the issue? If your friend is the manager/CEO, the fix is he resigns and leaves. He has no place in the modern workplace.

    {{ my note: this isn't simply offtopic, but also incorrect. Most companies have explicit policy against making compensation public and releasing even your own salary is a fireable offense and is ALWAYS explicitly stated so in most compensation discussions, at least where I worked }}

Just to be clear, I'm NOT complaining about the users' behavior as far as posting this - as a matter of fact the person who posted the second comment publicly apologized for making incorrect assumptions.

However, I'd like to see if we have a policy against posts in this spirit ("Your question is wrong") and as such, be able to flag such comments - which frequently are popular and upvoted - for deletion.

Please note that this doesn't seem explicitly covered by "Code of Conduct" and "Be nice" - the comments are frequently generally polite-ish and not personal, objecting to the question's content and not the person.

The problem with such comments is that frequently, the OP already knows about the alternate avenues, the reasons why common solution to their situation differ from what their question discusses, etc...; and usually OP has valid reasons for asking the exact practical question they are asking.

  • "like to see if we have a policy against posts in this spirit ("Your question is wrong")" - No. The other option is unexplained downvotes. "frequently, the OP already knows" - citation needed. Frequently false especially on Stack Overflow. – John Dvorak Jan 7 '15 at 16:42
  • If a comment is incorrect, reply instead of flagging. If it's rude, flag. – John Dvorak Jan 7 '15 at 16:43
  • @JanDvorak - frankly, as much as I hate unexplained downvotes, I'm starting to see such comments as far more harmful because they - as noted - are eloquent enough to induce a lot more users into disliking OP's question. – DVK Jan 7 '15 at 16:44
  • @JanDvorak - that's my point - such comments (the question is wrong/shouldn't be asked as it was) SHOULD be declared flaggable even if/when they aren't rude. – DVK Jan 7 '15 at 16:45
  • @JanDvorak - yes, I had this happen on SO to me multiple times. Witness every single comment about "I can't use CPAN modules" being the wrong approach in [tag-perl] tag. This is clearly demonstrated to be near-malicious, because same commenter - when told of non-technical reasons the CPAN can't be used - follows up with "well, this is a bad company, find a better one". – DVK Jan 7 '15 at 16:48
  • 2
    Example #1 looks like an answer in a comment to me. Example #2 might as well spawn a discussion - and having a discussion about the premises of a question seems fine. If you find the wording rude, flag. If a question's premise is incorrect, a comment is perfectly fine. If there is a comment claiming so, respond by your own comment. I don't see why a moderator should participate. – John Dvorak Jan 7 '15 at 16:48
  • the comment you quote - "well, this is a bad company, find a better one" - might as well be considered rude. That's why you want it deleted in the first place, isn't it? – John Dvorak Jan 7 '15 at 16:50
  • @JanDvorak - because I think that claiming that the questions' premise is incorrect is detrimental to the site. Random commenters don't know a first thing about full situation and thus about correctness of the premise. Such a comment MAY be OK as part of a good answer that says "Here's how you solve your problem. However, usually, the problem shouldn't even be solved this way, and instead reframed in Y way". – DVK Jan 7 '15 at 16:50
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – DVK Jan 7 '15 at 16:50
  • 4
    @DVK "Random commenters don't know a first thing about full situation and thus about correctness of the premise" which is exactly why such comments are important; it's an indication that the question is lacking in the appropriate context that the answerers need to provide a good answer. The OP can respond to such comments by including this relevant information about the context, helping the answerers provide better answers. – Servy Jan 7 '15 at 16:52
  • 3
    "Random commenters don't know a first thing about full situation" - then the question might use some clarification by the asker. "Why do you even want to X" seems perfectly fine as a clarification request. – John Dvorak Jan 7 '15 at 16:53
  • 3
    @DVK That's not true. The reason you can't use X is quite often going to matter in choosing what you use instead. For example, if they're using framework Foo that doesn't play nice with X the response may be that the framework you're using provides it's on way of accomplishing the same thing. If you didn't know that the OP was using Foo, you wouldn't be able to tell them how to use Foo to do what they want. You might assume they're using the Bar framework that also doesn't play nice with X. – Servy Jan 7 '15 at 17:02
  • 2
    It does. Maybe you just thought a CPAN module wouldn't've been useful? Perhaps you tried and found them too hard (missing an obvious solution)? Even if you have a legitimate use, perhaps there are other restrictions you forgot to mention. Even if it does not matter at all, perhaps the commenter is just curious? – John Dvorak Jan 7 '15 at 17:03
  • 2
    One possible cause why you couldn't do X is that the teacher forbid you from. Perhaps he wanted you to use Y instead. Using Z (which is a rather advanced feature that can't even be considered a part of the curriculum at this point) instead would be a bad idea. – John Dvorak Jan 7 '15 at 17:06
  • 5
    Well... we don't want people going around "I forgot to mention that [...] Please update your answer" - "Well, then, that's a different question, please post a new one" - "Sorry, but I'm already over the limit". Not that the last sentence happens too often, but the first one is way more common than is desired. And leaving behind distasted askers just because clarification comments are disallowed? Not a fan. We care about quality, but it doesn't mean we have to punish askers for what they could have fixed if only we told them to. – John Dvorak Jan 7 '15 at 17:36

It is quite often extremely important to point out potential flaws in the question; if it is approaching the problem in a fundamentally broken way, if it is based on incorrect assumptions, or if it simply lacks an appropriate context for the problem that allows answerers to approach the problem effectively, then that all needs to be explained in comments (so that the question author can provide the missing information, edit the question, etc. to allow for it to be answerable, or at least to allow for better answers).

The fact that one person posted one comment that incorrectly claimed that the question is inherently flawed or otherwise based on a faulty assumption doesn't mean that all comments of this form shouldn't be allowed.

You should treat the comment the same way you'd treat any other comment of any other type that you felt was incorrect. You can post your own comment explaining what you feel is correct, or post an answer that answers the question and clarifies the situation.

Trying to come up with an intricate system of deleting comments just for being incorrect is going to be a ton of work that's only going to cause even more headaches.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .