1

I know this was declined years ago in this old feature request, but my feature request is actually pretty different. The main purpose of my idea is to collect more signal about comments that would allow to automatically hide comments that aren't useful without deleting them.

Comment flags work pretty well for offensive comments, those are often quickly removed. They don't work as well for anything else, it is unlikely that enough users flag for one of the other reasons that the comment will be automatically removed. I strongly suspect that almost all obsolete, too chatty, ... comment flags are handled by diamond moderators. The problem with this is that it doesn't scale well.

Downvoting would be a process with much less friction than flagging, you don't have to select a reason from a list like for comment flags. Downvoting takes only one click, while flagging comments takes three. Flagging is also generally associated with more serious issues.

Some details on how downvoting would work exactly:

  • no reputation penalty for anyone
  • comment score = upvotes - downvotes
  • comment score below 0 would not be shown
  • comments below a certain negative score would not be shown by default

Flagging would then be mostly for offensive comments, not for general cleanup. Downvoting would make it relatively easy to hide comments that are simply not that useful, without actually deleting them.

I'm not sure what the best method of hiding comments is. The simplest option would be to use the existing hiding functionality. Another option would be to hide them even a click further behind the "show x more comments", at least if there are many comments on that post.

Previous attempts at hiding comments automatically failed mostly because they did hide too many good comments as well. The existence of downvotes might provide enough signal to make another, better attempt at hiding comments automatically.

  • Isn't this more about ... assisting the automatic comment collapsing? or is it about really hiding the comments with no chance of redeeming – Vogel612's Shadow Oct 30 '15 at 15:12
  • So a single downvote causes a vote to not be displayed to anyone, by default? Hmm. Can you edit your proposal to analyze the potential for abuse or other effects of this scheme? People downvote for all sorts of reasons. Once a comment gets a single downvote, most people won't see it, so I suspect it'll be much less likely to get a compensating downvote. Does this mean that a single disagreeing person can often bury comments and render them invisible to everyone? If I post a comment on someone's answer explaining why their answer is wrong, they can downvote and hide the critical comment? – D.W. Nov 2 '15 at 0:48
7

I'd rather first try (a) hiding based on flags or (b) a coarser-grained approach. Letting people hide comments they don't like, but that aren't flag-worthy, seems like it will create rather than ease tensions. I'm not looking forward to the drama that would ensue over mere comments.

A flag-based approach could either hide comments that receive enough flags of any type, or hide all comments on the post if the comments in aggregate have received enough flags. (If you've got 15 comments and half of them have been flagged, then even if no single comment has reached the "hide due to flags" threshold you probably still have a problem. Even if some of those comments have been upvoted because people sometimes upvote snark.)

Or maybe you don't even need to rely on flags to make comments more manageable. On The Workplace, which is excessively comment-y, we've been running for a while with a setting that collapses all comment threads on questions that have more than a small number of answers. Comments that are voted up are still shown, but the default is to hide them. That's working pretty well for us, and suggests that a more coarse-grained approach would be valuable.

Before implementing comment downvotes and inviting the bickering and politicking that will come with that, let's use the tools we already have. Flags provide input that we can use, and sites with comments problems can change their display rules for comments as a whole (not even waiting for flags). Let's try that first.

  • I like this idea better. I am not that inspired by "hide all by default" because then people will be tempted to type the same content in the answer box. Collapsing the whole comment box in case of flags (or optionally, via mod hammer) seems to be a nice idea. – Sklivvz Oct 30 '15 at 17:14
7

An interesting idea, but I suspect it won't work with these rules because it is not balanced.

Basically as soon as you hide comments, the balance between upvotes and downvotes is irreparably skewed favoring downvotes. This is because once a comment has negative score we hide it, and thus the downvote never gets reviewed by the community. What would prevent the obvious scenarios of OP downvoting all comments critical of their work?

Furthermore hiding a comment is not the correct action at all in a typical and extremely common case: if two users argue in comments, the whole back-and-forth needs to be taken out of sight permanently in order to stop the arguing. Even deletion is not sufficient in some cases, but downvoting would simply do nothing to stop the argument (if someone feels strongly about a comment being present, they want it to go away, not to be hidden).

Think about reading something like

User A [hidden comment]
User B I think your objections have no merit and you don't like me
User A I disagree and you should use a more respectful language!
User B [hidden comment]
User A I flagged this for moderation review.

Does hiding the comments have any value?

  • 1
    The first part is easily fixed by not hiding comments immediately when they have a score of -1, only hide them after some time or if they get a few more downvotes. The latter case is still something that should be handled by flags, I'd probably leave the not-constructive flag reason for this. – Mad Scientist Oct 30 '15 at 14:56
  • 1
    A threshold of -1 does not solve the problem, it just makes it less likely to occur. To compare: we don't ever delete or hide answers based on votes (we basically sort them and make them grey at -3); we don't ever delete questions merely based on votes and we only hide them from a single view (home page) at -4 (iirc). In both cases: posts are still visible, and the thresholds are way lower than you suggest. – Sklivvz Oct 30 '15 at 15:02
  • My current proposal doesn't delete, it merely hides them behind one click (or two). That is still accessible enough for most cases, I think – Mad Scientist Oct 30 '15 at 15:03
  • 3
    True enough. Ultimately, we'd need to try and tweak the thresholds, but I'm a bit scared of the possibilities though. Worst case scenario: a hostile community could effectively prevent users from commenting, or a moderator from intervening in an argument. – Sklivvz Oct 30 '15 at 15:06
0

I think this is a very useful feature request. On my main site, StackOverflow, I stopped flagging comments since I don't want to occupy too much time from the moderators to handle the flag. It seems such a waste of their time.

Is it an idea to auto-delete comments that come under a certain threshold. That would make cleaning up comments by moderators almost unnecessary.

I am not sure what implications that would have on the site, but it might be very helpful to make a good use of their time.


Thinking more of this idea I see there are quite some caveats. Tactical down-voting of comments is one. And deleted comments aren't visible to non-moderators so community-driven moderation is impossible. Maybe there are some ways to overcome this but can't think of them now...

  • 1
    Auto-delete might be an option, but I thought it would be safer to just start with hiding comments. After we have some more data on which comments get heavily downvoted it would probably be easier to determine a safe threshold for deletion – Mad Scientist Oct 30 '15 at 13:49
  • I can agree with that. – Patrick Hofman Oct 30 '15 at 13:50

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