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Questions are occasionally protected when they start attracting unwanted input -- because the question was on the Hot Network Questions list, because it hit Reddit, because it's about a hot-button topic that everybody wants to weigh in on... Protection allows a community to prevent some stuff that they would otherwise have to clean up later on a small number of volatile questions. Currently you need 10 reputation earned on the local site to answer a protected question.

This proposal is to broaden the restriction to include comments. Currently, anybody with 50 reputation can comment, so people with the association bonus but no local reputation can't answer but can comment. That's kind of backwards; answers are first-class citizens, the stuff we want, and comments are meant to be disposable. So if people in this group can't even answer, it's counter-intuitive that they should be able to comment. This restriction should apply to comments on the question itself and on answers.

Further, questions that have gotten the kind of attention that leads to protection tend to attract more comments, sometimes quite voluminous. For all practical purposes only moderators can remove comments or relocate them to chat; the community doesn't have the tools to do this effectively.

Note that this dovetails nicely with the general encouragement to take comment discussions to chat -- users with an association bonus can use chat, so this is a little more incentive to go there to discuss the question. Perhaps the protection notice could even include a link to the site's main chat room. Participants aren't turned away but redirected.

Most questions are not protected; people can participate normally on the vast majority of the questions on a site. Protection is an exception, but when it's needed, there's usually a lot of action -- and in my experience on several sites, comments tend to be part of the problem. The number of valuable comments that would be lost -- that is, requests for clarification or suggested improvements that nobody in the local community can offer -- seems small. The number of...other...types of comments is much higher.

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    I think this is fair if the question is on the HNQs... but many questions on the sites I visit end up protected due to other reasons and I don't really think I agree that this is always a good solution. If it were possible to set a time-limited protect status for HNQs, this would be a good part of it but some questions are protected due to being spam targets or whatever else and blocking comments doesn't make as much sense there... generally, once a question gets protected, it stays that way forever... I don't see why comments from passerby three years later should be blocked. – Catija May 5 '16 at 23:11
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    @Catija three years later should answers from passersby be blocked? Seems like the right answer is to unprotect; maybe the optuon for time-limited protection, like with locks, should be considered. That seems orthogonal to this suggestion, but worth pursuing. – Monica Cellio May 5 '16 at 23:19
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    I guess that my thought is that I would support a FR that gives mods the option to protect the comments separately than the question as a whole (particularly if it were time-sensitive) but I do not like tacking it on to the general "protection" process and making it a default part of what defines a protected question. Perhaps something like a tick box that says "protect comments, also?"... If there seems to be no need to protect the comments, this can be left unselected. – Catija May 5 '16 at 23:21
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    Someone suggested something like that long, long ago and it was, essentially, declined. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/105097/… – Catija May 5 '16 at 23:30
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    So I think Catija's concern is that without a time-lock or only-protect-against-comments option, there's some potential collateral damage: former HNQs or questions that have attracted non-answers (but not comments) will end up protected against comments that might generally be helpful. I personally think that's a relatively rare issue and a pretty small price to pay in exchange for being able to address the much more painful "omg all the comments" issue. – Cascabel May 6 '16 at 0:00
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    @gnat comments anywhere on the page, question and answers. (Doing one without the other would just move the comments problem, plus it's more consistent and easier to explain.) I've clarified. – Monica Cellio May 6 '16 at 0:53
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+50

I'm sympathetic to this, because I'm sympathetic to just about anything that discourages comments.

But... As it stands, this would be a bit weird.

For starters, you'd have to have an exception for comments on your own answers. Otherwise, you could lock folks out of commenting on their own posts by protecting the question after they'd posted (and the system might do this automatically in some cases).

That out of the way, what should the reputation threshold be? 10, as for answers? Or 50, as for comments? Each has its advantages, but I'm most sympathetic to the lower threshold for simplicity (and to avoid encouraging even more comments-as-answers).

Finally, there's Catija's point: "protect" is frequently over-used and left in place for far too long already; encouraging its use in cases where abuse of answers is non-existent but commenting by network-insiders is problematic would tend to exacerbate this. Perhaps what you're really after is a comment-only lock?

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    People can already comment on their own posts even if they don't have 50 rep, so continuing the "your own post" exception in the face of a new rep requirement doesn't seem too confusing to me. I recommend 10 local rep as the threshold, just like for answering; "10 local rep to do things on protected posts" is easier to explain than "10 to answer, but X to comment, but Y to (thing we add later)...". On Catija's point, as I commented there, protected questions can be unprotected, and should be if they no longer warrant protection. I'd love a comment-only lock too, but I think that's separate. – Monica Cellio May 17 '16 at 14:01
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    I'd like to poke this again. There are certain questions about jokes, wordplay, or controversial topics on ELL that attract irrelevant comments from folks who can not resist posting some attempt at humor or offering an opinion on the topic instead of focusing on the English. One comment along those lines begets ten more often than not. I would like to be able to have certain questions not take the association bonus into account when determining how someone can interact with it. My goal is to limit discussion (temporarily to folks that understand the community standards. – ColleenV Mar 28 '17 at 23:43
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    Seems like a comment-only lock would be more productive there, @ColleenV (unless you're suggesting that "witty" comments are fine, as long as they're posted by regulars). Alternately, something I've used a few times on Stack Overflow is a notice that just says, "Welcome [reddit | HN | whatever] visitors! The rules are a bit different here - please save your jokes for Reddit, they'll just be deleted here." – Shog9 Mar 29 '17 at 19:52
  • Typically our active members do stick to the topic pretty well, and listen to the mods when we comment to get things back on track, but for the few times we would need to use it, a comment-only lock until things quiet down would work just fine. – ColleenV Mar 29 '17 at 20:04
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    Here is an example in progress where I would like to limit comments from folks with just the association bonus rep: ell.stackexchange.com/a/124480 – ColleenV Apr 3 '17 at 14:11
  • Can't help but note that only 2/12 comments there are from folks with just an assoc bonus (and only 1/4 deleted comments). – Shog9 Apr 3 '17 at 19:31
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    Want to poke this again. Any time a question on academia touches on gender we get a huge inrush of misogynist comments from 101 rep users. This strongly discourages participation on the site from women (which is already super low). – Noah Snyder Sep 3 '18 at 15:14

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