2

Recently, a conversation I was engaged in was deleted. Confused, I asked about that and it was explained to me (politely and helpfully).

But I'm concerned that this is a frequent occurrence, that others may regularly find themselves as today I found myself: doubting their own perception. Questions on meta following such events are not a solution that scales with the number of comments that should probably be deleted.

Background

While researching this matter, I found a couple of previous suggestions that comment deletion be made more obvious:

  1. Can I get notified when my comment is deleted
  2. Comment deletion notification

After some consideration I decided to post this discussion anyway, because I believe the problem I'm describing here is subtly different from those identified previously. And even though I'm currently unable to propose a more effective solution than those previously suggested, I hope that someone else may be able to suggest one as this discussion progresses. That said, I give you freedom to feel no guilt or remorse for marking this as a duplicate, because I can agree with that perspective as well.

The problem, as it affects me

I need to seek constant confirmation that I am not developing schizophrenia, and I am quite serious. It is genetic in my family, and I haven't even made it through my twenties yet (this is the time that it usually develops for my family members).

I can't emphasize how important it is to me to know that I did indeed see/make a comment and that I didn't dream it or hallucinate it.

So, my comments were deleted. There was no notification. Comments are temporary and should not be important enough to be permanent. No need to explain that part.

The italicized part is what I aim to discuss. Comments should not be permanent. I agree.

However, their presence is like a receipt, and in the current system the lack of a presence means lack of a receipt (usually this is made up for with notifications of flags, deletions, etc). Receipts are important to many people for various reasons, which is likely why this general topic has been brought up more than once.

For me, when a comment is removed it causes me to question - even if just briefly - my own perception and health: with no indication that the comment was ever there, I'm left to ask if my memory of its existence is faulty.

For others, this may be less of a concern; I cannot say. However, I assume that it still presents some amount of cognitive burden, even if they are able to deal with it more quickly than I. Thus, there would still be a benefit to all if a solution could be found.

  • 7
    I've done some extensive editing to the question and archived the comments posted prior to the edit. I think this is an often-overlooked concern and would like to see more focused discussion. – Shog9 Oct 16 '17 at 22:25
  • This can be an (occasional) source of confusion even if one doesn't have a specific mental health worry. – Josh Caswell Oct 17 '17 at 17:49
  • 2
    As far as the mental health aspect is concerned; have you considered not trusting comments for sanity checks? It seems to me that with the heavily transient nature of comments; you should just assume it's fine if they disappear. It's probably second nature to check for discrepancies like that, so it may not help. If you can change your mindframe in that respect though; it may be worth it to ignore it when you think that in regards to comments. (even if they implement a feature for this, the technique may help in the meantime). – JMac Oct 17 '17 at 18:40
9

It seems this solution is simple here. I could save this screenshot:

enter image description here

as a comment in a folder with under this question (or in evernote).

Also note that the type of feature you are requesting is very unlike the other requirements for ADA accomodations for websites and as such is likely to not result in a successful lawsuit. Particularly since the goal of the website ADA accommodations is:

Section 508 requires that all website content be accessible to people with disabilities. This applies to Web applications, Web pages and all attached files on the intranet, as well as, internet.

Given that this is the standard governing existing government sites, I find it unlikely that a private site would be expected to expand the scope of disability accommodations as significantly unlikely.

Not a lawyer, etc.


And honestly as a moderator on a site here where we delete roughly 100 comments a day (this is also small compared to sites like Stack Overflow itself) I will say I am completely opposed to any feature that makes it easier to see deleted comments.

For every person such as yourself, there are far more people who will use that information to argue incessantly they were [unfairly treated, mods are out to get them, definitely Right and should be allowed to post their Truth] or otherwise misuse the system.

Most people treat comments like a discussion board/forum. Further enabling that is really not high on my list of things I want to see from Stack Exchange.

7

I have to admit that this isn't a side of the comment deletion discussion I've ever thought about. I've definitely had that aching feeling "didn't I comment on this?" before and I don't have concerns about schizophrenia in my family. I certainly agree, it does feel a bit disconcerting to not know whether you read or wrote something or whether it was in your head.

I don't know if there's an easy solution for you that won't require some work either on your part or on the part of the developers here. Below I'll cover a few options that I think might light a path to some potential solutions either for you or Stack Exchange to consider implementing.


Notate quantity of deleted comments

One of the moderator user scripts that I have adds a link to the bottom of posts that have deleted comments. It looks like this:

79 deleted comments link

Yes, that's 79... clicking on it expands the comments section to show all comments, including deleted ones and the times they were deleted and by whom.

I wonder if posting this number (without the link to expand) or even a more general "(some comments have been deleted)" might help assuage your concerns? There may even be a non-mod userscript that's able to tell how many comments were removed from a post. I'm not sure how "accessible" that information is... it may require being a diamond for the system to serve up that information.

My concern with this is that it may be more trouble to tell people that comments have been removed than to pretend like they never existed. Sometimes, that little doubt "did I write that comment? Maybe I didn't hit "send"." saves us moderators needing to respond to a complaint on Meta about deleted comments. On IPS, there are likely few top posts (questions and high-scoring answers) that don't have some deleted comments.

If people see {x deleted comments} on a majority of the posts, they are more likely to complain that the moderators are abusing their comment deletion abilities. I'm sure that some of us do little comment deletion but that person isn't me. I've been pretty open about how many comments get deleted on IPS. So, over there, you're pretty safe trusting that you did write the comment and it was deleted by a moderator.

When I do a bulk deletion and don't move stuff to chat, I often post a note telling people that their comments have been removed and why. But if we're talking about a one-off comment, it's unlikely that there will be any note... it also doesn't do much if a person removes their own comments... they're unlikely to make a note about it.


Self-solve: Create your own Stack App.

You may also be able to create your own user script or have some of the lovely people on Stack Apps help you build one. It may not be possible to use the deleted comments number if the data isn't public in the API but you might be able to have an app that logs all of the comments you make in a file you choose. This won't save all user comments but it will save yours so you'll know if you submitted them or not. - You can be your own solution to this.


Ask for help from the moderators - occasionally.

I remember having a conversation (in email, even) with one of the CMs about a single deleted comment of mine. It was when I was pretty new on Stack Exchange and didn't really understand how things worked. I have, over time, come to just shrug and move on if I get the inkling that a comment was removed. I'm not sure if you can consider this as an option.

Because I spend a lot of time in chat, I usually (even before being a moderator myself) have had a decent relationship with the mods on the sites I used heavily. If it's really bothering me, I've occasionally asked them

Hey, am I going batty or did I comment on this post: [link]"

They often (time permitting) have been willing to tell me if there are deleted comments on a post, particularly if I can link them to a post directly to save them finding it.

I'm not saying that all moderators will do this... I'm sure that on high-traffic sites, some of the mods are busy and have limited time to care about a deleted comment or two but if the requests are rare - just the ones that are really bugging you - I think that this is a reasonable request.


Allow users to see their own deleted comments.

This one may be more trouble than it's worth for moderators as there are a lot of users who like to complain about their precious comments being removed... but... Stack Exchange could make it possible, through your "all actions - comments" page to have a link to a list of your deleted comments. This would be away from the posts they are on, so it wouldn't be visible on posts and it'd be visible only to you, not everyone. Something like this:

Show deleted comments link

This would let you see what comments you've had that have been deleted. This (hopefully) would be out of the way enough that it wouldn't be widely used/abused but still visible for any of several valid uses for this information.

  • finding posts I'd commented on that were are deleted (10K viewing of posts still required).
  • saving answers written as comments so that users can convert them into answers without moderators fearing that valuable content will be lost.
  • allow moderators to see all of a user's deleted comments in one place

Notify users when a comment is removed.

This, I'm afraid, is one that doesn't sit well with me at all. It's one thing for this to be passive (any of the methods above) - we confirm to you that you had a comment in the past when you ask about/go looking for it - but actively telling someone

ALERT ALERT! YOUR COMMENT WAS REMOVED!!!

... As a moderator, that's asking for trouble. Again, as a moderator on a site with many, many deleted comments, I would probably daily have to deal with users complaining about their comments being deleted and I really don't need to increase my work load. This would actually be quite different than how the site works right now. We generally don't notify users when their content is closed or deleted, unless they receive a comment about it. We do, however, let them see this content after it's deleted so that they can fix it. Making these comment deletions cause a notification seems like it's asking for trouble.


I think there are a lot of avenues to meet your concerns, even above what I've mentioned here. What's important is to find something that helps you that also benefits the wider community... or for you to find a solution that you can implement yourself.

  • Perhaps another option is to opt to have the comments emailed to the individuals involved? or a record/transcript/manifset/etc of deleted/posted comments? – user281052 Oct 16 '17 at 21:30
  • to make things more fun, on older sites, we sometimes delete comments a little after the fact, or sometimes months or years later, as they are flagged. – Journeyman Geek Oct 17 '17 at 2:05
4

I am not sure that this would be a valid reason to add comment tracking as a feature on an individual basis, and could be very potentially messy as many times comments are deleted for being spam, abusive, etc.

While it is a bit of a bother, one thing that you could do would be to favorite questions that you comment on, and then maintain a separate log of what comments you have made on those questions, and when.

I sympathize with your plight, and while it is a hassle, this would at least allow you to keep track of the actions you have taken on various sites.

3

Yes, I get your problem. In your case, it is especially bad, but the whole "comments disappear when I don't expect them" thing is a regular (if less troubling) problem for other users too.

From my point of view, the root cause is a clear usability problem. Our comments do not have an affordance of transiency. Or, to translate from UX slang, everybody who reads and writes comments intuitively assumes they are there to stay.

Is the affordance really missing?

I have seen tons of evidence for it over the years. As a moderator, I have argued with users complaining of me deleting comments and accusing me of wanton dictatorship. Here on Meta, I have seen questions asking for making them more permanent. This week, I was designing a worklfow for a software system with my team, and the lead dev said "Stack Overflow hides answers all the time, I think we can do it the same way in our system". When I, surprised, asked him when Stack Overflow hides answers, it turned out that he views our comments (which get hidden when they are too many) as answers. I have seen this attitude before from new users, now I got confirmation from somebody who uses the site on a daily basis. So, to me it is clear - comments are currently seen as permanent posts, no different from answers.

Is it really a root cause?

I'd argue that yes, it is, because if we find a way to solve that problem, the problem in this question goes away. Dear OP, I understand how important for you it is to have proof that you are not imagining stuff. But you live in a world which is full of transient things. If yesterday you saw a red car parked across from your house, and today there is none there, I assume you don't start worrying "did I hallucinate a red car", you just think "the car must have gone somewhere else". The same could be true for comments - if you intuitively knew that they are as impermanent as parked cars or fallen leaves in the park, they would have much less potential for triggering your worries.

Other positive side effects if we could solve the problem

We would save time (for both moderators and users) and drama if we stopped the situation where moderators view comments as transient and users as permanent. Really, this goes beyond this one question. SE itself (or Shog personally) will probably also get rid of some headaches, like testing new ways of reigning in some of the "worst offender" questions.

What should be the end goal for a solution?

As a moderator, I am biased :) My preference is of course to get the users to treat the comments as transient. There are a ton of good arguments for that, mostly focusing on the findability of information and the high inefficiencies caused by rambling comment discussions, whose costs are borne mostly by those who don't cause them - a handful of moderators and the giant sea of readers who never participate in the discussion, and who dwarf the 5-6 people in a typical comment discussion for whom "place important info in an answer and leave the rest unsaid" is an inconvenience.

However, I must admit that the currently lived solution is closer to the other end of the spectrum. Comments are almost always left alone. Endless comment threads under HNQ questions on "this area is important in everybody's life" sites are an exception with high visibility, because they are heavily moderated, but they represent a tiny fraction of the network's total comment volume. Moderators try to enforce a "no answers in comments" rule to varying degrees, but most other stuff stays. Some witty comments (of the type clearly seen as unserios and deletable under official rules) get more upvotes than the answer under which they stand. And this does have some positive effects for the users (else they won't be doing it) together with the negative ones. And guess what, it hasn't lead the system to a collapse. So, I don't want to preclude solutions which attempt to close the gap in this direction.

Is there a solution?

After this problem analysis, I would love to present you with a working solution proposal. The truth is, I don't have one. I know the way that needs to be taken to create one (it is known under different names, let's call it a design process here) but it takes tons of time, tons of resources, and it does not guarantee a successful end. It involves a lot of research, of searching for answers, and it can always end in "this is unanswerable".

Even though I know that describing a problem without pitching a solution is something many people hate, I decided to write this answer. Yes, I disappointed you, sorry. Still, it is possible that SE decides to redesign its comments to improve the current problems with them, and the perspective in this answer will hopefully be helpful for those who start the task.

2

I think you both get the transience of comments , and not getting it. As a moderator we're constantly needing to balance between keeping useful content from comments with noise. While someone's psychological state isn't something I've thought about in deleting posts - just cause a comment you remember being there isn't, doesn't mean you're crazy or it never happened.

Looks like there's a userscript that tells you if there was a deleted post which might help too.

If the powers that be felt that this is worth 'fixing' - letting you see your own deleted comments (like you can see your own deleted posts) might be a solution, or maybe even allowing you to see that there were deleted posts. It might also cause new problems - you'd be surprised at how many people would just copy and paste again, or just keep at a thread that needs to be dropped if they could see what they said.

Since Shog's mentioned it (so its clearly not seekrit) - mods have a small indicator off to the side on deleted comments on a post, which might work well here without that much obtrusiveness should that be the case .

  • 1
    FWIW, moderators have long had an unobtrusive indicator detailing the number of deleted comments on each post. I personally find this very reassuring in hectic situations where my own sanity is in doubt. – Shog9 Oct 16 '17 at 23:28
  • Yeah, there's that, and its a logical jumping off point for seeing deleted comments or even just showing a number. – Journeyman Geek Oct 16 '17 at 23:52

You must log in to answer this question.