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When a mod moves comments to chat, an entry "Mod Moved Comments To Chat" appears in the edit history (revisions list) of a question/answer (Example).

I believe it would be useful if a similar entry appeared when comments are deleted by a moderator, so that one can review in detail what happened to a controversial post. The entry would only be visible when one is inspecting the edit history, so it is not very intrusive.

  • What would happen when there's dozens of comments deleted - how many banners would you get? Don't forget there's auto-generated duplicate comments and review comments, users that self-deleted their own comment in response to others etc... I'm also puzzled by what use this really is - could you maybe provide an example of what "review in detail" you had in mind? What possible benefit could come from having an idea that "umm.... maybe something was going on here"? – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 11:49
  • @JonClements Same as with successive edits: several deletions inside a 5-minute window generate only one message. – Federico Poloni Jan 27 '18 at 11:54
  • @JonClements I had in mind mostly the cases in which comments are deleted by mods. For instance, there have been discussions in the past about moderators (allegedly) deleting comments improperly; it would be useful to be able to tell when this action happened. – Federico Poloni Jan 27 '18 at 11:57
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    How would knowing that comments were deleted at some point in a 5 minute window help with that specifically though? – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 12:01
  • @JonClements I don't understand your remark about auto-generated duplicate comments. Do you have in mind a use case where it is appropriate to delete an auto-generated duplicate comment? – Federico Poloni Jan 27 '18 at 12:02
  • They're automatically deleted by the Community bot when a post is closed as a duplicate... – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 12:03
  • @JonClements ...because if mods really deleted comments improperly, as a concerned user I may want to know if it happened? I don't care about the 5-minute window, it's just OK to have a notification. Most moderator actions already leave a trace (e.g., closing, deleting, or protecting questions), and this is an exception; it would make sense if it happened consistently. (EDIT: thanks for the answer on the duplicate thing; it makes sense. I'll restrict the feature request to comment deletion by mods.) – Federico Poloni Jan 27 '18 at 12:06
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    The content of the comments isn't going to be shown... (a lot of 'em aren't anywhere near fit for public consumption or just petty arguments) - so how would you deem if it was "improper" - all it'd be is an indicator that some comments were deleted and that happens all the time by the original posters of comments anyway. The term rubbernecking springs to mind as all this'd do... – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 12:11
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    Also - don't forget that comments can only be edited within 5 minutes by their authors, have no visible revision history (except the number of times edited), don't support proper voting etc... So actions on them isn't the same as the entire focus of the site which is the Questions and the Answers - which do have full history which applies to every action by everyone - the fact that mods are shown there isn't because they're mods - it'd be shown if anyone else did/could do the action. – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 12:13
  • @JonClements The term accountability may also spring to mind. But that's just, like, my opinion. – Federico Poloni Jan 27 '18 at 12:19
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    Okay - so you're moving now from "improperly deleted" to accountability... Fine, accountability I can get behind slightly, but seeing a banner saying: "Some comments you can't see anymore were deleted by a mod" in the revision timeline - what benefit does it have - you still haven't explained that... If there was a massive spat going on in comments and it got cleaned up and you hadn't already seen the post - why would attention want to be drawn to that? – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 12:22
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I delete possibly more comments on a daily basis than most moderators, so I'm going to talk a bit about my experience.

Interpersonal Skills has a very strict comment policy - though, we're merely codifying and enforcing Stack Exchange policy regarding comments. As such, comments are flagged and removed at a rate of about 1000 per month.

There's (at least) one major flaw with your proposal. It's only one-way accountability. You're asking the system to finger a specific moderator (though even if it was merely a generic "moderator" it'd be the same issue) for doing their job without showing the actual content that was removed, which often would make it apparent why it was removed. Without two-way accountability, a lot more accusations of abuse are likely.

I see that there are 20 deleted comments here - why? Moderator X is ruining the community connection on this site by clearing out comments! Y'all get your torches and pitchforks and let's tar and feather them at the stake!

It's one thing for the person who deleted the comment to ask for help understanding why their own comment was deleted or for the OP to ask what the comments they were notified about had said. These users are aware that the comments were removed and if they want to know why, I'm happy to explain...

... but... I see no benefit in responding to idle curiosity that only exists because we have told them in the UI that a bunch of comments were removed. And they will ask. Even if it's not out of concern of moderator abuse, someone who has only ever looked at the post once will see that number and ask "what were the deleted comments here?" or "why are so many comments on this post deleted?". Responding to these curiosity questions takes time away from actual moderation work.

So, we either dupe close them on meta of a generic "why were comments removed" question (if the question was asked on meta and not as a comment on the post), or we ignore them entirely and then risk being accused of ignoring our duties in explaining our actions - which, in this case, comes from users misunderstanding what comments are for (see below).

When I delete 100+ comments from a question (or even just one), I do so for a very good reason, not because I feel like it. Often, in fact, we already post comments saying something like

Seriously, y'all... the answer and joke comments need to stop. We've deleted nearly 80 comments from this question talking about wasting paper, Anne being overbearing, and how infinitesimal the amount of power being wasted is. It's been said already and deleted. Stop it. If your comment is not asking for clarification, say it to yourself and move along.

Though more often that not it reads something like:

{COMMENTS REMOVED} - If you have an answer, write an answer in the answer field below. Answers written in comments will be removed.

Note, if you visit that question, there are two notice comments telling people not to post answers as comments (including the one I've quoted) plus two explaining commenting policy... and 110 deleted comments.

Notice comments and deleted ones

We're not strict about comments on our meta site as meta is more about discussion.


I'm going to go off on a bit of a tangent because I think this is a concept that not everyone understands...

Why do comments need to be deleted?

Part of what causes this is discussed by Robert Cartaino on this MSE question: Fixing comments in 5 minutes. Intrigued? Let's discuss

The word "comment" is a misnomer for what the intended purpose of this feature is. Comments are specifically designed as a place to ask for clarification or suggest improvement. In Robert's words:

Comments are something else. We have a section inviting folks to simply "add comment" (definition: respond? gossip? talk?), and yet we yell at them if they do it wrong. Then we spend an inordinate amount of time (and resources) cleaning them up (with barely a dent, I should add).

Comments actually have two primary use cases — to ask for clarification or to suggest improvements to a post.

This is made clear in the comment use privilege explanation page on any site:

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

When shouldn't I comment?

Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;
  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);
  • Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, up-vote it and pay it forward;
  • Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, down-vote (and provide or up-vote a better answer if appropriate);
  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;
  • Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.

Note that the second point in the "When should I comment" section may be a bit confusing... this is the "suggest improvements" part. These suggestions for improvement shouldn't turn into a multi-comment discussion/argument between users... if they do, it should be taken to chat or removed if it's not serving any benefit as mentioned in the "When shouldn't I comment" section.

So, because users think that a "comment" is "anything that comes to mind in relation to this post", they frequently feel that any removal of comments is unwarranted. In fact, the opposite is true.

Comments are for such a specific purpose that a very low percentage of them actually belong on the site and once acted upon, even those comments should be removed. Comments are noise and the more of them there are, the more there is coming between the person who has a question (not only the OP) and the solution to their problem.

This is particularly problematic when the comments appear on the question, as they appear before the answers. Add to this the fact that comments can only be voted up, you are treading in dangerous water of bad advice that merely sounds good to some people (who have upvoted the comment).


So, my argument is

Until people are actually using comments for their intended purpose (or understand that purpose), all that something like this will do is cause annoyance to moderators who have to deal with accusations of "mod abuse" for deleting comments the user may never have seen.

The inevitable answer to "why was this comment deleted" is nearly always "because it was noise".

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While total mod open-ness is something I love - ... no plan survives real people. While not as serious as mod messages, I see two issues here.

Firstly, mods delete a lot of comments on some sites - while my own site is quiet, we do occationally get clusters of trivial, old comments -or just go "eh, I'll delete the lot and restore the good ones" as suggested here. Considering comments are kind of meant for clarifications and such and to me transient by design, not sure a deep/specific public audit thread helps anything.

Secondly, some people tend to take these things too personally, and will probably post meta questions, chat posts or worse, over something that ought to be a fairly trivial, quick moderation task.

If you can find a real, critical issue this fixes - maybe I might change my mind, but this smells like it would cause more problems than it solves.

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  • I'm struggling with it. Since only mods can see the deleted content - there's not much point drawing attention to it as no-one else can audit if it was proper/not... Just having a banner saying that something happened is Rubbernecking waiting to happen... The banner "Mod Moved Comments To Chat" is nice as it indicates there was a decent but probably too long actual conversation going on and it's somewhere else. While "mod deleted comments" is probably more - yeah... let's forget this mess ever happened and hope no-one sees it again curiosity... – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 12:25
  • People can already see with their eyes when their own comments have been deleted, and already post angry meta questions about it all the time. This feature is not going to change that or make it worse. It would only make it easier for third parties to get an idea of what is going on behind the screens. – Federico Poloni Jan 27 '18 at 12:48
  • That's what it does - what's the benefit here? – Journeyman Geek Jan 27 '18 at 12:49
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    In fact - on SO - I was just going through the "duplicate comments" tool and just deleted 88 comments of the equivalent of "lakdfsladskjl" - so apparently that's 88 posts that'd now have a "a mod deleted a comment/comments banner" in their revisions - not sure how much use that is to anyone... (plus the other 75 I just deleted...) – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 12:50
  • Accountability. Being able to tell when mods are using, or possibly abusing, their powers. If I cannot convince you that it's a good thing, probably power is already starting to get into your head. – Federico Poloni Jan 27 '18 at 12:52
  • @JonClements Not 88 posts, but 88 revision lists. That's different --- much less intrusive. – Federico Poloni Jan 27 '18 at 12:52
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    Being able to tell when mods are using, or possibly abusing, their powers - that's what the other mods and staff are for... What you aren't answering is if you can't see the deleted comments - how is the knowledge there are some going to help avoid that? – Jon Clements Jan 27 '18 at 12:54
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    @FedericoPoloni That sort of accusations would get you laughed at on many sites. Maybe even mocked. We do not sit around in smoky back rooms discussing how to mess with someone. "If I cannot convince you that it's a good thing, probably power is already starting to get into your head" isn't actually going to convince anyone. Its not power man, its responsibility. And all I get's a hat and a flag queue. – Journeyman Geek Jan 27 '18 at 13:04
  • And maybe a t-shirt and a mug, @JourneymanGeek. Real power and reward! – Rory Alsop Jan 27 '18 at 13:26
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    ... the mug was 100k. I earned that one. Ok, so two T shirts. I have a lot of SE T shirts, and I wear em all, not at once. Its hardly illuminati pay ;p – Journeyman Geek Jan 27 '18 at 13:40

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