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The whole reason Stack Exchange exists is to let people post questions and answers to those questions. Since the very first day of Stack Overflow's existence, Qs and As have been considered first-class content.

Comments, on the other hand, are widely considered second-class content, and have been that way since shortly after they were introduced, early on in SO history. Terms commonly used to describe comments are "temporary", "ephemeral", "throwaway" and the like.

Why, then, can regular users delete questions and answers but not comments*?

Currently, when it comes to deleting comments, the entire burden falls on moderators. No amount of rep allows non-mods to do anything more than flag for mod attention. One of SE's core principles is giving the community authority and ability over as much moderation as possible. Adding the power to delete comments would represent a good step in that direction, not to mention take some pressure off of our hard-working volunteer mods.**

At this point, some of you may be thinking this is unsafe, because regular users can't view deleted comment history, so there's less oversight than for deleted posts, which trusted users*** can see. However, as already noted, comments are inherently unlike posts. It is by design that they are second-class; stuff that's too important to lose shouldn't be put there in the first place. So, oversight has reduced importanance.

Another possible argument I can think of against this would be that comments don't matter enough to merit a rep-based deletion privilege. In other words, giving people this privilege would take up more of their time and energy than the comment cleanup would justify. Obviously, I don't agree with that argument, but I can see how someone else's cost-benefit analysis might differ.

(There's also "insufficient dev resources", I suppose, but that's a practical limitation, not an argument against the idea.)

Implementation of comment cleanup would improve the all-important signal-to-noise ratio on the sites, and decentralizing this ability would let problem situations get quicker responses—"deleting rude comments helps stop fights before they begin" -Brad Larson—by increasing the number of (empowered) eyeballs around.

To make this a concrete proposal: can we give trusted users*** some ability to delete comments?

*: granted, non-mod post deletion requires multiple people who are each above a high-ish rep threshold and applies only to posts meeting some low quality prerequisites, and non-mod comment deletion is available in a few special cases like offensive content or thank-yous

**: I think I remember reading that comment flags make up a large portion of overall flag volume, but not where. If someone can find a source either way, please leave a, um, comment.

***: AKA 20k users, AKA users with delete powers

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    Because these powers will be used as weapons. – Dan Bron Nov 20 '18 at 17:35
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    Currently, when it comes to deleting comments, the entire burden falls on moderators. Wrong. Three flags from normal users (more if the comment is upvoted) results in automatic deletion. – Sonic the Masked Werehog Nov 20 '18 at 17:38
  • @Sonic and some key words trigger insta-deletion of a comment after a single flag. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Nov 20 '18 at 17:42
  • @ShadowWizard That only applies to abusive flags, not other flag types. – Servy Nov 20 '18 at 18:04
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    @Servy No, after some testing I've confirmed it applies to all comment flag types. – Sonic the Masked Werehog Nov 20 '18 at 18:41
  • It applies to all flags: thank-you comments are insta-deleted after No Longer Needed flags, though there's also a catch that they need to be moderately short. – user392547 Nov 20 '18 at 18:55
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    @DanBron can you explain? How would this be more "weaponized" than existing powers? – SOLO Nov 20 '18 at 19:04
  • @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog that's new information to me. I guess my request is [status-already-exists] then. – SOLO Nov 20 '18 at 19:05
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Users can delete comments some of the time; sufficient (non-custom) flags will delete a comment.

As a moderator I've seen even comment flags be weaponized; allowing unauditable comment deletions would make that worse. How often do you see two (or more) users having a heated argument in chat? What do you think would happen if one of them could remove the other's comments? (And yes, I've seen high-rep users try this with flags.)

If we make comment deletions auditable, this probably means showing all deleted comments to all high-rep users. On some sites they will not thank you for this. They're not going to audit those deletions (too much); they're just going to have more dumpster fires visible to them. We shouldn't invest this much in mere comments.

Yes, the status quo generates a lot of comment flags, and sometimes on one of my sites I look at the flags page, roll my eyes, and go do something else. The single biggest change that would help me with that is atomic flag groups, so a user could flag a group of comments together with a single reason and a moderator could handle it in one click.

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    The weaponizing issue can probably be mitigated by requiring multiple users to delete, or by inserting some condition - e.g. you can only delete comments to posts you haven’t commented on. – Alex Nov 21 '18 at 8:53
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    Not that it matters anymore, but my intent was always to require multiple users to agree for deletion, just as is done with posts. – SOLO Nov 21 '18 at 15:02
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Questions and answers have revisions list which also clearly showing who deleted and how to those who can see the deleted question or answer. Comments have no such thing.

If 20k user will delete a comment, nobody except mods will be able to tell that user deleted the comment. Even the one deleting the comment won't find any trace of it, anywhere.

So until a complete revisions system is added to comments, such request is moot, IMO.

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  • Well presumably the system built to handle comment deletions would address this. This request is more about concept than implementation. That said, I also addressed this in the middle of the feature request. – SOLO Nov 20 '18 at 19:04

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