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Sometimes, mods delete comments. In fact, sometimes mods delete entire comment threads. This inspires people to come to this meta or site-specific metas to ask "why were my comments deleted" (e.g. here, here and here and many many others.) There is even a tag that seems to be specifically for this thing, .

Although I would not go so far as to claim consensus on the matter, almost universally an answer is given and receives upvotes that hinges essentially on a line from the comment policy "Comments are temporary 'Post-It' notes left on a question or answer." This answer generally boils down to, I think "Comments were deleted because comments are by nature ephemeral and therefore are subject to being deleted." (e.g. here, here and here). However, in giving this as an answer to "why were these comments deleted?" it seems to suggest that not only might comments be deleted but, in fact, comments should be deleted.

However, at least one of the "should"s on the comment policy suggests that some comments should possibly be at least long-lived. Specifically: "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)." The phrase "minor or transient" and the example "a link to a related question" suggests that there may exist comments whose use is not transient, but is instead minor, and may be useful for longer than it takes for the OP to read and comprehend it.

So, is it the case that all comments should be deleted? If not, then there exist circumstances in which a comment should not be deleted... what are those circumstances? How can we tell the difference between comments that should and should not be?

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    No comment is so important that it is immune to deletion. – Kevin B Mar 14 at 22:10
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    That is not the question. The question is, is it always the correct course of action to delete a comment? – Scott Mar 14 at 22:31
  • Somewhat related: my proposal to hide trivial comments. – Jon Ericson Mar 14 at 22:37
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    Notably, I have the ability to delete my own comments. However, the notion that my comment is subject to deletion gives me no insight into whether I should delete my comment. Should I always go back and delete my comments? – Scott Mar 14 at 22:38
  • that's entirely up to you, just like it is entirely up to moderators whether or not to delete comments they come across. – Kevin B Mar 14 at 22:59
  • @KevinB but surely comments that are offensive, rude and not constructive or relevant to the post should be deleted? – Scott Mar 14 at 23:07
  • It's up to the moderator to decide whether or not they are constructive/relevant/offensive/rude, so, yes. that still fits. – Kevin B Mar 14 at 23:09
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    The responses you cite aren't saying that comments should be deleted. They're correcting the idea some people have that comments are actually permanent. – TheWanderer Mar 15 at 0:06
  • @TheWanderer, then there is an XY problem at work. I think that when someone asks "why were these comments deleted?", although they may have the misconception that comments "should be without reason to delete" rather than "should not be without reason to exist", they should be treated to such an explanation, if this is the case. Instead, they sometimes receive a non-answer that "comments are subject to deletion." In the absence of context, this sounds a lot like "because we felt like it." – Scott Mar 15 at 0:55
  • The purpose of this question was to create a citation that explains that it is not, in fact, "because we felt like it.", but because the community feels that mostly comments should cease to be. They serve a limited purpose, and then there is some decision mechanism, rule or heuristic that helps us decide that the comments should no longer be. – Scott Mar 15 at 0:59
  • It seemed to me that this concept was implicit when taking into account the totality of "why were my comments deleted?" meta questions. I just felt that it should be stated, so that it could be voted upon and then a satisfactory and explicit explanation provided in the future. – Scott Mar 15 at 1:02
  • @TheWanderer if you feel that this mischaracterizes the communities feelings, please provide an answer. – Scott Mar 15 at 1:05
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The question to ask when considering deleting a comment is: "is this (still) useful?". If it is, leave it; if it's not (or never was), delete it.

Links to related questions are usually useful, but might have been incorporated into the post. Requests for clarification that have not yet been addressed are still useful. Notices to answerers that the question has been edited in a way that affects the answer are useful until the answerer has been back and had time to see the comment. "This conversation was moved to chat" links are useful while the chat room persists and no longer useful if the room is deleted. Suggestions for improvements are generally useful until the author has had time to consider them, but some suggestions were never really useful so you have to evaluate individual cases.

There is no formula, no deterministic rule that everybody would agree on. There is a heuristic, and that heuristic is perceived usefulness.

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Its not an absolute.

Ideally folks clean up their own comments after themselves. More typically there's a flag and a moderator reviews and decides whether its needed as well.

I guess there's two different viewpoints. Some people are really attached to their comments. They get upset when their comments are deleted.

The other is that comments are temporary artifacts. They request or provide clarification. They're useful in stepping through a problem. Ideally we can roll in the results of that process into a post. Sometimes a comment is useful, but is the strange place where it dosen't fit in.

If it could be automated, it would. This however is one place where we want folks to review and determine whether the comment is still a useful artifact, and whether to leave it in place, migrate a comment chain to chat or delete.

As far as comments go... we need not strive officiously to keep alive.

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@KevinB's comments above:

that's entirely up to you, just like it is entirely up to moderators whether or not to delete comments they come across.

Seems to suggest the following: Comments should be deleted precisely when the comment poster or any mod capable of deleting comments decides, for any reason whatsoever, that they would like to delete said comment(s).

In other words, the community at large abstains from opining on whether any individual comment or comment thread should be deleted, and instead delegates such decisions entirely up to commenters' and mods' individual discretion.

  • Specifically, I think that it is not the case that there can be no rule. In the absence of any rule, this answer constitutes the de facto rule. As such, it deserves to be stated explicitly, so that it can be openly discussed. – Scott Mar 15 at 14:08

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