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Sometimes, here on SE sites, I have seen a behavior that I consider abusive. I'm sure that many other users here also saw that. I will use an anecdote to present it:

Some users (let's call them Alex, Beatrice, Carol and Denis) are debating something in a comment thread of a question or answer. Let's say that it is something on meta about defining some policy and all of its hairy intricate problems, but the debate so far is healthy and productive with a lot of useful and helpful information being produced.

Then Eris steps in and posts a comment presenting a controversial and unorthodox point-of-view in an impositive and aggressive manner.

Denis and Carol engage the debate with Eris' and the debate becomes heated up. Alex and Beatrice try to continues the once healthy debate by initially trying to ignoring Eris, all of that happening in the same comment thread. However, Eris' insistence eventually derails the debate into chaos. Beatrice gives up debating and goes away. Carol bites the bait and does some personal attacks and/or mocking on Eris. The comment thread becomes a huge mess.

Eris, unable to convince (read: impose) other people of her opinion, then deletes her own comments. Without Eris' comments many parts of the thread do not make any sense anymore. To make things worse, Eris flags everything from everyone else as being offensive, rude, obsolete, off-topic or whatever other lame excuse fits in. To improve the flag count, Eris also either uses a sockpuppet account to also cast flags or calls in a friend to help her with that.

Fred and George come in, see the attacks that Carol made against Eris and flag them as well. Denis, Alex and now Fred even try to resume the debate, but they are now struggling to make any sense of it. However, they don't get too far into that, because soon, a moderator steps in, nukes all the comments and suspends Carol.

Eris achieve success. If nobody is going to agree with her, then everybody should shut up! The then healthy, productive and helpful debate was derailed and then nuked to be lost forever! Also, a once productive and helpful user ends up being suspended and everybody else is frustrated. Eris is laughing.

I won't post links to actual real examples of this because I don't want to expose anyone and most of what would be examples of this are deleted anyway.

I know that comments are intended to not last (an idea that I personally strongly disagree with, but I will not enter in this merit). But the reality is that many healthy and productive debates happen in comments and yet don't fit in answers, being very vulnerable to the above kind of escalation.

A chat room could be an alternative, but chat has its own problems like (a) ordinary users can't convert an already going-on long comment thread into a chat except under very special occasions that very rarely apply, (b) flagging in chats does not work well, especially if a user is only presenting a controversial position that everyone disagrees with instead of being blatantly offensive, (c) it requires users to open up a new window/tab instead of seeing all within the corresponding question or answer and this UI/UX barrier ends up being a cognitive obstacle that inhibits many people of participating.

Now, the questions:

  1. What can I do to stop users like Eris that are trying to derail the debate without being blatantly rude or offensive to anyone?

  2. If the debate was already derailed, what can I do to save what was useful and resume the healthy and productive debate later?

  • 20
    "debates in comments": are comments really meant for debates? – Raedwald Oct 18 at 9:29
  • 3
    @Raedwald I'm really not questioning that. But the fact is that comments are being used for debates about specific questions and answers by essentially everybody because the only other alternative would be using the chat, which is very cumbersome and impractical to use for that. – Victor Stafusa Oct 18 at 10:07
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    These sites were not really designed for discussion. That meta uses the same format as the Q&A sites have been recognized as a big design mistake. I don't see any way to fix that without an overhaul of the site. The first step would be something like an expanding "drop down" discussion like in Reddit or everywhere else, where you can reply to a specific comment below that comment. – Lundin Oct 18 at 11:29
31

To answer your questions:

  1. You could flag it as "No longer needed": "This comment is outdated, conversational or not relevant to this post."
  2. See 1.

Iirc, 3(+) red flags on a comment result in the automated deletion of said comment. Multiple automated deletions automatically trigger a mod flag.

SE meta is pretty understaffed at the moment, which ironically makes it more important to flag, than ever.

15

Welcome to the Internet.

I think Stack Exchange has made it abundantly clear that they don't want debates in comments, certainly not meaningful ones. You can't have a meaningful debate unless you're willing to entertain opposing viewpoints and encounter people who don't subscribe to your world view or your definition of "nice."

And some people are just going to rub you the wrong way. If they're genuine trolls, disengage, flag their comments and move on. Otherwise, you might want to drag out that thick skin you left in the closet and put it to good use.

8

By not having debates in comments.

I mean, this is one of the major reasons why comments are not for extended discussion.

Find a chatroom and get yourselves flagged in there, instead. ;)

6

You fix this by flagging the comment thread at first sign of such behavior and asking the moderator to send it to chat. Period. This is one of the reasons why we have flags, and can use them on comments.

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