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I made a SEDE query to find all the comments that contained thank, the @ character, weren't saying yes/no to something, and were less than 20 characters. The query is here. It returned over 1400 results. That's quite a few supposedly-unneeded thanks comments. I'd like to go through each one (manually, not automatically) and flag the ones that I believe are No Longer Needed. I don't have an exact number, but I think that will be a large number of comments. Is it OK if I go ahead and do that, or should I not?

I would be finding them via SEDE, not manually, so I'm not sure if there is a rule about that (simaler to serial-voting, but with a query instead of a user). Also, I believe that (some?) comments don't go into a queue when flagged, like if they have thanks in them. But I wouldn't want to cause problems by putting hundreds of comments into a queue, and then get flag-banned as a result. So, is flagging a bunch of these comments acceptable, or even good, assuming I believe each one is really No Longer Needed?

Or, if it would be better, I can go through the query results manually, make a list of every comment I think is No Longer Needed, and dump them in a big Meta post, as to not hit the comment flag limit.

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    Just informally, I don't think it makes any difference how exactly you find them before you flag them. This sounds tedious, though. There is a limit on how often you can flag (once per 5 seconds I believe, so on the order of two hours minimum).
    – tripleee
    Jan 5 at 5:52
  • Yeah... just making a big list of all the un-needed ones might be easier (for me). On the other hand, I don't know what is better for mods/those with access to review queues. It also says that you can only load the flag dialog every three seconds, so I don't know if that applies if I were to do it the way Smoke Detector flags things (via some API). Of course, I also just wanted to make sure that this was allowed, because I don't want to get into trouble :)
    – cocomac
    Jan 5 at 5:57
  • Would be better if the SEDE query had clickable links. meta.stackexchange.com/q/371425/352329 Does [Post Link] or something similar work? You might even add keywords/phrases like charm, saved me, bless, you are a god, and more. Jan 5 at 12:12
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    Just a note to all, please don't run this on SFF, we use thanks comments in certain cases and they're needed to be kept around. Someone running a bot in a similar situation to this caused a problem in the past there. Jan 5 at 15:19
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    @cocomac Science Fiction & Fantasy, Also I didn't notice it at the time of my comment but Mithical's answer actually mentions this. Jan 5 at 15:45
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    MSE and MSO have widely different policies and flag load, as do all sites individually. MSE FAQ - "Is it acceptable to write a thank you in a comment?" and MSO Discussion - "Should "Thank you" comments be flagged?". --- So it's best to ask on each site's meta than trying to get one answer applicable to all sites by asking here. --- Posting the huge list as a question or announcement to circumvent the flag limit isn't going to be helpful.
    – Rob
    Jan 5 at 23:00
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    @Rob having a central discussion on MSE about it to confront differing opinions is useful.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 23:35
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    The more consistently the communities in a "network" behave, the more easily users can move between different communities. If anything about a specific community is different from other communities, then I recommend making note of this in the tour -- a single location where we try to catch users up on how things work. If your community hordes "thanks" comments, then clarify that in your tour page and maybe link from there to a meta page that explains why. Jan 5 at 23:45
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    @mick My comment above was to explain my close reason. Each community is allowed to set its own norms, as long as they don't violate the CoC. --- With over 177 sites it's impractical to compile a list, nor (bad_coder) is it our place to confront people who may not visit MSE about their customs. Some sites have lengthy comment discussions which are not deleted or moved to chat, some keep everything very clean - should we say which is correct. Some sites have a "don't downvote below 0" policy, is that OK. Search: stackexchange.com/… > 2K!
    – Rob
    Jan 6 at 0:12
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    @Rob the fact that there are >2K posts on the topic indicates that there is a severe lack of clarity/consistency leading to the confusion/discontent of many users. This seems like something that needs to be better defined and perhaps communities that think they are benefitting from noise should be consulted to figure out why they feel the commenting standards across the network are failing their particular community. Jan 6 at 0:58
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    @mickmackusa Can we move the discussion as to if having thanks comments is good (for any site) into a new Meta post, please. It is an important discussion, but it deserves a separate post. The comments section of this post is not the place to have this discussion.
    – cocomac
    Jan 6 at 1:07
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    @cocomac Another meta discussion is not particularly necessary; the topic was litigated ad nauseum years ago (see the links Rob included in his comments above). SE network sites are specifically designed so that users can say thanks by upvoting, not by commenting "thanks". See (literally) every site tour page, where it says "This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat." (emphasis mine). In fact it says it twice.
    – TylerH
    Jan 6 at 17:19
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    @cocomac The sites that have different rules are simply misusing the site software and should adjust their policies accordingly, or request a site-specific redesign of the tour, FAQ page, etc. (or move to a subreddit). This question seems to be specific to Stack Overflow, based on your SEDE query, and should have been posted there. If you intended it to be for all sites, I would recommend editing the question to clarify that, but then it'll likely still be close-worthy as 'too broad/pob' (because you'd need literally as many answers as there are network sites).
    – TylerH
    Jan 6 at 19:30
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    Ah, found another SEDE query that is better designed to navigate to the comment with [Comment Link] data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/262369/… Though I'd like to see the text next to the link so that I can eyeball the quality of the comment before going there. Jan 7 at 1:25

3 Answers 3

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There's nothing necessarily wrong with it, but if it's overloading the moderators you might be asked to slow down.

I've done this several years ago; run queries, find obsolete or unnecessary comments, and flag them. It gets rather boring after a while, but from an objective standpoint the comments usually should be deleted, so flagging is fine.

However. Please take into account site culture; different sites behave differently when it comes to comments. Some sites are strict about no-noise comments, others less so. On Scifi.SE, "thank you" comments are used to identify whether or not a story-identification question has been correctly answered, which affects duplicate closure. Deleting those could cause confusion.

You are limited to at most 100 comment flags a day. That's a drop in a bucket on Stack Overflow, but on smaller sites that can be overwhelming. Take into account the size of the site you're flagging on.

And, of course, if you're asked to stop... stop. This does eat moderator time, and if it's taking up too much effort from the moderators for minimal gain, be mindful that you may be asked to pause.


But here's a suggestion for something that might be a slightly better use of your time. Run the query, flag a comment... and then go over the rest of the post. Are there other comments that can be removed? Does the question need to be edited? Do the answers need to be edited? Do the images have alt text? Are the tags correct?
Go over the entire post when finding content through queries, not just the one thing you were searching for.

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    As a moderator of two sites (one medium, one small) I support having any and all unnecessary comments brought to my attention for deletion. I agree with your last paragraph strongly because writing thanks (when we have upvotes for that) in either a comment or question body is often a good indicator that there may be more about a Q&A that can be improved.
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 5 at 6:33
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    The last paragraph is key. You can use any query or search to give you list of content to moderate as long as you moderate/edit/close/flag the whole Q/A, including comments not just the single bit you searched for.
    – rene
    Jan 5 at 17:14
  • For the record, someone already did run a script to find and flag thank you comments on SFF:SE in the past, so it's not a case of "Deleting those could cause confusion" but more a case of "Deleting those did cause confusion*
    – Richard
    Jan 7 at 12:10
5

I'm a moderator on a fairly small site and just wanted to echo the idea from Mithical's answer that you should ask these communities whether they want flags for this. We haven't found these comments to be worth the trouble of deleting and they can be beneficial in making the community seem more welcoming. I'm fine with some outsider edits to improve formatting, but I don't feel these sorts of flags for benign comments would be useful for our site.

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    On a site with around 2000 questions a user going for the Marshal badge (500 flags) seems manageable in 30 days, at 15 flags/day the site will run out of NLN actionable comments soon. It's also my experience users on smaller sites don't often raise NLN flags because they're sensitive to the importance of interactions. On larger sites if you postpone NLN flags you'll end up with an ever growing corpus of spammed comment sections and a policy of forbidding users to raise flags, I find it questionable if 100 NLN flags are all it takes to have a mod contact you like you're committing an offense.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 16:59
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    Because that's what it will boil down to, users being forbidden of flagging 1 thread/post per day. I also don't quite believe the "very urgent" posts argument or "lots of work" when a comment section can be handled in 1 or 2 minutes. If that's too much then there's something that just isn't working with moderation and that's what should be addressed.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 17:03
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    @bad_coder I don't think anyone is suggesting banning flags. There just isn't a need for mass flagging for an issue that most of our site doesn't think is actually a problem. Its not a case of "I don't want to do the work", its "I don't see the value in the requested task and at worst it does more harm than good".
    – Tyberius
    Jan 5 at 17:32
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    I think when you say "mass flagging" a number should be put on that otherwise the argument is mute. Flagging 5 comments under a post or 10 comments in a thread isn't "mass flagging" but that's what's objectively being proposed that shouldn't be done.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 17:35
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    @bad_coder since you suggested it, lets say 15 flags/day. We have large stretches on our site with 0 active flags. 15 is probably the most I have seen in one day and these were typically due to periodic "clean-up" efforts. If we suddenly started getting 15 NLN flags from one user day after day, I would probably comment asking them to flag more judiciously because the community has generally expressed that these aren't a problem and can often actually be useful. I think the total "flag needed" content on our site is on the order of ~10-30. We certainly don't have 500, let alone all NLN.
    – Tyberius
    Jan 5 at 17:43
  • Then it's a an apples and oranges difference. What I'm talking about is methodically going through a spam-ish corpus and having a reasonable daily number to work with instead of an unexpected prohibition of flagging under threat of suspension. (The other scenario you refer to should be handled by a wiki canonical and declining flags pointing to that wiki, however if the site grows readers and curators will want more and more clean-up.)
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 17:51
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    @bad_coder again, nobody said anything about suspension or even not allowing flags. I specifically mentioned being fine with more substantive edits like formatting of a post (a post they perhaps found by using this query). But if they are just on our site to flag 1 or 2 "thanks" comments every other day, I don't think even the couple of seconds they are spending on it is worth their time because we just don't consider those types of comments a problem.
    – Tyberius
    Jan 5 at 17:56
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    But that's the problem, while you're addressing a very specific circumstance what is under broader debate is how this scales and that some of the blanket arguments against flagging are questionable. Another thing, future readers and mods will come across this thread and tend to conclude: "lets not raise flags on spammed comments sections for whatever reasons." I don't think most of the arguments against flagging made here hold up. In fact, I'd like to listen from the proficient flaggers and flag handlers the ones who somehow just make it work seamlessly.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 17:58
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    @bad_coder I'm addressing it by example. Some sites, like mine and apparently SF&F, don't want this applied to them. So the answer to how it scales is basically already given by Mithical: if a community wants these flags great, go for it. If they don't, don't do it there. And maybe while finding these posts due to a particular type of comment, try to correct other issues with the overall posts while you are there, which will presumably be more useful than cleaning up "thank you"s from years old posts.
    – Tyberius
    Jan 5 at 18:04
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    The argument that editing vs flagging is more or less useful is a non-sequitur. Each is what it is independently and both are useful. As for "the community" wanting something that's another argument I think is false because obviously users want to flag and apparently a small group of mods/users are trying to persuade them otherwise, like I said all those arguments taken together don't hold up to discussion. (The smaller site example is, also, independent of the former arguments and I don't recall site specific debates backing up the anti-flagging claims with community consensus.)
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 18:10
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    @bad_coder again, I have at no point during this discussion said anything to the effect of "don't ever flag". While individual users can act how they want, a community can establish some sense of policy by having a Meta discussion about an issue and voting for how it should be handled. A single user might want to flag "thank you" comments on our site, but they may be declined if the consensus from that Meta discussion was that these comments should be kept. If enough users want to change that policy, they can do it through Meta.
    – Tyberius
    Jan 5 at 18:20
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    The whole point of Meta is to present your views, hopefully persuade others of them, and then based on some criteria decide on a policy. "obviously users want to flag" and I'm glad to let them, but if a site decides (through a Meta discussion like this) they don't want to flag a particular type of content, then its that site's prerogative and they don't have to accept those sorts of flags. This is especially the case when its not some who actively uses the site proposing these flags and deciding from the outside that they don't like how a site wants to operate.
    – Tyberius
    Jan 5 at 18:26
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    @bad_coder admittedly, I don't know if we have had such a formal discussion on our site. Like a lot of sites on the network, Meta participation is a lot lower than the main site and with our site already being fairly small, its tough to establish a broad consensus (most Meta posts only get about 2 votes, maybe a few more if they are featured for awhile). But my point is that would be the ideal way to decide on this. Like I mentioned, I'm using my site as an example/placeholder, but arguing more about the principle behind the idea (i.e. letting sites choose if they want this).
    – Tyberius
    Jan 5 at 18:39
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    That's ok Tyberius, I participate on a small site of the network that's important to me and I fully understand the many "if's and but's" and that a user likes to stand up for their community. I think your participation here was great, but what I am concerned about, as I said previously, are broad anti-flagging arguments that I'd like to see discussed. The arguments I really don't like and find questionable aren't of your making, but I've addressed them enough in these comments so you know what they are.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 18:47
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    "We haven't found these comments to be worth the trouble of deleting" What trouble do you have with deleting "thanks" comments? They should be even easier to delete from the mod flag queue than other comments because no additional context is required to know they are noise. That aside, this question is about Stack Overflow, specifically, and should have been posted to Meta.SO. Concerns about smaller sites like Matter Modeling understandably are different there (though I don't think "thanks" comments belong there either, as you know).
    – TylerH
    Jan 5 at 23:17
3

Most of the "thanks" comments that you are flagging will be instantly killed off by the system and never make it to the moderator dashboard.

There will be very little impact on human moderators based on your SEDE query criteria. You will see most of these flags will make the comment instantly vanish. The Stack Exchange Network has dedicated scripting to assist with the removal of "thanks" comments and the placeholder text on every Stack Exchange community explicitly says not to say "thanks" or "+1". This is because these comments are useless noise to researchers (these are the users that we are ultimately trying to give value to).

As for any comments that are not instantly deleted, my opinion is:

"Don't worry about the donkey (mule/horse), load the cart (wagon)."

If you see something that doesn't belong and/or doesn't benefit researchers, flag it for removal.

If there aren't enough moderators to handle the flag load, the existing moderators can ask for more moderators and/or better tools. That said, I don't think a minor spike in flags is going to greatly disrupt an entire team of moderators. This, after all, is just housekeeping that was waiting to be done.

If certain communities are retaining useless/noisy comments, then they are not only creating unnecessary page bloat. They are teaching their citizens that making noise is tolerated/acceptable. Then when noisy commentors spread their wings and join a new community, they will take their bad habits with them.

We all have a responsibility to groom each other for the betterment of the whole. By minding our patch and guiding users how to ask, answer, and comment, we put Stack Exchange on a positive trajectory. By better "training" users in our own communities, these users become helpful hands when they join new communities. This is a positive butterfly effect.

Finally, if we don't serve up heaps of flags, then how will we find our next @Bhargav (the world's most prolific flag smasher)?


I just just unearthed an old mJSE post of mine which was posted after I joined a new community and before becoming a moderator there. While it is a little long-winded, it demonstrates the frustration of an experienced Stack Exchange user joining a community and being confused/horrified at the moderator team rejecting absolutely valid comment flags en masse. My question goes pretty far to offer an itemized record of flags which should have been deemed helpful, but were not. My post also serves up nine reasons why we should be trashing noisy comments. Why don't JSE moderators trash unnecessary comments like other SE sites?

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    I have to go with this one, it only happened once that a mod contacted me for "flagging too much" and that it was "causing work" while most other mods simply cleaned up the site diligently in accordance with the mission they had volunteered for and accepted. It takes a lot of self-serving bias to become a mod and complain about being a mod while trying to coerce users to not use site moderation tools. That's perverting the mod mission, if that's the case either call for an election to get more mods or resign and let someone else fill the role of improving site quality.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 12:14
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    "If there aren't enough mods to handle the flag load, the existing mods can ask for more mods and/or better tools." - There's a difference between the day-to-day flag load that a site handles and someone suddenly inflating it by 100 flags a day. It's not crazy that there would be a case where the moderators can normally handle the load, but that extra 100 flags all of a sudden is more than they're capable of handling right then. A lot of small sites don't have mods monitoring 24/7 the way SO does.
    – Mithical
    Jan 5 at 12:49
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    "If certain communities are retaining useless/noisy comments, then they are not only creating unnecessary page bloat, they are teaching their citizens that making noise is tolerated." - Have to disagree here. Every site has different needs and you shouldn't expect that what works for one site works for them all. Each site is allowed to differ slightly in how they work, and shouldn't be forced to adopt policies that don't work for them.
    – Mithical
    Jan 5 at 12:51
  • If a community relies on noisy comments to work properly, then this would be a symptom that somethingelse isn't working properly or proper features aren't being utilized. Stack Exchange's competitive advantage over archaic forums, is that its content is designed to be clean, direct, and concise. Jan 5 at 12:54
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    @Mithical mods say comment flags are the easiest to handle, a site is not in a good place when comment flags don't get handled, or age away, or mods start trying to coerce users not to raise flags.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 14:06
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    @bad_coder - Yes, I'm a moderator on two sites; I know that they're easy to handle. That doesn't mean that low effort is no effort. I'm not saying that mods should coerce users not to raise flags, I'm saying to work with the mods to strike a balance.
    – Mithical
    Jan 5 at 14:34
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    @Mithical the many arguments you've made don't sum up as "work with" nor "strike balance". They sum up to "don't moderate content because it doesn't suite me".
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 14:41
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    "Existing mods can ask for more mods or better tools" > Requesting, getting and finishing an election or tools still takes 6-8 or longer. If someone is flagging through running a query, they're probably/hopefully going to run out of things to flag before that's even finished, in the meanwhile on small sites the moderator dashboard is practically unusable because ~1400 flags on old thanks comments that can't be immediately handled are drowning out flags on new stuff that mods want to handle fast because that's much more likely to be seen by newer users and be that bad example you talk about.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jan 5 at 15:24
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    So, by the time a new mod or tool arrives, we can have worked our way through those 1400 flags, but it comes at a cost: Newer stuff may not be seen as quickly and acted on as quickly because they were drowned out by all those other flags, and we've had a skyscraper with broken windows very visible, while mods were repairing the broken windows in that one back alley where no-one ever dares enter. Also, moderators are added to do more than just help work through a statistical outlier amount of flags, once all flags are handled, is everyone just supposed to sit back and be bored?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jan 5 at 15:26
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    Even if a site is 100% for removing this type of comment, throwing a bunch of flags at once doesn't seem like the most helpful way to handle it.
    – Tyberius
    Jan 5 at 15:52
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    I agree with some parts of this answer, and did not downvote it, but I couldn't upvote it because you're helping to make it seem like this type of flagging is generally okay, and in my opinion it's not okay on sites like the one Tyberius is talking about. Jan 5 at 16:34
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    @Tinkeringbell the 1400 flags argument isn't put into context of time, at a generous estimate of 10 seconds per comment, that's 23 minutes divided by say 30 days means the argument proposes to forbid flagging at the cost of 45 seconds/day (assuming 1 NLN could be handled in 5 seconds it would be 20 seconds/day). Now, if a mod doesn't want to handle NLN flags at the cost of 1 minute/day that would mean that given mod doesn't want to handle NLN flags at all, or close to not at all.
    – bad_coder
    Jan 5 at 17:26
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    @bad_coder You're making a lot of assumptions with how NLN flags are handled. I personally generally click through for full context and moderate the whole post that was flagged on my site. That's not needed of course but it adds significantly to the amount of time per flag. It is also needed in situations like spoken about here on my site as "thanks" comments are useful in some circumstances. Different sites have different needs and different moderators moderate differently. This all needs to be taken into context so coming to an agreement with a site's mods is the best for all involved. Jan 5 at 17:35
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    @bad_coder if you’re looking for hard figures that’s not really going to happen. Context applies to exactly what is being flagged, how quickly they’re done together, what the current workload is like, etc. It’s very circumstantial. Jan 5 at 20:30
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    Well, I've just woken up to 15 comments in my inbox, so it seems that I've struck a nerve -- something that I'm not shy about doing. And still, there is nothing that I'd change about my answer. What I find surprising is that everyone is hanging on that 1400 number. If using the OP's query, then I'd estimate that more than half of all of these flags WILL NEVER MAKE IT TO THE MODERATORS' DASHBOARD! Please read my last paragraph. Yes, I am a moderator too, granted on a very small and inactive site, but I would never want to stifle curators and their important clean up. Jan 5 at 21:55

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