Recently I've noted vast increase of people abusing comments in a few ways:

  • undermining correct answer by bringing up some factually incorrect "counterargument" or just plain FUD;
  • putting their controversial "answer" in comment to avoid being down-voted;
  • creating endless flamewars about a technology/solution which was criticized in the answer;

This is very annoying, as the only thing which can be done about comments is flagging them. Down-votes for comments have already been proposed and rejected. The highest voted answer there suggests:

If a comment is wrong, respond to it with another comment. That provides a lot more information than a downvote which could mean anything.

In theory it should work. But unfortunately, in cases I'm referring to, a commenter will just refuse to accept anything, and commenting on their comments will lead to useless and endless flames.

So what can be done in such a case? Maybe there should be a way to flag a comment as "bluntly incorrect and misleading"?

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    Sounds like you have a specific example. A link would be nice, assuming the comments are still there. – jzd May 31 '11 at 12:05
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    @jzd: actually some of these examples, as I've said, evolved into useless flames and only then had been removed (at that point it can be flagged as "too chatty"). But I'd rather have some way to prevent the flame, rather than wait for it to happen and use it as the reason for flagging comments then. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:14
  • @jzd: ok, quite fresh example: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/80389/… - in comments to my answer there is a dude, who says CSS is a specification language, I've provided link to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specification_language, which no-one bothers to read. Instead I get my answer downvoted, because ppl assume that his comment is correct. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:28
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    @vartec, nice example. It looks like the problem is more people voting with what sounds good then what is the true. – jzd May 31 '11 at 12:35
  • I second what @jzd says, but that problem is not going to be solvable by comment downvotes, nor flagging. It's a question of two differing viewpoints in a field that requires advanced theoretical knowledge – Pekka supports GoFundMonica May 31 '11 at 12:38
  • @jzd: my point exactly. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:40
  • @Pekka: in this case, you have statement "CSS is a specification language" and wikipedia link en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specification_language; no advanced theoretical knowledge is required to put these two together and see how wrong it is to say, that CSS is language used for "systems analysis, requirements analysis and systems design." – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:42
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    Obligatory XKCD link: xkcd.com/386 – Andrew Grimm May 31 '11 at 12:42
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    @vartec I did read the Wikipedia article, and I couldn't tell for 100% sure which one of you is correct. (your quote is strongly in your favour, but how can I tell how accurate that statement is?). My point is, it's hard to tell for a layman. Contradicting statements is what comments are there for – Pekka supports GoFundMonica May 31 '11 at 12:45
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    On some other sites I've also seen clear evidence of clique-ish behaviour, such that these blatantly wrong or even insulting comments get perfunctorily upvoted 3 or 4 times and subsequently get promoted in the abbreviated view. @Pekka, you may be right that a comment downvote wouldn't solve the underlying problem, but very often when a poster refuses to listen to reason, I'll just downvote his question/answer and leave. People are denied that ability with comments, and thus, much like a typical discussion forum, the level of emotion tends to rise ever higher over a prolonged shootout. – Aarobot May 31 '11 at 12:47
  • @Pekka: seriously? You mean you had any doubt that, "describe the system at a much higher level than a programming language" is not what CSS is doing? I mean, I could go on on explaining that in comments. But from experience I know that it lead nowhere. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:47
  • @Aarobot I know from experience that that is true, but usually, "the truth" will come out in the form of correct comments gaining more upvotes than incorrect ones. @vartec I see, but my point is, what would the possibility of comment downvoting change in that situation? If people listen to (and upvote) the wrong side of the argument, the possibility to downvote comments won't change anything. Comment downvoting would be nice to have but won't change the way a heated argument goes – Pekka supports GoFundMonica May 31 '11 at 12:52
  • @Pekka: I see your point. Unfortunately. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:55
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    @Pekka: To me that's not the issue; the issue is that downvoting is an outlet for people's frustrations that they don't have with comments. When given no opportunity to make a graceful and final exit, many people will tend to flail about in impotent rage, as we see so often in comment wars. Not to say that everyone is like this, or that some people won't rage in comments anyway, but the more comment wars I see, the more I think there ought to be a way for answerers to say to commenters "screw you guys, I'm going home". Otherwise the trolls can just harass that person indefinitely. – Aarobot May 31 '11 at 12:56
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    The two examples you are pointing to can be seen as "There is absolutely one TRUE answer" but it's not worth your time and effort to prove them wrong. Edit your answer so your point is clear, or add a comment stating the correct information and then move on. They will bluster and blow, but there isn't anything you can do to convince them. They are stating their opinion, splitting hairs, being contrary for the fun of it, etc. This isn't about correctness, it's about dealing with trolls. Honestly, you don't need to worry about others getting the wrong idea from their comments. – Adam Davis 'ze-zir-zem' May 31 '11 at 14:18

If something is wrong, then add another comment with more information just like the answer you referenced. There is a chance that the commenter (and anyone else reading it) can learn something. If the response is a flame war then flag those comments.

Flagging a comment as wrong is problematic because a mod might not know whether this is true or not.

  • yeah, fair point about moderators unable to determine. Although, with references to documentation/wiki whatever it should be clear. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:30
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    @vartec Nevertheless, the job of moderators is not to assess the correctness of elements, but to address things such as unconstructive behavior or offensive content. Even if it's wrong, it's not our place to jump in and delete comments on just those grounds. Being incorrect, no matter how wrong it may be, is not against the policy on Stack Exchange. – Grace Note May 31 '11 at 12:42
  • @Grace: I totally agree with that policy, as long as community has some possibility to do something about things that are wrong. It's a case with questions and answers, but not with comments. And as I've already said - commenting on comments very often leads to flames, rather then ppl actually admitting that they were wrong. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:45
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    @vartec There's a lot of proverbs I could use right now, all of which amount to "It takes two people to have an argument". Don't engage in counter-response if they aren't willing to listen. If you just stick with a well-structured comment that explains what was wrong about the other comment's content while then providing an explanation of the better material, you don't need to do any more speaking. Comment upvotes will ideally handle the rest. – Grace Note May 31 '11 at 12:49

On a programming site that doesn't permit subjective questions, it's easy - write the code and prove them wrong.

More generally, though, if we give you a way to say, "this comment is blatantly wrong" then we also give them the same tool to be used on your comment.

In these cases, the only sensible thing to do is write your comment that points out the errors of their comment, and let others choose which comment to upvote. You might consider engaging them for a comment or two to see if it's an error of misunderstanding (you or they may be reading the post or each other's comments differently), but there's no need to get in the last word. Let them be wrong, let other users upvote your correct comment (if it is indeed correct), and move on.

Also, one tactic I've used with some success in the past is, "I disagree with you, but I look forward to you posting your own answer to this question." It's a nicer version of "put up or shut up" but usually tends to quiet them a bit. If they do post an answer future visitors will be able to view their input alone, rather than as a complaint against yours, and they will be voted up or down according to other's evaluation of their argument. This is important because you can't downvote a comment, and they may get an inflated sense of their suggestion if one wrong person upvotes their comment, but no one can downvote it. If they don't post an answer future visitors may become skeptical about their input.

  • What I see lately, that many ppl don't even bother to check if the code is wrong or right, the just upvote code that seems right. Upvote comment that seems insightful. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:21
  • @vartec Sounds like the wise move would be to make the comment that seems more insightful (or, more accurately, is more insightful). – Grace Note May 31 '11 at 12:43
  • @Grace: the problem is, that "easy solutions" (which are wrong), are often more catchy, while the reality is much more difficult to comprehend. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:57

One thing that you can do to stop comments degenerating into a flame war is to simply delete all of your comments except the first (which usually contains your most pertinent comment) and stop arguing. Alternatively, delete all of your comments and post one which summarises your others.

If the other person is a considerate Stack exchange citizen then once you've tidied up your comments, they should tidy up their own. There's no point in the comments showing one side of a disagreement.

Sometimes it is obvious that someone doesn't understand what you are trying to say or is deliberately refusing to understand what you are trying to say and that further comment is pointless. Comments are supposed to be there to help make the answers better after all.

A personal example of this phenomena was my answer to this question. It was an interesting problem, and I was happy with my solution (even though someone came up with a better one *8') but I couldn't get two nay-sayers to adequately explain why they thought my answer was wrong. In the end I just had to give up.

  • I would be interested to know why my response was downvoted. As Gracenote says, it takes two to tango, if one person retracts their side of the argument you no longer have an argument. – Mark Booth May 31 '11 at 18:18
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    I am not the downvoter but I'm generally opposed to deleting comments unless they're offensive or harmful. If it's just a petty argument, leave it there as a warning for the next guy so they don't stir the hornet's nest as well. – Daniel DiPaolo May 31 '11 at 18:41
  • @Daniel - I actually think the opposite, comments that don't add anything to the answer/question should be deleted once their purpose has been served, SX isn't a forum. I think it's everyones responsibility to tidy up their own comments, so as to minimise moderator/flag workload. I would rather comment on an inaccuracy and give the original author a chance to correct it than submit an edit suggestion directly. However, if the original author disagrees, I'm happy to remove the comment once they have considered my comment, unless there is some ongoing need to make that point. – Mark Booth Jun 1 '11 at 12:30
  • I tidy up comments to the extent that if an answer is modified as a result of a comment or it's something transient that no longer applies and would be confusing .. then I will delete that comment. But discussion sticks around. Discussions that don't detract/aren't offensive shouldn't be flagged in the first place. – Daniel DiPaolo Jun 1 '11 at 14:23

Ignore them. Comments are just comments.

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    They do influence how answers are perceived. – vartec May 31 '11 at 12:48

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