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How should comments be deleted?

+ 2 like - 1 dislike
277 views

One of the core principles of PhysicsOverflow has always been Community Moderation, as stated here. However, there has been much of a de facto exception made for comments, and I too am guilty of this. Off-topic comments are often either deleted unilaterally, or let to stay, but community moderation is rarely used.

The issue is, that if one votes to delete a comment, then by the time there is consensus to delete the comment, more comments have been formed in response to this comment. Thus, to delete the original comment (for which there is already consensus to delete), there needs to first be consensus to delete the follow-ups, which will otherwise look meaningless (because the original comment being replied to is missing), and this continues forever, leaving the off-topic discussion to thrive.

We need a better deletion policy for comments, that upholds community moderation without compromising on the quality of the site, either.

I see that there are two main questions to discuss:

  • How do we treat the different kinds of off-topic comments?
    • What comments are to be moved to chat with community consensus?
    • What comments are to be moved to chat unilaterally?
    • What comments are to be deleted with community consensus?
    • What comments are to be deleted unilaterally after their issues are resolved?
    • What comments are to be deleted unilaterally on sight?
  • How do we carry out community deletion?
    • How do we find the consensus for moving to chat?
    • How do we avoid the forementioned problem?

Please note: Use answers to suggest clearly documented policies, use comments for discussion. While suggesting policies, please keep in mind that:

  • PhysicsOverflow is not a deletionist site.
  • Comments are valuable on PhysicsOverflow and not treated like second-class citizens.
  • Community Moderation is an integral part of PhysicsOverflow.
  • Discussions are expected to be on-topic, and off-topic discussions are either moved to chat or deleted.
asked Feb 9, 2015 in Discussion by dimension10 (1,950 points) [ revision history ]
edited Feb 10, 2015 by dimension10
Most voted comments show all comments
There are comments that can be safely deleted by posters themselves, for example, if a comment points out a typo, which is later corrected. I think the comment author should have the right not only to hide, but also to delete his comment. Or mark it "to be deleted by moderators" or so.

"Delete borderline obscenities"? The moderators have lost their minds. This is exactly how censorship happens on these sites. Everything I wrote on stackexchange was construed as borderline obscenity. because when it was attacking something wrong, it was dripping with sarcasm and disdain. That's important for adressing wrong material, and while I am sure nobody interprets sarcasm and criticism as obscenity or borderline obscenity now, that will change with the next set of moderators, as it did on SE. Salty language was fine with Rutherford, so it should be fine by you. He discovered the nucleus, you didn't.

This is a rudeness rule in disguise. You can have an explicit list of forbidden words, but it's better not to, as we are all grown-ups here. I can't imagine any profane comment which is on topic. If you find something intolerable, just ask the person not to write this, instead of using top-down authority.

@RonMaimon, the borderline obscenities I had in mind were for example the f-word, c-word etc. When is it necessary for anyone ever  to use such words on a physics website?
It's obviously never necessary to use them, and that's why it's also not necessary to ban them, nobody will ever use them, and the rule will be reinterpreted as extending well beyond the original intent. Don't make rules for hypothetical situations, make rules for real situations. Racial epithets aren't going to come up either, and someone will not ask a detailed question regarding the chemical physics of the recipe for making LSD, or minituarizing a nuclear weapon to fit in a suitcase, even though any of this happened, one would want to deal with it somehow on a specific special case basis. You don't need a general rule to deal with all hypothetical bad behavior in advance. When you make policy, I think it's best to put yourself in the mind of a scheming person looking to block their academic opponents. If one of them is like James York, he might say, "Fuck me! that's a bad idea! I curse all the time!" regarding this rule (it's true, he does, he's from Texas), and bam, blocks, deletions, bans, etc, when all you are talking about is some localized problem that nobody cares about. I don't think there is any reason to respond with anything more than "watch your language!" The author will usually edit it out without prompting, and without top-down imposition, you just ask. If the author doesn't, then in my opinion, you can cross that bridge when you come to it, which will be never.

@JiaYiyang Well in my suggested policy below, the only things that can be deleted unilaterally are spam, sjdndfjhvdsfhfgh gibberish, and Why is bamboo poisonous to humans but not to pandas level off-topic.

Most recent comments show all comments
Oh ok @RonMaimon, I actually agree that no new rules are needed at present, I would prefer to see more physics and the number of people increase again on the site than more rules. I agree with you on this.
@RonMaimon, you do have a point. In that case I can't think of what should belong to the "unilateral deletion" category given my lack of experience. Since @dimension10 claims there have been such cases but he couldn't remember, maybe we should start taking record some of such comments.

3 Answers

+ 2 like - 1 dislike

Here's my proposal for dealing with community deletion of comments and the treatment of different types of deletable comments.

Dealing with different kinds of comments

  • Move to chat with community consensus
    • Tangential discussions
    • Apparently off-topic comments that have some keywords matching the question
  • Unilateral move to chat
    • Comments that are clearly off-topic for the thread, but are on-topic or borderline for the site
    • When the participants provide permission to move the comments to chat
  • Delete with community consensus
    • Comment is probably off-topic for both the thread and the site (not graduate-level+ physics)
    • Worthless/has no physics content
    • Sounds like gibberish
  • Unilateral delete upon resolution
    • Meta issues (issues with the formatting, categorisation, etc. of the post); this excludes links to moderation queues upon close votes, etc. and does not apply on meta
  • Unilateral delete
    • Obvious gibberish
    • Spam
    • Clearly off-topic (not even marginally related to physics at all)

How do we carry out community moderation for comments?

Instead of voting to delete individual comments, it should be allowed to post something like:

The entire discussion spurred from [comment] about [topic] and any discussion that may follow from it

If a follow-up comment in this discussion also has any content besides that which pertains to the off-topic discussion, then it should be kept as it is, of course.

For moving to chat with consensus, I think that the same deletion review queue can be used, and the resulting discussion should decide whether it should be deleted or moved to chat.

answered Feb 9, 2015 by dimension10 (1,950 points) [ revision history ]
edited Feb 19, 2015 by dimension10

I have often noted that comments of the type as

The entire discussion spurred from [comment] about [topic] and any discussion that may follow from it is off-topic/inappropriate

often get upvoted by the community.

So maybe if such a comment, stating that a comment (discussion) should be hidden/moved to chat is upvoted enough (say to +3), it could be used as a substitute for the method using the community moderation threads? This would also have the advantage that meta inactive members rather upvote such a comment than going to meta ...

I have often noted that for comments, the delete vote review queue is way to slow as comments are often posted faster than questions and answers.

One should always ask permission first, because this makes the users resent it much much less, and 90% of the time they agree if you ask. In cases where the user disagrees, that's when you need a vote, and it's important not to step on someone's shoes again and again. At the moment, there has never been a serious problem, and I think the best policy is do nothing.

@RonMaimon it is the community who decides what to do, if nothing or something ...

@Dilaton: I am part of the community, and my vote goes for nothing.

@RonMaimon it is not community moderation as such, that should be questioned here. Community moderation always holds everywhere, this is a long standing founding basic principle of PhysicsOverflow which is not up to debate.

Community moderation means that the community decides case by case by the community moderation threads or maybe (as a new idea that has to be decised on) by community moderation comments to speed up community moderation of comments.
@Dilaton: Community moderation means the community has the power to legislate policy, and the community decides how to apply policy. But these isolated votes are not done by the community at large, rather they are done by the 4 participants in any given discussion. If someone is correcting the wrong impression of 3 other people, they will get 3 downvotes, and perhaps 3 votes to delete their comments on meta, even if the comments are high level and on topic, just because of the disagreement.

The community moderation means that users craft and decide policy, and decide what to close and delete. It does not supersede the rights of users to be able to write without fear of censorship and reprisals, even if they are locally in the minority. In the localized votes, the voters are always biased, they do not represent the whole community, they represent the 4 people in a dispute, and it is the nature of a dispute that there is one person correcting a bunch of others, either wrongly or rightly. The freedom to speak is what allows wrong views to get corrected, even when they are dominant at first.
@Dilaton About community moderation being too slow for comments, isn't this the exact problem that this discussion tries to solve? Did you read the second part of the answer? As for letting votes to delete on the thread itself, the problem is that

(a) it can be voted on by users with < 500 rep

(b) it may contain physics content as well, and thus users may vote on it for the physics content instead

(c) We don't have any tools to detect sockpuppetry in voting on comments.

(d) It makes community moderation disorganised
+ 1 like - 3 dislike

Each moderator action reduces participation on the site, as the moment a user feels a moderator's presence, the user usually leaves.

The best policy is to ask the participants if the discussion is off topic, and if they agree, move to chat. If they disagree leave the comments alone, or let them delete it themselves. The quality of the site is not kept high by moderation, but by participation. The greater the participation, the higher the quality. A bad comment gets moderated by other users, not by moderators.

There has been no serious attack of low-quality comments anywhere on the site, and there is no need for new policy. This is simply an attempt to legislate away the problem of moderators stepping on users toes, by making rules which justify this.

The simple principle is this: everything you need to do on this site, you can do with the consent of the individual you are moderating. You hardly need to do anything unilaterally, or by imposition of community decisions on a user. A +3 voted comment is not enough, as a single user arguing with 3 other people who are wrong will get +3 on moving their comments easily.

If the thread is off topic, start a community moderation thread, and it will get votes if the discussion is really off-topic. But it won't get votes normally, because normally there is no problem.

answered Feb 9, 2015 by Ron Maimon (7,535 points) [ no revision ]
The quality and professionality of the site has to be maintained by the community and by moderators. You are part of the community as me too, so you can always countervote the moving/hiding of a comment (thread) if you disagree with moving/hidding the comment (thread). But I strongly disagree with your attempts to undermine or even disable community moderation in certain situations in principle.

@Dilaton: censorship through voting is not a good excuse. You have many situations in science where one person is opposed to 100 people, for example, Einstein against the anti-relativists, or Wen defending his recent paper on anomalies.

These situations require protection of unpopular speech. The question here is how to defend unpopular speech, when one person is saying something that three people disagree with. In this case, a moderation thread will get votes from exactly 4 people, the person who is writing, and the three opponents! If the decision is made politically, the side which is weak will always lose, not the side that is objectively wrong.

To protect against these types of political attacks, these are precisely the methods used against Vladimir Kalitvianski, the method was to decide whether the comments are off-topic or not off topic. This decision is easy enough to get agreement on from the weak user, not the powerful users.

Your blindness towards issues of power continues, and you have not given a single example where new rules are required. The obvious example are VK's comments, which were downvoted at -3, which is exactly the reason you felt justified in editing them unilaterally, because you felt you had community consensus, because you had agreement with 3 others who were arguing with VK.

Dilaton, you are the dictator here, and you need to stop imposing your ideas by fiat. This is not "community moderation", it is simply moderation by imposing dictatorship on anyone who gets downvoted here or there. Downvoted comments are the most important to preserve, as they contain mistakes others learn from, or else they are correct, but countering dogma.

Community moderation is NOT censorship by definition, the community has the right to decide what they think is appropriate/off-topic etc for the site.

People who obstinately inist on posting (for example trolling) things the community does not appreciate, are free to use other parts of the internet. No, this is NOT censorship, it is the right of the community to express their wishes. Freedom of speach of the community so to say.

@Dilaton: I know you think this, and this is what is maddening! It is totally and completely opposite of how these forums function, and "community consensus" is exactly the reason I was blocked on SE. It was a consensus to block me, by voting, because I had enough political opponents. The same is true for other users of that site. Each decision to block was taken with a local consensus of participants. It's just that it became clear it was an injustice when people examined the things in hindsight.

Local political decisions by vote are not any better than dictatorial decisions, they are often worse than dictatorial decisions, because no one person feels responsibility for a group action which is wrong. I am NOT advocating dictatorship when I say this! I am advocating constitutionally limited community power.

"Community moderation" here never meant "unlimited power to banish and block" by vote, it meant "the community decides the rules, and how to apply the rules". It also meant a quick vote on off-topic or low-level to see where things stand. These are just fine. But now you are simply asking for the power to unilaterially delete or unilaterally move to chat anything that gets 3 votes against, without the consent of the user whose comments these are!

This is something one cannot tolerate. It only decreases the quality of the site, because it allows political reprisals. For the most recent example on SE--- I wrote an extremely downvoted answer on English Grammar SE which included a new construction in Linguistics (relatively new, the commutative grammars I proposed were actually proposed in the Polish literature in 2009-2012, but I didn't know about it until 2014). This answer was downvoted to oblivion, and was considered off-topic for the site by the downvoters. It is now at +3, and people read it.

You need to protect unpopular speech. You need to. There is no excuse for doing anything against the will of an author, you just need to ask people to keep it on topic and move the comments elsewhere, either to a new question or to chat, when they are off-topic and everyone agrees that they are off-topic. Off topic is not the same as right and wrong, and you can get consensus for this without getting agreement on right and wrong.

This is simply an attempt to legislate away the problem of moderators stepping on users toes, by making rules which justify this.

@RonMaimon No, just the opposite - it's to find a way to stop unilateral decisions.

As for examples, there are a number of examples where moderators, including myself, had (no choice but to have) deleted comments unilaterally, for legitimate reasons, but this is against the idea of community moderation.

Are there actual examples you can list? If so, I'd like to know them, so one can see what situation this is in response to. Did you request the folks involved to keep it on topic? Then did you ask them what to do? I don't think there have ever been users on this site that were hostile to the extent of not cooperating with moderator requests for a discussion about where to put material, but I could be wrong. But if that's so, what are they doing here? This is a physics site, it doesn't invite this kind of nonsense.

@Dilaton What...? Freedom of speech for the community is not the same as community moderation. Freedom of speech means freedom to say what you like, community moderation means that you listen to what the community says. You seem to be missing the second part of the principle of PhysicsOverflow, which is that the moderators are to protect the free atmosphere of the site, i.e. protect the site against censorship.

@RonMaimon Community moderation will never result in censorship, downvoting a comment does not indicate that you agree with deleting it. See also my reply to Dilaton above.

I don't remember the precise examples, unfortunately - just that there have been such cases.

+ 0 like - 3 dislike
My god you idiots. You are making a science out of this. If a single comment has more content in it than just a random sequence of symbols THEN NOTHING SHOULD BE DELETED OR HIDDEN AT ALL. But then the moderators have too much free time in their lives and that's unacceptable to them. And of course they don't feel special anymore, because there is not much to do. What is on-topic comment and what not is free to interpret anyway, it's just stupid. I don't care if this gets downvoted, at least someone has to collect all the freaking negative votes. THANK YOU
answered Feb 16, 2015 by WolfInSheepSkin (-40 points) [ revision history ]
edited Feb 16, 2015 by WolfInSheepSkin
You are forgetting that there are comments which destroy anonymity, other comments which are totally off-topic, like people going on and on why the speed of light changes from place to place, or about their personal ether theory, on questions about QCD vacuum structure or atomic physics. The moderationology is required, this is the tricky point where all previous forums have failed. PO absolutely needs to provide a mechanism to keep science in and bullshit out, while allowing freedom of speech for science disputes to resolve themselves. This rules-puzzling only needs to be done once. It's like the constitutional convention. Also, you're not really helping here, although I didn't downvote this, because the goal of inclusion is important, and generally the default position toward something should be "don't delete", because each deletion is an imposition of power, which needs to be used extremely judiciously to avoid imposing moderators scientific opinions on debates, and allow it to be the community's opinion.

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