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I and others made some comments on this answer addressing specific points in it to make it less misleading for future readers. This is explicitly on-topic and allowed. However, moderator Philipp deleted these on-topic comments and, when I asked why, sent me a warning in a private message. Moreover, he selectively left other such comments on the page. What can be done about this misbehavior? How should I proceed?

I've re-added a summary of my critique here:

This answer is committing the fallacy of division with respect to price elasticity. Consider food. Demand for food as a whole is inelastic, but demand for particular food providers is not, because there are options. Demand for emergency care as a whole is inelastic, but demand for particular emergency care providers need not be. In short, the elasticity of an entire sector is not equal to the elasticity of its components. (Also, emergency care accounts for only 2-10% of healthcare spending.)

Unfortunately, the ones made by the other users are lost.

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    Well, first of all, Philipp is not obligated to explain his actions. He could have just silently deleted the comments and left it at that. If the character of this comment is any indication, there's no mystery about why your comments were deleted. – Robert Harvey Mar 5 at 22:15
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    @RobertHarvey Philipp, like all moderators, is accountable for their actions. Is this up for debate? Can you clarify what you mean by "if the character of this comment is any indication"? – user76284 Mar 5 at 22:16
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    "I've raised your misbehavior on meta" is morally equivalent to asking "have you stopped beating your wife?" – Robert Harvey Mar 5 at 22:17
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    @RobertHarvey I sincerely believe it was misbehavior, as do others who made such comments. If you saw the way this transpired, you'd probably think the same. – user76284 Mar 5 at 22:17
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    In any case, you're not going to win this argument. Ever since certain recent controversial events happened, SE has taken a fairly hard stance against certain kinds of comments. At the end of the day, comments only serve two purposes: clarifying a post, and asking for clarification. Any other use subjects them to removal without warning, and moderators are given broad latitude to act as such. – Robert Harvey Mar 5 at 22:18
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    I personally don't like this stance, but it is what it is. – Robert Harvey Mar 5 at 22:19
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    @RobertHarvey Constructive criticism addressing specific points in the answer, for the sake of future readers, is explicitly allowed. And that's not even touching the deliberately selective aspect of this deletion. – user76284 Mar 5 at 22:20
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    That bit about constructive criticism is very specific. It only applies to how a post can be improved by editing. – Robert Harvey Mar 5 at 22:21
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    @RobertHarvey Would you say the same of the comments that were left on the page? – user76284 Mar 5 at 22:22
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    @RobertHarvey And yes, my criticism was very specific. – user76284 Mar 5 at 22:22
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    I didn't get the opportunity to see them, and now I'm not going to. Which is partly the reason I sort of fundamentally disagree with some of the comment deletion policies; there's no accountability, and presumably we're all adults here. But this is the Politics site, so. – Robert Harvey Mar 5 at 22:24
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    From my reading, it seems like your comment wanted the whole tone/focus of the answer to change. (regarding price elasticity) Please don't just try to get the most-popular answer changed to fit your view, make another answer. (or suggest an edit, if you think there's a way the answer can be rephrased without changing the author's intent.) – bobsburner Mar 6 at 9:37
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    @bobsburner Yes,but the help center article on comment creation states that one of the few reasons you should comment is to fundamentally change the answer. By commenting that the answer is wrong because of some reason, you are fulfilling the comment guidelines. This does not mean you have some answer. For example, the question "What does 2+2=?" with an answer of "5" should receive the comment "This answer is wrong!" but it does not mean the commenter knows the correct answer nor should it mean they should post an answer! This obvious truth escapes both yourself and the moderators! – Frank Mar 6 at 10:39
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    @bobsburner Stating "but that it is wrong is just your opinion therefore you should write an answer" both kills the quality of the site, and adheres to ideology about opinion that is far from universally accepted. – Frank Mar 6 at 10:42
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    I applaud you for calling out moderators on their bad/unhelpful/discouraging behavior. This entire network needs much more of that. Mods overstep far too much here. Nice work! – user91988 Mar 6 at 20:38
30

You and another user had an extended discussion of about 30 comments.

This goes far beyond what is or should be on-topic or allowed.

A lot of those were nitpicks, borderline insults, misunderstandings and meta discussion. I can't recall much of it now except someone saying "where did I say 'might'", someone calling something egregious and a discussion about what some argument implies with the actual content replaced by variables A and B.

When shouldn't I comment?

...

  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;

Some useful comments may also have been deleted, but this is fairly typical when comments on a post gets out of control. I also had some comments deleted, although I'd leave it up to the reader to decide whether all, some, any, or none of these classify as "useful".

I don't think any of the deleted comments were actually explicitly asking the answerer to clarify their post though. This seems to be the category mods are least likely to have a problem with. I can kind of see where mods are coming from with that, as criticism or other statements often leads to disagreements and extended discussion (which is what happened here). People don't typically disagree with questions. They answer them, ideally with an edit to the post.

Although the above does feel like a bit of a failing of the comment system (or just all of humanity maybe). It seems perfectly reasonable to point out that something is just wrong without asking a question or having an answer of our own. It being wrong doesn't mean something needs to be clarified or I have a better answer, it just means it's wrong. But that's just not the way things work here.

Comments are intended to be temporary. In an ideal world, the post would be edited to respond to every comment, allowing those comments to be deleted. In the real world this rarely to never works like that, but I console myself with the fact that nothing we do really matters and we'll all die eventually.

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  • Thanks for your response. Can you address the point about my initial comments (not the discussion that developed around them) being very specific constructive criticism of the answer, which is explicitly allowed? – user76284 Mar 5 at 22:58
  • Can you also address the selective deletion aspect? Namely, the moderator chose to delete constructive criticism of the answer but leave the comments you currently see? – user76284 Mar 5 at 23:02
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    @user76284 If you delete the extended discussion without deleting the original comment that caused it, the extended discussion could just repeat again and again. The mod probably just wiped the post of comments and returned the one highly upvoted (relatively uncontroversial) comment, which (right or wrong) is a pretty common thing for a mod to do. My comment that's currently there explicitly asks for clarification. Them deleting that specific comment of yours would not be smart because it's a conflict of interest. But everything from my comment onward was added after the post was wiped. – NotThatGuy Mar 5 at 23:17
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    FYI, mods have the ability to delete all the comments on a post with like one click, and then they can manually undelete some. This is almost certainly what happened here. When there are a lot of comments, this is a lot faster than going through every comment one-by-one. And (right or wrong) they tend to pretty heavily favour leaving comments deleted when doing this. – NotThatGuy Mar 5 at 23:17
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    Why do some people on SE insist that "Comments are intended to be temporary." Can't you just change that to "Comments were intended to be temporary." and let the comments work as they do? I always hate to see that some comments are moved or deleted, the best content is often there. – Džuris Mar 6 at 0:01
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    Furthermore, I don't think leaving the comment that simply re-iterates the answer while deleting all critiques of the answer for future readers is the most appropriate action. – user76284 Mar 6 at 0:06
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    @Džuris I agree that comments often contain useful information, and such comments are often deleted. But not deleting them will just make comments less useful. The actually useful comments get lost in the noise when you have 50 comments on a post. Sometimes these don't have high scores and are hidden by default in favour of comments that add less useful information but people agree with more strongly. But even when these comments are shown, the other shown comments still distracts from them too much. I don't know the solution, but it doesn't help that SE doesn't seem to want to fix it. – NotThatGuy Mar 6 at 0:48
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    @user76284 I mean the post author should make the edit. Although they obviously won't do that if they don't agree something is wrong or needs to be improved, which makes the whole thing not work so well. Which is why I say it would happen in an ideal world. – NotThatGuy Mar 6 at 0:50
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    No this doesn't make sense. The comment from user76284 was simply that the answer was incorrect. What followed were defensive comments from those in support of the answer . Philipp deleted user76284s original comment – Frank Mar 6 at 6:15
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    @Frank even that original comment is inappropriate. If user76284 thinks the answer was incorrect, the right course of action is to downvote and post a better answer, not start a debate in the comment feed. – Dan Scally Mar 6 at 8:06
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    @DanScally Wrong! The most popular and upvoted answer is fundamentally and obviously incorrect. The comment should be left there for posterity. AND the comment would not suffice as an answer! The OP asks for an explanation why. Pointing out that an answer is totally wrong does not constitute an answer! – Frank Mar 6 at 8:08
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    @Frank If he doesn't have an answer himself then the downvote is still the right thing to do, and it's still inappropriate to start a debate in the comments. That's what chat is for. – Dan Scally Mar 6 at 8:09
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    @DanScally S/he did not start a debate! S/he merely pointed out that the answer was wrong! The 'debate' was started by others who responded to the comment! – Frank Mar 6 at 8:10
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    @Frank How is it that only responses to their comment start the debate, and not their response to the original answer? – Dan Scally Mar 6 at 8:12
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    @user76284 I cannot, of course, refer to your original comment. Your existing one however is not the type of answer that is explicitly allowed or encouraged in the rules. It doesn't meet the bar of constructive criticism, it's just a disagreement. If you had no answer to add, just downvote. – Dan Scally Mar 6 at 17:28
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What I deleted was a comment chain of 60(!) comments posted over a timeframe of just 2(!) hours.

It was a back and forth which didn't really go anywhere. First it was a "you are wrong - no you are wrong" discussion and then it escalated into personal attacks (literal quotes: "Are you being deliberately obtuse", "Without it, people like you would [...]", "I suggest you refrain from putting words in my mouth and making yourself look foolish in the process") and finally semantic arguments about the definitions of the words like "would" and "might".

This is not how comments should be used.

Comments should be used for:

Request clarification from the author;

The comments weren't even addressing the author, they were addressing other commenters.

Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;

There was no constructive criticism, just destructive criticism in the form of "This answer is nonsense" (verbatim quote). Constructive criticism is not just about pointing out what's bad, it's about making recommendation how it could be improved.

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).

Nothing like that either.

So I nixed the whole comment thread up from the comment which started it. Why did I also deleted the comments which started it? Because in my experience, when a comment lead to a debate like that once, then deleting the debate but not the inciting comment just starts the same debate all over again at a later point. And considering that our moderation team is now down to two people, we don't have time for that.

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    If someone points out that an answer is based on a fallacy, the implied recommendation is obviously to change the answer to avoid the fallacy. – user76284 Mar 6 at 17:10
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    @user76284 Or that comment could be based on a fallacy itself while the answer is not. Do not assume you are always right and the other person is always wrong. – Sjoerd Mar 6 at 20:18
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    @Sjoerd I am not merely assuming that. I am explaining why it is the case. That's the point of the comment. – user76284 Mar 6 at 23:50
9

I don't see that he did anything inappropriate here. To review:

Deleting the chain of comments discussing the answer

That's obviously the right thing to do; as he pointed out to you, this is not a discussion forum. You should have taken it to chat.

Deleting your initial comment saying that the answer is wrong

Perhaps somewhat more controversially; I think this is the right thing to do too. Comments saying "This answer is wrong, and here's why" are in my opinion very rarely useful, and ought to be included in a separate answer as addressing deficiencies in other answers. There's simply not room in a comment to give sufficient explanation a majority of the time, and they inevitably lead to long chains of debate. If you think it's wrong, but don't want to supply an answer of your own, downvote and move on.

What can be done about this misbehavior? How should I proceed?

Tl;dr he didn't misbehave, move on.

As an aside, your assertion that

This is explicitly on-topic and allowed.

Is not really true. A fleshed out version of "This answer is wrong" does not fall under the banner of "constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post". The style of comment that's intended to endorse is along the lines of:

Good answer, but I think you should improve it by also addressing X and Y. They're both really important factors in why Z is the way that it is and I think your answer is incomplete without them.

Your extant comment offers no suggestion for improvement, it's just a well-written disagreement.

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    If someone points out that an answer is based on a fallacy, the implied recommendation is obviously to change the answer to avoid the fallacy. – user76284 Mar 6 at 17:57
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    As I said, this is essentially just "if I say you're wrong, the obvious recommendation is to not be wrong". – Dan Scally Mar 6 at 18:04
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    No. This is "This answer commits this fallacy. It should be changed to avoid that fallacy." – user76284 Mar 6 at 18:06
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    @user76284 can you give any examples of how the answer can be changed in such a way that you would consider the fallacy avoided, without changing it such that it is in effect a completely different answer? If yes, you should have done that. If not, then you're essentially just saying his answer is unsalvageable. – Dan Scally Mar 6 at 18:10
6

I am in two minds here - I agree with @Philipp that the comment chain should have been deleted, but at the same time I appreciate the need for the supposed erroneous claims in the answer to be pointed out. Other commentators have said that if there is a problem with the answer, the solution is to write another answer pointing out these issues, but I disagree - comments should be used to "Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;".

Whether the comment chain in question counts as "constructive criticism" is questionable, but it seems to me to be important that users can request clarification and point out what they see to be errors in answers.

Perhaps a partial solution is the use of the "Controversial Post" notice discussed by Philipp on meta previously. This would allow moderators to remind users that the policy will be enforced, hopefully leading to fewer accusations of misbehaviour.

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    Yeah, comment system needs a whole different solution to what it's now. I wholeheartedly agree that sometimes comments need to stay around (there are just too many bad posts, but we have no tools or procedures to ascertain that, a technical solution seems quite improbable, and posters tend to misbehave here). But I believe some of the anger, and confusion, is found directly in the wording of the supposedly 'oh-so-sacrosanct' rules here: "Leave constructive criticism…"? – LаngLаngС Mar 6 at 14:23
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Just because comments are 'on-topic' doesn't mean they shouldn't be deleted for any variety of good reasons. I'm a big champion of the importance of comments, as can been seen in my posting history on the SE Meta, but they have their place. If you've rambled on through 60+ back-and-forth comments, with no end in site, and no resolution to include into the question or an answer, that's probably a sign that your comments, no matter how 'on-topic' they might be, are no longer of any use to the site.

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I agree. I stumbled across the question last night, saw the top answer, saw that it was incorrect, flawed, but happily noticed that a user had posted a comment explaining this to the audience.

The comment was firm, eloquent and succinct.

What then followed was a bitter attack from those defending the answer (wrongfully). User76284 rebuffed those.

Moderator Phillipp then deleted the comments, and presumably on ideological grounds or because of opinion bias, left the comments that supported the answer (which are actually unacceptable according to the thanks/me too rule)

I believe user76284 should re apply the original comment and if possible as a permanent edit to the answer.

Moderator Phillipp should be reprimanded. I now also see that others, including Robert Harvey are participating in the same comment critiqueing/debate that Philipp deleted earlier.

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