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From time to time I see first comments under new questions that rather than suggest improvements or ask for clarification, feel to me to be more idle chit-chat with the effect of directing attention away from the question and instead towards a parallel conversation or even towards the commenter themselves, perhaps seeking the "clever comment!" upvotes.

I think there was one such event here Has Ukraine experienced any long-lasting adverse effects/repercussions due to its "serious snub" of German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier so far? and I've added the current comment upvote score:

C: +5 bit early for anything to be long-lasting given that it's only been a month, isn't it?

Me: if at war fighting for your survival depending on shipments of arms to defend against daily onslaughts, I think a month is already quite a long time; you don't?

C: +1 1 hour could be a long time if that's the only hour you have left. But in politics, 1 month seems a bit short for any policy to go from trigger to trend.

Me: any functioning democracy making political decisions with immediate military consequences will have the capability of making decisions quickly whether they choose to or not. –

C: sure. but i don't know how long a time must pass before you can consider the long lasting effects of those decisions.

Me: more than a news cycle or two. - Rather than making conversation, do you have any helpful and/or actionable suggestions or recommendations at this time?

C: guess not. sorry.

I tried to move the focus away from the distraction and to see if the commenter had something, anything helpful or actionable to add, but it seems not.

Why do I worry about this? Because these clever-sounding yet distracting comments attract readers' eyes away from the post itself which means the parallel discussions get longer, and the question gets ignored or confused.

And while the question is still young (12 hours) and sits at +2/-2 votes and already three answers, I can't help but wonder if one or both of those down votes were triggered (consciously or not) in folks who skipped reading and forming an objective opinion about the question and went strait to the bottom to see if any disparaging comments had been made first, and if by itself it sounded sufficiently clever and/or disparaging when straight back up to the down vote button.

This is not what Stack Exchange comments are for. It is true that in Politics SE the community seems to support more of the parallel chit-chat than most other SE sites and it is probably simultaneously true that this results in the moderation team having to spend more time and energy deciding which chit-chat to remove than on other sites.

But I also notice another trend; the most distracting comments are almost invariably made by folks who appear to have little experience asking questions and seeing what happens to their questions when someone a clever yet distracting comment under their question. In other words, "they know not what they do".

At this point I'd like to ask how others feel about this, broken down into two general areas:

Overall question: Are clever-sounding yet otherwise unproductive/unhelpful negative first comments directly under your questions a problem? Should we avoid them?

  1. am I imagining this, or does this phenomena sound familiar to others, especially other question-askers?
  2. should we find a way to further discourage this? Either in answers here that we can refer to later (refrain for vote-attracting clever but otherwise unhelpful comments)? Or is it the freedom to put those distractions under other users' question what makes Politics SE so "fun"?

While of course anybody can post an answer, I will be primarily interested in hearing about the experiences of other active question-aksers.

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  • If I understand correctly, you are concerned if certain types of comments--be they snarky, dismissive, or even just benign--may, accidentally or intentionally, distract from the question and discourage potential answerers from participating. Whether or not the commenter is a frequent Asker or Answerer doesn't seem relevant to potential problem itself, just commentary on where you believe it comes from. I'm not sure even detailed site analytics could answer that, as how would we tell the difference between "got no answers because comment" and "got no answers for any other reason"? May 19, 2022 at 6:23

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Regarding the example: I understand the desire to ask questions immediately that come to mind but some questions can better be answered later because only then the information necessary to answer them is available. This here might be such a case.

You ask kind of "Is there any long-lasting effect ... so far?" with so far referring to a couple of weeks. But how can we know that there is a long-lasting effect (so far)? I would interpret long-lasting in this context as months or possibly years. An effect over days or a low number of weeks I would not classify as long-lasting.

I think the commenter actually went down that same route. If you are truly interested in long-lasting effects (and not only mean days to weeks by that), then the question has been asked too early, cannot be answered right now and would require a prediction of future events. If on the other side, you didn't really wanted to know about any effect longer than the time that took place since the incident, which is relatively short, then the formulation of the question (specifically the "long-lasting" phrase) might be confusing and there is opportunity for clarification.

In the latter case I would see the comment as asking for clarification (like: "Do you really want to know about long-lasting effects? Then why do you ask that question now and not later?). In the former case I would see it as a judgement (like: There is not much time passed, no long-lasting effect visible, it might not be such a useful question.). That might be a valid reason to downvote, but probably not appropriate as a comment (people can come to that conclusion by themselves).

Therefore I don't see any issue with this comment to this question. This comment was on-topic.

For the wider issue here: yes, people tend to discuss the question (and answers) in comments and often digress there even. There is nothing special about off-topic (not asking for clarification or details of the question/answer) comments though. They are in general not a good habit and I'm guilty of it as well. Moderators should continue removing those comments (clever or not) and people should be aware that extended comments are better off as separate answers. Often people aren't quite sure and think that these comments aren't worth a full answer.

And another issue I wonder about: Can a question be asked prematurely? If somebody is interested in long-lasting effects here, would it be okay to ask the question now and answer it later whenever "long-lasting" can be judged properly (whenever that is)? But then this question already has answers. How can they answer anything about long-lasting effects? Indeed the answers are a bit vague there. ("None that I can see.", "Possibly.", "I would not expect")

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  • This starts off as an answer to a question that was not asked. Here I've asked about a perceived systemic phenomenon and given a current example only because we need to give examples, but this an essay about that question (which I haven't asked about)". -1 for cybersquatting can reverse if you put the part about first comments under new questions in general first and then go off critiquing the particular question post at the bottom. Also, why not ask "Can a question be asked prematurely?" separately as a new question?
    – uhoh
    May 12, 2022 at 12:12
  • @uhoh "given a current example only because we need to give examples" And that's a good thing. There should be examples to motivate that the effect really exists. As explained in this answer, I think that this is a really bad example. I'm not even sure that the effect exists and/or cannot be included in a wider discussion about off-topic comments. I will adapt the answer a bit to emphasize this more. See this answer as a frame challenge to your question here and of course you can vote as you like (as can I). May 12, 2022 at 12:17
  • And I have to say that dismissing 30 days during a time of war "a few weeks" sort of misses the point. Ukraine's fate is closely linked with Germany as detailed in this comment. Every day counts in this war, a few weeks is not only a lifetime, it's thousands of them, literally.
    – uhoh
    May 12, 2022 at 12:19
  • @uhoh Then maybe a couple of people simply misunderstand long-lasting (the comment got a number of upvotes) in that context. Maybe instead of long-lasting something else like decisive would have worked better. May 12, 2022 at 12:23
  • In this case calling "long term" as anything more than a few news cycles is appropriate. update: That's the first actually helpful and actionable comment I've heard, and it's yet to be posted under the question. The purpose of my question here is to call attention to the clever-sounding but distracting comments (e.g. "A bit early... isn't it?") as not helpful. Yours on the other hand would have been extremely helpful!
    – uhoh
    May 12, 2022 at 12:23
  • @uhoh You can say that, but other people might interpret long-term differently. In the end, it's just that we need to understand each other somehow to work together. I would be totally fine, if long-lasting is defined in the question. Otherwise I would simply edit it and replace long-lasting with something else, but not in this contested case. You decide what your question looks like. May 12, 2022 at 12:29
  • The statement "A bit early... isn't it?" seems profoundly ignorant of the realities of ongoing warfare of the type seen over the last 30 days waged by Russia against Ukraine, and yet sounds smart/clever if you don't think about it. I see it as opportunistic cleverness but wholly unhelpful/unproductive from a Stack Exchange perspective. I see a lot of opportunistic cleverness dropped as the first comment under new questions, and as an active question-asker I see it as detrimental. That's what this meta question is asking about and seeking answers to address.
    – uhoh
    May 12, 2022 at 12:29
  • @uhoh Wars can easily take years and in the last weeks the war in Ukraine has cooled down a bit. I would say that the comment comes across as a bit condescending and could be formulated better, but the content of it (long-lasting is at the very least confusing in this context) seems appropriate to me. May 12, 2022 at 12:33
  • yes they can, but "so what happens during any given (or the first) month doesn't matter much" is not a logical extension.
    – uhoh
    May 12, 2022 at 12:34
  • @uhoh Why not simply ask "What effects did Ukraine experience by XXX so far?" That seems to be exactly what you want to know. I think this is more about language than about what is on-topic/off-topic comment-wise. May 12, 2022 at 12:36
  • I can think about that. I was not interested in the effects in the first few news cycles or days so I wanted to avoid interesting answers about those days/hours. I thought "long term so far" would be obviously more than a day but less than the total time of one month. But clever-sounding comments can focus on "my long term is longer than your long term"-isms so I have to think like a clever commenter and foil their cleverness. Okay I'll add that to my arsenal of defensive asking techniques ;-)
    – uhoh
    May 12, 2022 at 12:43
  • @uhoh Maybe you want to ask for enduring effects (something beyond the initial stage) or substantial impacts on the war effort (that would also exclude the initial reactions probably) or just specify a time slot, something like "What have been the effect from after the initial reaction until now of ....?". May 12, 2022 at 14:03
  • I've made an edit to the question already, which of course makes your whole discussion of my example question and "long-term" and "long-lasting" now moot and completely irrelevant. I don't understand why you spent so much time opining about something so tangential to the meta question asked here. Seems like bad planning.
    – uhoh
    May 12, 2022 at 14:06

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