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Does Politics.SE have an issue/challenge/problem with too many comments on some questions?

I am an outsider to the Politics.SE community. As someone who mostly reads but doesn't post, I've noticed a pattern that seems semi-common to me, where comment threads are used extensively for purposes that, to me, seem beyond the purpose that Stack Exchange intended for comments. Particularly on "hot topics", I frequently see:

  • Comment threads that debate the merits of some policy. This seems most particularly off-topic when that's not what the question asked for (e.g., the question asked a factual question that is related to some policy, and that leads to debate-style comments about the policy or about the party that supports/opposes it.)

  • Debates about particular political parties, politicians, etc., or who is in the right and who is in the wrong. (e.g., tribalism)

  • Comments whose primary effect seems to be to state agreement or disagreement with the answer.

  • Comments that express opinions or make value statements about what policies ought to be enacted, or what is/isn't acceptable, etc.

  • Attempts to answer the question, or write a partial answer, but in the comments rather than in an answer.

  • Comments that ask a new question that is inspired by an answer.

  • Occasionally, responses to others that subtly imply there is something wrong with the person they're responding to (e.g., by assuming bad faith, being disrespectful towards them as a result of their statements).

  • Comments that want to add some additional context that the commenter considers important and wants surfaced, but doesn't want to write a full answer, even though it is unlikely the answerer is going to edit the answer to incorporate those additional remarks.

I have noticed this as particularly common on questions that hit "Hot Network Questions" or questions that receive a lot of views and address issues that are high controversial or partisan in the US.

I get it. It is really tempting to want to engage on these issues of such great importance to our society -- and to not want to let misleading or inaccurate statements stand without a response. I really understand the desire to want to see this platform advance truth, justice, and fairness in the world.

That is my experience. I am wondering how the community sees it and what the expectations or norms on this site are.


(I notice a lot of discussion on Meta about this topic, e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.)

(By the standards I'm familiar with on other SE sites, most of these comments would be considered excessive, but I know that each community has its own standards.)

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    The moderators are deleting discussions when they get out hand. But there's not that many of them (meaning mods) and (perhaps as a result of bitter divisions in the US, I'm not sure) they are concentrated in the European time zone. So there's a lot of time when [most of] the mods are sleeping and Americans can bicker [rather] freely here. Oct 21, 2023 at 12:03
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    Also, people complain e.g. when they perceive that their good-faith comments/replies were deleted, and even clarifying why that was done adds to the workload a bit. Likewise. Oct 21, 2023 at 12:11
  • A Q more similar to yours politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6497/… Oct 21, 2023 at 12:26
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    I think that the moderators regularly have their hands full if not overflowing with too many comments, and we may forget to thank them enough for dealing with them (generally) quickly and gracefully.
    – uhoh
    Oct 26, 2023 at 0:32

3 Answers 3

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Does Politics.SE have way more tangential comments than it should?

Yes

Does Politics.SE have lots and lots of blocks of comments that turn out to be side discussions that have to get removed to chat?

Yes

Does Politics.SE have too many comments?

Yes (evidenced by the rate of things deleted or moved to chat)

Does Politics.SE have a problem with too many comments?

I feel that there are some users that see the space directly under questions as an opportunity to express their own thoughts on the topic (or on the author themselves) rather than to use the space for the purpose for which it is intended - post improvement or other SE business.

I do wonder if some users craft their comments to receive comment up-votes from other users for purely vanity reasons, rather than direct them to me with the goal of working together to improve the post or do other SE business.

Many comments seem to me to be "playing to the audience". I think this is a misuse of SE comments and should be diminished.

I also see comments used to "paint" questions as asking something quite different than what they really ask. I don't know if it's inadvertent due to inattention (a knee-jerk reaction to a few words in a title) or deliberate.

The problem is that there's a significant fraction of the community that participates in this comment-sport, so comments that should never be there can collect lots of comment up-votes.

I think it would be great if all of this were substantially diminished, but I don't know if that's possible for this community and this topic.

My gold standard would be Math SE, where comments are meticulously productive and curated - anything less than really productive is almost always quickly removed.

For example, if someone cast shade on a post with a comment like "You can 'prove' anything if you divide by zero somewhere along the line" to be sure readers would quickly scour the post for signs of division by zero, and finding none severely reprimand the commenter for raising a false flag.

Here, a substantial fraction of the community seems to love that kind of thing.

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It's a well-known fact that political issues often generate more heat than light, and this does get reflected in comments sections here. I get my share of that heat — I'm not always politic in the way I answer questions, at least not when 'being politic' detracts from clarity — and I'm not a moderator. But I have developed a few tactics for lowering the temperature, which I use as I can, when my own ego doesn't get triggered.

  1. I read each comment narrowly to see if it offers an improvement to my answer. If I think it does, I'll either change my answer directly or ask for specific clarifications that will let me make a change.
  2. If I don't think an answer offers an improvement, I'll try to identify the mistake the poster is making and correct it. This rarely goes well, but I think it's my obligation, and I do my best not to let it go on too long.
  3. If someone seems intent on a long-winded critique of one of my answers, I'll let them go on a bit, then insist (as kindly as I can) that they should stop writing comments and go write an answer of their own. I'll even offer to help them if they don't feel confident about writing. I remind people that we should present competing answers rather than argue in comments, so that others can upvote or downvote.
  4. If someone is using excessive ad hominems — being hostile, insulting, snide or sarcastic, boastful, supercilious, or anything that shifts the topic of discussion from the argument to the people involved — I point it out and disengage as soon as possible. This is often a good moment to flag comments for removal.

The point of this is to try to limit comments to strictly practical matters of answer improvement, with a little extra pedagogy tossed in as necessary. Other people's tempers will still burn, but the goal is to either push them back to practical matters or gracefully disengage so that the heat will sputter out. Comments are a necessary discussion zone, but since we can't expect others to always control themselves, we need to place controls of our own.

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    In my experience, the longest comment threads end up being people arguing about stuff that wasn't even said in the answer. Essentially someone posts a comment on a tangent knowing that comments can't get DV, and the hubbub takes off from there. Oct 23, 2023 at 3:05
  • So, is your answer to the question "no"? Oct 24, 2023 at 22:05
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    @AzorAhai-him-: No my answer is "Yes, but…" 🙄 Oct 25, 2023 at 2:32
  • @TedWrigley Well, perhaps you should clarify. 😊 Oct 25, 2023 at 2:59
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I had not seen this reason made explicit before for others to see

This account is temporarily suspended [for] excessive discussion in comments.

I guess it was in part due to this thread.

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