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Community guidance on comments is clear: comments are ephemeral, intended to live long enough to convey information to either the author of a post, or another person commenting, and no longer. Comments which are conversational are never appropriate, as clearly called out in the flagging UI ("outdated, conversational, or not relevant").

This guidance is reiterated by a current site moderator in What if comments on answers start to grow and look like a forum?, a Q&A posted nine years ago but which appears just as relevant and applicable today as it was when it was first posted.

And yet, when I make an attempt to help improve the site by flagging comments that are no longer needed (and indeed, in most cases should never have been posted in the first place), these flags are often declined. I've let most slide, but the other day an entire group of flags were declined on comments that are egregiously inappropriate and clearly fall into the "No Longer Needed" category. See the comments below How bad is switching derailleur gears under load?, starting with "I have heard that moon is made of cheese and water drips upwards."

Really? A moderator on this site, with the charge to enforce community rules and take action when content violates those rules, made the decision that "I have heard that moon is made of cheese and water drips upwards" not only contributes something constructive, but is such an important contribution that even after the author the post where the comment was posted has read it, the comment needs to remain for posterity?

I am frankly a bit shocked at the latitude moderators on this site take toward preserving comments. The approach taken is drastically different from that I see on other sites in the Stack Exchange network (and of course, especially on Stack Overflow, arguably the model for all other sites). This results in an inordinate amount of clutter under many posts, making it difficult to identify the useful information hidden among all the weeds.

The question:

Why were the flags on these comments declined, what value is it that the moderator felt overrides the normal handling of comments, and assuming this is actually an official policy for this particular Stack Exchange site, where is this departure from the otherwise-standard guidelines documented for this site?

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I am the moderator who declined all of those flags. My reasoning was two-part, but fairly straight forward:

  1. The comments were less than a day old when they were flagged. This was the primary factor in my decision to reject the flags. Had they been flagged when the question was no longer active, I likely would have deleted them.

  2. I try to use a light touch when using my moderation powers. I prefer to let high reputation users do most of the moderation work and address only the most obvious or egregious moderation issues myself. This is consistent with Stack Exchange's Theory of Moderation. Deleting an entire conversation that was active and less than a day old goes against that philosophy.

Expanding on this somewhat and addressing your other points...

"The moon is made of cheese" comment is more relevant than I think you're giving it credit for. The point is that hearing something somewhere should be taken with a grain of salt. It's a relevant point within the discussion. Several other comments are humorous, but also contributed relevant opinions to the conversation - the jokes about shifting under load creating thermonuclear events, for example.

You mention Stack Overflow as the model for the entire Stack Exchange network. This is a mistake. The various Stack Exchange sites are meant to function as independent communities. That's why they have site-specific help pages, meta sites, and moderators. The vast difference in size between sites is one area where the need for independence is both evident and relevant to this particular question.

The sheer size of Stack Overflow means that it requires a heavier hand in moderation. The traffic on SO is literally thousands of times greater than Bicycles. Taking a light approach in moderation there would result in the site simply becoming unusable. Contrast that with Bicycles where a light approach in moderation might leave an thread a little cumbersome, but that's the extent of it.

It's further noteworthy that the heavy-handed approach is not without cost. Stack Overflow, and the SE network at large, has an image problem that is due, at least in part, to its heavy-handed moderation. On a smaller site, such as Bicycles, it's better to prioritize friendliness and community over strict rule enforcement. In this particular case, that meant leaving comments up while the question is active so that the community could bond over a little fun. The comments can always be cleaned up later.

Finally, you state in a comment on Criggie's answer that it should be very rare for a NLN flag to be declined. While I don't entirely agree with that statement, it is, indeed, very rare that I decline them. For the reasons I've stated, this was that rare case.

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  • Thank you for the explanation. If that's the way the site moderators want to run the site, I guess that's their prerogative. Still, in spite of the statement "The various Stack Exchange sites are meant to function as independent communities" and "That's why they have site-specific help pages...", the guidance on this site for posting comments is identical to elsewhere (bicycles.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/comment), and none of the comments I flagged met the conditions given there. If Bicycles mods want to apply different rules, that page should be changed to reflect that. May 11 at 17:36
  • @PeterDuniho First off, the moderators on this site (or any other SE site) don't "run" the site. Rather, the site is community run. This is the core of the SE moderation philosophy. It's also the reason for my light touch. In this case, leaving those comments allows the community to self-moderate. If I were to unilaterally delete those comments, I'm taking control away from the community.
    – jimchristie Mod
    May 11 at 18:41
  • Second, the help page that you reference isn't an exhaustive list of the scenarios where one can and can't comment. Rather, it's a set of examples. All of the smaller SE sites that I've observed treat comments similarly to the way we're treating them here. The bigger sites like Stack Overflow, Super User, etc. treat them differently for the reasons that I've stated.
    – jimchristie Mod
    May 11 at 18:43
  • "I'm taking control away from the community" -- when the community violates the policies documented for the site, that's what a moderator is supposed to do. It's a bit disingenuous to say the site is run by the community, given that the community does not have the power to set policy, and in particular the power to write the documentation that governs the publicly-stated policy. And your claim notwithstanding, I see no reason to not interpret the documentation as exhaustive. It doesn't say "for example", it just says "When should I comment?" May 11 at 18:44
  • It's not disingenuous at all. While the mods might be the only ones who can mechanically set policy, the community owns those policies. We've only updated them once or twice in the six years that I've been a mod here and it's always been through this meta that those policies were written and voted on.
    – jimchristie Mod
    May 11 at 19:05
  • As far as being a policy enforcer, that might be the role of a moderator on a standard forum. But one of the things that makes Stack Exchange special is the community control. Check out A Theory of Moderation, if you haven't already. And also, our 2020 moderation stats. Community moderation is at the core of the model. Moderators are supposed to use an incredibly light touch.
    – jimchristie Mod
    May 11 at 19:07
  • We will simply have to agree to disagree, I think. The irony of your statements about "community run" is that I, as a member of the community, made an attempt to moderate the content (by removing comments that didn't contribute anything useful), and that attempt was in fact thwarted by a moderator. It seems that "community run" depends on which member of the community we're talking about. Nevertheless, I appreciate you sharing your viewpoint, even if I don't agree with it. May 11 at 19:09
  • I understand your frustation and your viewpoint that your attempt at moderation was thwarted by a moderator. Although I'll point out that it had nothing to do with which member of the community we're talking about. Rather, it was simply volume. The conversation was actively being participated in and several comments that you flagged were upvoted, some more than once. That constitutes a common voice from the community. You were a lone dissenter.
    – jimchristie Mod
    May 11 at 19:18
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I don't know what happened there. I had seen the ~10 flags but had other things happening, and didn't have time to read into them all in detail.

At first thought I wondered it the flags had "timed out" somehow, but some digging on that is inconclusive.

When are moderator flags automatically dismissed as "aged away" by the system? doesn't specifically mention the "no longer needed" flag.

You're right how some of those comments are tangential, some are short answers, some are probably intended to be funny, and many are not "improvements or clarifications" which is the intention of a comment.

So in summary - I'm not sure what happened there. I've also asked in the mod support channel.


I have now cleaned up the comments that were not about clarifications or improvements.

As a mod I can simply shovel all the comments off into a chatroom, but realistically that's where they go to die. Almost noone continues those discussions. And is only really a good fit if the comments were all inter-related replies. I generally avoid doing the "move to chat"

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  • Hmmm...okay, well...I look forward to a definitive reply. In the meantime, I'll suggest that the apparent informal policy to accommodate comments that are not strictly within published policy is part of the problem here. For example, I've had flags declined when the comment was clearly directed at me (e.g. under one of my posts), and so I obviously am an authoritative source as to whether the comment is no longer needed (i.e., once I've read it, it's definitely no longer needed). In the Stack Exchange model, comments are intended to be transient, and strictly used for soliciting ... May 9 at 15:42
  • ... clarifications/improvements from the author of a post, or for providing suggestions to authors for improvements, or occasionally to provide short-lived guideposts for other users to provide information that could be relevant to them for voting purposes. It should be very rare for a NLN flag to be declined, since for the vast majority of comments, almost the moment they are posted, they are "no longer needed". It was never part of the Stack Exchange network design to expect comments to live on as supplemental material for content in posts. May 9 at 15:42

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