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I know The Workplace gets a lot of comments. And often, they get quite hot. It's not unusual for person A to ask a question, person B, C, and D to answer, and then E and F get into an extended argument under one or more of the answers. After a while A through F have all chimed in with question comments, comments on each other's answers, and so on, and at least one of the posts has a good old back-and-forth happening.

After a while you can look at a pile of comments, all starting with an @, and realize "these are all about to go." Maybe to chat, or maybe just blown away. When I come to that realization, which of these things should I do, and are there others I should also do?

  • flag the post pointing out I think the comments have passed the useful stage
  • leave a comment telling people to settle down or all the comments are likely to be deleted
  • copy any useful information in the comments and edit it into the post so it won't be lost (I especially do this when comments from the author of the post are clarifying or restating a position)
  • model the behaviour I expect from others (I once commented "I will now demonstrate disengaging" to someone who couldn't stop responding and arguing.)

Is there any way to help these highly-commented posts or should I just shrug and watch the circus for a while?

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    You could just wait for a moderator to deal with the comments. Or, if you feel immediate action is warranted, you could leave a message here or in chat asked for a moderator to do something. I will flag a single comment that has gone out of bounds. Otherwise I just enjoy the circus until the moderators settle things down. – Joe Strazzere Feb 21 '17 at 16:58
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    so far all my flags pointing to issues with comments were handled by moderators the right way (including even declines when I could see upon a closer look that my flagging was not right). Was your experience different? or maybe it was different recently when a new and maybe yet inexperienced moderator joined the team? – gnat Feb 21 '17 at 19:16
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    @gnat Oi. // Joking aside, I assume Kate is asking what the 'right' approach is for such posts, whether flagging is appropriate (or just extra noise) or if there are other ways for users rather than mods to do something to control the comment tide. – Lilienthal Feb 21 '17 at 20:14
  • "comments from the author of the post are clarifying or restating a position Well, that's what comments are for really. I wouldn't advise editing answers this way as people tend to get overly attached to their writing there but if you think that the OP won't or can't make the edits himself I'd say it's fine to make the edits and then custom flag the question or, (probably) preferably, flag the comments as obsolete. I'm not sure these kinds of comments fit in with the kind of rampant discussion storms that I think you had in mind with this post. – Lilienthal Feb 21 '17 at 20:20
  • Right, say there are 10 or 15 arguing comments and one clarification from the author (which might be me) which isn't in the post yet, and there's a good chance all the comments will disappear together. I might want to "rescue" the clarification before it is swept away. I might also want to prevent the escalation and sweeping away, but that might not be possible. Or I might want to hurry it along by being the one to flag. – Kate Gregory Feb 21 '17 at 20:24
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    anything sensible that can fit into 600 chars of flag message seems worth a flag to me. One recent example of my flag message: "please consider cleaning up the comments. Most of these (per my reading all besides second, third and fourth) currently appear attempts at answers and "humorous" remarks not giving critique nor seeking the clarification of the question" - would something like that work for you Kate? – gnat Feb 21 '17 at 21:16
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    The best thing to do is flag comments that are too chatty or are just argumentative early, and every time you see them. The earlier the comments get stopped the better chance that one or 2 comments go not the entire thread. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 21 '17 at 21:50
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    One general recommendation I'd give is to actually upvote the "Comments have been moved to chat" mod comment. I often see those left buried, particularly on HNQ questions, which has the net effect of no one even being aware that there's already a chat room. Since the "move to chat" is a one-off, follow-up discussions comments are typically just deleted. – Lilienthal Feb 22 '17 at 9:38
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The purpose of comments is to enable Q&A.

On questions, you use comments to get further or better information with which to write an answer.

On answers, you use comments to critique the answer, such that it can be improved.

Comments are not for discussion.

Chat is for discussion.

Ergo - if you see a discussion happening in the comments, flag the comments as too chatty - and a mod can move the comments to chat, where the discussion can remain and continue for others who want to see/participate, if they think the discussion is worthwhile.

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    "and a mod can move the comments to chat To be clear, mods can (and often do) just delete such comments outright. – Lilienthal Feb 21 '17 at 20:08
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    I actually intended the "they" in "if they think the discussion is worthwhile." to mean mods, but in retrospect, the ambiguity serves just fine. – Aaron Hall Feb 21 '17 at 20:12
  • @Lilienthal - A far better option save for the rare occasion where the conversation is constructive and civil. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 21 '17 at 22:53
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If the author of a post says something in a comment that ought to be in the post itself (e.g. in response to a question that other readers might have too), please edit it into the post. It's best to say something like "added info from comments" in the revision summary so later viewers know you didn't just make it up. If the author is new, consider also leaving a message pointing out the edit and explaining that he can edit further. "[edit]" is a magic link in comments and quite helpful for this.

Editing is something that anybody can do (or propose). It's a great way to show posters that The Workplace is a community effort.

Any time you see something that's getting out of hand, please flag. For comments, if there are just a few comments in a pile that need attention you can flag them individually so mods can tell immediately what you're reacting to, but if you'd be flagging nearly every comment, it's usually easier to just flag the post. It's especially helpful if you describe the problem to help us see what you're seeing -- "the comments through the second one by user98765 are all obsolete", "user666 and KnowItAll are having a long argument and it seems to be getting heated", "I've edited the four comments from the OP into the question and everything before them is now obsolete", etc. Be a little wary of the word "all"; maybe there were 13 comments when you said they were all obsolete but when we see the flag there are 24 and we have to dig into timestamps. But don't worry so much about this that you decide not to try; these flags are evaluated by humans, not machines. If you can make things a little easier for us that's great, but if all you can say is "this thread is out of hand", please do that.

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    If the author of a post says something in a comment that ought to be in the post itself (e.g. in response to a question that other readers might have too), please edit it into the post. This can't be emphasized enough. Our job as moderators is so much easier when this happens consistently. – enderland Feb 22 '17 at 14:15
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I would definitely avoid telling people to settle down. All that will do is spur a flurry of posts in response.

Copying and editing is a good strategy, but risks irking the person who posted the answer, also, if it changes the intent of the answer, it might get rejected or rolled back.

It's always a good idea to model good behavior, but who notices when you're silent. I saw one person do this on a forum. He deliberately stopped arguing with people, yet he was still lumped in with the argumentative posters, and even credited in a thread in which he did not post.

The best strategy IMO, is do not contribute to the circus and let the mods know about it, either through the water cooler or by flagging.

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Here are a couple of more options that I use when that happens:

  • Ignore the circus and move on to something else.
  • If I suspect that the drama will go on for a while, bring some snack quickly, sit back and enjoy while thinking, "Mhhm, there are some strange people out there!"

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