I'm noticing a trend, especially among low-rep users (typically 101-150) putting their own answers under existing answers as comments.

Should we flag these as "no longer needed" or "rude or abusive"?

These are typically phrased as "This is a terrible answer, what should be done is XYZ"

Even without the rude intro, I'm wondering if we should flag these as "rude or abusive" as the intent seems to be to abuse the system by putting answers in a place where they cannot be up or down voted.

I'm making the distinction between commenting under the question as opposed to commenting under the answer because commenting under an answer undermines the answer, whereas putting a comment-answer under the question is just IMO, laziness.

Should we flag comment-answers under existing answers as rude or abusive?

  • 1
    MSE FAQ says - "Abuse of the system or community is everything that is created with the intention to harm them" and I doubt that what you describe is a clear cut fit for this. Poster of such comment could argue that their intent was not abuse but help readers see the right way. "No longer needed" option looks like a safer bet
    – gnat
    Oct 12, 2017 at 14:01
  • @gnat isn't undermining an answer harmful? Oct 12, 2017 at 14:14
  • possibly (and I personally tend to think it is), but as long as one can convincingly argue that this was not their intent, flagging it as abusive will likely fail. "Oh no how could you think I wanted to harm, I only wanted to help I swear blah blah..."
    – gnat
    Oct 12, 2017 at 14:18
  • 6
    This is a terrible question., what you should have asked is XYZ.
    – user44108
    Oct 12, 2017 at 14:23
  • 5
    @SnarkShark I kinda walked into that one, didn't I? Oct 12, 2017 at 14:30
  • 2
    I can't resist an open door I'm afraid....
    – user44108
    Oct 12, 2017 at 14:33
  • Part of the problem is those low rep users are encouraged to comment when they downvote.
    – Chris E
    Oct 12, 2017 at 14:38
  • 1
    @ChrisE I'm wondering if anyone even understands what constructive criticism is these days Oct 12, 2017 at 14:54
  • I am flagging all of @SnarkShark comments
    – Neo
    Oct 12, 2017 at 15:20
  • 1
    @ChrisE - in fact, many question/answer writers publicly beg for comments when encountering a downvote. Oct 12, 2017 at 16:27
  • @JoeStrazzere true. and in those cases, they get what they deserve. But the comments should be constructive and rarely are. There have been many times I've reconsidered a take I had on something or left out and then added it based on comments. That's what's asked for, not "-1 this is just bad."
    – Chris E
    Oct 12, 2017 at 16:39
  • @JoeStrazzere then you have that nonsensical debate on my answer to the not the new bar question where there's a raging debate over whether or not change is good. Oct 12, 2017 at 19:47
  • From my experience this is not so much a trend as simply something that's always been a bit of an issue with SE, particularly for highly popular (HNQ) questions. But I follow Joe and Monica's answers below that these don't warrant R/A flags as those have very specific requirements and much greater consequences.
    – Lilienthal Mod
    Oct 13, 2017 at 10:39

4 Answers 4


Moderators sometimes need to review the flags that have been validated against a user. This happens when we start to notice (or have pointed out) a pattern of behavior that might require intervention -- we go and look at the data at that point; we don't rely on memory and impressions.

Rude/abusive flags on comments that were merely misguided, particularly from newer users, make these reviews harder. There's a big difference between direct rudeness ("your answer sucks! the OP should...") or abuse of the system (insisting on having a long tangential discussion in comments after correction), on the one hand, and an inexperienced user leaving what was intended as helpful input in the wrong place.

"This is a terrible answer" warrants a "rude or abusive" flag. A series of argumentative comments warrants a "rude or abusive" flag. A single comment that isn't what comments are for, but isn't otherwise rude, warrants a lesser flag (usually "no longer needed", unless you need to say something about it to us via "other").


Even without the rude intro, I'm wondering if we should flag these as "rude or abusive" as the intent seems to be to abuse the system by putting answers in a place where they cannot be up or down voted.

In general, without a rude intro I seldom flag a comment as "rude or abusive". I don't want to abuse flags and bother moderators unnecessarily.

If the commenter is simply presenting an alternative answer, I tend to invite them to write their own real Answer rather than simply leaving one as a comment.

If the commenter ends up launching a long thread of alternative theories, I will flag that and ask a moderator to move it to chat.

And of course, if the commenter is actually rude enough, I will flag the comment.

I wish comments had down votes specifically for these circumstances. I don't really understand why comment voting is unidirectional.

  • 5
    "I wish comments had down votes specifically for these circumstances. I don't really understand why comment voting is unidirectional." - This is a really good question. I found the Meta SE post Allow Downvoting Comments, which is quite old but seems that other folks think this could be useful. Maybe time to reconsider?
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Oct 12, 2017 at 15:21
  • @GrayCygnus - I prefer not to tilt at windmills. Most of the replies to that question supported the idea of comment downvotes. But that was all many years ago and no comment voting has been implemented. Oh well - another change request unfulfilled. Oct 12, 2017 at 16:25
  • Some people argued that then comments would have to give/take rep... but I think that DV could be implemented without having to take or give rep, just as a signpost of the general opinion of the comment. But yeah, seems like a tough job to try blow air at those windmills.
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Oct 12, 2017 at 16:44
  • @GrayCygnus given that comments can't be edited (as opposed to questions and answers) votes down on these would fail to serve one of their most important (maybe the most important) goals of improving content (a while ago I wrote about this at MSE)
    – gnat
    Oct 12, 2017 at 18:13
  • @gnat well, one could delete the Downvoted comment and then post another one with improved content. Still DV-ing does not necessary improve content, as some people dont provide feedback or others just ignore the DV. Comments are more useful for improving comments than just voting on the post.
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Oct 12, 2017 at 18:16

Browsing a bit, I found that this stated in our Help Page. Extracting from it:

When should I comment?

You should submit a comment if you want to:

  • Request clarification from the author;
  • Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
  • 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).

Therefore, anything that does not fulfill any of those characteristics is either obsolete, chatty, or otherwise unnecessary.

Even more relevant to the question stated in this post is the following part (again from the Help Page):

When shouldn't I comment?

Comments are not recommended for any of the following:

  • Suggesting corrections that don't fundamentally change the meaning of the post; instead, make or suggest an edit;
  • Answering a question or providing an alternate solution to an existing answer; instead, post an actual answer (or edit to expand an existing one);
  • Compliments which do not add new information ("+1, great answer!"); instead, up-vote it and pay it forward;
  • Criticisms which do not add anything constructive ("-1, see previous comments you scallywag!"); instead, down-vote (and provide or up-vote a better answer if appropriate);
  • Secondary discussion or debating a controversial point; please use chat instead;
  • Discussion of community behavior or site policies; please use meta instead.

So, to answer the question Should we flag comment-answers under existing answers as rude or abusive? I think yes, as they are by definition otherwise unnecessary and also out of place.

I think that this is a good guidance to when and how to flag a comment, and also when should one refrain from commenting and post an answer instead.

  • "Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;" - if I had to guess, most folks who leave a comment would cite this as their justification. Oct 12, 2017 at 17:14
  • The "constructive" word is key here. If it is not is therefore unnecessary or even rude. Also, the post also states to refrain from commenting if you want to "Suggest corrections", and it clearly states that one should answer if one has an alternate solution.
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Oct 12, 2017 at 17:16
  • "The "constructive" word is key here." - Yup. And "constructive" is in the eye of the beholder. What one might view as "constructive criticism" another might view as "rude or abusive". That's why someone will have to arbitrate and make a decision if the comment is flagged. I prefer to err on the side of fewer flags whenever possible to avoid burdening the moderators. Oct 12, 2017 at 17:21
  • ... back again to why comments should have DV or similar, so they could be automatically handled when they reach low numbers :/ but yes someone should arbitrate that, and I think that should be The Community along with Mods. I also feel the same as you, and it does not feel so good to burden mods with tons of flags, but I think (just a guess, though) even Mods will prefer to be full of flags than the Network going frenzy on some posts.
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Oct 12, 2017 at 17:28
  • @JoeStrazzere from the other day, I think it would be quite the stretch to say it was constructive that apologizing to a manager is dangerous and would literally lead to mass shootings and that you'd vote -2 if you could. Oct 12, 2017 at 19:34

I think the answer to the question is no, don't flag them just for that. There are plenty of valid reasons placing a valid answer as a comment underneath an answer. The best reason for this is that writing a good answer typically takes some time and effort. Comments by their nature are brief. I think it's completely appropriate to add a comment under an answer suggesting that a better answer would involve doing something else and contrasting the relative benefits of that approach versus the approach suggested by the answer above it. To me it seems like it's just a form of saying "The answer above has problems or will not work well. One thing that would work better is ___"

  • 5
    I think not. You may be right that comments (for you, but others use them in less constructive ways) are a way of saying "The answer above has problems ..." but that is not the actual use of comments (they are for clarification purposes, not Debunking). If you feel that way you would do more good to the community by posting an answer with your alternatives. Answers or alternatives should not go on comments, as they can be deleted or lost in the dropdown. Commenting answers/alternatives on answers gives place to more tangential comments.
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Oct 12, 2017 at 16:52
  • Are you really suggesting that you shouldn't "debunk" or point out the flaws of an answer in a comment? Aren't you pointing out what you believe to be the flaws in my answer?
    – Itsme2003
    Oct 15, 2017 at 4:57

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