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The more active meta postings on MSE have often had hijacking problems, such as


Controversial comments on issues incidental with the topic of the meta post

This, of course, happens a lot on the internet, but IMO has been particularly problematic here. Restarting debate on controversial topics has the effect of making it difficult to discuss the actual topic of a meta post, fragments the discussion on the controversial topic, and just makes the overall meta environment more hostile.

Comments that would make more sense as a whole new question

These don't just derail the original topic: they also obfuscate the new topic of discussion as well: they do not appear in the question list, are difficult to search for, cannot be answered, do not have full featured voting, and while they can be commented upon, the comment thread is not clearly visible, especially if entangled with on-topic comments.

Comments that are really answers

These have similar features as comments that should be new questions.


In an ideal world this could be dealt with via self-discipline, and inviting off-topic discussion to go someplace on-topic; but in practice this doesn't happen, and the invitations have even been outright refused -- commenters sometimes refuse to bring up their pet topics of interest in a meta posting and instead prefer to discuss it across comments of loosely related topics, or absolutely refuse to post an answer to a question, instead preferring to post their answer in the comments of the question (or even another answer) and discuss it there.

If we do not accept the hijacking, the only real recourse is to appeal to moderation; e.g. users should flag the comments prompting off-topic discussion and refraining from contributing to the new topic, but this can only work if moderators commit to actually cleaning these things up properly. (as an example of improperly, in some forums the comments that start an off-topic discussion are treated as if they are not actually off-topic, but merely provoked the discussion, and moderators will leave the provocative comment up but remove all of the replies)

So I have up to three questions:

  • Do others agree that this is a problem?
  • If so, should we try doing something about it?
  • If so, will the moderators commit to it?
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    $\begingroup$ Tangents, like infinitesimals, can be quite constructive when properly used. Neither should be abolished (despite what Cantor wrongly thought). $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Mar 16 '15 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Bill: I agree that tangents can be good. I do not intend a blanket ban on tangential discussion, but instead better handling with the tangents that are bad: e.g. things like promoting new topics of wider interest to actual questions or to curb the sort of loosely related sniping that provokes the more involved off-topic diversions, or to stop rehashing long-running arguments in off-topic threads. $\endgroup$ – user14972 Mar 16 '15 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ Purported duplicate is approaching two years of age. I would consider closing inappropriate. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Mar 16 '15 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ I upvoted this. Not because I feel one way or another about derailed conversations. But because I am happy to see this brought to the table explicitly. I also think that the "purported duplicate" is quite irrelevant, and is quite opposite in spirit from this post. (To remind whomever voted to close, it is possible to retract close votes.) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Mar 17 '15 at 0:27
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I have not seen many cases (none I can remember offhand) where the "tangent" was so tangential as to be a problem.

The purpose of meta is discussion; the fact that a discussion requires a "question" to start it only means that the question is a guide to spark conversation. As with any other discussion prompt, the actual discussion should remain related to the topic, but need not be focused exclusively on it.

Moreover, it is often possible to "frame" a question in a way that prohibiting "tangents" would make the discussion one-sided. As an extreme example, if I asked

What are the advantages of typing in all caps?

then I could complain if someone mentioned any disadvantages. There are less extreme examples of this sort of thing that I have seen on meta already.

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