# How to protect against the thought police?

The past days, tensions have sparked on meta about certain comments and their allegedly insulting nature.

Arguments were made that these comments were not of this nature, were not intended that way, and in particular were merely an expression of an opinion enhanced by the rhetoric device of repetition.

However, following an appeal to the SE staff, the comment was deleted within the hour.

I find this most alarming. Meta is supposed to be a place where opinions, even dissenting opinions, can and should be voiced, in order to determine the direction of the community. This can be done antithetically if need be.

The deletion of mere opinions because someone happens to dislike them enough to bring them to the attention of an SE staff member is contrary to the very existence of the meta site as a place to discuss maths.SE.

To bring some focus to this post, two questions:

• Am I paranoid?
• How to protest against such decisions or otherwise protect meta from such undesirable intervention?
• I also find the intervention by CM strange. Our Meta has developed its own culture, and that 'offending' comment was very much in line with that. Members of SE staff are bit outsiders, but I won't question their veto power. – Jyrki Lahtonen Jun 24 '15 at 18:54
• Not paranoid, but possibly writing in the heat of a moment; otherwise, I'm sure you would find a much better title for this question. – user147263 Jun 24 '15 at 19:33
• I would say you shouldn't overreact because of this. Of course it is a ridiculous decision, laughable at best, but nothing too worrying. – Mister Benjamin Dover Jun 24 '15 at 20:48
• I find it very difficult to read this thread, because even though all parties in the discussion seem to know exactly what everyone is talking about, no one says exactly what it is which makes it difficult for those who missed the event itself to understand what is going on. I know that meta likes to not name names, but at some point the overuse of insinuation is just excessive. (I can tell that Asaf made a comment somewhere and a CM deleted it, but I don't know what the comment was. Please link to the post in question, or as near as you can since the comment was deleted.) – Mario Carneiro Jul 7 '15 at 20:42
• @Mario I'm sorry for responding this late, but the bottom line is that the respective threads were deleted as well. Since I didn't keep direct links, I'm afraid it will be hard to provide the information you seek. – Lord_Farin Jul 28 '15 at 16:15

I highly doubt that the comment was deleted just because someone disliked it (and brought it up with the SE staff). For myself, I did feel that the comment was borderline. It is relevant to the post to the extent that it expressed an opinion about the feature request, but such an opinion probably should be expanded to a full answer. Also, the fact that it was very very very very very very very very very very very very very ... very very very very very very ... very very very excessive could push it over the edge into the noise department. Noisy comments are rarely worth saving (and that particular comment did spur a number of chatty comments that were deleted well before today).

I can understand reasons for deleting the comment that are not rooted in any form of policing thought. I personally thought that it conveyed enough of an idea to be kept, but someone else thought otherwise. Bickering over deleted comments is rarely worth the effort. (And the gist of the deleted comment lives on in an answer.)

• I have an issue with the allegations that the comment was insulting. I'd have found the overwhelming downvotes to be far more insulting than just the comment (and apparently the meta thread about the comment flags being dismissed also got heavily downvoted). After all, it was a terrible terrible terrible idea. Monetizing reputation is the second worst thing you can do on this website. – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 19:20
• @Asaf: I, too, don't see the comment as personally insulting. It didn't say that a user was terrible terrible terrible terrible terrible, but that an idea was. I have little issue with downvoting terrible terrible feature requests, but the latest question was, I felt, asked in good faith. – user642796 Jun 24 '15 at 19:57
• More the reason to take them downvotes as offensive. – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 20:01
• @Asaf The comment was not offensive, and even added information, but due to its style it became too much of a distraction. Already when I saw the comment close to the time it was posted I found the repetition risky as I felt it was possibly asking for trouble. There is a balance to be found between expressive style and keeping things constructive and business like. In my opinion, it was alright you posted it, and it is also alright it was deleted. 'It is a terrible idea' is an opinion that should stay; 'It is a terrible...many times...terrible idea' is more than merely stating an opinion. – quid Jun 24 '15 at 20:24
• @quid: My qualms are not with the deletion, as much as with the offense taken. – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 20:28
• @quid A most reasonable response, thanks. However, I still think there's a significant risk here of a biased (choice-supportive) reasoning in favour of deleting the comment. Considering the rarity of CM involvement on meta.maths.SE I am however inclined to grant the benefit of doubt in this regard. – Lord_Farin Jun 24 '15 at 20:42
• @Asaf in my opinion offense and offensive are words that tend to get over used. My take on the entire situation is that the feature-proposer got rather annoyed than offended by the situation, including that comment, and complained. Then they got even more annoyed and possibly actually offended by the response to the complaint (unrelated to cmnt). I for one flagged an answer given in that context as "rude and offensive," since it was just that. (That feature-proposer also went way overboard with some claims is also true. But I feel it was unnecessary to escalate the situation that much.) – quid Jun 24 '15 at 21:21
• @Asaf IMVHO This whole thing is petty. You obviously didn't mean to insult him, and the Op isn't really hiring a lawyer. The comment shouldn't have been deleted, but I can only argue that knowing that your comments are usually sarcastic and/or humorous with good intentions. I know I appreciate it :) Btw what was the number one don't do this on MSE that you alluded to? – Zach466920 Jun 24 '15 at 22:18

This is what the comment box says:

The question being in the form of a feature request, a statement to the fact that it's a bad idea would make sense as an answer. It certainly is neither asking for clarification nor adding information to the question.

How to protest against such decisions or otherwise protect meta from such undesirable intervention?

State one's opinion in an answer, or with a vote on an existing answer if a similar one was already posted.

• I think that comment added information. That the information coincided with the opinion of the writer, and several other members: a miracle perhaps. – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 19:48
• I consider this answer (somewhat) beside the point, because if this is the standard to be applied, about half of the comments on meta questions can be deleted right away. – Lord_Farin Jun 24 '15 at 19:50
• @AsafKaragila Adding information to a question $\ne$ answering it.... Example: "a similar feature request was made and denied on another meta site" vs "no, this is a bad idea". – user147263 Jun 24 '15 at 19:51
• @Lord_Farin They can and they will if they cause a CM to lose 30 seconds of their time reading an email. – user147263 Jun 24 '15 at 19:51
• @1999 If anything, that seems to be an issue with the CM's standards of work. Again, beside the point. – Lord_Farin Jun 24 '15 at 19:53
• I always found that the boilerplate SE "guidelines" should be applied on this site with a salt lake full of grains. And I recall several remarks from CM's that this community is quite unique, and somehow makes it work despite being so. And I take that issue with the screenshot that you posted as well. – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 20:01
• Moreover, the comment box pre-text is shared among all sites, main and meta alike. This "standard" not being meta-specific, the extent to which it applies to meta is to be doubted even more. – Lord_Farin Jun 24 '15 at 20:19

I am glad that the SE staff decided to have the comment deleted.

I like the Stack Exchange model because of the focus on giving good answers to good questions. Main isn't (in general) a forum where one should express ones opinion about things, but it is about asking well defined questions that have well defined answers. As a new user a couple of years ago, I hit this wall and it took some time to get used to the way things work around here. I began to appreciate that it was much easier here to stay on-topic than other places. There is less of a risk of personal attacks and infighting. But I believe that the model is worth defending because it makes SE so different than anything else out there.

I also like the existence of META. I like that it moves discussions about the site away from the mathematics questions. People aren't perfect and there will be frictions once in a while and I am glad that we have META to discuss these issues.

And I agree that META should be a place where there is more room. By definition, it is a place where one can, in fact, have opinions. It isn't just a place for objective answers to objective questions, but also a place for open discussion about the policies of the site. We can effect change here.

But I still don't believe that anything now goes on META. Things ca, for example, be off-topic even on META. The focus should always be on the ball and not the man. Because of this, I also believe that the tone should always (without exception!) be civil. There still isn't room for non-constructive comments. Repeating a word 30 times in a comment certainly isn't a personal attack. But it also isn't very constructive. If someone asks a question or makes a suggestion, then I don't think that it contributes anything to just shout "no" 30 times. There are better ways to communicate that you disagree with the suggestion made. Yes, many strange suggestions have been made on META over time, but why isn't it enough to just downvote and then leave a polite answer explaining why the suggestion is horrible? Or maybe just ignore?

Imagine that you are a new user, as an example. You are getting used to things around here and you have an idea of something that you believe could improve the site. In good faith you make the suggestion on META, because you know that this is the place to do this, and then the first response you get is just someone repeating a word 30 times. I can understand that this might offend someone. I don't know that it would offend me personally, but I can understand that some might find the offending.

Some, I see, might say that this is all just the culture on META. If this is the case, then I think the culture should change.

It isn't an act of a thought police to to remove these comments. It would be wrong if a comment is removed solely because it expresses an (unpopular) opinion.

• Do you think that we need to walk on eggshells for everyone? If I find it personally offensive that the comment was deleted, do you think it should be undeleted? – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 19:26
• @AsafKaragila: Yes, I do think that we should "walk on eggshells" for everyone if we can agree on a definition of "walking on eggshells". My point is that the language should be clean, civil, and respectful. Yes, it is hard to give a precise definition of what exactly this means. My question to you is: what about the deletion did you find offensive? – Thomas Jun 24 '15 at 19:29
• As far as the situation goes, I don't think that my comment was trying to offend; and I don't think it was an unreasonable reply. I do find it personally offensive that someone decides to make extra effort to be offended by what I do and say, though. – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 19:31
• @AsafKaragila: (1) I don't think that you intended to offend. I "know" you well enough to believe that you actively tried to offend that you made an extra effort to offend. But that doesn't mean that it wasn't offending. (2) You write "someone decides to make extra effort to be offended". So, you really think the person had to try hard to be offended? – Thomas Jun 24 '15 at 19:38
• By the comment that was discussed? Yes. – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 19:41
• @AsafKaragila: Ok. – Thomas Jun 24 '15 at 19:41
• I'm not entirely sure that I follow (1), though. :-) – Asaf Karagila Jun 24 '15 at 19:43
• @AsafKaragila: Yes, that's a typo :) I meant to say: "... to believe that you did not actively try to offend, ..." . – Thomas Jun 24 '15 at 19:45
• I find it unfitting that this one example is used as were it an illustration of how unforgiving meta is. Plenty of reasonable, motivated requests are handled with adequate politeness (even though some clarifying comments are sometimes needed -- particularly with new users). However, why should one be entitled to an elaborate motivation when one doesn't care more than to write a two-line proposal with apparently no more than five minutes thought behind it? Garbage in, garbage out. It is precisely this cut-the-crap attitude on meta that was alluded to, not any habits of rudeness or impoliteness. – Lord_Farin Jun 24 '15 at 20:17
• @Lord_Farin: Yes, the proposal made wasn't well though out. Research hadn't been done. But I still think we can respond in a kind way. A cut-the-crap response is never constructive. A "this is a ridicules and poorly researched and not well thought out suggestion" with a reference to previous posts would have been fine. As I mention above, there also is the option to just downvote without having to respond in writing. – Thomas Jun 24 '15 at 20:23