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Preamble

I am a novice SE user, a toddler. In this post I want to criticize some moderator actions, which seems risky and futile, regarding unwritten policies on the meta; however, just for the record, I write this post so that unbiased readers find it helpful.

Please note that I am not throwing a tantrum and that I have slept enough, so it is not needed to say to me, "It is time for you to go to bed, nighty night."

what's up? Why are you crying again?

I, as a one being interested in contributing to the community but lacking enough math knowledge to create high-quality math content, decided to suggest grammar-fixing edits. But, many community adults ordered me not to "tinker", so I had to follow their order and stop fixing the grammar of posts.

After that I decided to do some unpaid janitorial task, flagging unnecessary comments, regarding that there is an option for such comments when one flags a comment and that the following excerpt from the comment guideline confirms such flagging:

When should I flag a comment?

...

  • It's no longer needed.

    This comment is outdated, conversational or not relevant to the post.

(Also, this community manager's answer may be helpful).

After cleaning up many threads, the moderator team made two actions against me, which are criticized in this post:

First, they contacted me privately sending the following message:

... these comments are inoffensive and, while they are not strictly needed any longer, they are not causing harm to the site. On the other hand, it takes time for us to handle your flags. In the future, please think about whether or not a comment's deletion is worth the time of the moderators before you flag it.

Second, they rejected a huge number of my flags, which seems to have been deleted by the moderator(s) rejecting such flags. Since deleted comments cannot be seen by users except moderators, I cannot prove the claim to you (I think the moderator team would not deny it); however, let me put a screenshot of my declined flags here:

enter image description here

Now, let us consider the following points:

  • It was said, "they are not causing harm to the site." This is wrong because of the following reasons:

    First, if they were not causing harm to the site, the Stack Exchange community team would have never put the mentioned option in the list of flagging reasons and explicitly mentioned their opinion about such comments in the guideline.

    Second, they are actually causing harm to the site because many users put their conversational and unnecessary comments under posts when they see others do that, so this site would contain an uncontrollable number of such comments.
  • It was said, "it takes time for us to handle your flags." According to this information, the number of comment flags handled by the moderators is on average about 25 per a day. Let us suppose that I want to raise 25 comment flags per a day, which needs to be handled by the moderators (Please note that many comments are handled by the system). Since there are currently 10 moderators on the site, each moderator needs to handle 5 flags per a day, each of which should not take more than several seconds. If some moderators are not active enough on the site, I think rejecting a toddler's unpaid janitorial task is not a good solution for such a problem.
  • It was said, "think about whether or not a comment's deletion is worth the time of the moderators before you flag it." It seems that the moderators presume that I am an idle person whose only job and concern is flagging unnecessary comments on the site (?). Do you know digging up unnecessary comments takes a considerable amount of time and energy? My time and energy are worthless?
  • As you know well, I did nothing wrong about flagging such comments; I just followed the written guideline, but was treated according to an unwritten norm(?). According to the guideline, rejection of many flags may result in some written consequences (for example, reducing my flag daily allowance or flag ban) or unwritten ones (For example, a community manager disliking me may want to take it as an excuse to suspend me for 99 years).
  • If my behavior was a misdeed, why did a moderator remove the flagged comments after rejecting my flags? This reminds me of my previous story saying that a user made the same edit, which had already been rejected by the user; however, there is a difference: in this case the one who did such a thing is a moderator, not a regular user. I do not know why such things happen to a toddler like me.

Finally, let me answer your question, "Why are you crying?" I am crying because I was treated like the following:

Suppose that you live in a city in which there is a rule asking citizens to keep it clean. You decide to keep the city clean by taking trash into a trash can for free. After you being tired, a mayor shouts at you, "Why do you waste our time? Trash cans must be emptied." Then the mayor empties a trash can onto your head.

P.S. Although this post may seem harsh to the moderators, let me appreciate their efforts for moderating this community and handling meta issues. Please note that if I disliked the moderators, I would have never criticized them to continue making mistakes so that they would not improve themselves.

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    $\begingroup$ May I know how many comments flag are you raising per day? $\endgroup$ Jun 1 at 7:16
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    $\begingroup$ And it really depends on on sort of comments are you flagging. Some comments are really harmless to stay. $\endgroup$ Jun 1 at 7:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Later In that case I apologize to you. Your flag is quite appropriate. It does look like there were differences of opinion within the moderator team how to handle it. I do confess that when serving I was allergic to flaggers who apparently used a search engine, looking for a key phrase. For I entertained the position that flags of this type should come from "natural use of the site" rather than something systematically sought after. But, this was just my attitude. I don't know if it is shared by any of the current diamond bearers. $\endgroup$ Jun 1 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ You cite a number of flags from over a month ago. As I recall declining a large number of "no longer needed" flags about that long ago, it is very possible that it was I who declined those flags. If I recall correctly, I left feedback on at least one of those flags asking you not to raise such a large number of flags on old questions. Remember that when you raise a "no longer needed" flag, an actual human moderator has to handle it. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 1 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ When you raise a large number of "no longer needed" flags on ancient posts, you are asking us to take some time out of our day to investigate something which (almost certainly) will not impact the overall site. One or two "no longer needed" flags on ancient posts is fine, but, as I recall, there were a lot of these flags. If I was the one who handled your flags, the goal was to send the message "please don't raise so many flags". $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 1 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ You say In my opinion, moderators' attitudes should not contradict the written guidelines determined by the Stack Exchange community team., but the guidelines are guidelines and not rules. Each community has its own norms and practices. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Jun 1 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson I also raised a flag on an old post and a moderator(don't know who) declined and said ''the post is more than 7 years old and we don't retroactively apply modern rules to old posts. SE rules and practices were different then.'' After that I don't raise any flag on old posts. $\endgroup$ Jun 1 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ These are emergent from the community based on discussions on meta. It's not some closed group of people in a board room with an agenda. Some communities are looser than others when it comes to comments, others not as much. The main lesson from this is to not assume that just because you participated in one community, you already know everything there is to know about another community, it's a good lesson for life in general. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Jun 1 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @NikhilKumarSingh that's a separate concern though. In any case a question or also answer that does not meet the criteria for being suitable should be flagged as such, e.g.,, for closure and not for moderator attention. In that sense the age is somewhat of a tangent or a red herring. You should not flag for moderators either if you find a recent question to be off-topic, instead flag for closure. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Jun 1 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ Dear @Later: Math.SE is a community of people, not an axiom system. Your post here seems to come from a place of demanding actions of other people in order to bring about consistency, as opposed to seeking ways to improve the community. It's not surprising to see people who think this way showing up here; all of us math-folk think this way to some degree. But if you view your participation here more as a member of a community I think you'll have a better time. P.S. Welcome to Math.SE! $\endgroup$ Jun 1 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ Dear Later. You have "outgrown" the analogy , considering yourself a whining, crying toddler, that you've used frequently for the more than 2 years you've been a member of this. You are a full grown member of this site, it is off putting, and hardly humorous anymore. Please act like the fully capable and informed user you are. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 1 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ Upon further consideration, your analogy of picking up litter is also not a good one. If you want to use the litter analogy, you are standing in the hallway, shouting to the janitor "Hey, there is a bubblegum wrapper here!" Or, since you don't have the power to pick up the trash, it might be more apt to say that you are sitting by the side of the road, shouting to the meter maid "Hey, this guy's meter is expired!" By raising a comment flag, you are asking someone else to perform an action. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 1 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ So, again, before you raise a flag, determine whether or not the comment you are flagging really needs to be deleted. The older a comment is, the less likely it is that there is any real need to delete it. Personally, before I had diamond powers, I mostly used "no longer needed" flags to get a moderator to clean up conversations where I provided clarification, then deleted my own comments after a post was improved---a moderator was needed to clean up the other side of the conversation. In other cases, I don't see a compelling reason to raise a flag. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 1 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ Well, you say that you want to help the community and it's great, it's just that perhaps you shouldn't focus, excessively, work on a specific task. Perhaps you could variate your activities: say a few flags daily and then finding duplicates on math.SE or helping others here on meta (diversity topics) or make edits or provide answers or to go to the chatrooms, etc... plenty of fun here on math.SE and meta :) $\endgroup$ Jun 6 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ I haven't seen it in the comments and so maybe am wrong, but I think that this post could be much better if it were really phrased as a request for clarification of community policies—as the title suggests—rather than as an apologia for your actions. That is, as things stand, it currently seems that it is not possible to answer "yes, this is the way things are", which is surely what matters here, without also wading into personal matters, which are not the purview of MetaMSE. $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Jun 7 at 14:15
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It is reasonable and desirable that you can come here to Meta to ask about what you perceive to be "unwritten policies," and it is true (as noted in comments) that StackExchange Communities vary as to policy priorities. You seem motivated to help the Math.SE Community, and I appreciate your effort to gain understanding.

In this case the articulated point is that there could be better uses of Moderators' time and also of your time. Of course you are allowed to use the allotment of daily Comment flags according to your own judgement, but you have claimed in the midst of your post:

(Please note that many comments are handled by the system).

That was not my understanding. There are no Review Queues for Comments, but as noted by quid and others below the "conversational" (no longer needed) flags on Comments can under some circumstances result in an automated removal. Here's a relevant part of a Meta StackExchange post:

If a comment is flagged by a sufficient number of users, it will be automatically deleted. There is no penalty for this. Flagged comments will be surfaced to moderators, so if you have a problem with a comment, flag it.

  • If the comment has no upvotes and no "trigger" keywords, three flags from users will delete it.
  • If the comment has upvotes, it will require more flags to be automatically deleted: one more flag for every 3 upvotes, rounded up. (For example, a comment with 1 upvote requires 4 flags to be auto-deleted, and one with 8 upvotes requires 6 flags).
  • Comments containing certain "trigger" keywords are deleted instantly after a single flag, regardless of upvotes. The list of trigger keywords is kept secret, and may differ per site.
  • A single flag from a moderator will instantly delete the comment.

In the StackExchange model of Q&A posts, all comments are considered ephemeral. Thus ideally any important information in Comments gets transcribed either into a Question or an Answer post for the sake of posterity. But adherence to this ideal suffers both for temporal and practical circumstances.

Something that may have a conversational tone to you reading it years after the last activity on a Question may have served a purpose at the time that is not now obvious. But equally it may have pointed to open issues that were never fully resolved. Who would make the decision?

If you flag a Comment, it might be up to a Moderator to make the call.

My own experience is that I rarely have an urge to offer such flags, mainly when there has been a decisive clarification of some issue with a Question or Answer and leaving the "no longer needed" Comments up would invite confusion as to whether the resolution took place. Indeed I'm more likely to prune my own Comments than to flag those made by others.

A focus on current Questions and and Answers is normal, but of course you may find in searching for previous posts that there is something that is worth improving. Weigh the benefit to Math.SE Readers of flagging old conversational Comments versus researching a problem that you are interested in, and I think you'll find the latter is typically a better use of everyone's time.

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    $\begingroup$ "Enough" flags can delete a comment. In some cases one is enough. (I'm not sure I agree with "many" in OP, but it depends on what they flag exactly. There are/were users that are specialists for one flag comment deletions.) $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Jun 1 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ I also think the nature of a comment like : "what a good answer, thanks" I mean, I know it can be conversational and is certainly off-topic from a mathematical point of view, but in essence I think people being nice to each other (I hope the comment wasn't sarcastic and didn't extend to a long conversation because I haven't checked the source), as in that comment , should be left at least as markers of the Be Nice policy. Offering and accepting encouragement is actually a pretty decent use of an isolated comment, in my opinion. (If someone knows the context, then they can rap me). $\endgroup$ Jun 2 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ @TeresaLisbon I quite strongly disagree with what you say. The policy is that such comments should not be left. There are various angles and nuances to this, but I especially want to insist on the fact that it's a poor idea to promote that users can selectively decide which policy they follow. The next person will say they answer the PSQ to be nice. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Jun 4 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Fair point, I never thought for a second that someone could extrapolate that far! .Then again, now it doesn't seem very far, does it? Perhaps I will stick to greeting, but like I do often I will combine it in a form like : "Thank you very much, what an excellent contribution. Further, (insert mathematical comment here)". Having said that, I still agree that these comments from ages ago, I don't think they affect negative behaviour as much seeing leftover PSQ answers, since the latter is a source of on-site reputation. Flagging of these wasn't needed, in my opinion. $\endgroup$ Jun 4 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @quid "In some cases one is enough." oh I didn't know that. You know, I'm recalling one instance, from days ago?, where I flagged a very old comment as "no longer needed" on math.SE (I hardly ever do this), and it was instantly deleted. I thought in asking what happened, but then didn't. $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ @VerónicaRmz. indeed this was a case where you deleted it "alone". $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Jun 7 at 9:48
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. Regarding the paragraph "Something that may have a conversational tone ...", please note that almost all my flags were raised on comments, like "what a good answer, thanks", without any information related to the posts, which seems to have conversational tone to anyone; I never flagged comments having some information related to posts, even if they were stated in a conversational way. So such comments neither served a necessary purpose nor pointed to any open issue. $\endgroup$
    – Later
    Jun 8 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ If I understand correctly, flagging the comment "what a good answer, thanks" would not need moderator's intervention (related to quid's first comment) @Later $\endgroup$ Jun 9 at 3:34
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    $\begingroup$ @ArcticChar I think the system automatically deletes a comment having a few words and some specific phrases such as "thank you" when a flag is raised on it. However, if I remember correctly, I flagged a comment saying "what a marvelous answer", but it was not deleted by the system because such phrases are not identified in the system's algorithm, I think. $\endgroup$
    – Later
    Jun 9 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, there's a limited numbers of word that would trigger immediate deletion of the flagged comment. While the whole list is not public, some are quite obvious. So keep that in mind when flagging. I don't really know if the action of the mods in this instance is appropriate - but I also don't know what else they could do if I flagged 100 such comments everyday (which I could). @Later $\endgroup$ Jun 9 at 5:15
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Point of this answer: I wish to discuss a more fundamental idea, that is , on why people comment such ways.


I think the problem is that, at least culturally, mathematics stack exchange has evolved from a question and answer site into more of a community.

A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as norms, religion, values, customs, or identity. Communities may share a sense of place situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a country, village, town, or neighbourhood) or in virtual space through communication platforms.

And you see, when you have such a community, it's not just the question and answers but also the askers and answerers themselves which are valued. Hence, comments appreciating or depreciating an answer are expected. Since, we are of course people.

This may seem to some that it compromises stack exchange's advantage over other platforms such as discord, reddit , Facebook etc; I.e. that of focused Q&A. However, I'll say that it doesn't because the vetting process on stack exchange is that much stricter, proactive and transparent than the ones on any of the mentioned sites. I genuinely believe that it is not easy for someone to use mathematics stack exchange because of the difficulties of understanding the culture here, learning mathjax and having and keeping a learning attitude.

Finally, I do agree with the sentiment that there is a bit of a disconnect between the written rules and how the rules are applied in practice but I suppose that kind of exists in any place with rules.

A personal comment I'd like to say is that I highly appreciate how passionate you are about the site and I wish that there will be more people like you in the future who are able to write thoughtful criticisms and contemplate policy deeply for mathematics stack exchange.


Note: The above is simply how I view the situation, if you have criticisms on my views, I invite you to comment on it so that I can improve my views and answer here.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. Let me add two points here. First, I have no problem with that people comment to appreciate (or depreciate) others' contributions (I personally usually post such comments). However, the point here is that such comments should be removed after a while due to the comment policy, so I expect that when I flag such comments, one should not decline such flags. Second, my side point here is that when community moderators determine some norms, they should be written so that unaware members do not waste their time and energy on things opposing to such norms. $\endgroup$
    – Later
    Jun 14 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ Hi Later, I see where you are coming from. Now, if that's the case why not give users the ability to post self deleting comments, that should solve the issue. For the second point, for any system even in real life, there are some unsaid 'cultural' ideas. If you truly wish to change things and improve on the community, you can always participate and run for the moderator elections. However, to do that first you must acknowledge and respect the pre-existing culture of this site. $\endgroup$
    – Buraian
    Jun 14 at 15:37

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