Suppose a participant writes a rude or hurtful comment, and a flag is raised, and it's removed. As far as I can tell, nothing gets communicated to the participant -- the comment just quietly disappears, with nothing else happening. Sometimes the commenter comes back to that page, and figures things out -- but he might not.

I don't understand how this helps the commenter learn from the mistake.

We can all make mistakes; hopefully at some point we start to learn from them. But the commenter might not even notice that the comment was removed.

Is this a flaw in the system? Or is there more to the system than I've figured out?


Would it be reasonable for me to post a comment, at the same time as making a flag, saying something like

@you (whoever it happens to be) - What an unfriendly comment. Just so you know, I have raised a flag.

Another edit:

Do the moderators here in fact use the medium of a private chat, as described by @NVZ, to help them understand? In the case I observed, the comments were simply deleted with no explanation, leaving the person whose comments had been flagged wondering, "What the heck? What happened to my comments?"

What procedures are recommended to moderators by the SE organization around this topic?

  • IMO this question is better suited to StackExchange meta, you might get buried by an avalanche of downvotes, they're very opinionated lot down there, but at the same time you should get immediate replies, in the form of answers or comments. – Mari-Lou A May 27 '17 at 5:50
  • @Mari-LouA Asking on MSE is good because this question is applicable for all sites, but then again, it's also highly encouraged to ask on any meta site the user is familiar with, and then use the feedback there to make a better informed post on MSE, where there is actual reputation and stuff. – NVZ May 27 '17 at 7:31
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    In my early months on SE, I got involved in a few "comments wars", and I decided life was too short to exchange anything but the most constructive comments. In your comment to the wise answer of @NVZ you gave the example of an unresponsive high-rep user "who should have figured out why his comments were disappearing." That says it all; he should have figured it out, and if he won't, we should leave it to the mods to straighten him out, if that is even possible. There aren't many such incidents, and dealing with them is why we pay the mods so much. :) – ab2 May 28 '17 at 1:57
  • @ab2 - Ha ha. Well, I've learned the hard way to be super polite, and resist most attempts to be funny, at the expense of appearing to be a stick-in-the-mud. And to apologize if someone (unfairly in my opinion) says I'm being aggressive (that happens on Academia sometimes). Those two things usually do the trick to keep things pretty civilized. But in that one incident at ELU, things did get very strange. So here's my question for you: if the strange person sincerely seems to be scratching his head (why are my comments disappearing?), is it bad form to explain to him why they disappeared? – aparente001 May 28 '17 at 2:34
  • @ab2 - Also, I don't see how having a comment removed, without noticing, helps guide participants' behavior. I once had a comment removed (because it had been flagged), and I almost didn't notice. Who knows? Maybe I've had other comments removed, and didn't notice! How would I learn from my mistake, in that case? I just don't get how the system is supposed to work. – aparente001 May 28 '17 at 2:37
  • You said it was a high-rep user. I've seen a (very) few such examples too, with high-rep users. They get in a state because some poor soul has done something which they find infuriating (will these people never learn ?) and they are immune to reason. You and I will never get through. The mods know them and have a chance of getting through. As for such behavior from a low and medium rep users, they come and they go. If they are around long enough for a pattern to develop, the mods will handle it -- warnings, then suspensions, then longer. suspensions. – ab2 May 28 '17 at 8:35
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    Think of it as road rage. Just drop back and let the enraged driver go ahead. Honking your horn, flashing your lights, do none of that. None of that will work. Let the police (read mods) get him: that is how the system is supposed to work. – ab2 May 28 '17 at 8:38
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    There is no point in facing an angry bull, just give it way, let it pass, enjoy the rest of your day. :) – NVZ May 28 '17 at 11:15

From my perspective, moderation is only indirectly about teaching people to become good citizens. The goal should be to foster an environment where folks feel free to participate and can enjoy the site. Publicly reprimanding someone is rarely a good way to accomplish that (sometimes it is called for, but not often). If someone just had a bad day or chose their words poorly, making a big deal out of it doesn't help. If someone is malicious, making a big deal out of it actually rewards them with the attention and drama they were hoping for and keeps the negative tone going.

It's the community, for the most part, that teaches people what sort of behavior is appropriate for the site by modeling that behavior, leaving constructive comments for new users explaining how the site works and what the community standards are, voting, reviewing, editing, and raising flags.

Flagging does make a difference, even if you don't see the person who left the comment getting reprimanded. All of the flags raised on someone's content are associated with their profile, so the next time something draws the attention of the moderation team, the mods can see whether the behavior is a one time thing or there's a recurring problem that requires more intervention.

As others have already said, it's best to flag it, get on with your day and trust your moderation team to handle it. Engaging with someone who's stirring the pot just makes the problem bigger and harder to clean up. The ideal situation is that the disruption just stops without most of the community even noticing it happened. Your moderation team worries about "repeat offenders" so that you don't have to. If the workload gets too heavy, then it's time to elect additional moderators instead of the community trying to tackle issues they don't have the tools to solve effectively.

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    +1 Straight from a moderator, this answer is perfect. – NVZ May 29 '17 at 13:58
  • I think I get it, thank you. Let me try to put it into my own words. The moderators want the community to help, but not to the extent of explaining why a comment disappeared (I hope I may take your answer to reflect the moderator preferences on this site, in addition to the sister site you moderate -- ELL); in a situation such as the one I described, it would be better not to explain, and just leave the participant confused, because the alternative might inflame things further; in the long run, accumulated successful flags will taint the participant's record, and moderators will... – aparente001 May 29 '17 at 17:28
  • ...address large problems behind the scenes. Did I understand you right? // I don't find this answer satisfying, however. Someone who's just not getting it, i.e. is not noticing that his comments were deleted due to flags, or who isn't figuring out why his comments were deleted, could end up with enough accumulated demerits that he might get suspended, without having been taught what was problematic and what would be a better alternative, before things get to the suspension point. Getting suspended is very unpleasant go go through and is not conducive to learning to use the target behaviors. – aparente001 May 29 '17 at 17:31
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    @aparente001 The people who say they are confused about why their comments are disappearing are usually just trying to gin up some drama. If you don't trust your moderation team to do the right thing, I can't change that. Do you really believe that someone repeatedly posting comments that are so offensive that they get flagged over and over doesn't know why their comments are disappearing? Or that your moderation team would suspend someone without first trying to resolve the issue another way? I wouldn't presume to speak for the EL&U team, but I don't think they would do that. – ColleenV May 29 '17 at 19:52
  • @ColleenV - Your first sentence is very helpful. I need to learn not to assume that not everything someone writes should necessarily be taken at face value. // Just to clarify, the thing I flagged the person for wasn't outrageous. // I don't have any reason to be unhappy with the ELU moderators. But when the flagged comments disappeared with no explanation given to the commenter, I did start to wonder, well, how is this whole thing supposed to work, anyway? – aparente001 May 30 '17 at 2:32
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    @aparente001 the whole thing is supposed to work "without anyone noticing that some moderator action was taken". Moderators regularly purge comment threads where a pointless debate or whatever takes place. At some point, those users will stop doing it. That's it. If things escalate, moderator can privately chat and warn the abusive user. In short, you do just the flagging, and leave the comments section if you notice abusive users. There's a famous line, "don't feed the trolls", where feeding the troll means responding to the abusive user. Just don't. – NVZ May 30 '17 at 3:01
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    @aparente001 moderators can send warning messages before suspending if the problem seems closer to the "user oblivious to the effect he's having" end of the spectrum. The goal is to fix the behavior, not punish, so if mods can do that by having a private word with the user and without needing to suspend (which is more public), then great! If the problem is more blatant (clear trolling, for example, or too persistent to be an accident), or the gentler approach didn't work, then suspension is still an option. I'm not speaking for EL&U mods, of course. – Monica Cellio Jun 27 '17 at 12:59

Use comments to criticise posts, not users.

Publicly advising a person can most likely upset them, and the issue is only magnified in the case of online text only exchanges where you do not show your face or body language.

If you come across comments that are rude or abusive, just flag them and move on.

If there are just one or two isolated incidents, just the flags will be enough to remove the comments.

If the user is continuously posting inflammatory comments, enough flags will bring it to a moderators attention. Or simply custom flag the containing post and explain to a moderator what you have observed in the comments section.

Moderators will first remove abusive comments. Next, they'll warn the abusive user in private. Later, if the user ignores the warnings, moderators will suspend the user (the suspension duration may depend on the seriousness of the issue).

Again, I do not support publicly criticising a user even if you think you are being as polite as a Disney princess.

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    I guess you don't like a certain musician? Or maybe autocorrect has decided that for you. – Andrew Leach May 27 '17 at 9:04
  • What I saw happen was as follows (as I don't know the gender, I'll use the masculine for convenience): Participant X wrote a slightly nasty comment; I flagged it; X continued in the same vein, but complained that his comment had disappeared; I flagged again; all of X's whole chain of comments disappeared; X complained again. But X had a high rep and should have figured out why his comments were disappearing. The whole thing felt as though Scotty had beamed some characters up to the ship, leaving poor X on the planet's surface, apparently not knowing that the other ... – aparente001 May 27 '17 at 20:21
  • ... characters were extraterrestrials who had this extraordinary ability to just vanish into thin air. I would like to hear from the moderators. My question is, how much should be up to the flagger to do, and how much can the flagger expect the moderators to do? Obviously, the moderators can't do everything -- this is a high traffic site. My real question is: How much of the lifting do the moderators want the community to do on this site? – aparente001 May 27 '17 at 20:22
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    @aparente001 How much of the lifting do the moderators want the community to do on this site?, you ask. I say, not more than what's available to you in the review queues. Use them, clean up the site often. That is all that is required. And simply be nice and welcoming to everyone you come across. Do not engage in the comments until a polite exit is clear. :) – NVZ May 28 '17 at 11:17
  • How about making up a scenario, in your answer, to show what that looks like? (Do not engage in the comments until a polite exit is clear.) // Do you have any evidence that the moderators talk to abusive participants in a private chat, or might that be wishful thinking? – aparente001 May 28 '17 at 13:43
  • @aparente001 They do talk in private chat. NVZ is right. Our job is to flag so things get on the review queues, volunteer on the review queues, and, in the rare cases where someone really steps over the line, bring unacceptable behavior to the attention of a mod. I don't know what ".....until a polite exit is clear" means either. I'd just say: don't engage at all; flag and move on. – ab2 May 28 '17 at 14:19
  • @ab2 - May I ask how you know? The case I saw suggested that that was not happening, and the time I discovered by accident that someone had made a helpful flag about a comment of mine, the comment simply disappeared without a trace or explanation. My impression is that moderators don't have time to do more than wipe the slate clean. – aparente001 May 28 '17 at 14:38
  • @aparente001 Somewhere in the semi-infinite number of Meta discussions there have been several discussions about some unacceptable behavior (which I do not have time to search for), with a mod saying something about a private chat with the offender. I doubt this happens every time a mod deletes a comment. Chats are probably about repeated unacceptable behavior. I think only a mod can give you an answer that you will find more satisfactory than NVZ's answer and my comments, so I will disengage. – ab2 May 28 '17 at 14:49
  • @ab2 - That was very helpful, thank you. // I do hope some moderator(s) respond as well; I'd really like to know what they would find helpful from the community, to support their work. – aparente001 May 28 '17 at 14:50
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    @aparente001 I have had private chats with moderators, a few times. (It was not a discussion about me, btw). Just custom flag some post if there's a serious matter, and ask for a private chat, briefly explaining what you need to talk about. – NVZ May 28 '17 at 14:58
  • @aparente001 similar post from another site. A comment there asked me to come here and comment, but Colleen's answer covers it already so I'll just link to that. – Monica Cellio Jun 27 '17 at 13:03
  • @MonicaCellio - The similar post from another site was quite helpful, especially "don't call out the user in a way that could escalate" and the rest of that paragraph. I will attempt an answer now. – aparente001 Jun 27 '17 at 17:31

I want to attempt an answer to part of the question, now that I've had the chance to read all the constructive answers and comments here.

Question: Would it be reasonable for me to post a comment, at the same time as making a flag, saying something like

@participant - What an unfriendly comment. Just so you know, I have raised a flag.

Lots of helpful things have been posted here, but what helped me the most was a post made in another SE site by Monica Cellio:

If you think you can offer gentle, careful, non-confrontational guidance, you can try that, but remember that you're doing it in public. If the other user doesn't take it well, it's best to back off. [...] Please don't call out the user in a way that could escalate.

I also learned from Monica's post:

If you want moderators to be able to respond to your message, flag a post -- for comment flags our only options are to delete the comment or dismiss the flag (no other feedback is possible).

In the strange case that sparked my question, the rude commenter escalated in response to mysterious comment deletion. So I think, if I had it to do over again, I would like to try the following:

@participant - May I suggest you review the Be nice guidelines?

I don't like the idea of saying nothing, because then the might not realize that his comment was removed, or why.

  • Although it apparently goes counter to 'site policy' I would like to see a committed and sincere member, whether junior or senior, actually have the conviction to tell somebody right out in comments (as you suggest here) that @user12345678 may I respectfully suggest your comment is rude/abusive/inappropriate -- please read the be nice policy [add link] and word your comments accordingly. In fact I read in a recent thread where a rather new member frankly criticised a habitually rude user and advised them that their comment was needlessly aggressive, adding that it was not at all appreciated. – English Student Jun 28 '17 at 16:24
  • Note 2: I am well aware that it is generally better not to criticize somebody's rudeness in public -- just flag it and leave it to the discreet handling of the moderators (as explained eloquently by NVZ and Colleen V) but the general level of contentiousness and borderline intolerance in comments here is already such, that a frank but constructive public criticism from a concerned member is OK, IMHO [nothing being private @ELU, which I like] as long as we'd stop with the one reminder and never engage in a war of words or even an initially apparently reasonable discussion with the rude user. – English Student Jun 28 '17 at 16:32
  • @EnglishStudent - I got a bit confused reading your comment (not your fault -- I am not at my best today). Bottom line, if you take as given that I do want to say something in the situation I experienced, is the new proposal better (May I suggest etc.) than the original (What an unfriendly comment etc.)? With the understanding that if the person gets more upset, I would just leave it at that, and not dig myself in deeper? I'd be glad of the feedback because I value your opinion. – aparente001 Jun 28 '17 at 20:04
  • Thank you! Yes; this isn't 'site policy' but you can post a neutral 'may I suggest you read the be nice policy [link to]' OR an explicit 'this comment is rude/ offensive/ inappropriate -- please read the be nice policy and word your comments accordingly' so that the member gets feedback that their language is not acceptable: then disengage -- I shouldnt respond to any inflammatory comment from the user, but equally ignore their disingenuous 'requests for clarificarion' which'd only be a screen for a sucker punch! I appreciate the new member who told off the habitually rude user yest'day. – English Student Jun 28 '17 at 21:29
  • @EnglishStudent - Would like to see that. Can you give me a link? // Thanks for clarifying. // When someone doesn't seem to understand, it is tempting to assume the person is being disingenuous -- but that isn't always the case. I know sometimes I am rather dense, without intending to be. – aparente001 Jun 29 '17 at 3:43
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    When a rude user seems not to understand your very explicit comment, it's definitely time to think 'disingenuous'! You should not try to explain further why their comments are not nice. This is how a wicked user will pull you into a 'discussion' and then start a war of words. As to the excellent recent example of a new member who gave a habitually rude user a plain rebuke, I remember it was very much like 'do you always need to be so aggressive? I saw your comment about user1234 & I just don't like it.' I could not find the link later because both users seem to have deleted their comments. – English Student Jun 29 '17 at 6:45
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    While I'm glad you found the similar post helpful, I still don't support the idea of regular users publicly advising others to 'be nice'. That's not what comments are for. Use comments to criticise posts, not users. Asking users to be nice is a moderator's job. – NVZ Jun 30 '17 at 10:25
  • I strongly support @NVZ 's idea of focusing on the content and not the person. Be Nice! is not nearly as constructive as pointing out why what they wrote seemed rude to you, e.g. "Using iggly plop to describe a person is extremely offensive in certain regions. Maybe plimsy oop would be better." If a post is obviously intended to be rude, let a moderator handle it. Members should help other members, not chastise them. – ColleenV Jun 30 '17 at 15:08

I suppose OP aparente001 wants to know why a user whose post (question/ answer/ comment) was removed due to flagging should not be sent an automated message or manual explanatory message of warning [from a moderator] such as

your comment [quote comment] posted on this question [link to Q] at 6pm on 33/13/99 was deleted after a flag was raised regarding its inappropriate content. Kindly avoid posting comments that are derogatory, inflammatory or abusive. Please read the site guidelines [link to be nice policy] for more details.

I agree with OP that such a message might be sent to the commenter who was disciplined, without making it visible to the community. It might be even sent 2 days after deleting the comment, if the intention is to avoid an escalation of unpleasantness. This type of feedback would help an inadvertently aggressive user to modify his/her posts to conform to community expectations of politeness.

However I am sure an intentionally malicious person would not learn anything from such feedback, in which case all the 'disciplinary due process' involving moderators mentioned above would be needed to take care of the problem.

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    IMHO, this is not constructive. Our aim is to hope that abusive behavior stops on its own. Intervention in any sort is only going to prolong the matter. But, for users who repeatedly abuse their privileges, a moderator will warn them, in a private "moderator message" of course. – NVZ Jun 4 '17 at 18:28
  • @NVZ In that case I should only hope that the second or third infringement itself attracts a stern moderator message! – English Student Jun 4 '17 at 18:39
  • Yes, that is exactly what I was getting at. I like your proposed text (but would not actually call it 'stern'). I take Colleen's point that the moderators' job is not primarily to teach better internet behavior. But it seems to me that their job can be made easier if some teaching occurs, at occasional, well chosen moments. What I see right now is moderators expecting participants to read their minds. I for one was not able to do so, and discovered my mistake entirely by accident. – aparente001 Jun 4 '17 at 18:54
  • @aparente001 If I had written something unknowingly aggressive and got flagged, and then received that kind of programmed / manual message, I would learn an instant lesson and be very careful to be a paragon of politeness ever after! So it would be helpful to all right-minded people whose comments became too forward by mistake. But as I noted above, it would probably not deter or reform a truly malicious individual! – English Student Jun 4 '17 at 19:08
  • ELU is not broken in the way the OP of this question suggested it might be. Let's not create a solution for a problem that does not exist. We have occasional episodes that are handled well by flagging and mods; we don't need a universal solution that might create more problems than it solves. Who is going to take kindly to being rebuked by an automated message? If rebuking is needed, let's have it done by a person elected by the community to do it: a moderator. – ab2 Jun 4 '17 at 19:24
  • @ab2 as I said, an automated or manual message (from a moderator, I should have added -- now edited the answer to specify.) – English Student Jun 4 '17 at 19:26
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    I think we should let this drop. Colleen V, who is a moderator on ELL, gave what I at least think is a definitive answer. I repeat that I think this whole discussion is a search for a solution to a problem that does not exist. – ab2 Jun 4 '17 at 19:34
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    @ab2 with the experience of being a moderator, Colleen V is certainly the expert here! – English Student Jun 4 '17 at 19:36
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    Just because you can't see the intervention doesn't mean that it's not happening. I know of multiple conversations with community members on ELL where the member and some of the moderation team discussed the number of flags on their content and what could be done to improve the situation. This is exactly why sites have a team of human moderators instead of just rules and algorithms; an algorithm can't tell whether the problem is because of a misunderstanding or maliciousness, or work with someone to find ways to help them not get so many flags on their posts. – ColleenV Jun 4 '17 at 20:40
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    @ColleenV thanks a lot for explaining something that is never known by the ordinary member. In fact I had a very positive experience the only time I needed to flag something for moderator attention: a user had made reckless allegations about my nationality and credibility. Within 10 minutes of my flagging, his nonsense answer was removed 'quietly' by some kind moderator and nobody the wiser! That sort of response greatly increases the perception of the website's fairness, responsibility and integrity in the minds of the new users. – English Student Jun 4 '17 at 20:45
  • @EnglishStudent Those allegations, so terrible. Your English, impeccable. You're Indian? It doesn't show! :) – NVZ Jun 5 '17 at 7:24
  • @NVZ it is sad but true (ironic). I am 38 in August and have been reading English from the age of 4. I WAS FORTUNATE to be educated in English medium schools that also encouraged reading. My mother instilled in me a love of fiction by introducing me to children's books very early. I started 'voraciously' reading regular adult-level popular novels by the age of 12, and never looked back. I still read average 36 novels a year covering the whole spectrum of fiction, and ended up accused by a Indian of bring British! Such is the fate of a true English Student. I love sarcasm, irony and paradox. – English Student Jun 5 '17 at 7:59

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