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I've noticed a few usual suspects that seem to only use the site as a place to start arguments in comment threads.

I'm not really sure how to address the issue. I called one of them out directly for it, but that doesn't seem like a great way to handle the issue, because it adds more unrelated noisy comments.

I'd like to get people to stop using the site this way because it's... Well... Noisy and often rude, and it has an annoying way of derailing what could be calmer more focused Q&A into forum style fights.

Part of me wants to just say:

If this is the only reason you're here, then don't be here.

How can/should we deal with these users?

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  • @ab2 I suspect you may be right, but I was trying to get a solution to a more specific problem. We seem to have a few repeat offenders, who seem to exclusively use the site as a place to argue in comments.
    – apaul
    Nov 1 '17 at 3:00
  • I'm guilty of being a comment-only user on many sites. I actually ask and answer only on a few. But I hope I'm not a disruptive user to those communities because I don't think I've posted anything like that.
    – NVZ
    Nov 1 '17 at 5:56
  • What is the criteria for a "comment only user"? I often find myself leaving comments if I think an answer doesn't really make sense, or I can expand on/verify something. I'm more active in comments than questions/answers because there are generally good responses by the time I think of something worth posting. I get what you're saying, we don't need to start arguments in comments. That said; how do we determine what is "starting an argument" and what is "valid commentary on an answer". Don't forget, SE encourages you to leave a comment explaining downvotes.
    – JMac
    Nov 1 '17 at 10:46
  • @JMac a user who only uses the site to post argumentative comments doesn't have the rep to downvote, so these comments couldn't be users explaining downvotes. To clarify, these appear to be users who look for more controversial issue posts and pick arguments in comments exclusively.
    – apaul
    Nov 1 '17 at 14:43
  • @apaul The site lets you downvote still; and you can still explain why you don't think the answer works. If they are making valid points about the answer; I don't think it should matter what their rep is. If they aren't making valid points, it still shouldn't matter what the rep is. Comments that should be flagged, you should flag. I'm not sure how moderator tools/systems work here; but I get the feeling the mods would be able to see if someone has a lot of removed comments, and take action accordingly if they were a problem. I don't think we should be invalidating comments...
    – JMac
    Nov 1 '17 at 14:47
  • ... purely based on reputation or amount of answers/questions submitted. The content is what matters; not the status of the users posting the content. I'll probably convert this into an answer here actually.
    – JMac
    Nov 1 '17 at 14:48
  • @JMac I was pointing out that one earns the ability to downvote at 125 rep.
    – apaul
    Nov 1 '17 at 14:52
  • @apaul It still lets you downvote, it just doesn't record it in the score (it even has a blurb saying that the vote is still recorded somewhere).
    – JMac
    Nov 1 '17 at 15:10
  • The downvote is recorded but not displayed until the user earns 125 reputation points @Jmac. That means as a new user, all my votes will suddenly take effect on the vote count and reputation score of various users when I reach the magic figure of 125, which really takes only 3 upvotes on an answer or 5 upvotes on a question, but still not at all easy when we join a Stack Exchange site outside our expertise, as I found out on Writers.SE where my few votes are still waiting to take effect... Nov 2 '17 at 10:49
  • @EnglishStudent I don't think it works like that, or else you could get stuck in a loop. As soon as you gained enough rep for down votes to count, your down votes on answers could lower your score back down to make those votes not count; causing your score to go back up, making those votes count. That loop would go on forever (I'm not actually sure how the system handles down voting a answer when you have just 125 rep).
    – JMac
    Nov 2 '17 at 10:56
  • Good point @Jmac. I have 121 points on Writers.SE with just one answer + association bonus, and I cast 1 downvote which has been 'recorded but will not be publicly displayed' -- so if someone upvotes my answer once more I will know just how that works! I do suspect that if I am really particular I might have to downvote that post again after passing 125 reputation. It might also mean that a user needs to maintain an 'account' balance of 125 in order to cast any meaningful downvotes. In fact that's good because it is an incentive for new users to create constructive posts & earn reputation. Nov 2 '17 at 11:05
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There are two major possibilities for the user's behavior:

  1. They don't understand that Stack Exchange isn't a forum, and they don't totally understand how comments should be properly used.
  2. They know how to use comments but don't care.

It's always nicer to assume that the first reason is to blame - especially if the user doesn't have much experience on Stack Exchange as a whole. I like to assume good intent when possible. It's the more optimistic solution.

If you want to work on this assumption, you can direct the user to chat and try to educate them a bit about comments. Maybe you can give them some links (e.g. 1, 2) for further reading. This is one of those things chat can be great for: a third place to teach other users about the site and how it works. It's one of the advantages of having a third place.

The user should be able to use chat (needs 20 rep) if they have the ability to comment everywhere (needs 50 rep). If they don't have 20 rep on any Stack Exchange site, then you might not have the chat option. At that point, it's possible that you could condense the information into a comment. But chat really provides you with more flexibility here.

All that said, there's a chance that the behavior is really caused by the second reason, and that's when you hit trouble. The user might have a past you don't know about, or might have a long-standing pattern of this specific behavior. Maybe they don't, maybe they do. You don't really have a good way to tell.

If you think this is the case - or if the first approach fails - you might want to notify a mod via a flag (or a ping in chat, but flags are more private). Just say something along the lines of

Hey, [User X] has been really argumentative/is abusing comments. Can you maybe talk to them?

Some things to avoid:

  • Don't actively go out looking for users that have been problematic. Deal with issues as they come up, and don't take it upon yourself to deal with all the cases (not saying that you'd be inclined to do so).
  • If you don't think engaging directly is working, don't be afraid to step back and let someone else do it. Likewise, if you see someone trying to help a user and having problems, don't be afraid to step in, if need be.
  • Definitely don't get into arguments in comments over this (actually, avoid comments if at all possible). It risks defeating your point about not arguing in comments.

TL;DR: Take this on a case-by-case basis for now.

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    +1 generally good thoughts here, but I have a suspicion that these users generally know the system from other sites and don't have these issues there because they're more technical sites that don't offer a platform for their opinions about politics or social issues. Basically they do the usual SE thing on the usual SE sites, but because we're a little different here they abuse the system. Basically it looks like a bad case of point 2. I'll try flagging, but I'm thinking that having a canonical meta that we can drop a link to when we see this happening would be helpful.
    – apaul
    Nov 1 '17 at 3:14
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If a comment isn't appropriate, flag it.

I don't think there should be any need for us regular users to consider the reputation of the user when flagging the comments. If someone only feels like they can contribute by suggesting improvements or sharing concerns about answers, I don't see that as an issue in itself. They should be allowed to give that contribution.

If someone is constantly using comments to provoke arguments/debates about a topic, those comments should be flagged. Ideally a moderator will be able to deal with the situation better; but it would have to be on a case by case basis. There is no inherent reason that a user who doesn't answer is any more likely to do this than a user who does. It doesn't invalidate their opinions; which should be judged solely on their merit.

Users who use comments to start arguments should be reported to moderators, regardless if they do more than post comments.

Users who exclusively use comments haven't done anything wrong just by doing that; or else the SE network would already require more rep than the association bonus before you can comment.

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  • You are very right @Jmac to conclude that there is no necessary correlation between comments-only usage and starting of arguments in the comments section. "Users who use comments to start arguments should be reported to moderators, regardless if they do more than post comments." __ This is the most sensible answer to OP's question! Nov 2 '17 at 10:40
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I will define a comments-only user as someone who has been on the site for at least 2 months and never posted a question or answer on main or meta, but posted many comments in the meantime. They may have posted 1 or 2 answers that got deleted. Obviously their reputation score will be quite low or hover around the association bonus score of 100. That is not necessarily bad in my opinion if they are posting useful comments. I think OP is taking issue with only those comments-only users who are frequently picking non-constructive arguments in the comments section:

these users generally know the system from other sites and don't have these issues there because they're more technical sites that don't offer a platform for their opinions about politics or social issues.

Reading that section of your comment under an earlier answer here @apaul, I just got the "mind-flash" that any experienced SE member who has been participating for an extended period on IPS exclusively in comments section without posting any questions or answers here, probably has nothing constructive to contribute to Interpersonal Skills in the form of questions or answers -- especially since Q and A can be downvoted, unlike comments.

However, and as you know very well, it is quite legal by Stack Exchange rules to participate on an SE site exclusively in the comments section. So we can't do anything particular about them except encourage them to post questions and answers and not only post comments, as a reminder that their current behavior is not as useful as writing actual posts here.

In addition, any off-topic comments or unsavory arguments should be flagged as usual for moderator attention.

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  • I think it's a stretch to say commenting "isn't particularly useful"; especially in the context of interpersonal interactions. Knowing reasons why others disagree or agree with an answer can be beneficial to both the quality of answers and reassurance for others reading. I find there are a lot of situations where I agree/disagree with something; but there's no point writing a new answer because the majority of what I think is already covered in other answers (people are quick to come up with nice detailed responses here).
    – JMac
    Nov 1 '17 at 11:12
  • This answer does not apply to a member like you @JMac because in addition to writing many constructive comments, you have contributed genuine posts here and the community has acknowledged it with upvotes worth a significant number of reputation points. OP and myself are referring to users who never post Q or A and exclusively engage in arguments in the comments section. However I have edited that sentence to "as a reminder that their current behavior is not as useful as writing actual posts here" -- thanks for your feedback and also your comments on my other posts @JMac! Nov 1 '17 at 11:21
  • I'm just saying, I think we need to more clearly distinguish between "comment only users" and people who are genuinely just trying to start fires. This question and associated answers seem to be suggesting that "comment only" users are always problematic. I find this is a really "fast-moving" site where a lot of the more active members are really good at writing detailed answers quickly. It's hard (and IMO not very productive) to write a new answer when most of what you think is detailed in other answers.
    – JMac
    Nov 1 '17 at 11:24
  • You are right @JMac. I will define a comments only user as someone who has been on the site for at least 2 months and never posted a question or answer on main or meta, but posted many comments in the meantime. That is not necessarily bad in my opinion. OP is taking issue with those comments only users who are frequently picking non-constructive arguments in the comments section. I have now edited this comment into the top of my answer. Thanks again for helping me improve my answer here! Nov 1 '17 at 11:28
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apaul you've finally done it, finally gotten me to admit that there might, possibly, somehow, somewhere be a reason to delete a comment...

Specifically, these derailing, argumentative comments violate site policy. So they may be deleted. This would tend to make that sort of tomfoolery a lot less fun.

Of course, this would be on a comment or comment-chain basis, not by user.

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    Comments are and always have been deletable by design. If people have something worthwhile to say they should be posting answers or taking their concerns to meta. When a comment amounts to "I don't like this answer because..." they really should be posting a competing answer rather than commenting.
    – apaul
    Nov 1 '17 at 3:28
  • I was tempted to upvote for the use of the word "tomfoolery", but I just couldn't justify it in context.
    – apaul
    Nov 1 '17 at 4:27
  • @apaul Hold the phone. Are you saying that if an answer seems inappropriate, that we shouldn't explain downvotes in comments if it's not immediately obvious why we are voting down or have some concerns about what is said? "I don't like this answer because..." is an opinion based format, but "This might not work because..." or "I wouldn't suggest this because..." is a valid comment IMO. People don't have to have another viable solution to see that a different solution is bad, so they can't post objections to a different answer as it's own answer.
    – JMac
    Nov 1 '17 at 10:40
  • @apaul I was hoping that "tomfoolery" would give me that edge, but... ;D Anyway. I am simply suggesting that bad/nasty/trolling comments be deleted. Further I must disagree with your comment's premise; I think you should challenge an answer in comments, so answerer has a chance to update his answer to mitigate your concern.
    – akaioi
    Nov 1 '17 at 15:51

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