Recently, I saw someone make the same comment on every answer to a question. In isolation, the comments were in my opinion reasonable, but collectively, they suggested a broader issue. Specifically, either:

  • The commenter correctly identified a problem with every answer, which implies the question is somehow encouraging people to post bad answers (perhaps because the average person does not have direct personal experience with polyamory?). This should be discussed on Meta, so that the problem can be more fully studied and resolved.
  • The commenter incorrectly identified a problem with every answer. The comments are noise and should be removed.

So I flagged one of them for moderator attention, specifically noted that the comment had been made on every answer, and suggested that it was unconstructive and perhaps should be taken to meta. This flag was declined. Additionally, the commenter now appears to have gotten into a comment argument with one of the answerers, but I'm not going to flag it a second time given that my previous flag was apparently erroneous.

Why was this flag declined? What should I have done instead of flagging?


4 Answers 4


Why was this flag declined?

I was not the moderator that handled your flag, but I can see why it was declined. This is a case of nr. 1: the commenter directly identified a problem with every answer. We love answers that include back-up, be that personal experience or sources. This has been discussed on meta several times, most recently here.

Mass comments might not always be the most useful and personal touch you can use on this site. Sometimes a personalized approach feels nicer, and leaves more room to pointing out more specific parts of a post you'd like to see clarified/improved. But if there are many answers to a question, and none of them are backed up with experience or sources, then yes, a mass comment is probably going to save you a lot of time. They're not forbidden, as long as they are actually suggesting an improvement or asking for more clarification, and are nice when doing that. (So no mass comments saying: 'You idiot, you forgot the backup. Add it or I'll kill this post with fire').

What should I have done instead of flagging?

If you see comments that are clearly asking for clarification or suggesting improvements, feel free to upvote them instead of flagging. We really could use the help in getting across the message that this site isn't for opinions, but for answers that are based on experience or sources.

Additionally, the commenter now appears to have gotten into a comment argument with one of the answerers, but I'm not going to flag it a second time given that my previous flag was apparently erroneous.

Asking for back-up is one thing, but arguing about the validity of an answer isn't so great. Once you see comments that are no longer asking for clarification or suggesting improvements, you can safely flag them as 'no longer needed'. There's no need for a custom moderator flag, just use the standard flag.

Here is a meta-answer written by another moderator, which does a very good job of explaining the difference between a comment that does point out bad advice (but written in a non-constructive way) and a comment that does a good job of asking for an explanation.

  • "If you see comments that are clearly asking for clarification or suggesting improvements, feel free to upvote them instead of flagging." - That's... not exactly an answer to the question I asked. What should I do about comments which have been posted to so many different answers that the answerers are likely to just ignore them regardless of upvotes?
    – Kevin
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 23:56
  • that the answerers are likely to just ignore them regardless of upvotes? > There isn't much that you can do then, but for comments asking for back-up, we're working on a process of handling those here. Basically, if the comment gets ignored regardless of upvotes, we need some way to take further steps to ensure answer quality on this site. This may be flagging the post for deletion (Very Low Quality, or Not An Answer), or putting up a post notice pointing out that that answer needs back-up.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 9:37
  • @Kevin probably a lot of those answerers aren't even reading the comments on the other answers, so it might not matter. And voting up comments definitely does convince people to listen to them at least some of the time.
    – Kat
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 6:12

Since I'm not a moderator I cannot comment on the specifics about why your flag was declined.

We haven't had a problem with mass comments like the one you are describing. I don't think it's necessary at this time for us to create a policy either. Existing policies should be enough to manage such actions. If a comment isn't requesting clarification or suggesting an improvement it should be flagged as no longer needed. If there is a user being actively disruptive you can always flag one of their posts for moderator attention, and clearly explain what the problem is to them.

On this site we have an expectation that answers are more substantial and are backed up by supporting arguments or personal experience. It is entirely appropriate to suggest people improve their answers by editing them to add supporting arguments or relevant experience. Many of the comments that were left were when taken individually entirely appropriate. There are plenty of situations where similar to identical comments are left on posts, such as when welcoming new users or asking people to edit their answers to be more than just telling the OP to do the thing. There is nothing inherently problematic about leaving identical comments on a bunch of posts provided that they are relevant to the post.

It's incredibly reductive to assume that there was either a problem with every post or there was a problem with none of the posts. What's more likely is that enough of the answers exhibited the same issue, a pattern was noticed and they got overzealous with the comments.


There's nothing wrong with asking answers to "back it up" this has been discussed to death on meta. Please do not flag comments asking for answers to be supported.

I made the comments because it looked like a pattern was repeating itself...

It's something that I've been becoming growingly concerned about, particularly when it comes to niche subjects where the majority of people probably don't have direct experience. Namely that people tend to write answers to questions that they don't really know the answers to, don't know that they don't know, and then are voted to the top by all the other folks who don't know.

These take a lot of forms, but the most common tend to be "this seems like common sense to me", but they don't seem to realize that their version of common sense may not fit the less common circumstances of the question being asked.

Having had experience with the situation being asked about in the question, it was fairly easy to spot some of the more obvious problems with some of the answers, and it felt fairly obvious that some of these were most likely written by people who didn't know that they didn't know.

What are you basing this answer on? Do you have any relevant experience? Have you actually done this before?

Seemed like a good way to get people to back up what they were asserting as answers to the question. Or at the very least help future readers evaluate whether these answers were speculative, based on reasonable theory, based on related experience, or based in actual practice.

In a couple of cases I suspected that answerers did have direct experience, but it wasn't stated in the answer, so I thought that the same comment applied.

Admittedly I tend to place a little more value on answers based on actual experience and practice. "I've been there and done this" sounds better, to me, than "I've never been in that situation, nor do I know anyone who has, but I think this is how this works"

  • 7
    Ironically, your justification doesn't make much sense for this topic, though. The question is about making "common" people not feel awkward about an uncommon situation. Strictly speaking, an answer from a common person would be exactly what you would want, correct? In fact, people clueless on polyamory would be the perfect sources for the answer to the linked question. For example, if I wanted to know how to make you feel more comfortable, the best answer would be from you, although people who have been in my situation would be second.
    – Clay07g
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 21:02
  • @Clay07g Perhaps if they'd been on the receiving end of such a conversation, on more than one occasion?
    – apaul
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 21:05
  • @apaul I mean, yeah, that would be a good source, because they would at least have a concrete example of what did or did not work. Honestly, I can't imagine many people who would be unable to give input to the question. Perhaps maybe if polyamory has been normalized to them before they could imagine themselves in such a situation?
    – Clay07g
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 21:23
  • @apaul I think this raises an interesting issue. Maybe you should make a meta post on dealing with questions that are too niche to receive unbiased answers and votes. I've seen questions with this problem (sorry, not the linked one, in my opinion).
    – Clay07g
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 21:25
  • 10
    Note that several people seem to have interpreted the "actually" as a passive-aggressive insinuation. People don't like being told that they are wrong, but they really hate condescension, real or perceived. Something like "Please back up your answer [meta link]," would probably be better received.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 21:45
  • @Clay07g so... How would the "common person" be aware enough of the considerations required/expected from within a poly relationship? Chances are they wouldn't, as demonstrated by many of the answers there. Someone with knowledge of polyamory probably would, and given that this is an incredibly common experience for polyamorous people, most have developed a method of dealing with it. Answers from people without any knowledge of the subject are generally not going to be helpful, because they don't know what they don't know.
    – apaul
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 16:07
  • It's similar to hetero people saying that the solution to trans/homophobia is for LGBT+ folks to stay in the closet or stop being LGBT+ entirely. Probably sounds just fine to people who are that tone deaf, but it's really not helpful for LGBT+ people. @Clay07g
    – apaul
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 16:12
  • 1
    FWIW the reason I left my comment on that one post was because after your initial comment, the answerer had explained their "backup" as requested and from that point it seemed like you were just complaining that you didn't like that. At which point, it's been pretty clear on meta there's no point continuing to comment and argue about it when the user isn't interested in changing their answer.
    – Em C
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:20
  • @EmC I probably got a little carried away on the top scoring answer... But honestly wasn't about getting them to change the answer, it was about pointing out a giant flaw in the answer, and where that giant flaw came from.
    – apaul
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:55

It's not OK to leave the same challenging comment on every answer with the purpose of expressing disagreement

I flagged the same mildly rude, inappropriate and challenging behavior and I got declined as well. We can only guess the specific reason in this case, but you probably already noticed that, here on IPS, flags related to users above 10k are rarely, if ever, considered.

The commenter incorrectly identified a problem with every answer. The comments are noise and should be removed.

This is definitely the case. Maybe not "noise", but surely in violation of the "Be nice" policy. It shows one instance where a user did not leave the comments to actually suggest some improvements, but instead chose to challenge every single answerer he disagrees with.

This is not the right way to do so. Especially since the same user provided much more useful guidance here on Meta:

Your disagreement doesn't make the answer a straw man, or a political rant, it's still just an answer that you happen to personally disagree with. [...] Trying to argue someone into changing their answer into what you personally think the answer ought to be is just a huge waste of time and, more often than not, leads to arguing in circles.

This is a stunning answer and one I very much agree with. Given that this guidance is actually very good, I would suggest that people follow it (especially the very same author of the post).

the commenter now appears to have gotten into a comment argument with one of the answerers

In Italian we call this to preach well and to poke around badly, meaning you say something and then you go on doing something else.

That's what happened here. As far as the rules are on SE, we are all required to respect other users and the "be nice" policy. Even if some 10k+ users sometimes forget, or even if occasionally some mods think their status provides special privileges for avoiding the policy.

  • Note that I wasn't trying to get anyone to change their answer. I was pointing out that many of the answers weren't supported, and that that some were written based on speculation rather than experience with the subject, or research.
    – apaul
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 16:41
  • The other meta answer you pointed to was written about a very different situation.
    – apaul
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 16:43
  • Also... What part of the be nice policy was violated?
    – apaul
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 16:43
  • @apaul bullet point #2: "Be welcoming, be patient, and assume good intentions". Assuming people are a bunch of ignorants that should not leave answers is a violation of this rule. Bullet point #3, first sub-bullet: "Name-calling. Focus on the post, not the person. That includes terms that feel personal even when they're applied to posts (like "lazy", "ignorant", or "whiny")." Commented May 20, 2018 at 18:55
  • @apaul look, in the past I have enjoyed and upvoted several of your posts, but the level of vitriol and hostility that you are lately putting towards anyone you don't agree with is starting to become quite toxic. Commented May 20, 2018 at 18:57
  • I didn't call anyone names, and while I noticed that some didn't know the subject, I didn't assume that they answered out of malice. Seems like people read a whole lot into very simple comments...
    – apaul
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:00
  • 3
    @AndreaLazzarotto It's been pretty common, since the beginning of this site, to ask answerers where their answer is coming from. That's not 'not nice', it's helping this site reach enough quality to get out of beta phase. Also, I have personally flagged stuff of 10k+ users (and been flagged) and that stuff was approved, so I tend to disagree with your premise that repuation gives people room for fooling around. If anything, it puts their every action up for more scrutiny...
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:03
  • @Tinkeringbell I think this thread is a prime example of every action being up for more scrutiny...
    – apaul
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:08
  • 1
    @apaul you asked here on meta if there is a problem about people that "don't know" the answers. I am not an English scholar but this pretty much means "I am assuming these guys are ignorant, they should not answer". Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:10
  • @apaul, Ah well, I learned that the hard way too :P
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:10
  • @Tinkeringbell there is a fundamental difference between genuinely asking for some more background info and leaving the exact same challenging comment to anyone else, because you are assuming all answerers don't have a clue about what they are writing and you don't like the answers. I know you do the mod work in an excellent way and I always appreciate that. I can't say the same for all the other mods, though. Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:12
  • 1
    @AndreaLazzarotto not so much :-) Have you ever read Good subjective, bad subjective? It explains why a site like Interpersonal Skills is even allowed to exist on the StackExchange Network: Because people believe there is some value to sharing not only research, but also maybe a bit of experience, just like Workplace/Parenting does.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:13
  • 1
    But this does mean that we must be weary this doesn't turn into a place where people can just give their opinions on everything, just say 'This is the best solution' without providing more than their opinion on why it's the best. Because with only logic/'common sense' etc., there's no way to differ it from your opinion.. so it's best to back it up :-)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:13
  • @Tinkeringbell OK, I give up. It seems my English level is not good enough to get my point clear. As I read from your replies it was not understood therefore it must be that I was not able to express it sufficiently clearly. Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:17
  • 1
    leaving the exact same challenging comment to anyone else > Well, I've certainly done that too, leaving comments asking for more explanation on more than 1 answer. I use autocomments, because it allows me to moderate a little quicker (no need to fetch all those links and markdown every time). I do however get the impression that this was a matter of how the comment was worded?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 19:18

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