There is, I feel, a problem user whose participation in this site is pretty appalling. They use the comments to lob out weak, critical remarks that aren't entirely rude/abusive nor off-topic, but show some disdain toward users on the basis of not being relevant to their interests.

I know that I and some other frequent users (esp. the site mods) occasionally drop comments like these when a question or answer is truly impenetrable. I make that assessment on the basis of my gut, but also on a lack of attention (low views, no answers, no comments). This user (unnamed) has no problem saying, e.g. "This is a meandering nonsensical question/answer" when there is clearly active, vibrant participation, upvotes, and so on.

It draws out a concerning point that comments are a rather tall soapbox for people whose stupid opinions would otherwise be shouted down into the ether (via downvotes).

  1. Is this kind of behavior kosher or flag for moderation?
  2. If the behavior is kosher, is it kosher to respond in kind and say [in effect] "Just because you don't get it doesn't mean it's everyone else's problem." or such?
  3. Would a comment downvote button be a good way to encourage better discussion?
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    $\begingroup$ I understood the title (and the first sentence) such that you want to encourage problem users to participate more. Maybe replace "better participation" with "better behaviour" to remove ambiguity? $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    May 24, 2018 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ With problematic users it is best to back off quickly if initial counter-comments don't work and the same behaviour is just repeated. Often there are not just over-sharp comments, but any of appeals to freedom of speech; complaints of over-bearing moderation or ganging up; claims that CV is hypocritical or inconsistent in handling criticism; relishing the attention and ding-dong. It's hard for many of us to keep quiet when we think someone is wrong --- that is part of why we contribute -- but, long run, leaving major problems to moderators is the better idea. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    May 24, 2018 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ I don't want this person to be identified or identifiable and I agree that that the question should be posed and answered generically. I am less happy with the element of judgement and excoriation without much specific evidence in this question ("pretty appalling", "weak", "stupid opinions"). That is, if anyone thinks they are being complained about here, what chance does even a general question have of changing their habits? $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    May 24, 2018 at 8:23
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    $\begingroup$ Is ignoring unhelpful comments a viable strategy? In environments where quality is scarce, does identifying, elevating the good provide more information than flagging the bad? Is the answer to be like Bill? $\endgroup$ May 28, 2018 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ @MatthewGunn Ironically, or otherwise, your comment about comments being ignored was ignored, which is unfair. Sometimes with "repeat offenders" it is apparent that indifference, as expressed by ignoring comments, rather than arguing back is a good strategy. Some people thrive on arguing back as confirming their impression that they have interesting and different ideas and that they or their ideas are receiving unfair/hostile/ignorant treatment. In short, don't feed the trolls. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Jun 6, 2018 at 11:41

2 Answers 2

  1. Yes, you should flag such contributions. You shouldn't necessarily flag them as "rude / abusive", unless that's actually the case, but you can still flag. For example, comments can be flagged as "no longer needed" (the fact that they may never have been relevant does not negate this). You can also flag and leave a custom comment. We get that sometimes and the additional context is helpful, at least speaking for myself.
  2. (I don't think the behavior you describe is kosher, but from a logical point of view that doesn't require the consequent to be false, so let me address this.) You should not "respond in kind". That will only lead the situation to degenerate further. If you think someone's behavior is inappropriate in some way, the best thing to do is flag it and move on. If you are confident you can address the behavior in a constructive manner that remains in keeping with SE's be nice policy, you may try to do so. In general, however, this is a high-risk, low-reward strategy.
  3. A comment downvote button would be a site-wide change requiring the SE developers to get involved. You could ask there. That said, (1) I personally doubt it would "encourage better discussion", and (2) I believe it has already been discussed on meta.SE and rejected (see: Allow downvoting comments, and Reconsider comment downvoting to discourage rude comments).
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    $\begingroup$ ""In general, however, this is a high-risk, low-reward strategy."" that is SO much what a statistician would say. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MartijnWeterings, to me it seems like a perfectly normal thing to say. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 12:43
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    $\begingroup$ 'a perfectly normal thing' , that is what the statistician would say. $\endgroup$ May 25, 2018 at 13:28

We're all of us obtuse from time, so assuming good faith & engaging in an honest attempt to find out what precisely the commenter thinks is the issue will almost always be the best option. If they don't want to elaborate, consider flagging their comment as "no longer needed"—the flip-side to comments' not being down-votable is that the bar for deleting them isn't as high as for answers. But if this is repeated behaviour, & you think it's to the detriment of the site, do flag one of the comments & explain what's been going on.


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