# Can removing comments by a moderator on their own answer be considered a conflict of interest?

Referring to this question and this question. Both were answered by a moderator. Both answers attracted a lot of comments asking for clarifications and pointing out potential flaws.

In both cases comments were removed to chat, by the moderator that provided the answer, in doing so removing the comments from immediate view, and providing a use-by-date before the chat will be marked inactive. The chat is only visible to people who click on the chat link, and while reading the chats the original question/answer is not visible.

This is my understanding of the use and value of comments: comments underneath an answer or question are immediately visible for any person looking up the question/answer, and provide context. A good comment is relevant to the contents of the question or answer. When clarifications are asked or faults pointed out, the reaction can either be added in the answer when the poster reckons it adds to the value of the question/answer to everyone, or otherwise in a comment. A set of comments, good or bad, form a frame of reference of the different viewpoints of the public using the forum.

On the other hand, long and prolonged discussions between two or three parties are often boring for the rest of us, and take away from the value of the post. So there are pros and cons to a long set of comments, that is understood.

The issue here though is a potential conflict of interest. Only moderators can remove comments from everyone from posts, the rest of us need to live with them, whether valuable or not. Moderators could potentially leave a flawed answer, and remove criticising comments from them. Please note that I say potentially.

We have more than one moderator, although sometimes it does not seem that way. Would a possible solution be for another moderator to judge whether a multitude of comments on the post of a moderator should be hidden from immediate reference in a chat room?

EDIT

There have been some up-voted comments on this post, a way for the community to express what they think about my question. However I won't be paying any attention to them, the comments may be removed at any time, as @Jamiec points out.

So I won't add another comment but will edit this into the question.

@ Jamiec: "If its in a comment, its transient, and might be removed at any time"

• Why at a time when the question is still highly active?
• And more importantly: why by the person who may have a direct vested interest? If it appears so, why not handle things in a way that removes that appearance.
• Comments are generally meant to be ephemeral in the Stack model anyhow -- if they're that valuable to the answer, their content should be edited in to the answer. Nov 21, 2017 at 2:49
• @UnrecognizedFallingObject Sure. Would you consider changing your comment to an answer? Nov 21, 2017 at 3:59
• FWIW had I have seen those long comment threads (and the associated flags) I would have also moved them to chat. That is the agreed process, and the reason why that is a shortcut in the mod tooling.
– Jamiec Mod
Nov 21, 2017 at 9:19
• @Jamiec FWIW? If it's put in a comment, it is worth nothing. Nov 21, 2017 at 9:43
• @Koyovis Nowhere does it say "If its in a comment its worth nothing". What it says is "If its in a comment, its transient, and might be removed at any time".
– Jamiec Mod
Nov 21, 2017 at 11:14
• @Jamiec Yes I have read that. That is not what the question is about, it is signalling a potential conflict of interest. If I post a flawed answer that attracts multiple comments pointing out flaws, I do not have the option to remove them all. Nov 22, 2017 at 6:36

I am not a mod on this site, but this is a topic that does come up on other sites, including those I am a mod on so I have a few years' experience in this space.

In general, while it is standard to remove comments, as anything of value in them should be incorporated into the question or answer, mods will usually leave this action to another mod just to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.

However, if that is unlikely to be timely, or if there are numerous flags, any mod will do it. The thing to remember is that mod actions are very visible to other mods, and to CMs and SE staff, which does keep us all honest, and we typically are driven in the first instance by flags from the community so we know the action is requested.

## Edit it in if it's that valuable

One thing we aren't very good at as a community on Aviation is cleaning up comment threads and getting the good stuff from them edited into the associated posts. Comments on a Stack are meant to be ephemeral entities anyway -- if a comment thread isn't currently being useful, it probably should be cleaned up and its associated post edited to reflect what the comments unearthed.

• Yes we're not very good at it and it should be edited in.It doesn't answer the question though. Nov 21, 2017 at 9:54
• That may be true for the general case, but in cases where there's a difference of opinion (e.g. when fooot said "I'm not convinced the points from the Goodyear manual necessarily apply.", who's to decide what's valuable/useful? That's exactly what the conflict of interest here is about: if the answerer is a moderator he can remove helpful comments because he wrongfully doesn't consider them valuable. Nov 29, 2017 at 15:48
• I generally agree, but I want to make one exception. Comments with a good joke, or a well-received light hearted remark (as indicated by the many upvotes) are valuable to the site so they should not be deleted nor be edited in.
– DeltaLima Mod
Nov 30, 2017 at 17:39

It appears that way, but it is not.

When a post (question or answer) has 20 or more comments, a flag is automatically raised for mods to delete the comments. I have never seen so far that a mod has deleted those comments but did not move them in a chat room. So the critique is in the chat, not under a post. This way, if someone is interested to further read the discussion, it is in chat, which is public too.

Ironically, it happened twice that both you and that mod answered a question and he happened to clean up the comments because of flag.

You should not expect [comments] to be around forever

As I mentioned in my (now deleted) comment, you did the right thing by providing an answer. This is the positive response if or when you feel that another answer is not 100% correct.

• It appears that way, but it is not. You then explain that there is a procedure and an automatic flag. Which have existed for a long time and were used sparingly and with care, which I reckon is good judgement. This is the first time I can see an action & comment from yourself, and the communication is well phrased and moderate in tone. A moderator - what's in a name? Nov 23, 2017 at 2:21
• IMO this glosses over the real issues here: comments may be ephemeral, but moderators have the power to make them more short-lived. Your answer is like saying it's ok that they're moving comments to a separate page because they were already less prominent. Additionally, if there's a flag, doesn't that make it easier, not harder, to get a different mod to clean up the comments? Nov 29, 2017 at 15:57

My opinion is a short one. Comments are for clarification and are ephemeral. Period. Anyone can flag one, and any moderator is expected to clean things up.

If an answer is wrong, in your opinion, the proper way to deal with it is to vote down the answer. A comment is not necessary. If you do leave one, and I try to every time, well if the comment disappears, so be it. You've still voted on the answer.

In the Stack Exchange model, there might be 5 answers, 4 of which are correct and valid, and a fifth which supports the questioner's belief. That one may be selected as the accepted answer, and there is not much we can do, except to down vote. Please use the tools that are given, in the way they are meant to be. If you need to discuss a question, or an answer, that is what aviation chat is for.

• It does not answer the question. I reckon that comments are more valuable than chatrooms, as also indicated by the pop-up window that appears when you hover over the up-vote triangle left of the comment: This comment adds something useful to the post. But my main point is a potential conflict of interest. The rest of us cannot remove critical comments. Nov 24, 2017 at 14:49

I think yes, there is a potential conflict of interest, although in most cases the comments are going to be moved anyways, no matter who does it. Most of the other answers ignore the realities of how Stack Exchange works in practice. In reality comments are much longer-lived and visible than chat rooms, many constructive comments are never incorporated, and other moderators' oversight and voting don't fairly resolve many disputes about answer details.

My recommendation is twofold:

1. To avoid the appearance of impropriety, moderators should avoid doing moving comments on their own questions, especially when they disagree with some of the comments.
2. I'd recommend that comment authors and moderators try more openly to get comments worked into the answer, rather than letting them die in comments or especially chat.

Every time there are more than 20 comments in 3 days, a flag appears suggesting the moderators move the comments to chat. The mod who moves the comments doesn't have to be the answerer. All mods see the flag, don't they? In practice it seems moderators almost always move every single comment to chat, although officially, moderators "should only move comments to chat when there appears to be an ongoing constructive discussion involving two or more individuals that has lost its direct relevance to the post." (source)

High visibility of other moderators' behavior is just a mitigating factor. In truth, that's usually how moderator's are kept honest in their many chances to abuse their privileges. However, this just means the issue isn't a big deal, not that there's any advantage or disadvantage to having moderators avoid moving comments on their own answers.

Yes, this does have the effect of downplaying the important comments. The viewer now has to conciously decide he wants to see the comments (how often do you decide this yourself?). It's harder in a chat to see which comments were highly upvoted feedback and which are pointless conversation. Additionally, the chat room may be deleted just because it's "inactive", unlike comments.

Comments may not be permanent, but is it right for moderators in this situation to make them even more short-lived? Saying this is ok because comments are short lived rests on the assumption that comments in chat rooms are, for this purpose, basically as long-lived as comments should be. That doesn't sound right. In reality, a dissenting comment will stick around for years, while a chat room will likely be deleted in a few months.

Valuable comments should technically be added to the answer. In truth this often happens, as it did for the first question you linked about instability during landings. However, in practice this often doesn't happen, especially if the answerer disagrees about how "valuable" the comment is, providing a potential conflict of interest. The usual recourse here is to post a separate dissenting answer, which hopefully will get noticed by new visitors to the question and upvoted.

What are some recourses?

• Create a separate answer if you disagree with the post and your comments aren't being incorporated
• If you see a good comment, try to tactfully suggest an edit to the answer. Answers are often abandoned by their users despite having important comments pending.
• If you, as a moderator, commenter, or viewer, see a valuable and succinct comment in a chat room that was unadressed after several days, add it as a tactful edit to the answer or re-add it as a comment. Do not do this for the back-and-forth comments that caused the move to chat in the first place.