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On boards that try to stick to particular topics, posts may gather comments unrelated to the topic of the site. A recent question on SuperUser about Windows thinking a keyboard is a toaster suffered from this kind of issue. There are lots of mostly useless comments that have many upvotes because they are considered funny by the users, but they don't actually conform to the rules of commenting (be useful or add something to the post).

Although, technically speaking, they do add more hilarity to the post, but that's also funny talk.

Deleting such comments right away will probably not solve the problem immediately, as new users who haven't seen that post might still want to post their own funny comment, and the moderator will end up wiping the comments time and again, while the post is still popular.

Users could also be notified when it's perfectly fine to post these sorts of comments, to prevent it. But comments like that can be silently wiped to avoid notification, and possibly a repeated abuse.

Sometimes there isn't really any harm done, because all the problems have already been addressed and the solution is found in the main post (answer), and so the comments may be left as they are.

Are there any uniform ways to deal with "funny comments" in a non-hostile manner, yet not being a prude where they do no harm?

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Is this question specific to Stack Exchange? If so, you should make this clear in your title and by using the [stack-exchange] tag. (And honestly, in that case, this might be a better question for meta.se) –  AirThomas Aug 7 at 16:30
    
Can you please clarify your question by removing the paragraph starting with "But sometimes there isn't really any harm done..." and the last portion of the last sentence, "while not being a prude where they do no harm" part? It's throwing into question whether the comments should be removed or not (a hotly contested issue, imho) while the meat of your question appears to assume they must be removed and wants suggestions on the best way to accomplish that. If you want to ask whether comments should be removed, that's probably best left as a separate question. –  Adam Davis Aug 7 at 23:27
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Important background material for Stack Exchange, in particular: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/01/stack-overflow-where-we-hate-fun –  corsiKa Aug 9 at 2:51

5 Answers 5

(I'm going to treat this is a non-SE comment question...)

First of all, a quick note should be added after you clean them up. It might say something like this:

Moderator's note: please do not add comments that are not constructive or comments meant to be funny. If you want to talk about this question use [other means of communication] to do so.

After that, you can't do much. Users will do whatever they want, and it is pointless to ban someone for adding a comment. You can't fight this...

Specific to SE, moderators can lock comments to prevent this.

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just 10 rep?... –  user17915 Sep 25 at 9:34

If, as is the case on Stack Exchange, comments are regarded as 2nd class citizens and are really only there to ask for clarification from the poster then such comments are really nothing more than noise and can safely be deleted.

In certain cases you might want to preserve a few that point out something particularly useful or include a link to a useful offsite resource, but if they're that useful they really should be posted as answers.

So by and large if a question or answer is attracting a lot of comments it's a good sign they need periodic purging.

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I have been in community management for many long years. When I started leading large-scale robust online communities in the video game industry, useless posts were common. But, action highly depends on the community. Not every community is the same, therefore trial and error is expected in tactics.

Deleting Comments

Deleting comments is a tactic I mostly avoid. This is a form of censorship and is mostly frowned upon in most online communities. However, it can be effective in others to help steer the conversation in the right direction.

Strike-out Text

I've frequently adapted strike-out as a form of noting the wrong, while still retaining the actual message. This both let's the end user and others know that maybe this shouldn't have happened.

Moderation Notes

Along with strike-out, moderation notes in the actual post (i.e.: edit post) and a response in a new post is good. This both adds additional highlight to the post in question along with the strike-out and adds a new post to the end of the thread for those who refuse to re-read previous posts.

Communication

Like with all good customer service and community management, clear, concise and politeness go a long way. Simply stating why the post is under moderation with a kind reminder is an effective way to help keep the conversation going in the right direction.

My personal preference is to be human at all costs in my messaging. I am not a robot, I want my community to not look at me as a cop and someone who has reason.

Goals

  1. Moderate the post.
  2. Retain the post.
  3. Communicate moderation.
  4. Retain the thread.
  5. Be awesome.
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There's a couple of ways you can try to tackle this. The first is the more heavy-handed approach that the moderators over at RPG.SE seem to take. Stamp it out at first sign, delete the posts and stick a reminder notice that the comments are there to help improve the post or clarify information only.

The other way is to ignore the comments until activity around the question dies down, new users visiting the question get to see and up vote the humorous comments rather than posting already deleted ones, and then once it's quietened down you can clean up the comments and perhaps post a comment explaining why you've removed the posts.

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We have this problem a lot on a site I moderate (The Workplace, on Stack Exchange). We have some tools in our toolbox that might or might not be available on other sites -- fair warning.

First, I will generally let such comments live for a few hours if (a) they're popular and (b) they aren't overwhelming the page. One funny comment is fine (for now); ten are not. If there are a bunch, on our site we've found that the best course is to remove all of them and leave a moderator comment pointing out the purpose of comments. (We have a page we can link to about that, and do so in this comment.)

Second, if there seems to be popular support for having this conversation or making these jokes in comments, we try to redirect users to a more-suitable venue. On Stack Exchange each site has an associated chat room, and in chat the rules are much looser -- chit-chat, jokes, and other conversations are fine there (even encouraged). It's what chat is for. We treat this as "ok behavior, wrong place", and try to channel it to the right place.

Third, what's ok for a few hours isn't ok forever, so we set a reminder to come back and clean it up. We're not anti-fun, but our site is for targeted Q&A, not forum-style discussion, and keeping the former useful requires riding herd on the latter sometimes.

Finally, if this happens a lot, we bring up the topic in an appropriate venue (not in further comments on the posts involved). Stack Exchange sites have a meta site for such discussions; if you don't have something similar, you'll need to figure out where you have discussions about the site that don't belong on the site. Wherever that place is -- that's where to have this conversation. If you have a pattern of behavior and you don't discuss it with your community, you'll forever be playing whack-a-mole with comments. Instead, get your users involved -- help them to understand the problem and what they can do to make it better, solicit their input, and listen to what they say.

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