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What is best to be done about a user who deliberately posts answers as comments in order to evade (in particular negative) changes of his reputation/karma? The user even admits this behavior.

On our platform, users have the possibility to convert their own answers to comments. The user does this multiple times, arrogantly insists on his "right to comment", and therefore maintains a permanent edit war.

This is not the first time the user has done this behavior.

In my community, answers and comments can be up and downvoted, and they are written by the same editor. The technical difference between them is that for comments, no edit history is stored and votes on comments do not affect the reputation of their author. Administrators and moderators can freely convert between answers and comments, whereas registered users can only convert their own answers to comments. Answers should at least partially answer the question, and neither answers nor comments should be off-topic to the issue of the question.

  • What's the difference between an answer and a comment in your community? Both in terms of technical rules (in particular, can you convert a comment back to an answer), and in terms of etiquette: what are users supposed to post as comments vs answers. – Gilles Sep 5 '14 at 23:47
  • Are there technical measures you can take on the platform (ie. restrict who can convert answers, make comments affect reputation, modify how often answers can be converted)? – Andy Sep 6 '14 at 1:57
  • Thanks @Andy we are now discussing with the system developers about a technical solution. – just_curious Sep 6 '14 at 9:45
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    @just_curious Hi and welcome to Moderators. Whilst I'm glad you found my answer useful, may I suggest that you leave the question open for a couple of days. Your more likely to attract other answers that way, and some of those may have alternatives that you haven't considered yet. – Styphon Sep 6 '14 at 9:54
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I just can't see that there are people persistent enough in posting bad comments that it's something that needs to be dealt with in some defined or automatic way that isn't already supported. Styphon said:

They system itself encourages users to post comments instead of answers to avoid negative karma.

I'm just not sure I understand or believe this. Why would I post comments - consistently enough for it to be a problem - that aren't legitimate attempts to help, or that I know would be down-voted were I to post them as answers? Is this like the guy standing at the mall telling everyone who walks by that they're fat?

Sometimes terrible answers with bad advice get blindly upvoted (and even accepted) when the clueless masses think they sound like a good idea. (This one, for example, was accepted for about four years before it finally got corrected - and it took a journalist's mass appeal on twitter to get it changed.) So there are definitely cases where I wished an answer had been posted as a comment instead. But I can't think of many cases where I'd want to control a user with such granularity that I'd be forcing them to post an answer instead of a comment. If you are seeing this often, the comment is in one of these categories (and here's what I'd do in each case):

  1. is not constructive or derogatory and not an attempt to answer

    Delete as if it had a non-constructive flag (non-moderators: flag as not constructive or rude or offensive, depending on severity).

  2. is not an attempt to answer

    Delete as if it had a too chatty or other flag (non-moderators: flag as too chatty or other... off-topic/irrelevant).

  3. is a bad attempt to answer

    Comment asking why they think that's a good idea and/or suggest what's wrong with it. If someone's going to read the crappy comment and perhaps think it is a good idea, hopefully they'll also read any objections to it as well. Just deleting it is worse, IMHO, than objecting to it, because this is probably not the only person in your community who might make that comment, thinking that their "answer" is a good idea. So deleting it (1) opens the door for someone to later post a similar comment (or the same user, if they don't understand where their comment went) and (2) anyone who already read the comment and is off implementing the suggestion, won't necessarily notice that the comment was ever cleaned up (and certainly won't know why) - but they might notice a discussion that comment created.

  4. is a good attempt to answer

    Leave it alone. You shouldn't try to force a user to make their comment an answer. If the OP or someone else wants to do that when it's clear the commenter doesn't want to answer, so be it. Even before I stopped answering I would post comments all the time asking if they'd checked this or that, because it wasn't obvious from the question that that would be the answer, but it very well could be. That's not a situation where I would post an answer straight away, since it's based on a guess. (Coincidentally, that's one of the things that I think is killing Stack Overflow these days - people so desperate for reputation they're quickly posting what they think is the answer before even getting the requirements right.)

  5. is a good attempt to answer but is derogatory

    You have the power to edit comments. I've done this often with a certain user who is smart and can see what the problem is, but is never nice about it. I was actually going to use some of his comments as examples of several of these categories but I decided it is better not to draw any additional undue attention to him.

12

The user [...] insists on his "right to comment"

There's your problem right there. Unless you have rules to the contrary, users do not have the right to post anything they want on your platform. If he's making a "freedom of the press" argument, tell him to get his own press.

If the comments do not follow your site's rules, delete them. On a site I moderate we've had a long-running problem with people misusing comments -- sometimes to answer the question, sometimes to conduct arguments back and forth, and sometimes just to chat. We have taken the two-pronged approach of (a) educating the community about what comments are (and are not) for, and suggesting an alternative (SE answer, so assumes chat functionality) and (b) deleting comments that don't comply with that. We've been able to push some of our most prolific commenters to post answers instead, because if they don't, their contributions won't be seen at all. I've seen people get better at writing those answers, too, to fend off downvotes. (This takes time.)

If your community doesn't have rules about what's appropriate for comments and what's not, it's past time for you to develop some. It sounds like you already have this, since you have the concept of moving between answers and comments, but I might be misunderstanding.

In your case, an alternative to deletion is to convert to answers. I would try that first, as it's less destructive (his contributions are still there on your site), but with a warning not to convert them back to comments or they will be deleted. If you can get the ability to prevent user conversion of something that a moderator has already converted, that would help.

  • Thanks Monica, we have now changed the conversion feature such that only mods and admins can use it. It is written in the FAQ that comments are not for answers, so this specific issue should be solved now. However, there are more general problems with this specific user ... – just_curious Sep 7 '14 at 7:09
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    @just_curious oh, that user. Good luck! BTW, having something in the FAQ is good, but it's still helpful to remind people (with links) of policies that aren't being followed. Don't assume that everybody remembers everything he once read (we hope he once read :-) ) in the FAQ. – Monica Cellio Sep 7 '14 at 17:23
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Seems the platform has dug your own grave on this one. They system itself encourages users to post comments instead of answers to avoid negative karma.

There are two possible solutions to this that I can see. The first is technical and he second works with the existing technology and deals with the user's behaviour.

Dealing with the technology Quite straight forward, change the way the technology works so it no longer encourages this behaviour. Or add in a lock so they can't convert an answer to a comment if an admin / moderator has converted it from a comment to an answer previously.

Dealing with the behaviour If you can't, or are unwilling to change the technology then you need to deal with the user's behaviour. He's found a loophole in the system and is exploiting it. Do you have rules in place that posts attempting to answer the question must be answers? Do you have rules in place that an admin / moderators decision on what a post type should be is final? If you do simply refer him to these rules and if he keeps it up apply the appropriate punishments, up to banning him if needs be.

If you don't have any rules covering this, well nows the time you need them. Depending on how your community works you can either add them to the rules and then simply announce hem to the community or you can discuss them with the community before adding them in. If you are discussing them with the community make sure to make it about the community and not this one individual.

  • Why would someone consistently post comments that would get down-voted if they were posted as answers? – Aaron Bertrand Sep 8 '14 at 0:38
  • @aaronbertrand sorry I don't get what you mean. – Styphon Sep 8 '14 at 6:21
  • I just meant that I can't see how someone is posting a lot of comments that should be answers but would be bad answers. I posted an answer instead. – Aaron Bertrand Sep 8 '14 at 13:02
  • @AaronBertrand Because that's what the OP posted is happening in the first line of the question... I think you're assuming the system is SE here, but from what the OP has posted, I don't think it is. – Styphon Sep 8 '14 at 16:15
  • Aside from technical specifics (like whether a moderator can edit a comment), why does my answer change no matter what system it is? – Aaron Bertrand Sep 8 '14 at 16:18

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