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Some sites have a custom notice to remind people that the topic is sensitive, that they should be nice and that comments are to improve a post, not for debates. The notice was introduced here and can be seen in action e.g. here; it looks like this:

Controversial Post — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

We recently had several questions, mostly religion-related, ending up in the Hot Network Question list, which always triggers a lot of traffic from across the network but unfortunately also lead to long comment threads in some occasions (cf. this meta post).

Do people feel like this custom notice can help? Let's discuss this for a bit and once the community has decided we can ask the SE team to enable the notice.

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    Related (but not directly applicable): a 'weird trick' to reduce bad comments is being tested on IPS . – Discrete lizard May 11 '18 at 15:16
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    @Discretelizard thanks for that, I wasn't aware of that. I think it would be good to get that here too. Perhaps this is not the place to discuss it, but definitely worth pondering. Thanks again. – Keelan May 11 '18 at 15:19
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    @Keelan: I guess we'll have to wait for the conclusion of the test. As I interpret Shog9's answer and comments, this may very well lead to a network-wide change if successful. – Philip Klöcking May 11 '18 at 16:15
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    Definitely, right now you are basically forced to do it by hand anyway, and already after a wall of comments. – Conifold May 12 '18 at 8:40
  • Just to see it in action, as I see it's "status-completed", has any mod used it so far? (in this SE. I want to know the kind of questions you'd put a notice on.) – Yechiam Weiss Sep 29 '18 at 14:27
  • @YechiamWeiss here you go: data.stackexchange.com/philosophy/query/904386/… – Keelan Sep 29 '18 at 14:43
  • @Keelan thanks! So, do you put the notice beforehand, looking at the topic alone, or when you see it generates heavy traffic? Because I can understand putting the notice immediately on questions on creation, but on question like this it seem weird. Do you have a certain criteria? – Yechiam Weiss Sep 29 '18 at 14:52
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    @YechiamWeiss I can't remember ever having slapped that notice on a post preemptively but can imagine doing it in some cases. Moderators get automatic flags when posts attract a lot of comments and then you can see if it needs such a notice (in most cases, moving the comments to chat is enough). I don't use any formal criteria, when you've seen a large number of risky posts you get a feeling of when such a notice can be helpful. – Keelan Sep 29 '18 at 14:56
  • @Keelan alright I understand now. Thanks for the clarification! – Yechiam Weiss Sep 29 '18 at 14:58
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I did some poking around and I'm going to re-use The Workplace and Academia versions. I do like the links version, but for the purposes of testing and collecting statistics, I'd like to keep it the same. This is the sort of thing that could be promoted to other parts of the network or could be the basis for a new feature. It might be useful to add the link to the help center, but the link to this site's meta wouldn't work so well on other sites.

We can get a rough idea of how effective these notices are by comparing the number of comments before the notice was added to during the time the notice was active. (Unless a moderator removes the notice, it sticks around for a week.) On The Workplace:

comments epoch 
-------- ------ 
464      before 
107      during 
  4      after

And on Academia:

comments epoch  
-------- ------ 
339      before 
104      during 
 10      after 

While that is encouraging, we expect commenting to decrease over time and it's not too surprising that there are fewer comments after notices are added. Maybe this is a case of closing the barn door after the horses have already run off. To get a better idea, we can graph the number of comments by age (in hours):

Comments before and during a controversial post notice

I'm just looking at The Workplace for this graph, but Academia has similar results. The encouraging thing is that for the same ages, red dots (pre-notice) tend to have more comments than blue dots (post-notice). Without building a model of comment by age, I'd tentatively say the post notices work. I'm also not taking into account other moderator actions, such as purging comments or moving them to chat.

  • Many thanks! -- – Keelan May 18 '18 at 19:37
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I, personally, am very much in favour of this possibility.

It has become a common trope that we have to heavily moderate comments and answers, sometimes simply because of people becoming involved, other times because of them going off the rails.

This is often linked to the nature of the question itself. In a sense, this is a self-reinforcing process: People like to get involved in controversial topics, this makes them interested in and looking into controversial questions, which lets them be on the Hot Network Questions bar, leading to more people getting aware of and interested in the controversial question, leading to even more problematic answers and comments. Protecting the questions has proven to be a pitifully useless tool for preventing this.

Also, we often have people not understanding why we act the way we do in this kind of question, leading to quite a lot of flags and meta questions like this and that.

Adding this note would remind people of the rules in place and possibly prevent an excess of comments (and answers), but definitely, make clear the playing rules the moderators are following when it happens. In other words, it would be a nice handy tool for not being forced to repeat the rules over and over again and remind everyone about the purpose of this site.

If anything, a link to this post for comments (because it cites the relevant part and links to the original source) and maybe to the help center directly for answers could further help and legitimise the notice itself and actions taken according to it by pointing out the rules and where they are to be found.

I would argue for using the links as follows, to highlight the ONLY parts and establish the desired effect, pointing out that we do not have to bother arguing why every time we take action in that question thread:

Controversial Post — You may use comments ONLY to suggest improvements. You may use answers ONLY to provide a solution to the specific question asked above. Moderators will remove debates, arguments or opinions without notice.

One last comment, as this might be misunderstood considering recent discussions: Those rules are in fact effective for all questions, comments, and answers. All the time. It's just that we can give more leeway in non-controversial questions. Nobody likes overly pedantic mods (or so it seems).

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    Just a general comment... Philip's link quotes specific bullet points from the help center about when to comment. All three of those bullet points sound different from the suggestion in the proposed notice ("ONLY to suggest improvements") to me. – H Walters May 11 '18 at 15:27
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    @HWalters: Good point. In part, I have to agree. On the other hand, asking for clarification just as well as constructive criticism seems to be going hand in hand with "suggesting improvements", or rather are another side of the same medal. Regarding the last point, other than delivering helpful content that could be incorporated, this indeed seems more problematic. Thus, if we synthesise both aspects and people turn those ideas into ways of improving the posts, all the better. More input regarding that point would be most welcome, it's just a proposal. – Philip Klöcking May 11 '18 at 15:35
  • I completely agree (especially as someone who unfortunately gets sucked into the involved conversations) that this tends to happen more so around controversial questions and is in large part due to the controversial nature of the questions. I agree with your assessment that making this more visible for those types of questions, even though it's an official policy on all questions, is a good solution. – Not_Here May 14 '18 at 11:35
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    This seems to be the consensus. I pinged Jon Ericson and hopefully we can make this status-completed soon. – Keelan May 14 '18 at 20:50

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