What is the right policy on deleting one's comments ?

I made some bone-headed comments without thinking the problem through, and now out of sheer embarrassment if nothing else would like to remove them. However, this would make the other comments (gently pointing out my stupidity) out of context.

Should I just leave them and treat this as a lesson in not responding too quickly ?

  • It is your comment, it is your decision. I think there isn't a policy on that and there should not be one. If you want to remove them just remove them, other users can remove their comments also if they want to. More generally IMHO if comments doesn't add anything to the question/answer there is no need for them remain there. – Kaveh Nov 28 '11 at 21:27
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    On a side note, I hope that people don't withhold comments purely out of concern for potentially being wrong. One of my favorite parts of TCSSE is that we can discuss ideas even if they don't pan out. – Huck Bennett Dec 4 '11 at 7:58

I have a personal policy, which is that I never delete anything I post online, in any form, even if it makes me look bad. I realized this was the right thing to do one day, a few years ago (on a completely different forum), when I edited something I had said, and didn't like the fact that I wasn't taking myself seriously enough to own my words before posting them.

I think that way of thinking has improved my "online personality," though I still sometimes say things I later would prefer to take back. More work needed, obviously.

My personal policy is not the same as the official SE policy, which is that comments are deletable.

Not-really-unrelated-points: (1) we don't think you are a bonehead, and (2) it might even be comforting or encouraging to students and others afraid to comment if they see high-rep users saying dumb things from time to time. Also (3) I don't think it's a big deal either way.

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    I definitely agree on point (2). I remember I made (several) dumb comments when I first started using cstheory/MO, and those dumb comments were caught by Peter Shor which absolutely frightened me. So it is nice to see that sometimes non-students also say something fishy. – Artem Kaznatcheev Nov 28 '11 at 23:13

I think nobody will judge anyone on the basis of stupid/irrelevant comments. Think of questions asked here as a sort of informal discussion in conference halls. Somebody asks something, and then back-and-forth comes a discussion from other folks to get the question right. Most of what being discussed has obvious answers, or is just imprecise, but we see nothing wrong with that. A hypothetical example:

A. I can't believe factoring is so hard!

B. Is it? Can't you just divide your number by 2, 3, ... .

A. Sure, but that takes exponential time.

B. Err, it just takes a linear number of divisions? Ah that's exponential in the input length. I see.

A. Yup!

I personally prefer to see "boneheaded" comments because usually they're "boneheaded" only after you give them a fair amount of thought, and so the first thing that comes to your mind may be the first thing that occurs to many others as well, and this would make your quick (but obvious/stupid) comment helpful after all.

Answers are a different story, though. They must be as precise as possible. If there is a bug in your answer you should fix it. If it can't be fixed, you should delete the answer to avoid confusing people.

  • Regarding, "If it can't be fixed, you should delete the answer to avoid confusing people.": I think it is often helpful to leave incorrect answers standing, with a prominent note at the beginning that the answer is incorrect. That way, others know not to travel down the same road. – Aaron Sterling Nov 30 '11 at 20:31

I agree with Kaveh that this is not the matter of policy but the matter of recommendation. Also I think you know that saying an incorrect thing in a past comment is not a big deal as long as it is corrected later. However, I understand that people sometimes want to delete their own incorrect comments.

When I delete a comment because it was factually incorrect, I usually add a new comment saying I deleted a comment which contained an incorrect statement. This does not really reduce my embarrassment, but at least deleting the incorrect comment should reduce the possibility that a future reader believes the incorrect statement without reading further, especially when the incorrect comment has many votes.

(Because you are a moderator, I think that you can edit comments whenever you want even outside the five-minute window. However, doing so in this situation does not sound right to me. Probably you asked this question because you think the same way.)

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