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I recently edited a post to make it easier to find and to add some extra tags to it. I had also answered the question. Because I was slightly broadening the question title in order to make the question searchable for future users due to one of the issues arising, I left a note under the OP's question. I explained what I'd done - because they might feel that I'd altered the question too much and might want to therefore roll back the edit. Or they might just not like the edit at all and want to roll it back.

Shortly afterwards I got a comment from a completely different user which began like this:

  • WTF is this? Firstly you .... and then you go and edit the title to make it fit your answer.

I'm no shrinking violet, but I didn't really appreciate the WTF wording of this comment, all things considered. I try and be a friendly user, make new users feel at home, be constructive and that kind of thing, so I was kind of a bit nose-out-of-joint about this, and I flagged the comment.

So far this is just a bit of background info, all a bit boring and not really significant. But I thought the background info would be useful. Anyhow, I was a bit surprised when eight or so hours later I found that the comment had been edited. It now read:

  • Huh? Firstly blah, blah, blah

So my question is, was this comment edited by a mod? I assume it was because as far as I know there's no way of editing comments after five minutes if you're a normal user. If it was edited by a mod then I have some further questions, if that's ok. Firstly, was the original user consulted about the rewording of their comment? Personally speaking, I am not too worried about people deleting my comments, but if they reword them and still attribute them to me, then I would definitely not be happy.

Another thing that's worrying me slightly is the comment has no note to say that it has been edited. Now, if I see a comment attributed to a user, I would normally believe that that is the comment that was left by that user. I may use this information in the future when trying to assess what a user is trying to say, whether they are well-intentioned and so forth. I normally expect that the comments are a faithful rendition of what users have actually said and done.

I want to be very clear that I'm not having a go at mods here, especially if one of them edited this comment. I am well aware that being a mod is not easy and is often an under-appreciated and thankless task. I do however, want to know what the policy is on editing comments. Is there any sort of written policy anywhere? Also is it possible that some of my comments have been edited without my knowing? Is there any guarantee that what is attributed to users here has actually been said by those users? (There might be some legal issues here). As a community I'm interested to know whether we feel that comments should be edited so that we no longer know what is actually part of what a user has said.

One last thing. Thanks to the Mod (if it was a mod) who edited this comment. I understand why it was edited and I understand why part of it was left. No problems there. I hope you don't mind me asking this question!

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As far as I'm aware, all edited comments have a little pencil at the end of them to show that they're edited. This should include comments which are edited by moderators. Do you have a link? I'll investigate further if the pencil does not appear.

As for policy... The general policy for mods + language in comments/posts is: if someone tells you they're bothered by it, remove it. The bothered person can be you, but as a mod try to have a slightly thicker skin and go based on whether or not you think other people will be offended by it.

(The exception to the above is when the language actually is part of the answer; ex. if the question was asking something about the meaning or usage of WTF in a certain context, then the f-word would be a necessary part of that answer.)

In this case I too would have made this edit (I didn't, but I agree with it). It wasn't information pertinent to the question, it was borderline rude to another user, and it definitely had the potential to offend. I would also like to say: thank you very much for coming to meta and politely stating your questions and opinions, rather than starting a comment war; if I had to take a guess I'd say the main impetus behind the comment edit was to prevent one. So thank you for being mature and not needing one! :)

  • Thanks for the helpful answer:) I still have a question though. Don't all edited comments have a pencil thingie next to them? If so, this doesn't really help very much with this particular issue about authorship - because nearly all edits to comments are done by the users who wrote them, not by someone else ... – Araucaria Feb 12 '15 at 3:11
  • @Araucaria Ahh, I see what you're saying. Yes, the pencil just denotes any edit at all; it doesn't say whether or not a mod was the one to make the edit. But the only people who can edit your comment are you, an employee, or a site mod, and it's generally assumed that those people are going to behave appropriately in editing the comment. All mods will do is remove personal info or gratuitous language from comments. So it's not a massive overhaul or anything :) – WendiKidd Feb 12 '15 at 3:13
  • PS does have a pencil - like alot of other comments on the page. Haven't given a link so as not to personalise the comment stuff ... – Araucaria Feb 12 '15 at 3:13
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Generally, flagged comments fall into one of three areas:

  • This comment was rightfully flagged and the comment should be removed
  • This comment was wrongly flagged and the comment should be left alone
  • This comment was rightly flagged, but the comment has some value, too, so it shouldn't be deleted

When the third scenario is encountered, one tool available to moderators is the ability to edit the comment, and sometimes we'll do this. If the comment as flagged as erroneous, perhaps it can be fixed with a quick edit. If a comment is flagged as potentially offensive, perhaps the language can be softened.

Was the original user consulted about the rewording of their comment? Personally speaking, I am not too worried about people deleting my comments, but if they reword them and still attribute them to me, then I would definitely not be happy.

I don't usually tell folks I've edited their comments, mostly because, in the few times I've bothered to edit comments, I do my best to preserve the original intent. Most of my comment edits are to:

  • Fix an obvious and distracting spelling error
  • Combine two comments into one – particularly if they are consecutive and a lot of comments are accumulating under the question
  • Neaten a link by inserting a link name, instead of a long URL

I'm not sure how much people want to be notified by a moderator about such trivialities, but you've given me something to think about.

Early on in this job, I was told, "Edit comments with caution," and that's what I try to do. But I also edit quietly, in an effort to let the site keep humming along. Moderating is a lot of mundane work, and sometimes its only reward is an occasional lambasting :-)

I won't promise to alert every user every time I make a little change, but, henceforth, I'll at least be more likely to notify a user if my edit could be regarded as significant.

  • 1
    I agree completely. Ideally, moderation should be as unobtrusive as possible. Well, ideally, moderation would be unnecessary, since either we should all be posting properly in the first place, or other users can take up cudgels and persuade "improper" posters to withdraw/amend unwanted/contentiously-phrased comments. A well-functioning community shouldn't seek to advertise the fact that posts are moderated any more than is unavoidable. – FumbleFingers Feb 13 '15 at 15:30
  • If a moderator edits someone's comment then is proper attribution given that the particular text of an author has been modified by a mod at some particular time? I guess it should be because of cc by-sa 3.0 – user31782 Feb 14 '15 at 9:21
  • @user31782 - The system already displays that little pencil when a comment has been edited after it's posted. Plus, you can hover over that character to see how many times a comment has been edited. What's not clear is, "Who made the edit – a mod, or the user?" I suppose SE could add a different icon when a mod edits a comment (like a pencil that leans the other way, perhaps: ✎), but I'd like to think that moderator-edited comments are rare enough that it's really not that necessary. Still, it's an interesting idea that you could raise on SE's meta if you wanted to see what others thought. – J.R. Feb 14 '15 at 9:38
  • @J.R. Thanks for the information. Before asking on metaSE, I wanted to make sure that proper attribution is not given. I am going to ask it on meta.SE. – user31782 Feb 14 '15 at 9:57

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