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This week, while browsing through the site, I happened to come across two of moderator Brian Towers' answers (1, 2). I disagreed with large parts (though not all) of the points raised within, and thought that they were grossly misleading, especially considering the large number of upvotes they had garnered, which seems to be an indication of the number of people who thought they were good answers. I felt so strongly, in fact, that I left critical comments beneath both answers that explained clearly why I felt that the answers were incorrect and misleading.

I did so with two reasons. First, I expected that any reasonable user (let alone a moderator of this site) seeing critical comments below their answer would respond to the criticisms, either explaining why they thought I was wrong, or agreeing with my criticisms and therefore improving the answer. In both cases, somebody learns something, and positive benefit is to be had. Secondly, I believed that, if left uncorrected, these answers risk to mislead readers and damage, in a nontrivial way, the quality of answers on this site and therefore its reputation as a place to seek high-quality answers to questions about chess.

It did not take long before my comments beneath both of the answers were deleted. When I asked about the reason behind the deletion, Brian Towers responded: "You're right. I should have flagged as rude or abusive first". They have since deleted this comment, which is why it is now unviewable, prompting the question of why the moderator felt the need to do so if they truly believed in this justification.

I view this as a critical abuse of power by the moderator in deleting comments which are not in favour of his answers. I am asking this question on Meta to ask for the moderator to hold accountability for his actions and to be transparent in justifying his actions instead of sweeping it under the rug.

I would also ask whether the community at large accepts this sort of behaviour, because if it does, perhaps it is not one that I want to be a part of any longer.

It is true that the comments were rather strongly worded. I do not have the exact wording of the full comments, since I cannot refer to them anymore, given the moderator's actions, but wording such as that the answer was "odd and misleading", as well as the perspective in the answer being "naive" were used. However, the comments never personally attacked or abused the moderator themselves, and the criticism was directed only squarely at the (in my view) completely misguided answers with the potential to mislead. Yes, I agree that this phrasing could be interpreted as unfriendly. However, I staunchly believe that strong language, within the realm of civility, is necessary and productive for discourse to gain a deeper appreciation of any issue. The actions of the moderator appear to violate the principles of free speech.


It seems that similar behaviour has occurred before with the same moderator. Since this is clearly an established pattern of behaviour, and if the wider community agrees that this is an issue, I wonder if anything can be done to hold the moderator to account.


Edit: It seems to have happened again, ironically beneath this very post! A comment pointed out Brian Towers' past abusive language in his answer to this question, as well as how he deleted valuable comments that pointed out objective flaws with his reasoning (and carried additional insightful remarks) on that occasion. To silence even this criticism, Brian Towers appears to have deleted the comment beneath this meta post. This shameless behaviour must be stopped!

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3 Answers 3

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Thanks for bringing this up here instead of continuing the discussion via comments.

First, all of the moderators are volunteers, and we all do the best that we can. We do make mistakes from time to time.

In this case, I think that most of your comments came across as unfriendly or haughty. In fairness, one of your comments was probably collateral damage in the deletion, but one reasonable comment is not really enough when the overall tone is negative.

In general, the moderators do try to avoid deleting comments or otherwise moderating threads where we participate, but that's not always possible since there are only three of us, and especially Brian is active on so many posts.

Going forward, anything you can do to avoid being unfriendly will help avoid comment deletion. For example, adding words like "clearly", "indeed", or "surely" takes the tone from helpful to hurtful.

Finally, comments are designed to be transitory, and many times they are deleted after edits to the parent post. If you disagree with an answer and want to share a different viewpoint, adding a more comprehensive answer is the most efficient way to do so.

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    Thank you for the response. Indeed, I understand and (generally) appreciate the work that the moderators are doing for the betterment of the site. I also understand mistakes happen and empathise with that. Nevertheless, I strongly believe there is significant value in ensuring that free discourse is available, even when strong language is used in the discussion, because such language has value in conveying the strength of one's conviction in the point being made.
    – YiFan
    Nov 2, 2022 at 21:53
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    To be specific, in these cases, I do not just disagree with the viewpoints shared in the answers made by Brian Towers in the sense that "reasonable minds may differ", I strongly believe that they are plainly incorrect and misleading. It is appropriate according to the way SE comments are meant to work to point this out in the comments, because this prevents the answer from misleading others. Perhaps they can be interpreted as unfriendly, but how can words like "indeed" be interpreted to be rube or abusive? Once again, these comments were not personal in nature and only address the chess.
    – YiFan
    Nov 2, 2022 at 21:56
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    Incidentally, I did in fact add my own answer in both cases, as you suggested in the final paragraph, though I think this is only tangential to the issue at hand.
    – YiFan
    Nov 2, 2022 at 21:57
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    I think that it's possible to express an opinion and point out factual errors without making someone feel inferior. Strong (PG) language is okay, language that belittles someone is not. The adverbs that I mentioned are words that do not clarify the statement one is trying to make, but instead only try to demonstrate a superiority to another person. If you cannot make your point in a constructive, non-confrontational manner, then it's probably not worth making.
    – Andrew Mod
    Nov 2, 2022 at 22:07
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    I would agree with what you're saying in the abstract. However, I do not agree that the language used in my comments "only try to demonstrate superiority" or that they are not constructive. Given the non-personal nature of the remarks, I would expect that any reasonable person would look at the criticisms objectively and respond accordingly, not take it to mean some personal offence. If I wrote a wrong answer and somebody responded with such language proving me wrong, I would engage them in the matter to figure out the truth and not refuse to engage by claiming that they were being rude.
    – YiFan
    Nov 2, 2022 at 22:15
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    In particular, descriptions saying that a certain point is "clearly" true does have clarifying value in saying that the point being made is obvious or self-evident (as opposed to, say, requiring 15 minutes of detailed calculations in a position to see that they are true). Therefore, it is not true that they "do not clarify the statement one is trying to make".
    – YiFan
    Nov 2, 2022 at 22:17
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From the help:

You should submit a comment if you want to:
Request clarification from the author;
Leave constructive criticism that guides the author in improving the post;
Add relevant but minor or transient information to a post (e.g. a link to a related question, or an alert to the author that the question has been updated).

I feel that, as the post author, he is free to reject your constructive criticism of his post. The comment is therefore no longer serving its purpose and may be deleted.

Comments simply aren't designed to be a place for a permanent rebuttal of the post. The site really doesn't have any place for that, which may be a flaw but that's what we're given.

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    If this is really the intention behind how the site is supposed to work, that the post author may simply delete comments which no longer serve their purpose (those which contain critical opinions), then isn't it unfair that only the site moderators get to use this function? Why isn't it available to everyone else? I conclude that this is not, in fact, the intended way for this policy to be read, and that critical comments serve an important and desired (or at least desirable) function to prevent later readers from being misled, even if this may not be explicitly stated.
    – YiFan
    Nov 12, 2022 at 15:31
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    Perhaps you're right that this justification for the deletion of the comments would make some sense as a matter of principle. However, these sorts of obsolete comments are not deleted regularly by the moderators as a matter of fact, and it would seem curiously inconsistent to only do this on critical comments beneath the moderator's own answers. Besides, it is not the justification given by Brian Towers, and it would take some Herculean mental gymnastics to say that this is the true reason why he did what he did, and that therefore he should not be held accountable for any wrongdoing.
    – YiFan
    Nov 12, 2022 at 15:36
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Making calm, rational counter arguments is one thing. Making rude and/or abusive comments is another. You have a history of the latter. In particular when your answer is not well received it is inappropriate for you to post such comments on another better-received answer. It comes across as spiteful rather than constructive.

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    I would challenge you to justify your claims that my comments have been rude or abusive. As I explained in the OP, I agree that they were strongly worded, but within the realms of civility --- never did I attack you personally, only your answers. Besides, your suggestion that I have left these comments out of spite because my answers have not been well-received seems strange: in both cases, I commented either before I wrote my answer, or immediately after, so there is no chance to judge "well-received" or not (and I have positive net upvotes on both anyway).
    – YiFan
    Oct 30, 2022 at 14:11
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    In fact, if there were an answer of mine that could be said to be poorly received, it would be this one: chess.stackexchange.com/a/40834/20688 since the first vote was a downvote, though there have been upvotes since. Yet I did not downvote your answer nor leave critical comments on this occasion, and indeed considered upvoting, because your answer was reasonable and correct.
    – YiFan
    Oct 30, 2022 at 14:13
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    Perhaps you should restore the comments, or otherwise reproduce them here, for the community to judge if they were reasonable. If the consensus opinion is that both were rude and abusive, I would disagree, but that's fair enough, and I should stop arguing further and simply leave the site. If the consensus is the opposite, perhaps it is your turn to reflect on your actions.
    – YiFan
    Oct 30, 2022 at 14:21

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