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Suppose I work for a large multinational corporation that sells reference management software. Due to my job and previous academic career, I have a lot of experience in managing references. As such, I answer a lot of questions about these topics. Since I have an actual or perceived conflict of interest, I often disclose that I work for the company in my answers.

Disclaimer: I work for Acme Reference Management Corporation.

However, comments are shorter and ephemeral.

Suppose someone asks a question about Acme Reference Manager asking how to do something and complaining about the expensive plugin the company sells to do that. I comment under the question:

I think 50 USD / month is a very reasonable price for the AI-powered Magic Reference Suggestion™ plug-in. The training of the model required accumulating hundreds of thousands of papers and it works amazingly well.

There's barely any room in comments, and discussions may go back and forth.

Should users include a disclaimer in their comments when they may have or appear to have a conflict of interest?

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    In your example I would suggest you to refrain from posting that comment entirely, instead. Does that comment suggest an improvement to the question? No, it just tells us your (biased) opinion on the matter. Feb 18, 2023 at 22:30

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Yes, they should. I think it's sufficient to mention when entering the conversation rather than in every particular comment, but it's just a simple ethical obligation to let other people know about your relationship to a company or institution when you're talking about them.

I'd add that someone in this situation has a conflict of interest, whether that conflict affects the content of their message or not. A conflict of interest doesn't mean someone is allowing their content to be affected by those interests, it just means that there exist interests that are in conflict. The correct behavior in that situation is to give the audience the contextual information they need to evaluate the advice.

I think this is an ethical obligation on individuals, though, rather than something that moderators can enforce generally. We don't know, can't know, and won't try to know everyone's affiliations here. We would certainly take action in cases of self-promotion under existing policies against spam, but conflicts of interest have a broader scope than those rules.

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    Of course the hypothetical me in the vignette has an actual conflict. Just a typo while trying to make the question more generic, but I'll leave it for context.
    – Ian
    Feb 16, 2023 at 18:25

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