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Now that accept rate is no longer displayed users can silently unaccept answers without anyone noticing.

I happened to notice by chance that this user (who is a long time member without any other activity for a long time) has just unaccepted all answers just like that. No single comment. Three recent examples:

For the record, I am a "victim" as well but don't really care about the reputation, more about the damage done by causing those questions to now be "open" without an accepted solution while they had before.

My best guess is that something irritated that user and he's trying to revenge through those actions. I left a comment, but 99.999% sure he'll never respond.

  1. Should such behavior be allowed? It's not the simple case of user unaccepting single answer because it ended up not solving his problem, it's way more severe than that.

  2. If not allowed, what can we do?

Also worth to mention he did the same thing here on Meta: example while on other site he either forgot or didn't bother to unaccept: example.

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Wow... Yeah, that sounds like a problem... –  Mysticial Feb 3 '13 at 9:48
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Odd behaviour. Why would anyone reasonable do that? –  J. Steen Feb 3 '13 at 9:55
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@J.Steen Probably someone who's been pissed off at all the people complaining about his/her accept rate. Now it's time for "revenge". That said, I think this is unacceptable behavior - pun intended. –  Mysticial Feb 3 '13 at 9:57
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@Mysticial That's indeed not reasonable, that's just childish and unacceptable (har har) - about as childish as the people requiring people to have a certain accept rate before they'll deign to answer the question. ;) –  J. Steen Feb 3 '13 at 9:58
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Or someone who feels the community should select the best answer by voting, and does not feel the accepted answer should float on top. –  Arjan Feb 3 '13 at 10:18
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Wow, I sure didn't see this outcome from removing the acceptance rate... –  LittleBobbyTables Feb 3 '13 at 10:46
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@Arjan no, I don't think so. In such case he would have said something, somewhere. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 3 '13 at 11:19
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I'm wondering - is there anything suspicious in the user's access logs? Maybe, just maybe, there has been access from a third party. –  J. Steen Feb 3 '13 at 14:28
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@ShaWizDowArd Unaccepting leads to easy, dropped reputation and bad will, as does deleting your own topvoted answers. If you want to defame someone in a not-so-obvious way, that's how I'd do it. Maybe I'm just sinister that way. –  J. Steen Feb 3 '13 at 14:43
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I think we might have to keep an eye on @J.Steen as well with his sinister thoughts....I might just pre-emptively flag him for some moderator attention. –  Bart Feb 3 '13 at 15:31
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@LinusKleen Without manually entering the URL, I think you need somebody else to link it. There's no link on the page to it. –  Daniel Fischer Feb 3 '13 at 16:30
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Mad, mad world. –  iDev Feb 3 '13 at 22:50
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@Doorknob i.stack.imgur.com/84cSf.jpg –  asdf_enel_hak Mar 10 '13 at 16:39
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@Doorknob i am "Looking for an answer drawing from credible and/or official sources." for stackoverflow.com/questions/6321702/… –  asdf_enel_hak Mar 11 '13 at 7:13
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5 Answers 5

up vote 46 down vote accepted

I have no idea why or even if the user decided to do this. I just finished going through every question and viewed any deleted comments, there was only one instance where an accept rate was mentioned, and it was not antagonistic. So, obviously, the user was not overly pressured by people to accept answers that for whatever reason just didn't work for them.

It could simply be that upon realizing that the metric was no longer displayed, they elected to reverse the acceptance they had to keep the ratio up .. but on every answer? I'm also baffled. However, the user didn't do anything technically wrong:

  1. No content was defaced, though several posts were removed in the recent past. But, that's not exactly uncommon.
  2. No votes were targeted (minus the loss of the acceptance bonus)
  3. No other signs of the user being angry, at all.

In other words, I sincerely doubt that rage was any kind of motive for this.

I agree on some rate limiting being put into place if this happens again and wasn't some extremely rare incident brought on by circumstances that are not likely to repeat. While coincidental, I'm not convinced that the removal of the accept rate display had much to do with this.

And yes, I agree, it's not a very nice thing to do. But, I'm still kind of baffled. I'll keep looking.

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Footnote: This is bizarre enough that I half considered some kind of bug being at play, but that didn't make any more sense than the user doing it. –  Tim Post Feb 3 '13 at 15:20
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Thanks, but I don't believe it was a coincidence that he did it shortly after accept rate was removed from display. Isn't there a way to contact that user in private, as moderator? –  Shadow Wizard Feb 3 '13 at 15:21
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@ShaWizDowArd I considered it, but the user didn't do anything wrong, all I could do is politely ask as to the motivation. I've brought it up with the rest of the mod team and some of the comm team, I'm still scratching my head here. Additionally, it's not like I can even share their reasoning if I did, the conversation is private. If they want to make it known, they'd have to do it themselves. –  Tim Post Feb 3 '13 at 15:23
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I still think such action is harmful to the community and to the contents. See your point point though so guess we'll have to accept it (pun intended :)) for now and just keep an eye on that user. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 3 '13 at 15:30
    
@ShaWizDowArd It's definitely not something I personally feel we should not be letting someone do, I've raised it internally as I mentioned and I'm still digging to see if I can make better sense out of it. But, I'm privy to things I can't really share, so I also can't really share theories based on that information either. I appreciate your <badpun>acceptance</badpun> of my position :P I will chase this down though. –  Tim Post Feb 3 '13 at 15:35
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He even unaccepted a few self-accepted answers, which makes it even stranger. See: stackoverflow.com/users/492258/… –  NullUserException อ_อ Feb 3 '13 at 16:09
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Some content was defaced recently: he deleted his top 5 unaccepted answers about a week before the unaccepts. I have reversed that though, just in case. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 3 '13 at 16:39
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Yeah, people do strange things sometimes. I wouldn't read to much into this. –  Shog9 Feb 3 '13 at 17:00
    
Worth to mention he's always active e.g. now I see last active "hour ago" on his profile. However can't see any activity, hopefully he's not deleting any other stuff. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 3 '13 at 20:29
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We should wait and see if "rage unaccepting" becomes a systemic issue.

And we should be very careful before we conclude something constitutes "rage unaccepting."

People who are unsatisfied with existing answers should unaccept them.

One user appears to be unaccepting vindictively, and we're considering a policy change?

This doesn't indicate a trend and it's silly to think something must be done about this, unless there is more information to indicate this is becoming common.

Furthermore, of those three posts (and the unaccepted meta post), it's not clear that any of them are really rage unaccepts.

I don't see any strong indication in any of those questions that the OP was actually satisfied by the answers. It seems perfectly plausible--and, by Occam's razor, pretty likely--that s/he had felt pushed into accepting answers. Now that they don't feel pushed into accepting answers dishonestly, they may simply be doing the thing that is both good for them and honorable toward the community: unaccepting answers they should never have accepted in the first place.

I have seen this happen on Ask Ubuntu, where users admit to accepting answers (often total crap answers) just to make their accept rate increase. As the social flogging for low or medium accept rates let up, they unaccepted answers they felt they'd been bullied into accepting originally. (And the social pressure to accept answers on Ask Ubuntu was considerably lighter than it sometimes was on Stack Overflow.) Unaccepting those answers was the right thing for them to do.

Reputation we earn from wrongful accepts is dishonest reputation. It doesn't reflect badly on us (because it is not usually our fault). But it harms us. Like serial upvoting, it dilutes the real-world meaning of reputation.

From time to time, someone accepts an answer of mine when it's quite clear it didn't solve their problem. For example, they might accept but comment about how it didn't work. When this happens, I explain that they should unaccept the answer. This is not a selfless act; it is not motivated just by my concern for them. It is both practically and morally bad for me to have reputation that comes from baseless acceptances.

Losing reputation from such unacceptances is like the sting of cool water on sunburned skin. The injury was already there, and as it starts to be fixed, we become aware of it.

If people really are "rage unaccepting," then that is (at least a little) bad and harmful.

But what we have is one possible rage unaccepter.

Now, let's suppose that the answers this user unaccepted helped the user and should have remained accepted.

Does that mean the user is malicious? Or that s/he has just judged poorly? Or that s/he doesn't understand how accepting answers is supposed to work because s/he never learned to accept answers properly?

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The three mentioned were only examples... how can unaccepting 20 answers in 4 minutes be anything but malicious? One does not simply wake up one fine day and realize that answers to all the questions you asked 2 years ago were unsatisfactory... –  Lorem Ipsum Feb 3 '13 at 14:16
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"be anything but malicious?" I disagree, @Lorem. What true malicious thing has been done here? Sure, some folks (including the OP who unaccepted) lost some reputation, and above all it's harder to tell that the question was answered. But nothing has been defaced. Without any reaction from the OP, this could still just be someone who doesn't care about reputation and thinks the community should make the highest upvoted answer float to the top of the list. (I never understood why the accepted answer is always shown first, even when sorted by votes.) –  Arjan Feb 3 '13 at 14:22
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@LoremIpsum One user is one data point. Furthermore, if someone's already unhappy with most of their accepts, they'll probably continue to be unhappy with them during the course of any given 20 minute interval. Assuming rage unaccepting is happening, I maintain that it is critically important to distinguish it from other forms of mass unaccepting, which we should expect and sometimes even embrace. (That does not mean we should not do something about rage unaccepting, but it means we must be careful. If you have many more examples by other users, please add them to your question.) –  Eliah Kagan Feb 3 '13 at 14:25
    
(Ah, I just read in the comments that some answers were deleted, and meanwhile undeleted by a moderator.) –  Arjan Feb 3 '13 at 14:25
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@Arjan Just because nothing was defaced doesn't mean it wasn't malicious in intent. In this case, it has made a group of users unhappy and has sent the community on an unnecessary discussion trip. If "nothing has been defaced" is your metric, why do you not think it is also OK for someone to mass downvote/targeted downvote? Nothing has been defaced there either... they're just expressing disagreement with the answer, which is probably justified too. Yet, it's a suspendable offense. It might not be a big deal for SO, but on a smaller site or even a small tag on SO, it is absolutely a big deal. –  Lorem Ipsum Feb 3 '13 at 14:33
    
I disagree. There is no justification to unaccept all answers. That user never really posted "thanks, it's working" nor "sorry, it does not work" comments, he's the silent type. If it was one, two or even three answers unaccepted then I wouldn't bother but it's way more than that, and most of those are good answers with upvotes that were already accepted before. No proof for "rage", but at least "irrational unaccept issue" that also should be dealt with at some point. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 3 '13 at 14:47
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"why do you not think it is also OK for someone to mass downvote/targeted downvote?" because, @Lorum, nothing was massively downvoted. All we saw when we wrote our comments was mass unaccepting, for which you asked how it could "be anything but malicious?", but which I feel could have been done for many more reasons than malicious intent, like the example I gave. That's all. –  Arjan Feb 3 '13 at 15:06
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@Doorknob If you're making a point, can you explain what it is? We can all see their profile, too. This is still one person. A policy change based on this--especially restricting users' ability to unaccept--would damage a working system, for no reason. –  Eliah Kagan Feb 3 '13 at 17:17
    
@EliahKagan it's not clear that any of them are really rage unaccepts. I'm disagreeing with that. What else would it be? –  Doorknob Feb 3 '13 at 17:17
    
@Doorknob The unaccepts could still be due to any of the other possibilities that have been discussed. But like I said, suppose these are rage unaccepts. A policy change... Well, never mind. I think I've made my point. :) –  Eliah Kagan Feb 3 '13 at 17:19
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@EliahKagan: Since the person in question has deigned to reply by saying that it's self-vandalism, I think "rage unaccept" seems fitting. –  Nicol Bolas Feb 3 '13 at 22:39
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Anecdata: After this change went live, I personally went through all my own questions and unaccepted a substantial number of answers. Why?

I wasn't angry. But they were answers I had accepted but with which I was never quite satisfied - they were the best I was going to get at the time and the displayed accept rate irked me, so I accepted the 'best' answer - even when the best wasn't quite good enough for my own standards. This change made me feel free to apply the accept when I believed it was earned - and to do so retroactively. I think jumping to the conclusion that his motives were malicious - especially when the change to accept rate display is so recent - is probably a bit unfair.

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Did you read his answer here? While not malicious, it's far from being valid either. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 6 '13 at 14:24
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@ShaWizDowArd Yeah, I read it. Whatever strange performance art is motivating this particular user makes it even more clear to me that this is a unique and special case and not one that needs responding to with some kind of code level change. I was merely pointing out that there are some pretty good reasons for waves of unaccepts - like I said, I just went on one, and am probably going to do another pass later today. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Feb 6 '13 at 14:57
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I won't judge your own actions; probably you shouldn't have accepted those answers in the first place. Anyway, I never suggested any "code level change". My question has no feature-request tag, I just put the cards on the table asking for opinions. I might be wrong with the word "rage" on the specific case I linked to, but the general idea still stands. Bottom line see the answer I accepted: it also does not encourage any change unless we're going to see such things happen more. Only time will tell. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 6 '13 at 20:53
    
Not a bad idea. I've also accepted marginal answers just because I felt like I should accept one. –  xpda Mar 11 '13 at 2:25
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My solution to prevent this would be to only allow switching the acceptance to a different answer, and not removing it entirely after a certain time.

Being able to change the accepted answer even after a long time is important, but I don't see a realistic use case for unaccepting an answer completely after a few months or so.

If you find an error much later, you could still work around this by posting your corrected solution as an answer and self-accept that one.

I'm not yet convinced that this is a problem that happens often enough to warrant such a solution, this is the only case I heard about so for.

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No, don't think that's a good thing. There are valid cases when the OP use the given code and at first glance it works but after some hour/days/weeks he suddenly find a severe bug in the given solution or understand it's not what he needs after all. In such cases, he should be able to unaccept, put a comment and wait for either a fix or new answer. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 3 '13 at 9:56
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How about limiting this action, the same way we limit own-post-edits to five a day? –  J. Steen Feb 3 '13 at 9:59
    
@J.Steen great minds think alike! Was just posting this, though 3 per day is more than enough. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 3 '13 at 9:59
    
Maybe an answer looked right so was accepted but then late on getting it out it turns out it doesn't work after all. You'd probably want to unaccept, but with no correct one there's nothing else to mark as correct. Fringe case, yes, but not unlikely. Perhaps in that event such answers should be flagged by the accepter requesting it be unaccepted (not that a mod can unaccept answers, but that's a different point) –  JonW Feb 3 '13 at 10:00
    
@J.Steen I doubt rate-limiting will do much. Nobody other than the OP can "undo" an unaccept. Whereas as edits can be undone by high-rep users, and deletions can be undone by moderators. So the OP can keep on unaccepting the maximum each day. –  Mysticial Feb 3 '13 at 10:00
    
@Mysticial It might lead them to giving up on trying to unaccept all their questions' answer, since it's going to take several days. I dunno, really. This is rather strange behaviour. –  J. Steen Feb 3 '13 at 10:02
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@ShaWizDowArd I would set the time frame to a month or so. That should be enough time to find out if the answer is actually what you needed. As long as the acceptance is not yet a month old, you would still be able to remove it. –  Mad Scientist Feb 3 '13 at 10:07
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@Mad that sounds more reasonable, though I still feel uneasy to bind users' hands like this. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 3 '13 at 11:25
    
@J.Steen: As we've seen in this question, one is enough. So rate limiting it hardly seems useful. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 3 '13 at 17:58
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As the research recorded here in the other answers shows, there is no indication of rage, revenge, or malicious intent here. The user appears to be a cooperating citizen who distinguishes good and bad content and is willing to take actions to provide feedback in some cases. (Look at his/her voting structure.)

I see this incident as confirming a theory I had already when learning that accept rate would no longer be displayed, predicting some drop in total acceptance rates.

The (only?) reason of asking a question is getting people see it and provide relevant information on it (answers, comments, votes, votes and comments on various answers, views). The frequency of all such events goes down when the question is considered to have an accepted answer.

Supposing that the user does not feel bored by the prospect of getting even more interaction related to his/her questions, we are seeing prima facie economic behavior here.

I know that unaccepting also entails the loss of 2 points of reputation per answer, which might kind of compensate for most people, not speaking of all kinds of ethical, aesthetical, or interaction quality reasons against completely stopping to accept.

  • This user may not know that they are also losing reputation
  • This user may not care that they are also losing reputation
  • This user may expect that the higher exposure of their questions will lead to a mixed voting traffic more than compensating for this loss in the long run.

Who knows.

[Edit: only now I noticed that user's comment "Please consider that as self-vandalism." Good, this won't be a very frequent motivation here.]

Maybe the January change to displaying accept rates was a little overdone.

After enough time passes, we should check the database to see how widespread this slightly damaging behavior is and see whether there we have a problem with making the aggregated accept rate completely unaccessible to other users, or not.

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Nicely said. As for "making the aggregated accept rate completely unaccessible" that's not 100% true, we can still see the users questions list and have rough estimation of the accept rate, especially when it's very low. It's just not easily accessible anymore. :) –  Shadow Wizard Mar 4 '13 at 8:55
    
@ShaWizDowArd - I said "aggregated" because I knew I could still derive it from their reputation history or going through their question pages. It is not private information. We just made a big change in its presentation. –  Jirka Hanika Mar 4 '13 at 9:01
    
You're basing quite a lot of your analysis of the outcome of accept-rate removal on the (extraordinary) behaviour of a single user. Your last paragraph seems to be the most important. We need far more evidence than (what now seems to be) a single instance of strange behaviour. –  Bart Mar 4 '13 at 9:35
    
"The user appears to be a cooperating citizen who distinguishes good and bad content and is willing to take actions to provide feedback in some cases." He appears so, but he's already made it clear himself that this was due to oscillation. It's right at the bottom. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Mar 4 '13 at 10:33
    
@BoltClock'saUnicorn - answer edited to reflect that. –  Jirka Hanika Mar 4 '13 at 11:58
    
@Bart - I agree with you, but I don't agree with the use of the word "rage" in most answers to this question, which is why I answered. See the answer by LessPos_MoreFizz for a much less extraordinary instance. Neither of the two examples we have is well described by the word "rage". –  Jirka Hanika Mar 4 '13 at 12:02
    
i wish i could up vote this –  asdf_enel_hak Mar 8 '13 at 20:00
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