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No doubt, Stack Overflow is a great site which helps users to easily find answers to all kind of questions. But I also had a not so great experience I would like to share and ask the opinion of other users.

I had an account in the past and earned some reputation after answering several questions. Not so long ago, I realized that my account was not available anymore, and all my activity on Stack Overflow was removed (all answers and questions).

I've sent a couple of emails to Stack Overflow support and hardly get a single reply with the following content:

It looks like your account was removed due to excess promotion.

After this "great" experience, I have the following questions:

  1. Is it OK to remove an account, without any kind of warning?
  2. Is it correct to remove all the user data without proving the guilt?
  3. Is it fair not to answer to user complaints?
  4. Can answering two questions with the same answer be considered an "excess promotion"?
  5. Did anybody else have a similar experience?
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jul 23 '11 at 13:24

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

    
I didn't know about the rule about promotion until I saw your post on Stack Overflow. I deleted an inappropriate comment I had made a while back. Thanks. –  Gaurav Jul 23 '11 at 13:33
    
@Gaurav: It's in the FAQ. –  Cody Gray Jul 23 '11 at 13:36
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@Gaurav: If your comment actually was inappropriate, then thank you for deleting it. However, one promotional comment among 50 helpful answers will get you a warning at most. –  Bill the Lizard Jul 23 '11 at 14:20
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Your old account is in the Google cache. The cache shows 14 answers, of which 12 mention your project. None mentioned your affiliation with that project. A number of the answers were identical to each other. –  martin clayton Jul 23 '11 at 14:54
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Does it matter my affiliation to that project? As long as my answers where upvoted, isn't that the sign of the relevance and prove of the fact that I wasn't spamming and "promoting by excess"? –  Alex Objelean Jul 23 '11 at 16:12
    
@Alex - your 14 answers had a net of only +3 or +4 votes between them, none were accepted answers. The answers below clearly explain how self-promotion is viewed. –  martin clayton Jul 23 '11 at 17:30
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@Alex: Yes, your affiliation does matter. The above-linked FAQ clearly indicates that we expect affiliated parties to disclose that affiliation. However, we do (as Bill the Lizard explained) have quite a bit more sympathy for people who run afoul of this rule while also providing helpful content. Not sure if you did in this particular case (I can't see the posts in question), but please keep in mind that we have a very strict policy on spam and self-promotion to keep this site high quality. If you follow those rules and disclose your affiliations, you should be just fine in the future. –  Cody Gray Jul 24 '11 at 3:58
    
Thank you all for your answers. I appreciate fair responses and intention to help. I would also appreciate those who downvoted this post to provide a reason why they did it. I just don't get why somebody would downvote a fair question and request for feedback and clarification. Is the original question unclear? Was it unuseful, since so many people replied? I found it very useful, since I get so much feedback. This is what a downvote means: "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful" –  Alex Objelean Jul 25 '11 at 7:58
    
@Code Gray told me that this question was downvoted because it was posted on meta. But it was posted on SO initially and moved to meta by moderators. –  Alex Objelean Jul 25 '11 at 7:59
    
I'm not unreasonable. I understand that it is hard to moderate a large amount of content and everything moderators do is for community benefit. But I expect the community to be reasonable and promote fairness across users, otherwise (by downvoting this kind of posts) it will be less attractive for people willing to contribute. –  Alex Objelean Jul 25 '11 at 8:03

4 Answers 4

I delete a lot of spam accounts. If the only reason an account exists is to promote a site or product, I will delete it. If you were providing any actual content you would have been given a warning.

Is it OK to remove an account, without any kind of warning?

Spammers know what they're doing. I'm not going to leave spam on Stack Overflow so that I can be nice to spammers. I'm here to serve the rest of the community.

Is it correct to remove all the user data without proving the guilt?

Who do I have to prove it to? If I see a spam post at all, 99% of the time it was because it was flagged by someone else in the community.

Is it fair not to answer to user complaints?

I answer them when I see them.

Can answering two questions with the same answer be considered an "excess promotion"?

Yes, if all you've ever done is answer two questions with links to your site that don't answer the question, I'd consider that excess promotion. If the linked articles seem to answer the question, I'll leave a warning comment instead of deleting the account.

Did anybody else have a similar experience?

Yes, I'm sure they have.

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" If I see a spam post at all, 99% of the time it was because it was flagged by someone else in the community" - what about the other 1%? What do you do when you realize that remove decision wasn't fair? Also, a user can intentionally mark as spam an answer which isn't spam at all. I think that the censorship must be the community responsibility, not one person subjective point of view. –  Alex Objelean Jul 23 '11 at 16:19
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@Alex: That other 1% doesn't represent an unfair decision. It represents when I happen across spam myself. I'm an active user of Stack Overflow. People do flag things as spam inappropriately, and moderators dismiss those flags as invalid. –  Bill the Lizard Jul 23 '11 at 17:18

About self-promotion, the FAQ of every site reports:

Be careful, because the community frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, so be it. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.

If a huge percentage of your posts include a mention of your product or website, you're probably here for the wrong reasons. Our advertising rates are quite reasonable; contact our ad sales team for details. We also offer free community promotion ads for open source projects and non-profit organizations.

I cannot verify if the cases of self-promotion were just two, but even two cases could be too much, depending on what you did it; self-promoting is close to spamming. For example, if you did one of the following things, your account could be deleted.

  • You added two answers that didn't answer the question being asked just to report the link to your site, or to your product page.
  • You edited two posts just to add the link to the product page on your web site.
  • You added two answers to questions that are not related in anyway with your products, and with the use that can be done with your products, just to add the link to the product pages of your products.

With the last point I mean that you effectively answerer the question, but then you added the link to your product when the product is not related in any way to the question being asked.

share|improve this answer
    
I understand your point of view, but still: 1. Do you see a difference between "promoting" a paid product and an open source project? 2. Is it still considered spam an answer which was awarded points? 3. What is wrong with the answer having a link, if the link has enough informations which solves the problem? It's like if you ask me what is a "Solar System" and I send you the link to wikipedia and you start to consider it a "promotion" of wikipedia. 4. I have never added an answer which wasn't related at all with the product pages and can prove it if necessary –  Alex Objelean Jul 23 '11 at 15:56
    
5. When the answer was the same, that was because the type of question was also the same. –  Alex Objelean Jul 23 '11 at 16:00
    
And one more thing: when starting to use the stackoverflow, it could be useful to "educate" users. After opening my accout, I was using it only for searching for existing answers, not for answering. After starting to post few answer which were related to my area of expertise, my account was deleted and I was never aware of "excess promotion" stuff, because I doubt anybody reads entire FAQ before starting to use this site. –  Alex Objelean Jul 23 '11 at 16:06
    
I cannot see which of your answers have been deleted, but promotion of an open source project is still promotion, such as when I am promoting the use of an open source project like Drupal. If I keep including a link to the download page for Drupal in a question asking how to do something with Joomla, or any other CMS. If you add a link to Wikipedia, there could be another problem if your answer just contains that link; still, if a link to Wikipedia is acceptable, a link to a private site you own, or you are involved with, is considered promoting. –  kiamlaluno Jul 23 '11 at 16:13
1  
If the link to the private site is relevant, then you should disclose your relation with the site you are referring to. If you have any proof that your account has been wrongly deleted, then you can send an email to the address reported at the bottom of every SE site, the one labelled with "contact us." That doesn't mean your account will be restored, but if there is any reason to do so, they will surely do it. –  kiamlaluno Jul 23 '11 at 16:18
    
Well, I did send an email and get no answer. I feel like I'm struggling for nothing and it doesn't worth it. The fact that this post was downvoted and moved to meta isn't the sign of exceeded censorship on stackoverflow? What's wrong with asking for fairness when I'm sure I wasn't wrong? –  Alex Objelean Jul 23 '11 at 16:28
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The question has been moved here because this is the site where to ask this type of questions; it's not a matter of censorship, which is something completely different and done from a completely different "entity." As for the down-vote, if that has been done on SO, then it could have been done from who has seen too much questions for this meta site asked on SO; if the down-vote has been done here, then down-votes here have a different meaning than on the main site. All I can suggest you is to go forward and forget what happened; take the assumption they acted for the good of the community. –  kiamlaluno Jul 23 '11 at 16:36
    
Thanks kamlaluno for your quick answers. Appreciated it! I was just giving my feedback as a customer of SO. –  Alex Objelean Jul 23 '11 at 16:39

What's this excess promotion they are referring to? What did you do?

All this is my personal opinion, but:

  1. If an account was created for the purpose of spamming or the like, I would say yes. For any account that was also used seriously, some kind of warning may be in order.
  2. This is a privately owned site. As far as I'm concerned, they can do as they please with their data. They're not obliged in some way to keep your stuff indefinitely.
  3. Hard to judge without having all the facts. It seems you were replied to. Perhaps there was nothing more to say; I would definitely ignore your further complaints in such a case.
  4. If the answer only consists of "buy our product" without providing some kind of rationale on why your product is the best solution for the OP, I'd say yes.
  5. No, because I don't promote products I'm affiliated to...
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And, 3), there's probably zillions of complaints coming in 24/7. –  Arjan Jul 23 '11 at 13:54

Alex, you say that you'd like to be notified when someone looks at one of your posts and sees spam. Here you go:

Two answers from you, both within the last day or so. Both mention your project, and neither includes any mention of any affiliation whatsoever.

Once again: the FAQ says quite clearly

May I promote products or websites I am affiliated with here?

Be careful, because the community frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, so be it. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.

Is there a part of that that isn't clear?

Now that you've been notified, what do you intend to do?

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1  
This is getting ridicoulous: both answers were as relevant as it could be. The first answer was accepted and upvoted, also I get the "thank you" from the person who asked it. What should I do more? Stop answering questions? Should I add a PS everytime where I say, one of the link is the project I was contributed my free time? I'm really puzzled with your comment –  Alex Objelean Jul 25 '11 at 9:00
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I'll repeat myself again: what part of you must disclose your affiliation in your answers isn't clear? No disclosure spam. Repeat spamming bad user. Bad user account deletion. –  Dori Jul 25 '11 at 9:03
    
Please, provide an example of how you would do that. –  Alex Objelean Jul 25 '11 at 9:05
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Here you go: 1, 2, 3, and my profile bio, as seen here or here. Really, it's not that hard. –  Dori Jul 25 '11 at 9:19
    
Thanks, that is all I want. –  Alex Objelean Jul 25 '11 at 9:21

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