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As I found out earlier today, users who are deleted have their negatively-scored questions deleted, even if those questions have upvoted answers.

This goes against established conventions, for two reasons:

  1. As moderators, we constantly tell users that we won't unilaterally delete questions that have upvoted answers.

  2. Even our FAQ states that we don't let users delete their own questions that have upvoted answers. See also this.

This 'delete my user' process allows a user to get around this policy by simply deleting their own account. Since nothing stops them from creating another account, it's quite possible this harms our mission of keeping good content around. Also, it allows users to delete their own questions whose answers have received bounties, which can take away the bounty award; this behavior was recently prevented for normal question self-deletions.

I propose that we make changes to the user deletion algorithm:

If a user is deleted and they have questions with upvoted answers, those questions are disassociated from the user's account instead of being summarily deleted.

Questions without upvoted answers are treated like they are currently: they are deleted when the user is deleted.

This should be the same for destroyed users as well.

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    Should they really be kept if they're negatively scored? If it was a good and clear question - i.e. the sort we very definitely want to accumulate - it probably would not be negatively scored. Why not clear them away and let someone fill the gap with a new version of the question which might not be worth downvoting? – doppelgreener Oct 8 '13 at 0:13
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    @JonathanHobbs I'd have to see a query of recently deleted posts on Stack Overflow that follow the deletion algorithm to see what we'd be missing. On Meta, however, questions should not be deleted if they have a negative score and have upvotes -- for multiple reasons (voting indicates disagreement on Meta, not so on other sites). – George Stocker Oct 8 '13 at 0:39
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    On a Meta site that's definitely important. For non-meta sites, I'd be interested in that query too. – doppelgreener Oct 8 '13 at 0:43
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    @JonathanHobbs: The problem is that upvoted answers are then lost. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 9 '13 at 10:42
  • Good thing I looked ;) For the main sites, I'm not sure whether having an upvoted answer should automatically prevent deletion (it it's a +1 answer to a negatively scored question, chances are it's not a great loss), but I would strongly prefer that if the question has answers with high enough score (whatever would be a reasonable threshold), one would at least have a human or two look at it to see whether the answer deserves preservation. Should that be a new post, or will staff eventually look at your feature request? – Daniel Fischer Dec 17 '14 at 15:14
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    On meta, downvoted posts are still important -- as a record of "considered and rejected", if nothing else. – Monica Cellio Dec 24 '14 at 22:32
  • What is a destroyed user? Sounds harsh.. – Daniel Springer Nov 11 '15 at 16:01
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So... We've been talking about this internally for as long as I can remember. I was sitting on a call as a newly-hired part-timer, in my attic, arguing over this.

I get the intent: a deleted user is never going to come back and fix their post. They're never going to provide clarification, accept an answer, approve edits, or otherwise participate...

...But the indiscriminate deletion ends up hurting folks who have participated in good faith, have had their work recognized already, and worst of all have little visibility into or ability to influence the process that leads to deletion. Heck, we don't allow askers to explicitly delete their questions if there's an upvoted answer, so why allow them to do so implicitly by deleting their account?

And... This affects a fair number of upvoted answers, north of 500 a month on average. That's too many to brush off. Now that we've made self-deletion more convenient, this has to be fixed.

So after reviewing the data, here's what I think makes sense: delete a user's posts along with them only when those posts...

  • ...score < 0 AND
    • ...are closed OR
    • ...have no answers scoring > 0

This change is now live.

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    Great! Is there a site search or SEDE query that would let communities find previously-deleted cases that we might want to review? (I realize that the site search would be moderator-only.) – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '18 at 17:50
  • Unfortunately, no, @Monica. SEDE only contains information needed to identify the ones that have already been undeleted. – Shog9 Jul 13 '18 at 18:05
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    @MonicaCellio Here's the best I can do. It lists positive-scoring answers on deleted, non-closed, negative-scoring questions. Unfortunately, SEDE doesn't have the data required to tell how the question got deleted, so the list also includes questions torched by mods. – Ben N Jul 13 '18 at 18:59
  • It was made easier for mods to track questions automatically deleted due to the user deletion algorithm on meta sites following a 2016 change where negatively-voted posts aren't deleted at all on meta sites. Can a similar thing be done for this? – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Jul 14 '18 at 7:32
  • @Shog9 Any idea why this change didn't block meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/376440/… from happening? – TylerH Nov 9 '18 at 17:11
  • If an author is destroyed, then all of their posts (and comments) will be deleted unconditionally, @TylerH. This is an option for moderators. – Shog9 Nov 14 '18 at 2:51
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+50

I agree that good answers shouldn't automatically be lost without the chance for human review. The Roomba doesn't delete in this case, so it's counter-intuitive that deleting a user does. Further, these auto-deletions don't even go to the 10k review page for deletions -- not that we should expect people to regularly review those anyway (the interface is poor), but even if they wanted to they couldn't. So that's no good.

I agree with your suggestion: it would be better to leave bad question with good answers in place (account deletion will anonymize them) than to delete them. We tell users clearly that once they post content they don't fully own it any more, so there is no reasonable expectation of question deletion with account deletion.

If leaving them undeleted is deemed to be too permissive, then we should apply human review instead of auto-deleting these.

For downvoted questions with upvoted answers, the system could leave the questions and raise an auto low-quality flag, sending the question to the review queue. Reviewers can then inspect the question in context and decide its fate. (The answers would also need to be presented.)

We already have auto-flags for low quality and users are used to sometimes seeing old stuff in the review queues, so adding this doesn't seem like it would surprise or confuse anybody.

Normally the options for questions in this queue are "close", "looks ok", and "edit". Closed questions do not go to this queue under normal circumstances, but with this change that could happen. For a closed question in the LQP review queue the "close" option should be replaced with "delete" or "recommend deletion", just like for answers. "Edit" (to fix the problem) + "looks ok" (post-edit) remains an option.

It's important that the answers be available when reviewing low-quality questions. I don't know if they are or not (I don't have an LQP test case at the moment). SOUP adds this for the close queue and might add it for LQP too.

Or if using low-quality reviews is too hard, we could at least raise moderator flags on deleted questions with upvoted answers. We now get moderators flags for some controversial reviews (I don't think we did back when I wrote this answer), which seems vaguely similar -- here's a thing on the site that requires human judgement, the processes available haven't produced a clear result, so mods should take a look. I'd rather see community review than moderator review, but I'd rather see moderator review than silent deletion like we have now.

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    You might consider poking at English.SE's LQP review which (as of this comment) has 11 entries in it... just to refamilarize yourself with that that review queue (all those diamonds can lead to confusing about what we regular users see ;-) – user213963 May 22 '15 at 14:25
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    You can edit a question, but the options for completing the review are the "close", "looks ok" and "skip". (ok, I'm having trouble finding a question int he queue too). My point is more one of that you can't flag a closed question VLQ as a manual process and that you don't find closed questions in the LQP review queue. A further challenge with questions in the LQP review is you don't see answers - so you don't know if an edit invalidates them... and a single edit will remove the question from the queue (even if it isn't sufficient). – user213963 May 22 '15 at 14:46
  • Once you've edited, "looks ok" should be a viable option, no? Does LQP not show answers? (I'm having trouble finding a question in the LQP queue anywhere to test with.) SOUP says it adds answers for the close queue but doesn't say anything about LQP; maybe it's doing it there too and that's why I've seen them in the past? (Again, if I can find a review to test with I'll turn off SOUP to verify the baseline UI.) – Monica Cellio May 22 '15 at 14:51
  • (drat that move to chat is too close to accidental double clicks). Looks OK is always a visible option in the LQP (if nothing else, consider audits). Questions and answers both go through the LQP post based on VLQ flags. Only open questions can get a VLQ flag manually. Closing a question (I believe) clears the VLQ flag on a question. In the LQP review, a question may be closed or marked as ok. An answer may be deleted or marked as ok. As closed questions never get in the LQP, there is no delete option for them in that queue - that's left to 10k and Roomba. – user213963 May 22 '15 at 15:08
  • @MichaelT see my edit. I've also deleted some of my comments as obsolete. – Monica Cellio May 22 '15 at 15:18
  • Incidentally, user deletion to deleted posts don't show up in the 10k tools. – user213963 May 22 '15 at 15:25
  • Ouch, that's unfortunate. (Roomba-deleted posts do and self-deletions don't; I guess this is somewhere in between.) So there really is no review option now, unless somebody happened to have a link. – Monica Cellio May 22 '15 at 15:27
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    Nope - its really hard to find the posts. My experience with it was in What roomba script went after this question – user213963 May 22 '15 at 15:50
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If a question with an upvoted answer can not be deleted, a user who posts a bad question, gets an answer, and upvotes that answer, can prevent deletion of their question. Up voting answers to your own questions is fairly common.

Yes, deleting the question removes those answers. But should the question have ever had any answers. Were the answers just people rep-farming?

Maybe require an answer with several upvotes to prevent deletion.

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    Can prevent deletion of their question when they delete their profile. Joining a site, making 15 rep, asking a question, and upvoting an answer just to ... make sure someone else's decent answer (without any downvotes) gets stuck on the site forever, assuming no one votes to delete the question? That's not a very impressive exploit. Someone who doesn't delete their profile could do the same thing now. – Nathan Tuggy Jul 15 '18 at 13:03

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