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According to this FAQ entry, the only restriction on self-deleting an answer is that you can't delete an answer that's been accepted. But I've also heard of users getting in trouble for deleting (non-accepted) answers, and there's the CC-SA license to consider, so -- quite aside from what is technically possible -- my question is when it's permitted to delete your own answer.

Some cases to consider:

  • You now believe the answer is incorrect.

  • Your answer is correct, but another answer covers the same territory better.

  • You aren't satisfied with the quality/rigor of your answer, e.g. it's speculative and you didn't back it up (on a site that expects that).

  • Something in the answer embarrasses you and you'd rather just make it go away.

  • Your answer wasn't well-received by the community (whether that's "meh" or "make the rep bleeding stop please").

  • (I'm sure there are others; this isn't meant to be an exhaustive list.)

Does voting matter, either in absolute terms or in comparison to other answers? For example, maybe it's ok to delete a lower-voted one but not the top-voted answer, or one with score > N??

There is a badge, Disciplined, for deleting your own post of score 3 or higher. This tells me that it's sometimes ok to delete upvoted answers. But I'm not sure how much policy we can infer from badges.

Could we have some clarification please?

  • I don't think there is any real policy, it's case-by-case. One can always choose to delete his/her own post and if the community deem that post useful, it (either mod or three 10K users) will undelete it. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Jan 20 '14 at 22:22
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    you've heard of people getting in trouble for deleting their own answers? where? – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Jan 20 '14 at 22:22
  • What kind of "trouble"? Do you mean automated answer bans or something different? – Martin Smith Jan 20 '14 at 22:22
  • I've heard of suspensions being brought up. (I wasn't thinking of the auto-ban, but I guess that could be a factor too, though I gather you'd have to delete a lot of your answers for that.) – Monica Cellio Jan 20 '14 at 22:24
  • @MonicaCellio suspension is really extreme, probably only when user gets into delete/undelete wars of good content. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Jan 20 '14 at 22:26
  • Well, that gets into the question of what's "good content" and who decides. – Monica Cellio Jan 20 '14 at 22:27
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The license doesn't say anything about deletion. It mandates that credit be removed if requested by the author, which we'll do by either disassociating the post or deleting either the post or your account upon request.

Beyond that, it is a matter of etiquette: deleting a post can result in a net improvement to the information presented on a given question (if the answer was a duplicate, misleading or simply out-of-date). In particular, FGITW situations often result in the posting of inadvertently redundant answers, or answers that are quickly surpassed by more informative answers. As the badge indicates, deleting such content can be considered useful, indicative of a community-minded spirit.

It can also be quite disruptive, however: if you're removing information that has proved useful, re-creating it may be quite difficult and time-consuming... Or worse yet, not done at all. One should always bear in mind that their work does not exist in a vacuum: other answers may have been written to complement the answer being removed, or not written at all.

Indeed, my primary reason for supporting the ability of 10K users to view deleted content early on in the life of Stack Overflow came from observing useful answers deleted by others and finding useful the ability to salvage them. It is worth remembering then, that even if you do delete an answer, you may find it re-posted by others.

Finally, it's worth mentioning one pattern that has been observed as particularly hostile to the community on a site: mass-deletion of answers (or "rage-quitting"), particularly when focused on answers that the author knows are useful to others. This is often done as a passive-aggressive way of seeking "revenge" upon the community for some perceived slight (specific triggers run the gamut from dissatisfaction over general moderation policies to irritation with a specific user). As it tends to represent an active effort on the part of a member to cause harm to the community, the system strives to both limit the amount of deletions that can be performed at one time and automatically notifies the moderator team so that they can attempt to calm the author down (or, if necessary, block further deletions by way of a suspension).

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    Thanks. So how does one judge if an answer has proved useful? References from other answers? A certain vote threshold? Or is it sufficient to say that the community will undelete it if it was useful? – Monica Cellio Jan 20 '14 at 23:47
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    Well, start by asking yourself if you'd want the answer there if a friend had the same question and you wanted to point him to an answer. Obviously you're probably a bit biased toward your own work, so if you're able to admit that the answer isn't adding anything of value then that's a pretty good start. IMHO, that's pretty good for a rule of thumb, but there are all sorts of grey areas; I've more than once found it beneficial to remove redundancy by deleting my own answer and then submit extensive edits to another answer - but this isn't practical or even palatable for every author. – Shog9 Jan 20 '14 at 23:52
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In my opinion it should always be kosher to delete ones own answer (as long as the system allows it).

There are rate limits to prevent people deleting answers in bulk.

Site moderators or 10K users can vote to undelete answers if they disagree with the decision at which point I suppose the answerer needs to decide whether to contest it, ask for disassociation of the answer from their account, or accept it.

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If we'd like people to err on the side of disassociation, perhaps the team should think about smoothing the desired path. Today there's a nice, easy, 'delete' button, just tempting the fingers of the momentarily provoked.

In any case, I would imagine that an important issue here is the auto-bans, not just those 'driven' to rage-quit. People read that there's a process of dire consequence connected to deletion, and they get nervous.

I think that perhaps part of the answer here is that you're not going to get banned for infrequently deleting an answer. We'd like you to leave useful content alone, and we're like you not to create crap, but the system isn't going to bin you as a crap-creator for judicious use of the delete link.

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