42

As a moderator I sometimes1 find myself needing to explain disassociation to a user, usually one who has tried to delete posts that he's belatedly realized are connected to him. It'd sure be handy if I could link to a page in the Help Center instead of explaining it anew each time. We have a page on how to delete an account, but not the less-drastic action of disconnecting a single post.

I understand that this is not something we want to encourage people to do willy-nilly, as it must be done by an SE employee (we mods can't do it) and that's a hassle. But I don't think having a page in the Help Center will, by itself, cause a surge of requests.

I'll propose some language here in an effort to help out and not just ask for things. Use it or not as you see fit.

While this request comes from the "insider" knowledge of the solution, disassociation, I'm writing the topic from the "outsider" perspective, which is closer to "aiieeeee, I shouldn't've posted that!".

(I've belatedly become aware of this post, but mine is a little more specific so I'm posting it anyway.)

1 Three times this week, though fortunately that's unusually frequent.


I've thought better of my question; can I delete it?

You may have had second thoughts about a question you've asked. Maybe you don't want your coworkers to see that question about job-hunting, or you don't want certain family members to see just how much of an expert you've become on video games when they thought you were focusing on school. We get it; Stack Exchange makes it easy to get good answers to your questions, so naturally you asked.

If your question has answers, though, it's not fair to the people who wrote them for you to delete your question. They put effort into helping you and even if you no longer want the answers, somebody else might. This is why the system prevents you from deleting answered questions most of the time, and it's also why if you flag to request deletion the flag will probably be declined.

However, you can request that a post you've made (question or answer) be disassociated from your account. This means it will remain on the site, but it will no longer be attributed to you. It won't show up on your profile, it won't have your name on it, and you won't get any reputation from it. (You also won't be able to accept an answer later, because it's no longer your question, so do that now if you want to.) Disassociation is irreversible, so make sure this is what you want.

To request disassociation, use the "contact us" link at the bottom of the page. In the form, say you want to disassociate a post and include the URL.

While disassociation is permitted, this is meant to be an exception, not a routine action. Please be respectful of people's time and do not abuse this. A pattern of posting rashly and requesting disassociation, over and over again, could lead to suspension.

  • 4
    And also mention that post disassociation is not a means for withdrawing from every conversation that isn't going your way or you lose interest in - and using it for that purpose will lead to a suspension. Don't waste SE's time for silly reasons. – animuson Sep 15 '14 at 3:31
  • Thanks for the suggestion @animuson. (I've been fortunate not to have that problem on my sites, at least so far.) I've edited to add that in. – Monica Cellio Sep 15 '14 at 3:48
  • 2
    Notes for improvement: we should talk about editing and redaction and make clear that disassociation is only in play for posts that are (and should remain) publicly visible. Also relevant: meta.stackexchange.com/a/225997/162102 – Monica Cellio Mar 31 '17 at 22:18
9

The help center articles are now up! See here (for everyone) and here (mod-only). Some warnings have been updated to point to there (see at the bottom). The mod message template for self-destruction of useful content also points there.

This can be helpful, indeed, and I like your copy, but with some minor copy edits it can be a bit broader and also help out people who are about to shoot themselves in the foot by triggering "too many edits" or "too many deletions" auto-flags — which means we'd also point to this help center article whenever we'd pop a warning to a user in such a situation (more on this at the bottom).

Keeping the format you propose — (a) a proposed Help Center post and (b) proposed moderator guidance (to go somewhere in the mod section of the Help Center) — with very minor changes to (b), and some bigger ones to (a).

Lemme know your thoughts in the comments! :)

Help Center

I've thought better of my question; can I delete it?

You might have had second thoughts about something you've posted. Maybe you don't want your coworkers to see that very specific question about job-hunting, or you realize you shouldn't have posted that proprietary code, or you don't want your friends to see that stupid mistake in your question. If nobody has answered yet, go ahead and delete it — nobody minds.

If your question has good answers, though, it's not fair to have those answers removed along with your question: other users put effort into helping you and even if you no longer want the answers, somebody else might. This is why the system prevents you from deleting answered questions most of the time.

But there are some other things you can do:

  • If your question is unnecessarily specific, edit to generalize it. Do you really need to name specific employers, vendors, or other details? Is your location actually important? Can you make the code more generic and rename some variables? Don't invalidate existing answers and don't make it so vague as to be unanswerable, but if you could be one of thousands of people who could have asked that question, people probably won't know it's you. In almost all cases, an edit should be all you need.

  • If you really can't see a way to salvage the question while removing identifying details, and none of the answers are highly upvoted, and especially if the question is closed, you can use a flag to request that moderators delete it. If there's not much at stake, they might do that for you.

  • If you have posted something super-sensitive like a password or an API key, edit it out and then use a flag to ask moderators to redact it from the revision history. Be specific about what needs to go and (if it's not obvious) why. Redaction requests must be approved by two moderators, so there will be a delay. If the question is closed, moderators might decide to just delete it instead. See this post for some more specific guidance on preparing a post for redaction without breaking it or its answers.

  • If the question is good, there's nothing sensitive in it, and the problem is just that your name is on it, you might be able to have it disassociated from your account. This is not true anonymity; anything you post on the Internet lives forever somewhere. Requests are reviewed, which takes time. If your request is approved, it cannot be reversed later.

While redaction and disassociation are permitted, they are meant to be rare exceptions, not routine actions. A pattern of posting rashly and requesting deletion, redaction, or disassociation, over and over again, could lead to suspension. Post as if everything you write will be publicly visible forever.

Vandalizing or excessive deletion of useful posts may trigger an alert within the system, and prompt action from the moderation team. Please be respectful of the efforts of others: avoid invalidating their work or creating a nuisance.

None of this can be used to lift a posting block by the system — if you are blocked from posting new questions or answers, please refer to Why are questions no longer being accepted from my account? and Why are answers no longer being accepted from my account? for guidance on how to lift the block.

Moderator guidance

Handling requests to delete (or redact or disassociate) posts

  • If the question is closed and none of the answers are especially valuable, just delete it if asked. If it's an exact duplicate and the answers are worth keeping, merge the questions and then delete this one. If you can solve the problem with deletion, do that — it's easier than anything else here.

  • If the question is open or has valuable answers and you think an edit could solve the problem, decline and tell the user to edit.

  • If the user requests a redaction and you agree (for example, passwords), do it. It's worth annotating the user account so you'll be able to spot people who make a habit of this. If it's a frivolous request ("I can't let people see that I'm still using Windows XP!"), decline and annotate.

  • If a user requests disassociation and the post can just be deleted, then just delete it (see above). If the user is question- or answer-blocked and you suspect they're trying to use disassociation as a way to get around it, point them to the relevant sections of the help center for question or answer bans. Otherwise, you may direct the user to the FAQ entry for disassociation.

  • If you believe that the user is abusing these requests, send a warning or suspend. Do not hesitate to reach out to the community team via the user's profile if you're unsure of how to act in this situation.


Here's an example of the warning that've been updated, this one being when you're about to try to delete your answered question:

enter image description here

If you still go through with this, and you have an accepted answer, the next warning that tells you you can't delete the question also points to the new help center article, again.

  • Looks great, thanks! I hadn't thought of the connection to post bans; that's a good expansion. – Monica Cellio Sep 12 '18 at 0:42
  • 1
    Awesome, @Monica! I'm gonna let this sit here for a couple of days more, while I dig in the system where we'd have to link to this new article from, warning-wise and all ;) – JNat Sep 12 '18 at 7:48
  • I see this in the help center now. Thanks JNat! – Monica Cellio Sep 14 '18 at 17:30
  • please consider retagging this request from help-center-proposed to status-completed – gnat Sep 14 '18 at 17:39
  • 2
    As soon as it's completed, I will (which should be some time next week ;) – JNat Sep 14 '18 at 18:16
16

I've received some feedback (in comments and in chat) that we should talk about some other steps the user can take and also clarify that this only matters for posts that shouldn't just be deleted. So here are (a) a proposed Help Center post and (b) proposed moderator guidance (to go somewhere in the mod section of the Help Center).

Help Center

I've thought better of my question; can I delete it?

You might have had second thoughts about something you've posted. Maybe you don't want your coworkers to see that very specific question about job-hunting, or you realize you shouldn't have posted that proprietary code, or you don't want your friends to see that stupid mistake in your question. If nobody has answered yet, go ahead and delete it -- nobody minds.

If your question has good answers, though, it's not fair to the people who wrote them for you to delete your question. They put effort into helping you and even if you no longer want the answers, somebody else might. This is why the system prevents you from deleting answered questions most of the time.

But there are some other things you can do:

  • If your question is unnecessarily specific, edit to generalize it. Do you really need to name specific employers, vendors, or other details? Is your location actually important? Don't invalidate existing answers and don't make it so vague as to be unanswerable, but if you could be one of thousands of people who could have asked that question, people probably won't know it's you. In almost all cases, an edit should be all you need.

  • If you really can't see a way to salvage the question while removing identifying details, and none of the answers are highly upvoted, and especially if the question is closed, you can use a flag to request that moderators delete it. If there's not much at stake, they might do that for you.

  • If you have posted something super-sensitive like a password or an API key, edit it out and then use a flag to ask moderators to redact it from the revision history. Be specific about what needs to go and (if it's not obvious) why. Redaction requests must be approved by two moderators, so there will be a delay. If the question is closed, moderators might decide to just delete it instead.

  • If the question is good, there's nothing sensitive in it, and the problem is just that your name is on it, you might be able to have it disassociated from your account. This is not true anonymity; anything you post on the Internet lives forever somewhere. Requests are reviewed, which takes time. If your request is approved, it cannot be reversed later.

While redaction and disassociation are permitted, they are meant to be rare exceptions, not routine actions. A pattern of posting rashly and requesting deletion, redaction, or disassociation, over and over again, could lead to suspension. Post as if everything you write will be publicly visible forever.

Moderator guidance

Handling requests to delete (or redact or disassociate) posts

  • If the question is closed and none of the answers are especially valuable, just delete it if asked. If it's an exact duplicate and the answers are worth keeping, merge the questions and then delete this one. If you can solve the problem with deletion, do that -- it's easier than anything else here.

  • If the question is open or has valuable answers and you think an edit could solve the problem, decline and tell the user to edit.

  • If the user requests a redaction and you agree (for example, passwords), do it. It's worth annotating the user account so you'll be able to spot people who make a habit of this. If it's a frivolous request ("I can't let people see that I'm still using Windows XP!"), decline and annotate.

  • If a user requests disassociation and the post shouldn't just be deleted, direct the user to the FAQ entry.

  • If the user is abusing these requests, send a warning or suspend.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .