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The FAQ says that wrong answers should be downvoted, not deleted:

For answers, any post that is not an answer (should be a comment, doesn't answer the question, etc.) should be deleted. Answers that are wrong or that dispense poor advice should be downvoted, not deleted.

The FAQ doesn't explain why; it just says that I shouldn't. Why shouldn't I delete a wrong answer? Is there some value in a wrong answer?

I ask because I came across an answer where the author admitted that his answer was wrong. The author apologized in a comment, and left. I noticed that the answer had one delete vote on it, and that prompted me to go find out if and why wrong answers should be deleted.

Here is the answer. The delete vote on it is not mine.

  • Interesting: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/120298/…. – HDE 226868 Aug 26 '15 at 23:22
  • Are you asking only about the community deleting answers, or also about the authors deleting them? – Monica Cellio Aug 27 '15 at 2:33
  • @MonicaCellio The community. It goes without saying that authors can delete answers on a whim. That privilege is gained at 1 reputation. – Rainbolt Aug 27 '15 at 3:07
  • Did you delete another comment replying to me? I just added an answer on the basis of a comment I thought I saw here. – Monica Cellio Aug 27 '15 at 3:12
  • @MonicaCellio Yes. I was torn when responding. On one hand, I feel like I should treat my own answers the same as I treat everyone else's. On the other hand, I know I can delete my own answers whenever I feel like it. The double comment was me changing stances. Sorry about that. – Rainbolt Aug 27 '15 at 13:03
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There are different kinds of wrong.

"Wrong" as in "completely unrelated to the question"? Go ahead and delete those.

"Wrong" as in "yes, that will solve the problem, but that's a bad idea"? Those should be downvoted. Think of it as a lesson - showing a bad solution can be helpful as well, especially if it's an obvious solution that others may gravitate towards and/or when accompanied by an explanation (say, in a comment) of why it's a bad solution.

"Wrong" as in "this doesn't solve the issue, but it an obvious attempt at providing a solution" is trickier. The appropriate action here would depend on what the answer actually was. In most cases, I would go with downvoting as well or, frankly, not voting at all.

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    What if it does not solve the problem, but it is related to the question? These are by far the most common breed of wrong answer that I encounter. I suppose you could take the stance that if it doesn't solve the problem, then it isn't related. – Rainbolt Aug 26 '15 at 23:59
  • @Rainbolt How related are we talking? Got an example? If it's related but not super helpful, there's little harm in leaving it up on the page but not upvoted. An attempt to answer is good enough to stay, IMO. On the other hand, if it's, say, additional information... that should be edited into the question. If it's a follow-up question, that should be moved to comments and/or removed entirely. It depends. – Adam Lear Aug 27 '15 at 0:14
  • Hypothetical example: Q: Does Brazil exist? A: No, Brazil does not exist. Real example: boardgames.stackexchange.com/a/25083/6692. I don't expect you to know much about Magic: the Gathering, but you can see from the comments that the author has acknowledged his wrong answer. – Rainbolt Aug 27 '15 at 0:15
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    @Rainbolt That reads to me like a solid example of "wrong answer that highlights an easy mistake to make (confusing attacking with dealing combat damage)". – Adam Lear Aug 27 '15 at 0:16
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    Alright, I can see the value in saving something like that. Thanks! – Rainbolt Aug 27 '15 at 0:18
  • @Rainbolt: when this does happen, though, I feel like the author of the wrong answer should edit in a note explaining that it is wrong. Supposedly, comments are ephemeral and shouldn't contain vital information. – sumelic Nov 26 '15 at 1:06
  • @AdamLear As this is the accepted answer, could you edit to clarify this with how "Wrong" as in "No that will not solve the problem but was a good attempt at answering the question" should be handled? (As far as I understand: Downvote, do not delete) – Simon Forsberg Mar 25 '17 at 21:30
  • @SimonForsberg Sure, edited. – Adam Lear Mar 27 '17 at 15:40
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In the following I will I will use this example from one of your comments (slightly modified):

Question: Is Brazil an actual state?

Answer 1: Yes; it is recognised by the UN as such.

Answer 2: No, because of [wrong arguments].

Answer 3: It depends on how exactly you define state. […]

Answer 4: Argentina is an actual state; it is recognised by the UN as such.

Answer 5: We can probably better provide more helpful answers, if you elaborate why you think that Brazil may not be an actual state. Can you please edit your question to clarify?

Answer 6: Fish.

Answer 7: Yes, it is. Visit Brazil tomorrow with Spam Tours.

The general concept of Stack Overflow is that up- and downvotes cause correct and helpful answers float to the top and wrong and unhelpful answers to the bottom. As Adam Lear explained, wrong answers can still be useful as explicit statements that some approach is wrong or due to explanations given why it is wrong, e.g., arguing against the argument given in Answer 2 can be valuable to visitors who heard the same argument.

Most importantly, however, deletion (other than self-deletions) is mostly reserved for answers that live outside the upvote–downvote axis, either because they cannot be properly voted upon or because we do not want them regardless of their helpfulness or correctness. For example:

  • Answer 4 answers a different question. It is correct (upvotish) but not useful for the asker of this question (downvotish). Also, if we kept such answers, Stack Exchange would turn into a forum or an unorganised heap of knowledge.
  • Answer 5 should be a comment. It is useful (upvotish) but we certainly do not want it to be the first answer a visitor reads. It clearly does not belong into the answer domain.
  • Answer 6 is nonsense: It could be downvoted into oblivion for being maximally unhelpful but in contrast to other wrong or unhelpful answers there is no benefit for visitors to know that or why it is wrong. It is just an entire waste of time to read.
  • Answer 7 is spam. It contains an answer to the question, but even if this were the most useful answer, we would not want to keep it due to being spam.

Moreover, deletion (except self-deletion) should be reserved for exceptional cases¹ and misplaced content. In particular for good subjective questions and similar, it could be considered censoring if we deleted answers that we consider wrong. A high negative score on such answers should make it very clear to every visitor that the answer is problematic. Of course, an SE community can theoretically delete content as it wants (relevant XKCD), but on the other hand every user is free to consider the deletion to be too much. Though I have not made use of this, I want to be able to post a controversial answer (given that I do it in a civil way) and have it not deleted for that reason alone.

Relatedly, with not-an-answers, you can draw a line between deleting and keeping rather easily. With wrong and unhelpful answers you can’t: Who says whether an answer is so wrong, it should be deleted? If your answer to this is downvotes, where do you draw the line?


¹ except perhaps on sites such as Skeptics SE which have additional requirements for answers and thus receive more answers that do not fulfill them

  • Answers can (and should) also be deleted by the community if they violate local rules and aren't fixed. For example, Skeptics requires citations; Health requires medical sources; several other sites have looser "back it up" rules; one of the religion sites requires that you declare your specific theological perspective; etc. – Monica Cellio Sep 25 '15 at 21:10
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    @MonicaCellio: Sure, but I do not see this as a contradiction to my post (or even where this would need to be clarified). If you so wish, all of those cases are special cases of NAAs. For example, all questions on Skeptics can be regarded to implicitly ask for citations. – Wrzlprmft Sep 25 '15 at 21:18
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    I was reacting, I think, to your penultimate paragraph about exceptional cases. On some sites these kinds of NAAs are, sadly, not so exceptional. But I take your broader point. – Monica Cellio Sep 25 '15 at 21:21
  • I understand; I inserted a footnote. – Wrzlprmft Sep 25 '15 at 21:25
  • Answer #6 counts as abusive. Naa is also valid if you're feeling cautious. Just downvoting isn't enough except maybe when the question is Roomba fodder. – John Dvorak Mar 27 '17 at 16:11
  • Note that Answer 6 is on the “should be deleted” list. – Wrzlprmft Mar 28 '17 at 21:14
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Adam's answer covers when the community should (or shouldn't) delete an answer. The author has a bit more flexibility; if you realize your answer is wrong or doesn't apply, and especially if the community has expressed its opinion through downvotes, it's generally fine to delete it. There's even a badge, Peer Pressure, for deleting your own post that's at -3 or lower.

See When is it kosher to delete one's own answer? for more on self-deletion. You asked about wrong answers so that's what I'm focusing on. Don't read this as "it's totally cool to delete any of your own answers"; it's not. But if they're downvoted and wrong, you generally can.

  • Fair point - I went with the body of the question over the title. Thanks! – Adam Lear Aug 28 '15 at 15:45
  • @AdamLear no problem, and no criticism implied! I noticed the discrepancy between the title and body and figured since you'd covered one, I'd hit the other just in case. – Monica Cellio Aug 28 '15 at 16:22

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