I'm on a team that develops APIs for developers to create apps within our platform. We thought Stack Overflow was an appropriate place to do Q&A specifically for programming questions about our platform. As a former moderator pro tempore on a SE beta site, I was frankly surprised that the question was deleted given the fact that (I thought) deletion was meant to be reserved for questions that actively harm the quality of the Stack Overflow community.

A question I asked and self-answered was deleted. The reason the moderator gave is:

This Q&A looks like it strays the wrong side of self-promotion.

With no further information or links to rules, I did some digging and discovered that I needed to disclose my affiliation (as of now, I have done so and flagged the question for further review).

Clearly this broke a guideline. However, I think it would have been more appropriate to close or put on hold with the chance to disclose my affiliation for the following reasons:

  • The question and self-answer, as far as I can tell, follows the appropriate guidelines within the site
  • The answer is useful, detailed, and even though it links to our documentation, self-contained
  • My user profile across the Stack Exchange network gives no indication that I'm a spammer, nor does (IMO) the question
  • The reason the mod knew about my affiliation at all is because I voted to close and flagged a question and mentioned in my flag comment that I was trying to help make sure my team didn't flood SO with inappropriate questions (clearly I wasn't trying to hide my affiliation)

Given the circumstances, I think there's a pretty reasonable argument to be made that my omission of disclosure was a mistake made in good faith. Nonetheless, the question was deleted with no existing close votes or downvotes. Because of how moderator deletion works:

  • Arguably, the community-driven flow of Stack Overflow was circumvented because deletion ensured it was impossible for the appropriateness of the question to be a community-driven decision
  • I could not ask questions in the comments for further clarification
  • The only way to appeal the decision was to flag the question for futher review

Given how restrictive and powerful moderator deletion is, was this an appropriate time to use it? When is?

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    Any clarification on the downvote? – ramblinjan May 29 '17 at 22:48
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    Welcome to meta! (that's all the explanation you're likely to get) – terdon May 29 '17 at 22:52
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    You should probably have asked this question on the appropriate meta - meta.stackoverflow.com – DavidPostill May 29 '17 at 22:54
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    @DavidPostill I guess I posted it here because I'm not looking for this situation to get handled. I'm genuinely asking about the appropriateness of deletion for self-promotion in general, though I suppose as rand al'thor alluded to in his answer, the sheer volume that SO mods face may make it specific to that site for that reason alone. – ramblinjan May 29 '17 at 23:03
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    I'm another Stack Overflow moderator, but I can say that this wasn't brought to our attention by a close vote. We were specifically flagged by a community member who noticed that you had asked that question, created the [dronedeploy] tag, and submitted this edit to that tag. This member was uncertain whether this was a problem, so they flagged us about it. – Brad Larson May 29 '17 at 23:04
  • Thanks, @BradLarson. Other than the lack of disclosure in that question, is there any other cause for concern? I was very careful to ensure the description was neutral and useful, and that the question followed SO guidelines (other than the one I missed). – ramblinjan May 29 '17 at 23:08
  • I mean, maybe I should have started with a meta question to seek guidance on how to approach this? – ramblinjan May 29 '17 at 23:09
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    I hate to say it because you clearly put effort into that post, and I'm sure you had good intentions, but I tend to agree with the moderator's decision there, and believe that e.g. a blog would be a better place for that. It would be different if the community was naturally asking that question often but if it's a question you get a lot through your normal support channels, you need to find a way to distribute that info on your own, and not e.g. use SO as a substitute for your support FAQ. – Jason C May 29 '17 at 23:10
  • There's a couple of somewhat related posts that you might be interested in: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3966/… for some general thoughts and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/295152/… as an example of a good approach. – Jason C May 29 '17 at 23:14
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    @ramblinjan - My take on it is that your answer is very detailed and informative, but the question itself might be a little broad and possibly wouldn't have stood on its own (how I judge appropriate self-answered questions). Your history clearly indicates that you're not here just to spam, and you do provide disclosure, the question just seems a little broad. The guidelines here and here caution against seeding the site with questions about a topic, but yours is one of the better ones I've seen. – Brad Larson May 29 '17 at 23:16
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    Thanks to both of y'all for the additional information. I'll make sure to keep that stuff in mind going forward. – ramblinjan May 29 '17 at 23:23
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    @ramblinjan Also, I apologize, to be clear in that second link above I didn't mean to link to my answer (which may or may not be me talking out of my behind), I meant to link to the question itself (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/295152). Sorry about that, just noticed. – Jason C May 29 '17 at 23:48

As the moderator who deleted and commented I owe you a run down of my thoughts that led to this.

First up though, to be clear Stack Overflow gets a lot of spam and I agree that from your profile and contributions it's clear you're a valuable contributor who clearly isn't there just for the promotion.

Secondly I found the post via a flag someone else had used to draw attention to the Q&A. I found your affiliation before I saw that you'd flagged and disclosed affiliation in your own flag. For less obious flags highlighting potential spam such as this one I was handling I often end up doing a fair amount of investigation to look for affiliation. In this instance I started to look at the whole tag after reaching my conclusion. (Another moderator should be able to confirm that in this instance from the annotations and timestamps). I don't agree with your statement that this should be left to the community anymore than it already was in responding to a flag - the affiliation is really not obvious to the community and it's unlikely that any reviews would be able to take that into account.

Thirdly I think you're overstating the impact of deletion - I deleted and added a comment rather than flagging as spam or mod messaging and/or suspending precisely because I assumed you were acting in good faith and wanted to leave the option of an edit open to you, having drawn your attention to it privately. I'm sorry my comment was a little terse and didn't make that clearer. More specifically I opted to delete as well as comment because on SO it doesn't scale to simply leave things and hope that I remember to come back to them later - I have to handle it there and then and expect that any follow up will happen due to further flags, comments or interactions that result in notifications in one way or another.

Anyway I think your edit is now sufficient, so I've undeleted as you requested. In all honesty I'm still not wild about the question - guidelines and styles tends towards the subjective side, but the answer is certainly well written and up to scratch.

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  • Thanks so much for the clarification and follow-up. I honestly care a lot about SO and a part of me wondered if I was doing my part as a community member or if I had a bad blind spot, so I seriously appreciate you taking the time to give me more info and share perspective, because I know being an SO mod is tough and often thankless. You (and the other participants in this thread) have been very helpful. – ramblinjan May 30 '17 at 15:47

In my experience, and what I've heard about SO moderation its worth remembering they handle significantly more volume in flags than any other site.

On the other hand, many of the issues here are a bit more universal. Firstly full disclosure of your affiliation is not negotiable. I mean, pretty much literally this is something that needs to be in your answer at least.

I've often found, while self answers are sometimes useful for documenting the stranger or more difficult aspects of problems - there's a wider question of "why we needed to supplement our own documentation with a QA" which I'm missing. I've found though for most part effective "support by SE" tends to be dealing with user questions on your product.

The idea of putting on hold here is to keep people from answering a question that has issues that could be fixed. On the other hand, this leaves the question still visible, which might be undesirable in a scenario where you are trying to discourage undisclosed self promotion

As a moderator on an admittedly lower traffic site I've often used deletions with comments to do the same especially in this scenario - with comments suggesting fixes. in some cases On the other hand, I'd handle 20-30 flags on a busy day and I can dedicate the time to this.

So yeah, this seems appropriate

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Note: since I don't have 10k reputation on SO, I can't see the contents of the specific post you're asking about; this is all general advice.

The help centre has clear guidance about self-promotion on SO/SE:

The community here tends to vote down overt self-promotion and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, that’s okay. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.

Here are some specific behaviors to avoid - even with the best of intentions, these will nearly always result in your posts being flagged as spam:

  • Don't talk about your product / website / book / job too much. Folks will read your answers for their ability to solve a specific problem; if you're good at doing that, then they'll find themselves more interested in who you are and what you're working on. If you respond only to questions where the answer can be something you're selling, they'll assume you're just here to sell.
  • Don't tell - show! The best way to avoid being seen as a snake-oil salesman is to demonstrate a solution rather than simply asserting the problem can be solved.
  • Don't include links except to support what you've written. Links are not a substitute for including information in your answer itself, and links should always be directly relevant to a part of your answer. See also: http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/225370/your-answer-is-in-another-castle-when-is-an-answer-not-an-answer

... and so on, and so on, but you probably know all this already. Your main query is about whether mod deletion is an appropriate response to a question which is (perceived as being) too spammy.

As a mod on another SE site, I would say yes. Self-promotion is a serious issue; it's one of the things that can get a user suspended all on its own, and it can't be allowed to grow out of hand. Erring on the side of caution seems to make sense. This is especially true on SO, on which (from what I hear) the moderators have far more work to do than on any other SE site. The sheer volume of posts means they can't hope to see every new question and answer, nor to spend a very long time deliberating over how to handle each flag.

In particular, your third-from-last bullet point isn't a valid point. Deletion of promotional material isn't necessarily a community-driven decision. If your question wasn't closed, then community members couldn't vote to delete it anyway. Removing it would have required closing a question which is (I assume) actually on-topic just in order to delete it. A moderator can circumvent that process.

The way I see it, the difference between normal-user moderation and diamond moderation often comes down to handling posts vs handling people. Questions can be closed, answers deleted, etc. by ordinary users, but only diamond mods can suspend people. In your case, it sounds as though the post was valid in itself and the only reason to delete it was because of your personal affiliation. That seems to be the perfect occasion for a mod to intervene.

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