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I'm posting this following the discussion at Should we disallow users from immediately deleting their accounts if they've made one post?, which seems to be positive and generally in favor of doing this. I got reminded of this issue again because the same thing I mentioned in the other post happened just now, and I figured I should file a formal request for this.

Some facts for context:

  • Currently, any user can request that their account be deleted, by going to the relevant page in their profile settings and clicking the button. For users who've made 0-1 posts (and haven't voted more than once), their account is immediately deleted. For others, it starts a 24-hour timer ticking towards deletion, which can be cancelled by the user.

  • Additionally, if an account with an active suspension is deleted (suspended users can still delete their accounts; the link doesn't show in their profile settings, but they can still access the page manually), the suspension is reinstated on any new accounts they create, as part of the Anti-Recidivism System.

  • Finally, if a moderator deletes or destroys an account for spam or abuse, a 14-day "suspension" is recorded under the account immediately before the account is deleted. This "suspension" is "reinstated" if the same user creates another account.

These days, we've been encountering a troll (full details only visible to members of the Charcoal Team on Stack Overflow Teams) who seems to know all of the above facts and immediately deletes their account after making their trollish post. This allows them to sidestep the Anti-Recidivism System, as it's usually too early for a moderator to arrive and suspend their account, or delete it for abuse, and they effectively get out without any sort of block.

Also, I believe that the reason behind allowing users to delete their accounts immediately if they've posted once is historical: this feature was introduced before there was any sort of 24-hour timer, and all deletions were otherwise handled manually by SE staff. This would allow users to leave the site gracefully if they tested the waters and decided they didn't like it. However, it doesn't make much sense anymore, since users can now start the 24-hour deletion timer by themselves, immediately.

There were other solutions proposed in the discussion post I linked, such as to allow moderators to take actions like issue suspensions on deleted accounts, or to "soft-delete" accounts instead of the current model of hard-deleting them, but I'm sticking to my original proposed solution because according to Shog, this is the most technically feasible solution.

In summary, the system should be changed to only immediately delete accounts if the user has made 0 posts, instead of deleting immediately if the user has made 0-1 posts. Users who've made one post should have to wait 24 hours like everyone else. This way, we can prevent trolls from getting away scot-free by allowing them to delete their account to avoid suspension.

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This came to be in an odd way, at a time where the deletion process involved a lot of manual checks and steps. Problems that kept creeping up were accounts that were not being deleted timely, or the process in general just sort of adding insult to injury.

That was a couple of years ago, we've gotten significantly better there.

There's no real practical reason to skip the timer if an account has done anything at all, including changing the default display name or avatar - this gives mods time to look for abuse patterns. While in cases where someone accidentally logged in using Facebook instead of Google (and did nothing else at all), we could still just let the deletion proceed immediately.

Need to sanity check some processes with support and be very sure here (forgetting something in this sort of thing could be disastrous), but I'm almost positive we could just flip this on and not worry. It's the best possible compromise, IMHO.

Will update, might take a week or two, but it should be easy to schedule since it's a clear win with little cost for troll swatting (everyone's favorite game!)

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    account deletion triggers removal of their negative score posts (this simplifies site content cleanup). Implementing proposed feature would mean this removal will be delayed for 24h and, although I believe that this is acceptable I would still recommend to check respective statistics and estimate how many removals may get delayed because of this change. Just want to make sure that this part of the impact is under control – gnat Aug 24 '18 at 19:08
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    What is the outcome of the review? – Sonic the Bracketed Hedgehog Aug 30 '18 at 18:25
  • @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog Still pending, I don't think much but urgent bug fixes will get done until we finish all new site themes / etc, because not having that done continues to rack up old debt in new code. Once that's done, I think we can resume more regular roadmaps and estimates on when something will happen while being more correct than incorrect about the timeline :) – Tim Post Sep 6 '18 at 12:49
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    Hi Tim, it's nearly December now. Any updates on this? – iBug Nov 26 '18 at 9:59
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A thing worth noting with regards to the trick phenomenon you describe is, it seems to be increasing the attrition rate - because this way, people can drop off immediately after their first interaction with the site.

Per my reading of the explanation here, that makes a solid reason to put effort into to addressing this issue (so that at the very least it won't obscure statistics that are currently considered so important by SE team).

New users just don't stick around anywhere close to how they did a few years ago... If we lose even 25% of the users we manage to convince to interact with our sites, and the number that try every day keeps going up exponentially, then it's only a matter of time before we burn through an entire market faster than that market significantly replenishes itself... if we don't control this rate, we could (much sooner than later) say that the whole market uses, has tried and stopped using, or won't try our sites...

(not to mention that as pointed in comments that this loophole opens up quite "promising" opportunities of abusive exploits for spammers and homework cheaters)


Also possibly related: Encouraging users to create an account (and keep it)

  • It's not that big of a footprint, and you can usually scope these by the presence of flags, it just compounds the queries a bit (but in all honesty, now that it's moving out of ad-hoc stuff I was slinging together on our private SEDE instance with throttled access to production over to R studio, this is less of an issue). Can't say it doesn't cloud it, but not to a big extent, at least that I know of now. – Tim Post Aug 24 '18 at 17:19
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    yeah @TimPost as I mentioned in comments under the question I am inclined to think that with regards to this loophole trolls are not much of an issue. I am more concerned about a risk that spammers and homework cheaters learn about it, because these categories have potential of making much more abuse – gnat Aug 24 '18 at 17:37
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These days, we've been encountering a troll who seems to know all of the above facts and immediately deletes their account after making their trollish post.

Maybe the Fire Department put them out.

There have been a few times when I flagged egregious stuff and the moment I clicked [Submit] they were hammered to 404, the page instantly didn't exist.

A solution to your question, with minimal programming effort and maximum usefulness, would be to leave it mostly as-is and permit moderators to access the account for up to a week after deletion. That way they could investigate without a rug pull and keep a hold on something if they are whack-a-moled. It would also allow brand new accounts to be cross referenced to something from problem IP addresses, etc. if trouble is automagically detected.

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