Transparent post deletion

For some obvious reasons, I’d like to propose a feature that supports more transparent post deletion.

I believe that Stack Exchange & Co provide a good template: by default deletions are transparent (i.e., users will know that about the deletion, possibly even learn about the reason for the deletion) but for certain situations moderators still have the possibility to silently remove posts.

As necessary as post deletions may be to foster high quality discussions, they are also inherently uncivil, if I may say so. So the least we can do is make them transparent. Or, speaking in more technical terms: provide admins with the tools for being more transparent about deletions.

Off the top of my head I can see three four levels dimensions of transparency (plus no transparency aka silent deletion):

  1. Not actually deleting the post but merely hiding it the same way posts are hidden in simmarized topics. (added based on some replies below)
  2. Deleting the post but leaving a visual marker in the post stream representing the deleted post
  3. Providing a reason for the deletion
  4. Notifying the author of the deleted post about #1 and/or #2

#4 is already possible manually but not at all encouraged UI wise.

Thoughts?

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I’d support this feature. It can be very confusing for users to find their posts deleted and really doesn’t help the user/staff relationship. I would consider this as solving a similar problem to the curated topic summary proposal.

I included a brief description of what I imagine this looking like in one of my GSOC proposals:

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I don’t want to copy/paste my existing thoughts but I’ll reiterate that moderator actions with optional notification are, in my opinion, the best way to go. How this would be implemented in Discourse’s UI is not immediately obvious to me, but this seems the most valid.

A stopgap measure might be showing the deleted post only to the user who made it with the deletion styling. That would require the least effort as far as implementation goes: just show a user’s own deleted topics to that user.

Edit: Screenshot of how XenForo does it:

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I haven’t come up with a good thought of how this feature could be cooked, so just some feedback from a user perspective about the confusion without transparent deletion. After my post was removed three ideas come to my mind in sequence:

  1. I’ve run into a bug? The title of my topic referred above in OP shows that.

  2. My account got hacked? I actually check that.

  3. I recalled the content of my removed post to try to find out the problem.

And I do agree that this feature can provide an option for the moderator that would like to notify the post user but sending a PM is a manual workload. And still some post can be removed without notification if necessary, say, deleting spam from user who has been warned already.

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If I remove a large number of posts I sometimes turn that into a new topic and then make that topic a PM, and reply as needed.

I have used that methods in all these ways:

  • replied with actions taken and any cautions/warnings needed, and then closed the PM, to let people who have engaged passionately in an argument know what has happened and be able to drop the subject – this is usually where something has got out of hand and many people have engaged in arguments or derailment, but not maliciously or to the point of needing to suspend anyone
  • only turned posts by one problematic user into a PM, and replied in that PM to explain the problem and invite their response and acknowledgement
  • split entire derailments into a new topic and then converted that to being a PM, suspended the culprit/s, removed them from the newly-created PM, and then given the people who took part some closure by explaining what was done, and why. I will usually leave these open so people can blow off a bit of steam and make any final observations.

Turning deleted content into a PM means I can bulk-notify people who took part of what occurred, and has become a useful timesaver which also helps engage members in the moderation process, and promote use of flags and perception of flagging as member-moderation.

It’s something I would appreciate myself as a forum member: people who are passionate about a topic and/or have attempted to steer a derailment back on track like to have closure, and not simply find their hours of input have vanished.

I only wish there was an option to select posts, create a new topic with them, and have that topic be a PM, although the short process of making the new topic a PM has not been a problem.

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Wow, that’s a pretty novel way of using the topic splitting feature, and I don’t remember anyone talking about it before.

There’s even a handy notice to others that were just reading, not participating, with the “Split this topic” action.

I think that’s a flow that could use some more UI support to make it easier, as well as to make it apparent to moderators that it’s an option in their toolbox.

I will suggest that if the derailment would be valid standing on its own / not a severe enough offense for suspension, you can leave it up as a public topic and let the conversation continue there.

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Thank you.

For sure, yes, I only use the PM option where whatever has occurred isn’t going to give rise to a productive new topic. :+1:

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That complex use of PMs, deletion, closing… it’s all workaround for the inadequacies of the flagging system. Flagging should offer options to quote specific parts of posts, include specific feedback, mark what part of guidelines was violated, and so on… I have a bunch of notes about what a good enhanced-flagging plugin could look like that would actually address all your scenarios and more.

My point in the end is that I agree 100% with your inclinations and the idea about flagging being a learning process and member-moderation. I disagree with the Discourse default assumptions that flagging is about getting mods involved.

Transparent post deletion is one of the functions needed for a really superior flagging system.

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Flagging may be related no flagging system can solve the problem described in the OP.

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I agree. I meant my comment the other way around. Solving the problem described in the OP is one of the necessary steps toward a better holistic flagging system as well as being independently valuable.

Since this was written, we implemented a feature (in the previous release, or the one before that, I can’t remember) where if a flagged post is deleted by staff, then the person whose post was deleted gets notified about that via PM. However the post must be flagged prior to deletion for this to occur.

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Could you say something about the team’s reasoning for not implementing the feature proposed in the OP? So far, the only response from the team was @david’s reply which supported the idea.

I suspected that the implementation is technically more sophisticated than it may seem, but now that a (very) limited version has been implemented, it seems that it shouldn’t be very difficult to remove those limitations…

With the ability to split topics into PM (and thus let the authors of said posts know why they were removed from the topic) and unlist the entire topic do we really need more?

Those two options alone provide a nondestructive way of removing some or all of the posts from general consumption.

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Note that I wrote that reply more than a year before I joined the team - it should not be read as an “official” response :wink:

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The problem that the OP suggested to solve is that of confusion (and wasted time) when the author of a post can’t find a post s/he knows s/he has written. This problem occurs regardless of the reason for the deletion. The split-into-PM method only works to the extent that deletions are done that way. I’d say that it’s suitable in those situations where you (the deleting mod or admin) want to take the time and provide an explanation, but with all other deletions the problem persists. Hence the idea to notify authors by default.

Ah, right. Good point. But du you still support the idea?

If I am not suspending or deleting an account and only deleting a post (or more) I feel it is part of the work flow to send them a message or Warning so they can discuss the action with me. In practice so few members have replied to the messages that I suspect very few even read them, but just the same I think it only fair to give them the opportunity.

If, for example, a member makes three similar posts within an arbitrary amount of time that go against forum policy, I will delete all three but only send one message. That is, I think of them as a single policy violation not three. I assume they will realize the single message refers to all three deleted posts.

Not that my messages go into any great detail. Most are only a short sentence or two and close with a “please read the FAQ

Is it “work”? Yes. But for me it’s part and parcel of being a Moderator.

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That’s good and I guess I’d do the same (don’t think I’ve ever deleted a post other than my own or spam. *), but unfortunately not all mods, possibly not even the majority, are like that.

Discourse is doing a great job in promoting civility in online discussion, but when it comes to preventing intransparent post deletion there is still room for improvement :wink:

  • Edit: Actually, I did delete some posts: when people replied to a topic via email, obviously bot realizing that the reply would be posted in public. I think at least some of these users would have been quite confused if they’d gotten a notification about their post being deleted. So I guess it would have to be turn-off-able…
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If the workflow is “select offending posts, delete, give reason” that’s not too dissimilar to “select offending posts, move to pm, give reason” right? What else would this achieve?

As to deleting full topics I’ve seen Jeff lock topics here, post a reason and slap a timer on for deletion. That would give people time to see why discussion was being curtailed. Add in unlisting if you need it.

Honestly not sure what else this would bring? We seem to already have a pretty comprehensive toolset.

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I think the major value-add here is JIT reminders for staff in lieu of training. If the software reminds you to send them a message after you delete a post, it becomes standard practice to do so.

Because the “send a PM after flagged post is deleted” is already implemented, such a notice could link to that PM or let the moderator add extra context to the message.

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Sure, but with the above approaches we’re talking about not using the delete button at all, right?

Policy becomes ‘move to PM’ instead of delete for individual replies and ‘lock+reason+timed delete’ for topic deletion.

If I instituted the above as a staff policy I would just demote any staff who persist in deleting rather than following policy.

Governance has to trump technology, if people in a position of ‘power’ can’t be trusted to use it as instructed, then they shouldn’t have it.

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