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If a moderator decides unilaterally to close a question, and their decision doesn't have strong support from the community, and a number of people later ask for the question to be re-opened and give sound reasons for disputing the moderator's rationale in closing it, is it considered an acceptable use of privileges for that moderator to unilaterally delete the question in order to prevent further discussion of their decision?


A while ago, I asked a question on the Android stack exchange site which was unilaterally closed by a moderator with little explanation.

(It being deleted obviously means it's hard to view: here's the latest archive.org link from Oct 2013 but unfortunately this doesn't include the latest comments).

I completely reworded the question responding to the limited feedback given, and posted a question on meta asking for a clarification. Since then:

  • Two other people with comment privileges, finding the question while researching the topic, commented voicing their disagreement with the decision to close the question.
  • At least one other user (a diamond moderator on the site) voted for it to be re-opened (I can't see re-open votes going back so I don't know how many other people voted to re-open).
  • Three people have favourited the question, hoping for it to be reopened and answered.
  • The question has received over a thousand views ("Popular question" badge) and at least 5 upvotes (not bad for a niche question), showing that it is a topic there is interest in.
  • The meta discussion showed little support or substance to the moderator's reasons for closing:

Just now, after the second comment disputing the moderator's decision (which notified the moderator who had closed the question), that moderator instantly deleted the question, while leaving a hostile comment that shows his motivation is personal annoyance at the discussion of his decision to close the question ("...I see no further point in continually discussing an old, useless question..."). "Useless" seems an unusual way to describe a question that has been favourited three times despite not yet having had the chance to be answered - it's clearly not a judgement that is supported by the community.

To me, this doesn't seem like a correct use of deletion privileges.

My understanding from the help centre is that questions are to be deleted when they risk causing harm to a site (e.g. if they are offensive or so off topic they could give the wrong impression of the scope of a site). In this case, the reason for deleting the question seems to be to prevent discussion of their decision to close it.

Is this a valid use of deletion privileges? If not, what should happen?

migrated from meta.stackoverflow.com Feb 25 '14 at 15:32

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

  • How do you know he deleted it because people were disagreeing with him. I don't see that noted anywhere. Are you just guessing that is the reason? – psubsee2003 Feb 25 '14 at 10:58
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    Almost nobody here can see the deleted question, you need 10k on Android for that. That makes it rather hard to answer this without excessive speculation. – Mad Scientist Feb 25 '14 at 11:01
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    @psubsee2003 He said so himself: his comment on deleting it said "...I see no further point in continually discussing an old, useless question..." and gave no other reason for deleting it. (it's clearly not a useless question since people were favouriting it, upvoting it, and commenting asking it to be re-opened - unless he means it's useless because he closed it) – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 11:06
  • @MadScientist Not sure what I can do about that, though mostly I'm asking if moderators are really allowed to act this way. Here's the latest archive.org record, saved Oct 2013, but it doesn't include the latest comments. Unfortunately archive.org don't crawl SE revisions pages so I can't send a link that shows the change from original to revised wording – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 11:10
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    @user568458 just because he didn't see the point of the discussing it further doesn't mean he deleted it to prevent disagreement. I'm not saying he did or didn't do it for that reason, I'm only pointing out that you are trying to interpret a reason that is impossible to determine unless the mod chimes in. – psubsee2003 Feb 25 '14 at 11:16
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    @user568458 and if your whole point to this discuss whether the mod abused his power, then you may be interested in reading What recourse do I have if I believe a moderator has abused his/her privileges?. – psubsee2003 Feb 25 '14 at 11:17
  • @psubsee2003 He deleted it to stop discussion which was disagreeing with him. That seems like a very subtle difference to me, but if you think it's an important difference, I've editted the paragraph and title to say he deleted the question to prevent "discussion" (which was almost entirely in disagreement), not "disagreement". – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 11:19
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    It seems like there wasn't any discussion after the answers had been posted—just a comment monologue from you. – slhck Feb 25 '14 at 11:27
  • I did answer all of the points the moderator made, yes, and showed that his main point couldn't have been part of the reason he closed the question (because it wasn't true at the time that he closed it). As you say, he didn't respond to any of these points, or any of the points made by anyone else. – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 12:39
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    You stated: "My Question is: What specific security risks (if any) does/did App Shield pose?" - For this alone, I would have voted to close this. Because without access to the app, and source, and specific expertise in security, it is not something that can be answered with facts. The question was closed OVER a year ago, and NO OTHER user voted to reopen it. – Ryan Conrad Mar 3 '14 at 0:04
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The question was closed in June 2012. It's asking about why a particular app was pulled from the Google Play Store and specifically what security issues did it raise.

As seen in the Meta discussion about it, two other users (current Android Enthusiasts Community Moderators) weigh in with their thoughts. In essence: Nobody can answer with authority except perhaps the author of the app and/or the Google personnel who pulled it from the Play Store. Unless someone can reverse engineer the app and analyze it, any answers would just be speculation.

In all the time it was closed, it was never re-opened. Meaning there was really no great push from the community to get the question an answer. Oh, it was edited for grammar a bit, but that's all. And so it has lain fallow for 2½ years.

Earlier today someone posted a comment asking why the question was "Non Constructive". (I'll not re-hash why "Non Constructive" was removed as a Close reason in the latest redesign of the Close voting system.) I don't want to speculate on the Moderator's mindset, but most likely the @alert in the comment just brought him back to this old, closed question and, seeing no hope of it ever being answered, deleted it.

Since the Moderator who deleted it is the one who unilaterally closed it initially, and was being questioned in the comments, it probably would have been better for a different Moderator to step in and act so as to reduce any questions of impropriety.

All that said, I would have voted to delete it, and I'm just a high-reputation user at Android Enthusiasts. It's virtually impossible to get any facts except what's already been reported (and would be findable by a quick web search) and so the question is inviting speculation. Discussion. Not a good fit for Stack Exchange.

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    That must have been before he was a moderator, then, because otherwise it would have been re-opened. – ale Feb 25 '14 at 14:05
  • You should correct "two other users... weigh in with their thoughts agreeing with the closure", which isn't true. It's very unusual to close a question based on speculation about likely answers and answerers (rather than the content of the question). Opinion was divided about whether a question can be closed for being valid but difficult to answer: one in favour of closing, one in favour of re-opening, and one unsure simply voicing "one concern I have with questions of this nature". – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 14:10
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    @user568458 Yes, and the answer advocating closure is the one that got way more upvotes than the others, indicating that that is the decision that the community supports more. – Servy Feb 25 '14 at 15:04
  • @Servy No, the answer advocating closure (Matthew Read's) had the least votes (0, when this question was posted). The answer with the most upvotes (eldarerathis's, +4) was the answer that was undecided - it discussed the case for and against, and ended by raising a "related and slightly more general question". – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 15:23
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    @user568458 I read that answer as indicating that closure is appropriate. He spends the vast majority of the answer explaining why the question is unlikely to generate quality answers, and will tend to be unanswerable. He shows a bit of sympathy towards you, sure, but it still seems clear to me that he feels the question should be closed. – Servy Feb 25 '14 at 15:27
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    I too would have voted to close and delete it for the same reasons that have been stated. It is all speculation and virtually none of it would be fact. – Ryan Conrad Mar 2 '14 at 23:51
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I'll answer in general as I can't see enough information to actually judge this specific situation.

Questions that are under active discussion should not be deleted at all as this prevents the community from participating in the moderation of this question. There are exceptional cases where deleting would still be warranted, but in general such a question should remain undeleted so that the community can vote to reopen and discuss it.

But once the discussion is over, and the question has not been reopened by anyone, the situation is different. If the discussion was not convincing enough to get the community or any moderator to reopen the question, it is unlikely to be reopened at any later point.

Old, closed questions are routinely deleted by moderators, especially if they cause any kind of trouble later. The question you mentioned is now over 1.5 years old, so cleaning it up if it wasn't reopened would not be an unusual action for a moderator.

Regarding the number of votes, views and the times it was favorited, those generally don't matter much for the decision to close or delete. Popularity does not save a question from being closed if it doesn't fit the rules of the site. Favoriting is also pretty meaningless as some users use it simply to mark questions they want to find later, often also bad ones.

  • I added archive.org links and a link to the meta thread. You say "Old, closed questions are routinely deleted by moderators, especially if they cause any kind of trouble later" - the "trouble" in this case was a user asking for the question to be re-opened. Is it reasonable to view comments asking for re-opening as "trouble" warranting deletion? It's worth noting that the meta thread was inconclusive, and the view of the moderator who closed the question received little support and had criticisms which were unanswered. – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 11:23
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    The "trouble" part is optional, being an old question that is closed and that has no special reason to remain undeleted is enough to warrant deletion. But often they are only deleted when a mod is drawn there by a flag or anything else. And comments asking for reopening of a question 1.5 years later seem somewhat pointless to me. – Mad Scientist Feb 25 '14 at 11:27
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    the right approach to questions involved in heated meta discussion is probably to lock for content dispute, to prevent meta effect – gnat Feb 25 '14 at 11:30
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    It's worth noting that the meta thread was inconclusive, and the view of the moderator who closed the question received little support and had criticisms which were unanswered. I think this was wrong, not answering the criticism mod received. Also, having a diamond before your name adds lot of responsibility, other then just extra work. They have to be held more answerable for every action they take, and a diamond mod should know this. "If criticism was there, answers or justifications were must." – Vishwas Sharma Feb 25 '14 at 11:33
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    @MadScientist Why do you say "comments asking for reopening of a question 1.5 years later seem somewhat pointless to me"? Some of the best answers I've seen on SE have been posted 1+ year after the question was asked, by someone who found the question while researching the topic. Answering old questions is encouraged (e.g. with the necromancer badge). – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 11:37
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    @user568458 If the question wasn't reopened in a short time after it was closed and discussed on meta, it is very unlikely to ever be reopened. Old questions simply don't get enough attention to be reopened in the typical cases. – Mad Scientist Feb 25 '14 at 11:44
  • So essentially: moderators can delete old closed questions for any reason (including to silence calls for the question to be re-opened), because community low attention or apathy means that old questions seldom actually get re-opened anyway (regardless of the strength of any case that they should be)? (Side note: two of the three meta posts cited the fact that there didn't seem to be much interest in the question to justify keeping it closed despite it not actually breaching the rules of the site: it didn't become apparent that there was interest in it until later) – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 12:07
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    @user568458 If the community didn't reopen when there was a meta discussion about it, there doesn't seem to be as much consensus that it is a good question as you implied. A meta discussion is the best chance to get a question reopened, if that isn't enough the question likely shouldn't be reopened. – Mad Scientist Feb 25 '14 at 12:56
  • So in short the answer is: apathy and inertia rule SE, not rules? – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 13:04
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    @user568458 You're twisting what I said. If you can't convince enough users that the closure was in error directly after it happened, then your case is not as strong as you thought and the question was likely closed correctly. – Mad Scientist Feb 25 '14 at 13:06
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    Not twisting, pointing out a consequence. It's a known problem that reaching the reopen vote threshold is difficult on non-SO SE and the answer is basically that it's a popularity contest, and you need to actively make people take an interest ("you have to rally support to obtain enough interested people"). Not easy for a niche question, or where people are reluctant to disagree with a high-rep moderator. It's a known, discussed problem. – user568458 Feb 25 '14 at 13:18
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    To add context, the question is "closed as not constructive by Matthew Read♦ Jun 2 '12 at 20:40"; and was deleted yesterday. The question is NOT under active discussion, and in my opinion, even though the original close vote may be in dispute at that time, the moderator's decision to delete it more than a year later is correct. If you wish, you can create a new question, after taking into account what closed the original question in the first place. – Lie Ryan Feb 26 '14 at 11:06
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for that moderator to unilaterally delete the question in order to prevent further discussion of their decision

Discussion of whether to close or delete a question shouldn't be taking place on that question. It should be taking place on the appropriate meta site. Such meta discussions can still take place with the question being deleted.

You posted a meta question, and looking at that meta question there is certainly no clear community consensus that the question should be reopened/undeleted. Were there to have been a clear community opinion that the closure wasn't correct, you should have seen the question be undeleted and reopened.

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I think the others covered it well but obviously I should chime in. Al in particular is correct when he says I should have left it for another mod.

The new comment ignored the Meta thread and indicated that they hadn't even read the rest of the comments, which were bad main-site comments anyways that should have come to Meta. So I pointed out that I had explained my view and where to find it, and deleted the old and oldly-closed question that seemed to remain to only attract bad attention (could be what you mean by "quite popular").

Also should be noted is that the question already should have been deleted. I did a bit of our usual delete-old-closed-questions yearly cleanup in January but have had no time to keep going since then.

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