I no longer want to help a particular user (picakhu) due to repeated comments that my considered answers are not helpful, changes in questions after I answer, and the user's pattern of not voting things up (26 questions, only 25 up votes) which I think is antisocial. I have deleted several of my answers to that user's questions, but I can't do that to an answer the user has accepted. Could a moderator please delete that answer for me?

I realize that others might benefit from an answer. However, I also don't want to reward or encourage this pattern of behavior, while the content of that answer is contained in most introductory texts on the subject.

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    $\begingroup$ I voted up your question, I really want to see what the consensus on this question is. $\endgroup$ – picakhu Apr 10 '11 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ I wanted to add that just because you use this site in one particular way, does not mean others need to use it in the same way. i.e. you choose to give more votes than answers/questions, that does not mean everyone does. $\endgroup$ – picakhu Apr 11 '11 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ @picakhu: There is no one right and no one wrong here, I think. I can understand Douglas's reaction and I can understand yours (to a certain extent, at least). A simple apology at the right moment would have resolved the whole issue immediately. Think of it this way: You profit from people's answers here, so it should be a matter of courtesy to give the least sign of a appreciation, i.e., an upvote. Editing the question the way you did, made Douglas's answer look incomplete and as a consequence made him look sloppy. You should at least have indicated your edit clearly as such. $\endgroup$ – t.b. Apr 11 '11 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ @picakhu: I'll answer your concerns in the question you posted. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 11 '11 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ The first sentence seems unnecessary. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Apr 13 '11 at 6:31

@Douglas: please don't do what you are requesting the moderators to do. Remember that this is a Q and A website, and it seeks to document questions and answers is a way that is easily searchable and useful to other people besides just the OP and the answerer. Deliberately removing content from the site due to a (personal) dispute you have with another user can be interpreted as site vandalism.

You are of course free to ignore any user's questions in the future. But retroactively doing what you are doing in spite is something I think should not be done, and is something that warrants a warning.

In general, I am not going to go around policing and asking people not to delete their questions or answers: people have all sorts of reasons for doing so. But let me just say this now. If it becomes clear such deletions are done in bad-faith (not for improving the content or presentation of the site, not to remove irrelevant comments and answers, but actually resulting in the site being less useful for everyone else) (which you have freely admitted above), the moderators may view the action as grounds for suspension.

For the time being I'll overlook what you've just been doing: the fact that those answers you removed have not been accepted can be a justification for removing them (that the OP, and presumably other readers, do not find it to be useful). But if your answers have been genuinely accepted, then there's relatively little doubt that removing them will actually remove useful content from the website.

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    $\begingroup$ Encouraging people to behave in an antisocial way will drive away the people you really need: Those who are willing and able to answer interesting questions. In the short run, not answering a rude question (and rewriting the question) may remove content. In the same way, deleting my answers to someone who responds to my help by ordering me to read an article and summarize it for him instead of thanking me, may harm the site in the short run. However, the long-run benefits are obvious to me. If you trample on the interests of the content producers, you get a less useful site. $\endgroup$ – Douglas Zare Apr 12 '11 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Douglas: I do not agree with Picakhu's voting habit myself, and I do not consider my post above as "encouraging people to behave in an antisocial way". In fact, your rather negatively-charged airing of the incident and your demand of moderators to remove your contributed posts is in itself rather antisocial. My post above is trying to discourage your antisocial behaviour. (Since this is the thread you started.) I left my comments on why I think up-voting is a good thing in the different thread by picakhu. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 12 '11 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ I just wanted to point out that it looks like we're about to lose Douglas, see the comments here. In my opinion this would be a real pity. @Douglas: Please stay! I'm certain that most of us appreciate your presence very much. $\endgroup$ – t.b. Apr 12 '11 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Douglas: relax a bit, you are taking votes and question/answer acceptances way too seriously. Reputation, despite being used as a proxy for "how much the community trusts you", is not really much different from a popularity contest. And the acceptance of correct/incorrect answers is by design not subject to peer-review. Even though the platform may not be perfect for mathematics, this is, as far as I know, the best we've got. Take a deep breath and move on! :) $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 12 '11 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Willie: I think Douglas is not bothered the least by his so-called reputation (in the sense of these awful numbers that are written near one's name), rather what annoys him are (what he sees as) problematic behaviours by some users of this site. Whatever one thinks of Douglas's subsequent actions, this seems like a legitimate concern. Let me add that I second entirely Theo's comment and the rest of your last comment. (My opinion about what happened on the page Theo linked to is already written there.) $\endgroup$ – Did Apr 12 '11 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Didier: you wrote "problematic behaviours by some users of this site ... legitimate concern". I would certainly welcome more input over at this thread picakhu started. I made an effort not to say much about said behaviour because it is not explicitly the scope of this question as asked. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 12 '11 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie Yes I know this other thread. My problem now is that I fail to see the nature of the input you would welcome from me, other than what I already wrote or what has already been written by others. Anyway, I apologize if my last comment is out of the scope of the present thread and if it would have been better placed on the other one. $\endgroup$ – Did Apr 12 '11 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Didier: no need to apologize. The main reason I mentioned "more input" is that I don't want it to look like just one moderator/user expressing his opinion when there can clearly be other view points. So that plea was only partly directed at you, and more at anybody interested enough to delve so deeply into this thread. :-) $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 12 '11 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ @ Willie Wong, I think a more reasonable option would be letting the OP delete the answer. If anyone thinks that the answer was useful they can repost it as a new answer (probably in CW mode) since the content is under CC, there is no need to force the OP associate him/herself with a post if they don't want to. Forbidding it can be counter-productive for encouraging users to contribute to the site. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 18 '11 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ You have told me what your rules are, not that you appreciate my concerns. You tell me to relax after picakhu insults me repeatedly? You think I care about reputation? You think I'm antisocial, that my presence harms the community? Fine, I have left over this issue and the low respect for good answers in this community. Preserving that one short answer given to someone who insulted me and my contributions instead of all of my potential future answers is shortsighted. I don't think I'm irreplaceable, but I have already answered questions on MO which were posted here first with no answers. $\endgroup$ – Douglas Zare May 31 '11 at 1:07

This got too long for a comment.

I find the logic advocated by Willie Wong quite strange and even alarming. It is effectively saying that a user loses control over his own contribution as soon as he posts it, since a moderator reserves the right to suspend him, should he choose to exercise this control. There are all sorts of reasons one might have for removing one's own contribution, even while believing that it might have been useful. This has nothing to do with vandalism but is actually something that is explicitly supported by the software.

I have also removed content in the past because a user failed to appreciate it. Arguing over the validity of the argument with a user who refuses to think for himself and sometimes having to read his repeated assertions that the answer was wrong or useless (as confirmed by an IMO gold medallist friend of his) is more investment in the site than I was prepared to make. I still believe that the original post that I removed was the most useful one in the whole thread. Nevertheless, suspending me for "vandalism" would be completely ludicrous. I cannot see the posts removed by Douglas, but they were his contributions and it is his right to do with them whatever the software allows. The internet is too public a place, and a moderator has no right to threaten to suspend a user who wishes to control his own internet foot print.

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    $\begingroup$ @Alex: Please re-read the second and third and fourth paragraphs of my post. I agree a user can remove content as he wishes, and I explicitly stated that I will not actively patrol for things like what you are stating. However, Douglas is removing content explicitly for the reason of inconveniencing another user (not just removing content which the OP does not find useful [as in your anecdote], but also requesting removal of content which the OP does find useful), which I find objectionable. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 12 '11 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ Also, please see the license agreement for use of the StackExchange websites. The community editing features and the wiki-like nature of this website, together with the CC-type license you agreed to means that you already give up some control of your internet foot print to participate here. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 12 '11 at 9:55
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    $\begingroup$ Lastly, I quote: "it is his right to do with them whatever the software allows." I want to just point out that this whole thread happened precisely because Douglas wanted to do something "not allowed" of him by the software. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 12 '11 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Willie This is verbatim from the third paragraph of your post: "If it becomes clear such deletions are done in bad-faith (not for improving the content or presentation of the site ...,but actually resulting in the site being less useful for everyone else)..., the moderators will view the action as grounds for suspension". You are thus threatening to prevent somebody from exercising control over his own contribution within the scope allowed by the software, and announcing that you are going to decide, at your discretion, whether the reasons for removing one's own content are valid. $\endgroup$ – Alex B. Apr 12 '11 at 11:18
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    $\begingroup$ It is that announcement that I find objectionable. $\endgroup$ – Alex B. Apr 12 '11 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Alex: ah. Thanks for pointing that out. I mis-stated my intentions. I changed the wording (from will to may; I had in mind more extreme situations similar to this, which I think I ought to declare), is that better now? $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 12 '11 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Willie it is very slightly better, but barely measurably so. E.g. the sentence "For the time being I'll overlook what you've just been doing" suggests that you are being lenient in not punishing Douglas for removing his own contributions. I still think that it was his right to remove anything that the software allows him to remove (I also think that it is his right to ask the moderators to remove something for him, just as it is your right to refuse) and that there is no "overlooking" required or warranted on your part. $\endgroup$ – Alex B. Apr 13 '11 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ Let me spell out what I had hoped people could read from between the lines: if you want to delete something, fine. But don't go around creating a negative atmosphere by announcing that you are doing so to spite another user, and especially not when you can cause collateral damage to the usefulness of the site. It may seem heavy handed, but left unchecked, these kinds of petty disputes can easily lead to a bigger incident. So, I'm not overlooking the fact Douglas deleted stuff, rather I'm overlooking the fact that his announced intent is close to vandalising. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Apr 13 '11 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not active here and you guys can do what you like, but I'm kind of concerned about comments like "I still think that it was his right to remove anything that the software allows him to remove" -- this is absolutely not the case. You give up full control of your post when you submit it to the site; you do not retain the right to delete it whenever you like. It looks like the mods here are pretty hands-off and will let you get away with it, but that's up to them -- one of the mod template messages when banning someone is titled "self-destruction of own content" $\endgroup$ – Michael Mrozek Apr 18 '11 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ What @Michael said. When you make a post to a StackExchange site, you are bequeathing your content to the community. If you gain something from that personally, so much the better. But if your mindset is that you wish to retain full control over your own posts, you might be here for the wrong reasons. Priority one is maintaining high-quality content, not serving the needs of any one particular individual. $\endgroup$ – Robert Harvey Apr 18 '11 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael Thank you for that piece of information about the mod template message. That's very interesting. $\endgroup$ – Alex B. Apr 19 '11 at 0:39

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