The details of the policy are discussed separately. Specifically, I ask whether a soft delete of an answer is sufficient.

Users with 10K reputation can see these soft deleted answers. Hence, among this population of users, there is still a publicly posted solution to a question from some ongoing contest.

In my view, this is insufficient. It would only take one discovered instance of a 10K user using such an answer, or sharing one with a contestant, to seriously damage the reputation of math.se.

If there is no way to hide answers from everyone for some time period, then the answers should be hard-deleted.

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    I would absolutely support this, although I'm not sure that there is a frequently-used technical means to implement it. I think that SE/SO generally avoid hard deletion except in the truly exceptional cases when there is some legal reason to do so. In a perfect world, we could leave this up to the ethics and conscience of our 10k+ users, but history has shown that to be a poor idea. – T. Bongers Dec 2 at 20:22
  • Here are some discussions from big-M Meta about similar issues: 1, 2. – T. Bongers Dec 2 at 20:39
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    That'd be complicated to implement as a policy. In any case those deletions would be definitive. In my opinion we use already too much time for this. People running contest should adapt to the new reality (which is not really new). [Let me stress that this is my opinion, other mods might well see this differently.] – quid Dec 2 at 20:53
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    @quid IMHO As one of the foremost do-my-homework sites on the internet, I think that we have a duty to the broader educational community to make at least some effort to prevent the new reality from continuing. – T. Bongers Dec 2 at 21:49
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    @T.Bongers I don't want to continue this here as it will derail this thread, but I think math-contests are more harmful than useful. I help to implement the existing policy efficiently, since I consider it as my obligation, but that's it. If you or anyone is interested to continue this come to chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/83225/whatever-quid – quid Dec 2 at 21:57
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    @T.Bongers there may be an ethical responsibility but we cannot feasibly prevent it. We don't even catch all math contest problems nor is there a legal responsibility to do so. If someone is caught cheating from MSE that doesn't damage the site because they were caught. The concern should be with regards to contest questions we don't notice. After all, notifying the contest owner of the question is far more practical than worry about deleting or not deleting or which way someone might find it. – The Great Duck Dec 4 at 1:12
  • @TheGreatDuck It's not our responsibility to patrol the posts for possible ongoing contest questions. We only react on flags and complaints. – GNUSupporter 8964民主女神 地下教會 Dec 4 at 5:19
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    FWIW, it seems that we currently have 755 users with 10k+ rep. That's more than a handful, but still a fairly small group compared to the over 400,000 registered user accounts in total, and the uncertain but likely even larger number of users who visit the site without registering. – Ilmari Karonen Dec 4 at 12:56
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    @GNUSupporter8964民主女神地下教會 I said ethical not legal, and I'm referring to the community as a whole, not the moderators. We do have an ethical responsibility to make some effort to dissuade cheaters which we do carry out. We do delete the posts temporarily and we do as far I am aware give warns to people intentionally cheating multiple times. It is reasonable to say that as a human being I have a responsibility to make sure that a question I answer isn't obviously someone trying to cheat. The same certainly applies to others on here. What is unfeasible is to prevent all cheating on MSE. – The Great Duck Dec 5 at 0:20
  • As a contest participant who just recently attained 10k rep, I agree that something should be done with regards to this problem. I doubt there are too many of us who would intentionally try to cheat on a competition in this way; maybe something like an auto-edit to some fixed filler text ("This answer was deleted as it pertains to an ongoing contest") would at least mask it enough to avoid one seeing it accidentally? I don't know whether this is feasible within the SE framework - I'm just throwing out an idea. – Carl Schildkraut Dec 5 at 6:11
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    The discussion is going mathemethical! – GNUSupporter 8964民主女神 地下教會 Dec 5 at 20:43

The current policy is good and works. There are many people diligently looking at the contest problems and once a candidate is identified it isEDIT its answers are quickly (soft-)deleted.

Let us consider the thought of extending this to deleting the post altogether (so including the question itself).This means that the post does not show up in many lists any more, and in particular is no longer indexed by search engines. That 10k users can still see the post is essential because the deletion might be mistaken (admittedly this would be an edge case, but it's SE philosophy to leave moderation to members and I don't see a strong case why this should be an exception). Therefore I consider the soft-deletion an appropriate measure against any attempted fraud.

Even at present (with deleting only answers) I think there is ample proof that as the MSE community we take contests seriously and do our best to protect their integrity, within reasonable limits. Regarding the suggestions in OP and the attack vectors they want to close, I consider the law of diminishing returns to be very applicable. I don't want to put our moderators (with single-vote delete power) under the extra stress and responsibility of the models advocated.

Besides the practical concerns, let me add that I also disagree with the assumption in the OP that one incident will "seriously damage the reputation of math.se". At the very least I would like this hypothesis to be supported by similar incidents and their aftermath.


As a conclusion, I propose to extend the policy to include deletion of the question (lock+delete, if possible, to avoid the deletion being reversed by users). This will make the questions harder to find, and therefore the probability lower that any deleted answers are seen by 10k users.

Of course this raises the issue what to do with such questions after the contest is over.

Personally I would be fine with just leaving them; undeleting after the contest is over is an extra maintenance burden, while actually the interesting questions from the contest can just as well be (re-)posted after the contest is actually over. If they are not worth this effort, we've saved ourselves a maintenance task.

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    Undeleting questions with good answers is worthwhile. Certainly a lesser burden than answering them again! – darij grinberg Dec 6 at 5:10

A much easier and more conclusive way to prevent cheating is to simply notify the contest owner. After all, if you find such a post you know the contest exists and likely know an email contact. I highly doubt the contest owner will blame the staff and community for someone successfully asking a question and getting an answer, which is the primary function of this site. After all, anyone can claim any context (by feigning ignorance that it was a contest) and hard deleting doesn't stop cheaters. If an answer was posted then hard-deleting and leaving it deleted actually enables any cheaters that found the answer beforehand.

And these contest posts are likely just like roaches. For every one you find there is at least a thousand hiding somewhere unknown to you. Those posts are more damaging to the math community as a whole and we should be worrying about those. The fact that we identify posts properly and mark them as contest posts shows we make an attempt towards fixing the problem. Cheaters exist. It is a fact. The fact that they use this site shouldn't hurt its reputation. It just means it is a popular site and people try to conceal their cheating within the majority. Anyone who leaves the site on the basis of "cheaters use this site" is actually working to enable them because then they aren't here to help catch those cheaters and remove them.

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    Notifying the contest owner does not actually help. The contest owner then knows someone cheated, but not who (since accounts are fairly anonymous) or who may have read the answer later (which is even more anonymous). – Misha Lavrov Dec 4 at 1:59
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    As an occasional contest owner myself, I am not incredibly worried about the person asking the question; they are likely to be weeded out in some other way. I am much more worried about only slightly dishonest participants who will search for the problem on Google (maybe on the last day of the contest, in desperation) and be immediately led here. Deleting the question prevents this. – Misha Lavrov Dec 4 at 2:01
  • @MishaLavrov we do delete the question in the sense that it is deleted like any other post. SE does not fully delete things from the servers expect in rare circumstances. The OP is proposing that we completely delete the post which therefore prevents it from being used to check for cheating after the contest is over and the post undeleted. Furthermore it does allow the contest owner to see who cheated simply by looking at the answer and comparing it to submissions. – The Great Duck Dec 4 at 2:10
  • I know we delete the question; you seemed to be arguing against this, which is why I explained why deleting the question is important. (Also, in practice, it is not straightforward to identify who cheated by copying an answer.) – Misha Lavrov Dec 4 at 3:40
  • @MishaLavrov no, I am disagreeing with the request in this specific question ("If there is no way to hide answers from everyone for some time period, then the answers should be hard-deleted."). I'm arguing that no change is necessary aside from a courtesy nudge to the contest owner to be on the lookout. – The Great Duck Dec 4 at 4:17

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