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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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$
    – user296602
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ Here are some discussions from big-M Meta about similar issues: 1, 2. $\endgroup$
    – user296602
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ 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.] $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$
    – user296602
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @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 $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Commented Dec 2, 2018 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 1:12
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    $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck It's not our responsibility to patrol the posts for possible ongoing contest questions. We only react on flags and complaints. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ @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. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 0:20
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    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ The discussion is going mathemethical! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 20:43

1 Answer 1


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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    $\begingroup$ Undeleting questions with good answers is worthwhile. Certainly a lesser burden than answering them again! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 5:10

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