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I don't really understand the philosophy behind removing a user's votes when they decide to delete their account. I don't care about reputation, but I find it odd to have an answer left with 0 votes, when it was in fact voted up by the person who asked the question. Shouldn't the votes be left alone, as a record of whether the answer was considered helpful? I understand that part of the reason for removing the votes is because accounts are sometimes deleted due to abuse of the site. But couldn't a distinction be made between these cases and the cases where a user leaves voluntarily?

I guess this might be the wrong place to ask about this, but I just wanted to know if other people share my feelings about this.

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    $\begingroup$ I support this proposal. When a user requests deletion of their account, they stop participating in the site but remain a part of mathematical community outside of MSE. It would be reasonable to transfer their votes to the Community user. $\endgroup$ – user31373 Sep 12 '12 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ This can be avoided by simply renaming the account to something anonymous instead of deleting it. Often the user will agree to this, so we don't lose the votes. It also has the advantage that if the user decides to return then they can recover their account. Unfortunately, at least one moderator does not seem to support this policy, so users have been deleted before this could be attempted. Perhaps this will no longer occur if the community speaks up in support of this approach. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 12 '12 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque That option is unfortunately a bit deceptive as we mods can't remove all private information from a profile. An official anonymization feature would be vastly preferable. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Sep 12 '12 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @MadScientist What private info? $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 12 '12 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque IP addresses (considered personal information e.g. under german law) and certain entries in the user history that under some circumstances can e.g. still reveal the mail adresses that were associated with the account. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Sep 12 '12 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist But that info can only be seen by mods, not normal users. The point is that many users who decide to leave are more than happy to go with the approach I mentioned, and it avoids losing the votes. Until SE implements something better, it is the best compromise we have available. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 12 '12 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ Two follow-up questions: 1. Does it not also occur that some users heavily downvote and the are removed? I assume it may be desirable to address this differently from upvotes. 2. Is there any way to see what questions are affected when a user is removed? I mean, if a user upvoted an answer of mine, and then they are removed I am notified, but do not know to which of my answers this applies. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Sep 12 '12 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ @AndresCaicedo Point 2 was discussed here in comments to an answer. I agree with the point made by Mad Scientist there: disclosing this information would compromise anonymity of the votes. (It is also hard to think what use it would be to you.) $\endgroup$ – user31373 Sep 12 '12 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @LVK Thanks for the pointer. (Oh, by the way: I like your blog very much.) $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Sep 12 '12 at 20:00
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You're not the only one thinking this behaviour should be changed, my own feature request on Meta.SO to change this is the second-most upvoted unresolved feature request at the moment with a score of over 200.

As far as I understand from some comments from SE developers, changing this would be pretty complicated technically. Just transferring the votes to the community user would not work as no user can vote multiple times for the same post.

For reference, here is the text of my argument on Meta to change this behaviour:

Currently, when a moderator deletes a user all of the user's votes are removed along with the user himself. I was pretty surprised at this behaviour when I first heard about it, and I don't think it is a good idea to throw away all of the votes just because the user is deleted.

Votes are locked after a short while and you can't change your vote unless the post is edited. This is a precedent that shows that users don't have complete control over their old votes, their ability to change or remove their votes is restricted for the benefit of the whole site. I don't understand why users that get deleted are suddenly exempt from this restriction.

The drawback of removing the votes is that we throw away valuable information. Voting plays an important role on SE sites, and every time an active user is deleted we throw away some of that information.

I also don't see why rage-quitting users get to remove one kind of contribution (votes) while we stop them if they try to remove their other contributions to the site (posts). We stop users from deleting all their posts because they still provide value to the site, I don't see why we shoud treat votes any different. They might have less value than posts, but they are useful to the site as a whole.

I'm ignoring any vote invalidation in connection with vote fraud or sock puppeting for the purposes of this post. Those votes should certainly be invalidated, but that doesn't usually happen by deleting users.

The recent change to counting reputation from deleted questions if they are old enough and have at least three upvotes moves the whole reputation system further into a direction where reputation can't be taken away after some time. The reasoning for this change was that even though certain questions are off-topic now, they used to be on-topic and therefore the reputation earned had some meaning then. This provides further precedent that reputation shouldn't be removed retroactively on a large scale.

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  • $\begingroup$ Community user's bio says that it owns "downvotes on spam/evil posts that get permanently deleted". This looks like a precedent of a user owning multiple votes on the same post. (I understand this situation may be different because a permanently deleted post is no longer a post at all.) $\endgroup$ – user31373 Sep 12 '12 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer. That's good to know about your feature request. I probably should have checked on meta.SO before posting here. $\endgroup$ – Tara B Sep 12 '12 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ Is the community user's inability to own multiple votes the real technical obstacle to this suggestion? Couldn't "zombie" users be created as alternative vote-holders? A new zombie would in fact only be needed when a user gets deleted who had a vote where community user and all previously created zombies own votes. $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Sep 12 '12 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ @HagenvonEitzen I don't know the internals, only an SE developer could answer this. But from previous discussions on that topic I got the impression that it wouldn't be at all easy to change this behaviour. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Sep 13 '12 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ Beyond the dry fact of the weird deleting of all the votes received by an answer to a question posted by a removed user, it is also pretty unfair and disapointing to see one's honest and best effort is thrown away in this case. Today I was astonished to find out that 250 (!!) of my reputation points had been deleted together with the removal of a user who, by the way, I don't have the faintest idea who she/he is as it doesn't appear with his name/nick! I feel pretty let down and decepcioned as there could be some answers/questions that I could use later. $\endgroup$ – DonAntonio Oct 8 '12 at 10:00
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Votes are so arbitrary and capricious that changing them up or down by one makes little difference.

Among my answers in the last week is one of which I think was a thin and fairly obvious answer to a poor question (15 votes and rising) and another which was an informed and researched answer to a deeper question (0 votes).

I have learnt to live with it.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this so much that I was tempted to vote it down arbitrarily and capriciously. $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Sep 14 '12 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ In a similar vein: I spent numerous hours working on a single answer which ended up several pages long including explicit calculations. Vote total: +5. I spent 10 seconds giving a definition by cases for the sequence $4,4,2,4,4,2,\ldots$. Vote total: +46. $\endgroup$ – Alex Becker Sep 15 '12 at 7:21
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    $\begingroup$ While agreeing with the sentiment, I'll note that the difference between 0 and +1 votes is the difference between the question considered unanswered or answered by the SE software. The majority of my (1500+) answer upvotes were made to move the answer from 0 to +1, most of them answers to low-traffic questions. If they disappear, a few hundred questions will suddenly revert to Unanswered, which is hardly desirable. $\endgroup$ – user31373 Sep 15 '12 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Alex: I've always said that there's almost always an inverse proportion between effort expended on an answer and the number of votes it gets... oh well. :( $\endgroup$ – J. M. is a poor mathematician Sep 18 '12 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ What you people say about seriously invested and thorough answers poorly voted up (or even down) and sometimes poor answers been heavily voted up could be close to nothing compared to "losing" hundreds of points received in answers given to questions by a removed user. Even worse, you can't tell who the user is and what the questions/answers were as it disappears all altogether when the user's removed! This is frustrating. $\endgroup$ – DonAntonio Oct 8 '12 at 10:04
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One problem with keeping the votes of a removed user, is a problem akin to sock-puppetry. If a user returns and starts up a new account, they would be able to vote more than once on a given question, answer, or comment. This could be handled in much the same way as sock-puppetry if, instead of removing an old user, the mods could simply set an "inactive" flag that would prevent the user from logging in and present the usual $\not\exists$ message when a non-mod tries to look at the affected profile.

Currently, the data associated with removed users in the data.stackexchange.com database seems to persist anyway, so nothing would need to be changed there.

The users votes are still owned by the same account, but the user looks just as deleted to non-mods. If the user should decide to return, the mods would simply unset the "inactive" flag.

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  • $\begingroup$ But having the old account semi-deleted wouldn't actually help someone cast socky votes, compared to simply leaving their old account existing but unused, would it? $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Sep 13 '12 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm: It depends on whether a semi-deleted account is accessible to the system or the mods to check email or IP addresses. If it doesn't, then the user could simply create a new account and double-dip. An inactive account would definitely have those records available to enforce anti-sock-puppetry. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Sep 13 '12 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ @rob This is handled smoothly by the approach I mentioned in comments, i.e. renaming the account to something anonymous. If the user returns and starts using a new account, then the accounts can be merged if need be. $\endgroup$ – Bill Dubuque Sep 13 '12 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque: This is simply that, with a bit more obfuscation for non-mods (taking away the profile page, and disabling logins). $\endgroup$ – robjohn Sep 13 '12 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ Could they good questions be reclassed to a nobody user that is not a real user, but just a storage for good questions and have it be like the community wiki? $\endgroup$ – yiyi Apr 27 '13 at 12:14

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