Post deletion and resulting collateral damage

I can understand the rationale for deleting the orphans of a mod-deleted post. They tend to be long (mostly in-good-faith, on the part of the non-flagged people) posts alternating with offensive or neglectfully malignant content from the flagged user. If I had to wager a guess, most of the flagged user’s content would eventually get flagged anyway, and you’d end up with a long series of disconnected, earnest arguments replying to… nothing?

I personally don’t mind so much when a post gets deleted in this way, except that it is super disorienting. For me, a notice would be sufficient to clarify what happened to that exchange and not make me doubt myself. Being able to recover my text, by having it included in the alert, would be a bonus – sometimes I want to save some good turns of phrase for later arguing with racist relatives on Facebook, for instance. (Yeah, maybe that’s not healthy, but I have to try.)



When I started moderating here, I tried this approach. I left flagged posts up rather than deleting them, and left responses alone.

The problem is, the offending posts were flagged for a reason, often because they were inflammatory, derailing, or otherwise inappropriate. What I found was that the replies did not bring the conversation back on track, or simply caused the same poster to feel they need to reply to defend their now-deleted original (flagged) post, since later replies continued to reference it.

I’ve realized there are basically two options: for off-topic but otherwise appropriate derails, these can be split off into new topics (and our merry band of Leaders have been excellent at doing this!), but for all other cases, the originating post and replies are removed. There are some very specific cases where especially good replies get restored (possibly with mod editing to remove references to the original flagged post), but that is people-intensive work, and a very rare exception.


It seems like the overall incentive structure is do not respond to trolls. Because if you do, your reply may go poof.

But, it can be hard to tell what a troll is, and the response could be very good on its own.


Asking a community to NOT dunk on trolls only aggravates the community because it’s impossible to read text without internalizing it.

Flagging is great. dunking is cathartic. even more cathartic when you know that your dunk will disappear with the offending post; the suffering a troll inflicted on you is purged by creating new thoughts, typing it, and then reading the resulting dunk post.

(Of course, this creates a little more work for moderators.)


This creates a LOT more work for moderators, and worse, utterly derails a conversation where instead, a single crappy flaggable comment may not have. It affects the entire discussion, and we will absolutely take action on users who are unable to come to that realization on their own.

Our purpose here is to encourage constructive discussion, not provide somewhere to lob insults at trolls. People who want to do that can go live on reddit.

This, too, goes back to why deleting these offending posts is important. Leaving them there further degrades the conversation.


and that’s “increased mod interaction + workload” again


i’m not trying to both-sides this, although i truly can see both sides of this, but let me ask if this might be a better way to approach the problem if either wiping all replies or leaving replies with no context:

if you see a comment which is clearly awful and has either been flagged into hidden status or clearly will be, and you have a response which deals with a larger issue than just “dunking” on the irritant why not write a comment which does just that without hitting the “reply” button so that the response isn’t directly tied to the offending comment? or is that too close to “gaming the system” to be feasible?


Come to think of it…why is it possible to respond directly to comments that have already been flagged? Is it possible to turn off replies to flagged posts? Unless the flag was in error or bad faith (rare), allowing replies only draws attention to it and wastes everyone’s time.

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That’s exactly what I try to do with my “Something Else” flags. In that situation, I’m usually not sure if the post I’m flagging crosses the line. A response that won’t go away might be useful for others.

Unless they’ve been hidden, there is no indication to other posters that they’ve been flagged. If you’re responding to a hidden post, well, that’s on you.


Sorry, yes, I meant flagged and hidden.

People do respond to hidden posts, though, and I think we might as well make it impossible to do so (if possible on the technical side) in the interests of avoiding further derailment until the mod squad arrives.

There’s one reason to leave that (mostly silly) option open: malevolently flagged posts. There are some recent examples of posts that have been hidden that were unhidden after mod review. If the post is innocuous and gets hidden, I might want to risk the reply.


That’s a good point, but wouldn’t it be better to wait to reply until after mod review either way? Perhaps a warning when attempting to reply to hidden posts would be sufficient, though. Orenwolf has made it clear that dunking on goblins is not cool, so perhaps we should at least discourage replying to hidden posts, if not disable completely.

OK, well, if it’s that important of a feature, if it really will reduce load, I can escalate it.

I still don’t fully understand this…

… and I’m afraid the “cure” will be worse than the disease due to the massive human propensity for loss aversion, e.g. “how dare you remove my clever retort to that troll, I spent a lot of time writing it and now it’s gone, and you’ve just informed me my post is lost forever even though I wasn’t the one flagged, and people feel losses twice as hard as gains!

But… I guess we can try it? I’m just so, so skeptical that this will work the way y’all think it will.

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I simply disagree with this. I find the utility even in the edge cases. Caveat emptor applies when replying to trollish posts.

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Caveat emptor is fine for the replier, but I am talking about preventing further derailment, which affects everyone. There is also the issue of people replying to replies of the hidden post, who may not even realize that they are entering into a doomed thread (or that replies to replies are also subject to deletion).

In general, it would be best if people simply refrained from responding to hidden posts, though there are of course exceptions.

Sometimes a post reads as maybe a bit hostile but salvageable, and at least from my perspective the poster might be able to come around with some emotional labor. In this case the thread can go on for quite a while. Then, after a day and an extensive thread, if the original post accumulates enough low-level flags to finally get modded, it’s bewilderingly disorienting, especially if I’ve been following the thread with interest. I’m going to go beyond saying that it’s like gaslighting, and say that it is gaslighting, even if unintentional – Discourse is basically trying to make me believe that this conversation (which may have involved not a little emotional labor, depending on thread length) never actually happened.

The simple balm of an alert that says, “Hey, FYI, these posts of yours got deleted because the parent got flagged” would go a long way to making sense of the situation, and would make me feel a lot less confused (and a lot less bad that my contributions to the thread were gone).

I’ll grant that this might not be everyone’s experience, but I generally believe that all cases of “Delete post without notification” should be Considered Harmful™.


I’ve had that happen to me too. I generally do not like PMing people, but that is one of the few times when I will PM someone, even if only to tell them, “I get what you’re saying, but that post is going to get deleted as it stands. Why don’t you make a few edits so we can discuss it on the thread?”


Well, I’m open to trying it, you have convinced me that cascading deletes should be notify-able. I think it will be behind a site setting to start just in case.

I have a healthy fear of loss aversion in humans. I’ve seen it play out soooo many times.


OK, this is on the 2.8 release list. I hope loss aversion isn’t too much of a drug, I guess we’ll find out…


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