Should users be able to delete their account and all their posts?

Continuing the discussion from General Moderation Topic:

The TL;DR of why we don’t make this a one-button action is, basically, ragequitting.

But let’s discuss it further, because I’d like to hear why you, or anyone else, thinks that allowing users to instantly delete all their content (and discussions – what happens when you created the first post in a long discussion) is a good idea?

First, let’s note that there is a feature in Discourse where if…

  • your account is only a few days old
  • you have 1 post or less

… you can self-delete your account in self-service fashion. It is an editable setting, site operators can change the threshold if they like via delete user self max post count, but 1 is the default. The idea is you might sign up, browse around, post a bit and decide this site isn’t for you and you don’t want an account there. All good. I completely agree with this use case and we support it.

For accounts that are older than a few days, and have more than one post, when the user wishes to leave the community, Discourse urges staff to not delete, but instead anonymize the user. This removes all personal info from the account, while leaving all the posts and topics that person created intact. This way the discussions don’t end up looking like swiss cheese after a person (or a bunch of people – if the community bifurcates, which truly does happen from time to time) decides to leave.

If anonymization isn’t appropriate, It is possible to delete an account, but you need to contact the mods to do it. It’s also kind of database intensive for accounts with thousands of posts.


the current system of anonymisation is fine. If someone wants to abandon their profile, then it breaks all links between the person and their words.

Reaching back in time and making all of your comments never have happened is over-reach and messes up other people’s conversations and posts to the point where a discussion with multiple people quoting each other is incomprehensible.

More generally, I’m not a fan of either solution. The idea that you are responsible for everything you say on the internet, and cannot take it back is something that people should actively consider before saying something online.

EDIT- Thanks for having this little discussion with us, @codinghorror It’s good to see you asking the community of discourse users about how to make online interactions better. We all benefit from a system that encourages positive online interaction as opposed to rage and Trumpian tantrums.


I used to be something of a creative commons extremist, and I remember being shocked, when we built Stack Overflow’s webchat system*, that someone signed up, saw that the chat was archived forever by default, said “hell no” and immediately left. I was like… wow… that’s… weird?

Believe me, I get that now, in a way I totally did not in 2011. We very intentionally memory-hole all our chat at Discourse every 6 months as a companywide policy.

With Discourse you can delete your old posts… and that is independent of the edit time limit. You can go back right now and delete posts you made in 2013, even though you can’t edit them. So that’s empowering.

That being said, deletion is rate limited; you can only delete a certain number of posts per day:

max post deletions per minute (default 2)
max post deletions per day (default 10)

You can also flag stuff for mod attention, if you want a bunch of it deleted. This is work for the mods, but it’s pretty easy work. And if you are dedicated, you can cull a bunch of your content over time, day by day.

* yes, it has one, and it was actually kind of awesome for its time… I kinda regret not running with webchat as a product like Slack did… for that matter we are now building an integrated Discourse chat system due to extreme pressure on certain topic types (imagine a live sportsball game topic), though I fought this for years, I have now realized it is inevitable…


Kind of. Anonymization as practiced on the BBS is fine in most cases, but it’s really only as anonymous as any other “anonymized data” that BB generally reports on. It’s not the connection between a user’s profile and the posts that is damaging, it’s the connection from one post to another that allows a person to be re-identified. Changing a user’s name to “anon####” doesn’t really break any of those connections.

The person who needs an “instant delete all” option is the person who suddenly finds themself the center of some very unwanted attention - obsessive stalker, abusive partner, or threats of harm or violence of any kind. If a user’s ex with anger issues manages to track them down I’m not going to begrudge them if they feel they need to burn every bridge in an effort to stay safe.


Trust can never be completely rescinded, and should be doled out wisely, if at all.


Ish. If I have a post talking about my cool website at (to pick on the only BBSer whose personal website I can recall off the top of my head) then removing the name from my post doesn’t exactly anonymize it much.


What might work better is if anonymized accounts broke all links between the post and the account. Change the name and get rid of the account page so future readers can still read the posts, but they can’t find other posts by that user, they can’t see what that user liked, who liked that user, or even what threads that user created.


That needs to take into account the user name. You can still crawl the BBS for post with the same user name.

Employers attention. I kicked several accounts already in my life, and I am convinced I will quit BB BBS at some point because I cannot professionally afford that someone makes the connection.

BTW, the idea that everyone and their dog should always be aware that the internet does not forget etc. etc. is dangerous. For one, people do change. I’m on this thing called internet long enough to have changed myself.

Also, people have different amounts of control over their impulses. This can be a real impairment for some.

Condemning everyone to eternity is, in my view, a puritan idea. Almost like free speech absolutism, absolute storage of every online utterance might sound good to some, but reality bites.


Yeah, it’s weird. I started as a Creative Commons absolutist, but over time I’ve even come to appreciate the “right to be forgotten”, which I initially put in the same bucket as the geniunely stupid EU cookie notices.


I begrudgingly accept the “Don’t post here if you don’t want your posts to outlive you” situation. Edge cases can (and have) been dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but too many folks who would choose to disrupt this community rely on the idea that their posting history can’t be used to discover patterns. For example, many of our most egregious disruptive users in the past also made use of “hide my public profile” to prevent the community looking at their post history. Long ago forums realized why being able to look at post history was a critical component of community moderation.

We’re not trying to be the open commons of the internet, in large part because we aren’t equipped to be. This will mean there will be folks who choose not to post here, and I am saddened that the disruptive elements online have pushed us in the position of losing those voices for the sake of protecting the majority as a result.

True story: 100% of the “right to be forgotten” requests I’ve seen Boing Boing receive have all been from either “reputation restoration” firms for the wealthy or genuine asshats trying to erase their egregious past from history because BB has so much google juice.


Yeah that one really surprised me. The intent of the feature was the exact opposite, to protect vulnerable folks.

Yet another fantastic example of how trying to help, can end up hurting… this stuff is complex. People are complex. It’s the people that make the software interesting, not the other way around!


That’s a common complaint of neoliberal societies. In theory, a few simple rules can produce a emergent complexity, but if manipulating the rules becomes the province of those with economic capital-- certain biases become baked in.


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