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On some sites, like Stack Exchange, posts that have been deleted are still visible to a certain class of users beyond moderators/administrators. (On SE, reaching a certain reputation level means you see these posts, distinctively marked.) I have noticed that on some sites, if a deleted post contains very-offensive content like hate speech, users at this privilege level will edit out the offense for the sake of other privileged users so nobody has to look at it. On other sites, I've seen people not do this so the post remains as it was at deletion time ("for the record").

On Stack Exchange, if a post is wholly offensive and flagged as such, it's hidden behind a click for the users who can see deleted posts. I'm not asking about those; I'm asking about posts that weren't deleted because they were offensive but for some other reason, but they also contain offensive parts. Should I encourage, discourage, or ignore my users who edit these posts? Please share your reasoning and any precedents you can bring from sites where you've seen this happen (SE or otherwise).

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Personally I hate it when people edit out the "offensive" content from a deleted post (or when the SE auto-censor anti-feature hides them), since now I need an extra click to view the original content. –  CodesInChaos Aug 14 at 16:47
    
In SE users with high reputation are treated as active moderators in a sense and having this information (for example in meta discussion) can lead to better choices (for example when to single handedly mark a question as a duplicate). I don't think a simple "yes" or "no" would work here. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Aug 30 at 18:52

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In my experience there are two very general classes of "offensive" content. I think the Stack Exchange system handles them fairly well without doing extra tinkering.

  • One sort is made up of vitriolic rants, often punctuated with profanity.

    This is the stuff that would almost classify as NSFW, you don't even want it hitting the pixels on your screen in case somebody is reading over your shoulder.

    This sort of thing needs to be flagged as offensive. Validating these flags (either by moderator action or enough of the same kind of flag) will not only automatically delete the post but it will automatically sensor the content even from 10k-ers so they don't have to have that kind of stuff on their screen.

  • The other sort is content that doesn't meet the site standards for civil communication.

    This could be anything else that isn't rampant profanity, but is not "nice" or otherwise doesn't meet basic site quality standards. In the case of the religion sites I moderate this frequently happens where somebody is ragging on a sect or turning a subject into an ad hominem attack or any number of other infractions.

    These need deleting, and they can be flagged for a moderator attention, but they usually don't warrant the 100 rep point penalty that an offensive flag carries.

In the case of the latter, it is well understood that deleted answers are there (or not there) for a reason. Even for users that can see them they are shaded red and everybody understands they are not exemplary of the site. The users allowed to see them are aware of the side guidelines and are themselves empowered to vote to delete or undelete posts. There is no reason they shouldn't be shown the original post. If it was deleted they should be able to see the reason it was deleted for themselves.

In the case of other forums without such a two-level policy, you'll have to either do something like this by hand or come up with your own way of handling it. I would suggest that any system that lets users see deleted posts would only do so with the intent that they would be able to see and review the content that was deleted. If they are not prepared to handle that and know how the site works, they probably shouldn't bee seeing deleted posts in the first place.

P.S. For completeness I should mention that there will always be a handful of posts that are so heretical you wish you could downvote them more even though they are deleted. For this sort of offensive post, I have nothing to propose.

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Since they are deleted, is safe to presume they can't be read by anyone but those that would like to see them and actively seek them. So, seems very unproductive trying to edit a deleted post just to protect those that can still see them if they want to see them.

My short answer is: leave them. They are not doing damage.

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Well, deleted answers to a question do show up automatically if you view the question. But on the other hand, they're moved to the bottom and color-coded, so you can argue that that's a clue. –  Monica Cellio Aug 13 at 16:26
    
@MonicaCellio I answered from a non-SE perspective. That behavior (show deleted stuff to normal users) is very rare among online communities (IRC notwithstanding, where each user has a copy of everything they see), so my answer comes from a non-SE perspective where to see deleted post (offensive or not) require a legwork (and even so, there's a clickthrough in SE). –  Braiam Aug 13 at 16:29
    
Good point -- we shouldn't assume an implementation for "can see deleted posts". –  Monica Cellio Aug 13 at 16:32

From my experience on Stack Exchange users haven't complained about being able to see offensive content in deleted posts. They've either just edited it out themselves or been not bothered enough about it. These users have the most rights of any regular user so have no restrictions on what they can do in this regard. They're also (usually) the users who have been active on the site longest so are possibly more tolerant of this sort of thing than the more recent or more casual users.

The biggest danger from deleting such content is that you might end up removing the reason the post was deleted in the first place. I know you said that it wasn't flagged as offensive, but the original poster may have been responding to comments etc. and decided that the simplest thing to do was to delete the post.

I wouldn't make it a policy to edit out such content, but neither would I discourage others from doing it if they thought it necessary.

Having said that I do like the "This post was marked offensive so is hidden" mechanism to hide offensive posts, so what might be a useful change is for users who do find offence in deleted posts to flag it as offensive and then the system automatically converts it to the "hidden" style. There would be no other action (sanctions on the poster for example) as the content was already deleted, but it might help if you have users who are sensitive to this sort of thing even though the wider user base can't see these posts.

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In most cases, I would expect that anyone who can view a deleted post is also able to edit it. The reason for deleting content is presumably to remove it from the community since many members of the community will be unable to avoid it if it is not removed. Those who are able to access deleted content CAN avoid it if they want and if they happen to look at a deleted post and see that it doesn't sit well with them, they also are free to edit it at that time.

Deleting the post removes it from view for those who can't do it themselves, editing further for a situation that may or may not ever be a problem for someone who can fix it themselves seems like a waste of time. If the content bothers you, edit it, if it bothers someone else, they can edit it.

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