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This may have been asked before, but I couldn't find it. Why are deleted answers not deleted, only disabled?

There have been a couple of occasions where I misread a question, typed an answer, then later discovered that I had misread it and deleted my response. But my answer is still there, I can see it and I assume others with enough cred points can also see it (since I can see other people's deleted answers).

Why does my mistake have to live on, after I have voluntarily deleted it. There is no sense or logic or value to this. Answers deleted by their author should be gone forever, same as comments.

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  • They are deleted but people with enough privileges and (usually?) the OP of a deleted post can see the ghosts of deleted questions and answers. Not deleted comments though, maybe mods can see those but not normal users. – hippietrail Sep 17 '16 at 12:16
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    @hippietrail Always, not usually. See my answer ;) Same goes for deleted comments: see my answer ;) – Jan Sep 17 '16 at 15:37
  • Be aware that by submitting your answer you agree to license it under cc-by-sa and therefore can no longer demand it's deleted. – JonathanReez Sep 18 '16 at 10:53
  • I really do feel that there is not much that can be discussed in the issue, as it is one of the core points of Stack Exchange involved, but if you really want this not to be labelled support, go ahead. – Jan Sep 18 '16 at 21:58
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It's to make traceability and error-recovery possible, possibly even defeat hacking and abuse. It's absolutely indispensable for community deletions and even makes sense for self-deletions. Consider this scenario: A user who wrote many valuable answers throws a tantrum and decides to go on a delete spree as retaliation. With a “soft delete”, it can easily be fixed.

The basic idea is that everybody can edit the site and gaining special rights is relatively easy but nothing is irreversible, Wikipedia-style. Moderators (and high-rep users are effectively moderators; in fact, the relevant privilege is literally called “access to moderator tools”) and staff can still check and reverse any decision, fix mistakes, etc. The logic and value of this is quite clear! Preserving our ego is not considered a good reason to complicate that and the original contributor has no special rights in this regard (your text is an under an open-source license anyway). Edits do not erase previous mistakes either, a full history is available (and I believe comments - while considered less important - are actually archived in the database too).

Also, that way, the semantics of the “deletion” are simple and clear and stays the same in all scenarios. Since an answer can be deleted based on a mere 5 votes from random users with sufficient rep, it's difficult to see how it could be otherwise for regular deletions. You need a whole other set of tools on top of that for the “hard delete” because you can't do it by default. So if answers deleted by their authors were somehow hidden to more people, you would need another level of privileges.

I can understand your embarrassment but that's not really a compelling reason at all to add something like that at all, that would make no sense. As in Wikipedia's case, the real need for a “hard delete” only arises for legally problematic things like copyright infringement, libel, racists comments, etc.

Also, don't worry too much: Deleted answer don't show up in search results, etc. so stumbling upon them is unlikely and the number of users with the right privileges is actually quite limited. In all likelihood, nobody even saw/read it (beside perhaps the people who noticed it before you deleted it in the first place). And it's no big deal, we all have an answer somewhere we wish we had gotten right the first time.

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They may look disabled to you but for the very great majority of people they are actually deleted. As the help centre notes:

Once a post has been deleted, it will disappear for all users except developers, moderators, and users with over 10,000 reputation. Deleted answers are also visible to the original author. However, deleted posts can be undeleted by casting undelete votes. Once a post has 3 undelete votes, it will no longer be deleted. (Emphasis mine)

It all boils back down to the question that while the answer still is somewhat yours, it also belongs to the community, and the community should be able to revert bad decisions. Relaxed gave a great example of a user throwing a tantrum and deleting everything they wrote, but there are also cases I have witnessed on German.SE (I have enough rep there to see deleted answers) where a good answer has been deleted by the author. I chose to ping the author in a comment to ask them to undelete it, because it was good and correct.

Unlike closing and reopening questions, undeleting answers do not go through a review queue though, so they may stay unseen.


Finally, your comment note is inaccurate. For most users, deleted comments are deleted, but moderators can look at deleted comments if they need to — although it is a little harder than just checking a post’s edit history.

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To complement the current answers:

Almost everyone makes mistakes occasionally. I've posted wrong answers many times. Thankfully, someone here usually points it out to me. I'll thank the user in a comment and (if the answer is non-salvageable) delete the answer. That's one of the points of a community like this. We can learn things, even while answering questions. It doesn't mean we should make low quality answers, but everyone gets something wrong occasionally. It's nothing to worry about. In fact, the fact that you self-deleted the answer shows that you have realized the mistake and taken appropriate action. I'd say that speaks to your advantage rather than anything else l. Don't worry about it at all.

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  • Embarrassment has zero to do with it. It has to do with forcing the false or incorrect information I mistakenly wrote to remain public. And it is "public", because there are many members here with sufficient "points" to see it. – user13044 Sep 18 '16 at 4:00
  • Why is that a problem? It's deleted, people realize that it was deleted for a reason, They're not going to mistake it for an accurate answer. If you're really worried about that you could edit it saying that it was wrong, and then delete it. By the way, you could try posting a feature request about this on the main meta. (But I don't think they're gonna love the idea.) – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Sep 18 '16 at 5:51
  • "But I don't think they're gonna love the idea" - then why bother suggesting anything if you know they will reject it. That is a problem I have found with "community" websites, there is a core group that dictates and the rest of the community has to toe the line, change is scary to them because in their minds they have created perfection already and are unable to see flaws that folks outside might notice. – user13044 Sep 18 '16 at 6:28
  • @Tom Well, that's true. I'm almost certain that it would be downvoted very heavily there and given the "status-rejected" tag. I agree that it was not constructive of me to suggest that. Anyone is free to participate on the main Meta, but many people don't, so I guess you could say that it's a "small group". Sometimes I disagree with them, so I vote. (Also, of course, I also vote when I agree.) Sometimes I also post bounties on suggestions I love that have been ignored. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Sep 18 '16 at 7:22
  • It’s not really a core group of the community that dictates here, it is an even smaller group of programmers who are employed by Stack Overflow inc or ltd or whatever the company type @Tom. – Jan Sep 18 '16 at 21:57
  • @Jan True. They do listen to the community often, but certainly not always. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Sep 18 '16 at 22:00

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