You all know me, and I hope you realize that I am not trolling with this query. What was once my favorite pasttime has now become something that I’m close to giving up for basket weaving. Frankly, I feel like the administrators/moderators have been treating this board’s users like children that can’t handle the truth. I couldn’t care less about the resent squabbles among moderators except where it led to the editing and removal of several relevant posts.

My questions:

Can somebody please explain to me what this board’s criteria is for deleting a post or an entire thread? Who has this power and what are the policies relating to when it is appropriate? Is it ethical for a moderator to edit or delete a post from a thread when they are active participants?

PS - I don’t give a damn what the dead horse has to say about it.


Check your mail and then take a look at majormd’s thread Proposal to Board Gods/Goddesses. It sounds a lot like what you said a day or so ago.


I can only speak for myself here. However, will you acknowledge that some of this board’s users ARE acting like children? Even before the whole current storm, we’ve had several people delight in trying to stir stuff up. In fact, there’s a couple of posters that have not posted anything BUT trolls.

I will delete posts if:

  1. It’s a duplicate (or more) posting after the techs have looked at it. I have to leave multiple posts up so that the techs can determine what went wrong, if the poster didn’t send it more than once.

  2. The user asks me to delete the post, for whatever reason.

  3. The post contains something like a link to a porn site, or to a Make Money Fast site.

  4. Excessive proselytizing or advertising when not appropriate to the discussion at hand. For example, the White Castle thread had a post linking to the White Castle site…which was entirely proper.

  5. I damn well feel like it. OK, so far I haven’t deleted a post just because I felt like it, but I COULD, according to the rules in the agreement.

Deleting a post is a royal pain. I don’t like to do it, and I don’t know of any moderator who likes to do it. I don’t like deleting entire threads, either. However, it’s much easier to just delete an entire thread if tensions run too high, rather than pick through the thread and hand-deleting or modifying each post.

There are moderators and there are administrators. Administrators can moderate any forum, while moderators can only moderate their own assigned forum.

We try to take each instance in context. But even Cecil is human, and so are his moderators and administrators. However, we really are trying to do the best we can.

If you’re unhappy about something, the best way to let us know is to write a calm, reasoned letter to one of us. Flaming us won’t help. It might not be something we can do anything about. Please keep in mind that we are running this site for Cecil and the Straight Dope, and we are trying to keep it as loose as possible without letting it fall completely apart. It’s a very fine line to walk, and we’re feeling our way.

And finally…please realize that we will NEVER be able to make everyone happy about everything on this site. With some posters…they’d only be happy if there were no SD staff at all. We’re trying to make this site pleasant for the people who do want to stomp out ignorance.

Note that even though I’m speaking as an administrator, I have not run this by the other staff. So these are just my personal guidelines.

Lynn/SDStaff Lynn
For the Straight Dope

Lyn, take a breath.
Papabear is not your enemy. Learn to reconize friends. He simply made a query.
In recent events it seems reasonable enough.
What is the critera? Is it written down somewhere? Who makes the decision?

All he wanted was answers. Thats why he came here

Ghandi…I was not writing in a hostile tone. And I did give some answers. I don’t know everything.


From what I gather from your response, Lynn, there is no policy. I should have guessed as much.

Yes. Especially the ones that think if you ignore a problem long enough, it will go away.

I defy you to suggest that the outcry over the recent unpleasantness can be laid at the feet of childish users. I haven’t counted, but I’m fairly certain that the number of people who have stated in various threads that you guys blew it is now well over a 100!

My own approach is very much as Lynn described.

It is not true that there is “no policy”, Papa, it’s that the policy allows a fairly wide discretion. For instance, things are tolerated in the BBQ PIT forum that would not be acceptable in ABOUT CECIL’S COLUMN.

The policy is (and must be) broad enough to allow for some discretion. Examples:

(a) We want moderate language here. We don’t want to say that we’ll delete any post that uses the f-word, for instance; but if we find a post where every other word is the f-word or its participle, we may delete or edit that post.

(b) We need to take into account the context of the statement. A discussion about health considerations during oral sex is an OK topic; a link to “Hot Horny Naked Teens” is not.

We are not a court of law, and we don’t have a rule book that defines every situation. None of us have time to write one, nor would we (or you) want to read one.

We do have policy guidelines, and you can read them on the FAQ site. We have discussions amongst ourselves, and we have discussions with the READER (the ultimate decision-maker.)

We use our best judgement. Sometimes that will result in “error”, sometimes that will result in different treatment for similar situations. We do our best to be fair, to be loose rather than strict, and to help promote Message Boards consistent with the READER and THE STRAIGHT DOPE.

If anyone has a complaint with one of our judgement calls, we will certainly listen to well-reasoned, calm comments. Frankly, we tend to shut off loud screaming, frothing at the mouth, etc. This, too, is a fairly normal human reaction. We’re administrators, not gods.


The only messages that I have deleted (as far as I can recall) have been duplicate ones that sometimes are accidentally posted. The only ones I’ve edited have been related to those or, in one case, a message of my own that got screwed up in terms of some web sites I was trying to post.

Whoops! Ok, I almost forgot a major one (that would’ve looked bad) when I edited C#3’s posts containing a copyrighted article.

Now, as to your questions:

There is no specific written policy. To be completely honest, when I encounter something that is questionable, I send it up the line. Now, as time goes on, we will all presumably feel more comfortable in what should and shouldn’t be allowed, but now I think a lot of it is “we know it when we see it.” For example, relating to the whole C#3 article thing (and hoping not to re-argue that point), the whole article was obviously a violation; when he reposted over 90% of it, it was obviously a violation. When he summarized and quoted FROM it, it was obviously not a violation and was left alone. So, no, we don’t have a written policy that says, “If somebody posts 52.45% of an article or more, delete it.” A similar topic is that of somebody referring to a “commercial” website. Well, what’s a commercial website? How would we define it in a written guideline? For now, “we know it when we see it.” We’re still working through some of these things, and if you have suggestions, please feel free to e-mail them to me (I won’t speak for any of the others, as I know some of them get TONS of e-mail as it is :slight_smile: ).

This question, as stated, is not answerable. It’s like asking, “Is it ethical to kill another person?” There are too many variables. (For example, if somebody was about to murder your children, it might be considered ethical to kill them instead.) But back to your question. Would it be ethical to edit or delete messages in an attempt to gain some sort of an “edge”? Obviously not. But is it ethical to do so to enforce board rules? Yes. Take, again, the C#3 case (I hate to keep referring to that one, as it’s been hashed and rehashed, but it’s appropriate to this discussion). I was involved in that discussion. But his posts WERE copyright violations. I had to delete/edit them. I specifically told him that if he summarized it instead, it would stay up. He finally decided to do that, and it stayed. If I was trying to stop him from making his point, I wouldn’t have specifically told him how to post the same information without getting in trouble. But the fact of the matter was that I didn’t particularly care if he posted the information – I cared about how he posted it (within the law or not).

I hope that answers your questions.

Lynn, CK, and David -

Thanks for your posts explaining why some things get deleted. I have a follow-up question for you. (And one I think PB had in mind in the original question.)

I have no argument with the reasons you’ve given for deleting posts. However, should a moderator/administrator be able to delete their posts when they just don’t like what they’ve said? For example, David B. (sorry for using you as an example, but this is most likely in the GD forum) gets pissed at either C3 or ARG, and flames them. After 2-3 hours, he calms down and deletes the post, knowing that some people may have already read it.

Now, I can’t delete posts that I make like that, and I doubt the moderators would delete them for me. (If I’m wrong on this, I apologize.) Therefore, I’m not a real fan of moderators being able to do that either. Live with what you say, folks. I understand deleting stuff for copyright or commercial reasons. To delete your own post because you changed your mind, and so you won’t look bad is another thing entirely.

JMO - I’d be interested to hear the responses on this.

As a former moderator on the AOL board I can state that back then, we didn’t have to make our own guidelines as to what we could delete or not; they were mainly given to us by AOL. Here we’re on our own and consequently, we’re finding out that there are a lot more grey areas that AOL tended to paint in black and white.

As far as deleting posts for others, I have a general rule. If the post was just made, was made in the heat of the moment and contained things that one might wish they had not posted later, AND no one has had a chance to respond to it yet, I would probably delete it just as a matter of courtesy. Once a post has been made and it has become part of the discussion, in my book it would have to stand just so not to disrupt the flow of the thread.

Saint Eutychus

I agree with what Eutychus said – and also would point you to another thread in this area started by, I think, Lynn, regarding requests to delete messages.

[[I have no argument with the reasons you’ve given for deleting posts. However, should a moderator/administrator be able to delete their posts when they just don’t like what they’ve said? For example, David B. (sorry for using you as an example, but this is most likely in the GD forum) gets pissed at either C3 or ARG, and flames them. After 2-3 hours, he calms down and deletes the post, knowing that some people may have already read it.

Now, I can’t delete posts that I make like that, and I doubt the moderators would delete them for me. (If I’m wrong on this, I apologize.)]] Falcon
As Lynn has noted at least twice recently, the board people in fact will delete a post of yours if you ask them to

But, Ed has said on that thread that:

So, if it’s a bad idea for all of us to have our posts deleted just because we regret what we said, why should it be different for moderators?

Ed, want to clarify on this?

Falcon, if I may step in: Finding something “inconvenient later in the debate” is somewhat different than “regret[ting] what we said.”

A user may post something in the heat of anger and then, a few minutes later, realize that it will contribute nothing and only spawn a flame-war and say, “Hmmm, I shouldn’t have posted that – maybe I can e-mail the moderator and ask that s/he remove it.” This is quite different from a situation in which, for example, somebody made a point in a debate that wasn’t backed up by evidence and then, when called on it, wanted to remove the statement because it was embarrassing.

The latter is what, I think, Ed was referring to. The former is what several others of us were referring to.

Thanks David. Just wanted some clarification…

A couple, related, humble questions:

When a thread is closed, could a brief explanation why be provided ? Following a GQ post (not mine) re “Southern Sayings”, the thread was closed. I imagine because it would more appropriately come under another forum, but would learn etiquette better if I knew why. Seems on occasion there is a “closing” post by the moderator. (Obviously sometimes it’s pretty obvious why, but I imagine that would be a deletion anyway.)

Also, (penny-ante question) would it be possible to differentiate between “zero replies”, meaning it’s tough but a moderator is amused/pondering; and “zero replies” meaning we’re actively ignoring such a silly/inappropriate post ? Again, improve learning curves…

If deleted.

If a post has been moved to a different forum, there’s a little notice at the top.

Otherwise, I think most moderators have been indicating the reason for closing a post. The suggestion is a good one, thanks.