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Ask HN: You cannot delete comments posts or your account on HN. Concerned?
135 points by headShrinker on June 24, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 147 comments
Today I found out after 11 years on this platform there is no way to delete anything you create and post, including the account itself on Hacker News.

This seems strange and ironic considering a lot of our online comments revolve around data privacy, individual rights and the right to be forgotten.

I have deleted Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and reddit accounts my life has dramatically improved. However I am unable to delete my hacker news account... leaving me wondering what is the status of my online data and status on this network. Clearly it is meant to be permanent. I wonder if you knew nothing is deletable here, and if knowing at some point you might want to, you’d regret existing on and supporting a network that will profit or benefit from your content in perpetuity without input from you.

Meanwhile they reserve extravagant rights to flag censor and ban any content you post at their discretion indicating they’re fully willing to remove content that they disapprove of.

My opinion: you should be upset that this platform/network is benefiting off you and not allowing you the rights and benefits to delete and control your own content... Much less paying you for the content you provide.

I have emailed HN@ycombinator.com and they don’t respond.

> Today I found out after 11 years on this platform there is no way to delete anything you create and post

How did you "find that out"? It's not true. We take care of these requests for people every day.

> I have emailed HN@ycombinator.com and they don’t respond

We always respond. It may take a while though, because the inbox gets brutally piled up. It looks like you emailed 3 days ago. There are 32 ahead of you in the queue. I'm sorry, but there's not much I can do but answer emails in the order they were received. (The actual process is more complicated, but that's what it boils down to.)

Could HN consider allowing users to delete their own old posts?

We live in a very different world than the one that existed when HN first launched. Self-censorship and careful pruning of old posts is now a necessity for participating in public online discussions. Society is growing less tolerant of diverse opinions every year and comments that are within the Overton window today could get you fired from your job a few years from now.

I don't think we can even predict what opinions will inspire a Twitter mob in 2022. But inevitably one will come here and try to get someone fired for something, which will have a chilling effect on HN unless we can prune our own posts/comments as future situations require.

There needs to be a balance between individual needs for protection, fairness to the other commenters in a thread, and community interest in having an archive. Threads are a co-creation, which means their ownership is shared (pg wrote about this here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6813226).

That doesn't mean we don't care about users' needs for protection—on the contrary, we care a lot and help people with these requests every day. No one goes away empty-handed. We just have to use more precise tools than wholesale deletion. These include renaming accounts, retroactively assigning comments to throwaway accounts, deleting specific posts (especially if they don't have replies), redacting specific info from posts, and more.

It would be nice to be able to at least retroactively anonymize your username. When we were living in a kinder world, I didn't think twice about using my real name as my username, but I echo GP's fear: Norms change through time, and I guarantee that something I posted years ago that was benign and uncontroversial then would get me fired today.

EDIT: Reading the other responses, it looks like HN will actually do this if you ask. Nice to know! +1 to the request to automate this and provide UI for it for users to self-serve.

you could have option to anonymize posts just by removing the name of the poster, pretty sure that would be enough for some maybe even majority and off-load lot of work from you to pay attention only to those who want remove posts completely

We do that by randomizing the account name on request.

my point was this should be automated without human intervention, since there is no value lost for other readers, if it's just name randomized

Is there a disclaimer upon account creation that your account, once created, cannot be deleted?

Thanks for the response, I had not seen that post from pg and I didn't realize that comments can be manually deleted upon request.

I definitely appreciate the idea of there being a community interest in both the creation and archive of the work. The salient question in these times I think is whether it will continue to be possible to safely create public works of this type. This is a social issue beyond the scope of HN, but the drift of users away from public social networks and toward private messaging apps is evidence of a change that's already underway.

While I like the moderation on HN that's a joke answer. Have you ever had a discussion internally on this? Lots of comments don't fall under 'co-creation' whatever that means. Some comments reveal personal information and should be deletable by the poster.

In all fairness, if you're so concerned with posting sensitive content, then why not create a throwaway account? It's easy on HN. You don't even need an e-mail address.

Why risk the magnificent foundation of HN (its comments) for something that can be mitigated so easily. I simply don't understand this. There have been so many comments that I've learned so much things from, I would be devastated if that were to go away or start to degrade.

The point is, you don't know today what will be sensitive tomorrow. I've posted content in the past that were benign at the time, but totally unacceptable in today's environment of heightened sensitivity. The online mob doesn't care how old your quote is. Look at all the people still drudging up Zuckerberg's "dumb fucks" comment.

To be fair, his comments were unacceptable at that time as well.

Strictly speaking, I'm interested in comments which cover technology. That's the content I learn from and I consider that to be more on the side of documentation rather than opinion. Why not just have one account for such content and other for political / opinionated content? I'm pretty sure those can be very clearly divided, don't you think?

Dang, I’m not here to pile-on. The mod team here is spectacular. Over the years you and team have done a wonderful job. I do love HN. I just want to digitally die. I think we all get that. Keep doing what you do. To the community, support dang! He’s good. Finally, HN should have have some option to wipe out the account, user name, comments, posts, something... It should be automated.

Contrarian opinion that I'm not sure I hold: think carefully about what you say, and if it's controversial, be brave/make a throwaway.

It's very valuable that HN allows throwaway accounts for these circumstances (unlike some other platforms where they allow only one account per person). However this doesn't help if the significance of a comment only becomes clear after it has been posted.

Having a hard time thinking of such a case.

You cannot think of anything that was not controversial, say, 40 years ago that is highly controversial now?

That makes me wonder what HN's archive will look like in 30 years.

Maybe people in the future will make fun of anything besides that Dropbox comment.

Pedantic, hahaha...also infomative.

Not that I would say, no.


There is a lot of -- I mean a a lot of -- propaganda on reddit and HN. There are a lot of bad faith posters using throwaway accounts to skew dialog. I call em out when I see em, but it's pretty clear what's going on. 10 day old accounts posting in nothing but pro-China threads, or 1 day old accounts talking about how terrible Intel/AMD/ARM/etc. is.

I don't see what this has to do with the parent, unless you're trying to say throwaways shouldn't be allowed.

Why does this require human intervention at all? If I want to delete my comment or account, why do I have to give you my email address in exchange?

Allowing wholesale deletion of account histories would gut the threads an account had participated in, which would be unfair both to any commenters who replied, and also to the community, which has an interest in maintaining its archive. We need to balance individual protections against these other concerns. To do that requires an approach with a bit more nuance than clicking a button to wipe everything. Threads are co-creations, after all. pg wrote about this in 2013: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6813226.

This has been the approach for a long time. Here's me saying the same thing 4 years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11543284. The main thing that has changed since then is that we now have the ability to rename accounts. When people want to delete their accounts, a combination of randomizing the username and/or deleting some posts and/or redacting sensitive information has proved able to satisfy nearly everybody.

Points of view are changing. People are being more concerned about their data. I suspect many people here are feeling different about not being able to delete data. Other companies have given users the ability to delete their data. You might want to define a Hacker News policy that addresses it.

I suspect that you'll be addressing the same question over and over as time passes. It won't go away.

Things are changing in that we get more of these requests than we used to, but they're not changing in the sense that the current approach shows signs of not working. On the contrary, it works very well. The main problem is that it's not universally known, and so occasionally complaints like the current thread show up, or people tell each other things that aren't actually true. It's on my list to add to the FAQ, which would help, if anyone actually read the FAQ.

Addressing the same questions over and over is much, if not most, of my job. In recent months I've started to link more systematically to past explanations, since the sequences of questions on many topics have started to converge. I intend to compile these into either a v2 FAQ or a series of short essays about moderation topics, or something, which in the future can simply be linked to. The question of account deletion will certainly be in there.

Adding it the FAQ would be awesome.

Would it be possible to let users delete their account and when users delete their accounts you could override all PII with a "default" value? It's meeting users midway where their comments are still visible and threads are not gutted but they are not associated with their PII anymore?

I'm afraid I don't understand. Can you explain in a different way?

When users delete their account, instead of deleting the content/comments they submitted, you could replace the deleted user's username with the value [deleted], replace the IP address, email address and any other PII collected about the user with the value [deleted]. That way the threads remain intact and the content is not associated with the users anymore.

Ok, I think I understand. We wouldn't replace all such usernames with [deleted], for reasons I explain here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23624019. But we randomize them, and if that's not enough, there are sometimes other things we can do.

I didn't know this. Thank you for pointing it out.

Unfair to commenters who replied. Why do you have to be fair?

It took over ten years to get the unvote feature.

This is a good question about privacy implications. Deletions shouldn't require more personal data.

I think it's pretty sad that they don't warn you when signing up. And I think it's pretty lousy that they won't let you delete your account. I had an account that got into 4-digit karma before I realized I couldn't delete it. I was younger and wrote some stuff I'd love to get rid of. I've emailed the guys who run HN about it several times and every time it's the same lame excuse.

When did you email us and what did we say? This does not sound at all like the email conversations we have with users.

If someone emails "I was younger and wrote some stuff I'd love to get rid of", the obvious response is: "Happy to help! What are the links? We may not be able to delete the posts altogether (it depends on whether they got replies, and how many) but there's nearly always something we can do, and we don't want anyone to get in trouble from anything they posted to HN." I've written that kind of thing so many times I'll probably start mumbling it in my sleep soon.

I'll admit I'm impressed you responded to my comment! The last time I tried was a few years ago.

I would have to go back to my inbox to find your response but I remember being pretty disappointed. I don't think you wrote anything that was specifically unkind but I remember being struck by the response. I thought "wow, these guys really don't care if someone wants to delete or hide their account." It is completely possible I caught you on a bad day.

I'll try again.

Please do! I'd love to see the old emails, too, because maybe there's something to learn about how to respond better. Or maybe we already learned it in subsequent years.

I always assumed one could run a script or something to edit their comments to blank comments since deletion is not possible - the way many users on Reddit prefer to do.

Just found out the edit option disappear after a few minutes/hours on HN

Now I'm really bothered too, about the lack of a delete button.

The problem is that if you leave the deletion and edit windows open forever, people will come back and abuse them in order to change the meaning of threads after the fact. Sometimes, and unfortunately not even that rarely, they do it maliciously, for example to make repliers look bad. So there needs to be a balance between allowing edits for a while—for legit uses like fixing errors, clarifying, adding new information—and not allowing them forever. We can argue about what the length of the window should be, but a few hours seems like a fair balance to me.

It's important for the coherence of HN threads that discussions proceed in a mostly-append-only way, and that the history be sort of 'committed' or 'trusted' after a while. That doesn't mean that nothing can change, just that at a certain point, changes need to go through a manual process, as I've explained in other comments in this thread.

Completely understand why we shouldn't have editing enabled for too long

You should be allowed to delete your own comments for alot of reasons.

In particular, if you decide that a comment you made was overly negative, or offensive or has some other issue, then it is good for the quality of discussion that you be able to take the action and remove it. You are allowed to do this for a short time period after creating it, I think you should permanently be allowed to delete it.

I know HN does not like comments to be deleted because it breaks the historical value, but I think people, privacy, quality of discussion and individual personal right to curate your own online presence are more important than HN's right to maintain historical integrity. HN doesn't see it that way as far as I understand but hey, it's their site. Don't like it, don't comment.

Maybe I'm weird, but "curating your own online presence" gives me the creeps, like I'm in a room full of people all wearing rubber Richard Nixon facemasks or something.

>>> like I'm in a room full of people all wearing rubber Richard Nixon facemasks or something

errr, this is an incredibly good description of the actual Internet and how people present themselves. Do you see otherwise?

I was thinking Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt, but, sure, Nixon - why not?

You can delete comments within a time limit.

This is helpful, but sometimes inadequate. E.g. Making a comment before going to bed, you won't be able to edit in the morning.

If you're willing to email us, we can help. There's one user who has emailed us dozens of times requesting the most meticulous tiny edits that you wouldn't believe. But we're meticulous editors ourselves, so we humor him. If I woke up to a hundred such requests every day, we'd have to change something, but a handful is no problem.

That's a pretty good alternative to providing delete.

I still think you should provide delete though - Reddit and Twitter - the biggest discussion sites of all time - live with the nature of people deleting elements from conversations and they don't suffer too much for it. I do encounter threads sometimes with deleted elements but it's doesn't hurt the user experience.

I'd prefer the choice be in the hands of the user as to whether they wish to delete something - or everything. Quality of discussion would go up and negative, low value comments might be reduced if people can delete things without needing to email hn to ask for the deletion

I do wonder why HN holds on so tightly to preventing people from deleting their comments and accounts.

Anyhow your comment points to reasonable and good natured moderation, which is next best.

> I do encounter threads sometimes with deleted elements but it's doesn't hurt the user experience.

There are comments elsewhere in this thread that complain that they do harm the user experience.

For example:

"I [...] generally very much appreciate the lack of [deleted] a la reddit." https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23623158

I also agree; I read old Reddit threads reasonably often, and it's intensely frustrating to read exactly half of a conversation.

HN's randomized usernames compromise is really nice and I'm very happy with it.

>Reddit and Twitter - the biggest discussion sites of all time - live with the nature of people deleting elements from conversations.

Reddit and Twitter and many other sites do it the way you advocate, and yet you have accumulated 9192 "participation points" on one of the minority of sites that don't do it the way you advocate.

I would ask you to please consider the possibility that you like HN as much as you do partly because of qualities that wouldn't exist or would exist only in a weaker form were it not for the policy you are criticizing.

In particular, the policy under discussion makes it possible for a user to save the url of a comment, then return reliably to the comment years later. And the policy makes it such that when a user searches the site with hn.algolia.com, none of the search-engine results is a broken link.

Maybe those qualities differentially attract users to HN with a stronger than average commitment to the truth because those users have noticed that those qualities help with find the truth. And maybe the higher proportion of users with a stronger than average commitment to the truth that I just hypothesized is one of the reason you participate here as much as you do.

2 hours, I think -- which is essentially nothing.

I wrote about this here https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23623839. If there's something that remains unaddressed, let me know.

It is good for fixing typos and adding updates

I found this out maybe 15% into my HN career. I've emailed in the past to have specific posts removed and received a timely response doing so.

I didn't request a blanket delete however. I do understand the desire for posterity, and generally very much appreciate the lack of [deleted] a la reddit.

It's not hard to notice the lack of delete: it's somewhat well known edit windows close; then the delete window soon after. Maybe upfront documentation would be welcome. I imagine many people like us didn't think of it until after wanting to delete something.

I'd be very open to removing usernames from posts (they bear little in >99% of cases anyway). I'm wary of having entire posts be easily deleted, especially considering replies. My country does have a right to be forgotten (Canada), so I assume I could easily email or snail mail to have my profiles wiped. I wouldn't exercise this, though perhaps I'd consider a disassociation in the future.

How does one's right to be forgotten apply when there's no true link to one's identity? Does it apply to pseudonyms, as well?

I've long wished for such laws to pass in the US, but there are far too many hands in too many cookie pots paying too many Senators for that to happen, I fear.

> Today I found out after 11 years on this platform there is no way to delete anything you create and post

> This seems strange and ironic considering a lot of our online comments revolve around data privacy

I agree it seems strange this just now occurred to you after 11 years.

> I have deleted Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and reddit accounts my life has dramatically improved

Why is that, exactly? Because you waste less of your time on them, or because nobody has your data from those services? If it's the later, how do you calculate value from something you can't observe?

> Meanwhile they reserve extravagant rights to flag censor and ban any content you post

Yeah, using a site that someone else wrote and pays for running the servers doesn't give you magical rights on the service. A fun fact is that free speech is frequently misinterpreted as the ability to say anything anywhere, but it's not that at all.

> My opinion: you should be upset that this platform/network is benefiting off you

That's not an opinion, it's telling people what to think which seems somewhat in vogue recently.

“if I can’t spew my opinion with your bandwidth I’m oppression”

From dang (mod), Mar 2019:

> We delete comments for people nearly every day. It's true that we don't allow wholesale deletion of account histories, because that would gut the threads the account had participated in. But we also don't want anyone to get in trouble from anything they posted to HN...


I would be happy if they allowed usernames to be changed or accounts to be deleted where the username is just changed to deleted or something and the comment stays.

We rename accounts for HN users all the time. 250 so far this year.

That's good to know! Thanks.

If you have been careful all along, this would help. But it wouldn’t solve the problem where someone has inadvertently added some personal information or hints/links to who they are or where they are. People may also not remember where they posted what that links back to them.

We're always happy to delete or redact identifying information. We don't want anyone to get in trouble from anything they posted to HN. We don't do it by allowing wholesale deletion of account histories, because that would gut the threads the account had participated in, which would be unfair to any commenters who replied, as well as to readers and to the community.

That doesn't mean we don't care about individual users' needs for protection—we care a lot about it, and help people with these requests every day. We just have to do so with sharper tools, and we have a big bag of tricks for taking care of these things. They include renaming accounts, retroactively assigning comments to throwaway accounts, deleting specific posts (especially if they don't have replies), redacting specific info from posts, and more.

I think those scenarios the user should contact HN and ask for removal.

It's difficult because even if someone wrote something they regret, they probably also have things they wrote which prompted really good discussion.

I cut my teeth on Usenet, mailing lists, and IRC - on all of which the idea of unsaying something you said was a self-evident absurdity.

So no, I don't have a problem with it here either.

If I feel badly enough about something I've said in the past, I can always follow up that I've changed my mind / disagree with my past argument and the reasons why.

I just don't understand people fixation with deleting public stuff they willingly upload to public networks.

These kind of discussions remind me of a quote I read somewhere back in the 90's: When someone gets in a computer, their IQ drops 50%: That's the only explanation why the same person that falls for a stupid "nigerian prince" scam, would tell a person knocking at their door asking them to give them money to get more money to fuck off.

Same with sharing stuff... people go on the internet sharing photos, videos and text that they would not share on a normal interaction in "real life" (you can see a high rated post here, being quite aggressive about some old email interaction while being impersonal, but when dang replied the user changed their tone... WHY?). Just behave like the real you when you are on the internet, it is a public place by definition.

I've got plenty of old comments in Usenet, slashdot, old forums and plenty of other websites from more than 25 years ago. Sure, some of them are stupid because I was younger, or they are charged, flamebaits, trolls, or just plain stupid (specially ones in comp.os.linux.advocacy ).

But yeah, that was me, and if someone finds those posts and confronts me to them, I have to own them, and as you say, I would be able to follow up on why I wrote "hahaha you use window$z you suck donkey ballz" 25 years ago when I was 13 years old...

> I've said in the past, I can always follow up that I've changed my mind / disagree with my past argument and the reasons why.

Yes, that's the rational way. However, with today's SJW and Twitter mobs, you don't know what someone might dig up in order to make your life hard going forward.

Or if the pendulum will swing the other way, and the Mega-Nazis who will be in charge in the future will use bots to search twitter for SJW posts.

Just cuz you're in lock-step with the zietgiest now doesn't mean you will be in the future.

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

Mega Nazis, if they should come to exist, are going to seek to hunt people down whether or not anti-Nazis have done so first.

If you are concerned about Mega Nazis, hoping you can convince them to be tolerant Mega Nazis by the example of tolerant anti-Nazis is...not likely to be an effective approach.

This. These who lived the past "hacker" culture should have self-anonymizing habits burned into mind, be it using nicknames and masking details about private or work life.

Ten years ago one of the most prolific and valuable participants of lesswrong.com used a script to delete all his writings from the site. A few days or weeks later, he reconsidered and gave the site permission to restore them, explaining that he was angry when he ran the script, but as you might expect if you've spent time adminning a computer, no one wanted to spend the considerable technical effort required to effect a restoration. Since then I have experienced non-negligible amounts of pain after following one of my bookmarks or a search-engine hit only to end up at a stub that was one of his former posts or comments.

>you should be upset that this platform/network is . . . not allowing you the rights and benefits to delete and control your own content.

I would be upset if a significant fraction of the more than 558 bookmarks into news.ycombinator.com I have accumulated over the past 10 years stopped working because of a change in HN that caused a large increase in the rate of deletion of old comments. In particular, I worry about users who would use a script to mass-delete all of their comments here. (I arrived at the figure of 558 by actual counting: in a directory containing only bookmarks manually created by me, I grepped for "news.ycombinator.com" and for an abbreviation for HN that I use when I'm too lazy to copy and paste the url.)

The fact that it is hard or impossible for a prolific contributor to mass-delete his contributions is a significant part of the reason I chose spend as much of time as I have reading here -- and searching here: with Google Search becoming increasingly useless, an increasing fraction of my searches are searches of HN using Algolia.

I am of course okay with the site's starting displaying a strongly worded warning on the sign-up page.

ADDED. 13.3% of my searches of the internet since the start of this year have been searches of HN using Algolia. One painfully precise detail: I am counting only those of my searches that originated (in code I wrote) in Emacs, but that is the majority of my searches, and I have no reason to believe that they materially differ from the rest of the searches (which originated by my typing into the location bar of my browser).

While I'm pro right to be forgotten, and do believe HN should allow an account delete.

But HN's ethos is to inspire discussion and readability of it. Lack of a delete seems to be by design so that conversations are always readable.

You can see the spirit of that in their guidelines[0] such as "Comments should get more thoughtful and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive".

You can further see that in the design in how they handle deletes [1], where once "archived" things are permanent

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

[1] https://github.com/minimaxir/hacker-news-undocumented#editde...

@dang A suggestion that occurs to me based on this would be deleting accounts but not comments. Essentially all comments remain but are attributed to “anon_1” or something like that.

We do that by randomizing account names. We have other tricks too—for example, sometimes people are just concerned about their comments in one thread, and we can snap those off and reassign them to a random username, which lets them keep their primary account.

We wouldn't reassign every anonymized account the same username, though, because that would make discussions hard to follow when there is more than one such account in the thread. That's especially important because the number of these requests builds up over time, and users never ask for their accounts to be renamed back (though one did!), so such an approach would act as a slow erosion in the threads.

And people say HN isn't making new features...you guys have the coolest mod techniques around.

> I have deleted Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and reddit accounts my life has dramatically improved.

How would your life be better if you were able to delete your account here as opposed simply not ever using it again?

> I wonder if you knew nothing is deletable here

That's not entirely true, but it is true that you can't just bulk delete every comment you made - and thankfully so, because reading discussions with bunch of deleted comments that have replies would make this place a lot worse.

So, they allow changing your handle to a random string, they delete selected posts if they don't break big threads, and they redact select info (like PII) from your posts, all of which upon request, and on a case-by-case basis.

To me, it seems reasonable enough actually, although the process could have less friction, i.e., instead of requiring an email conversation, just have buttons for edit/delete after their window has passed that the mods then review and get back to you for further clarifications or simply allow your edit/delete request.

You can mail the mods to "anonymize" your account by changing the username to a random-ish string.

I still suspect that HN is not compliant with CCPA (the Californian GDPR) though, specifically that you can "request a business to delete any personal information about a consumer collected from that consumer".

CCPA applies to CA orgs with a massive bottom line. HN assuredly doesn’t fall within CCPA’s crosshairs.

Not really. Most internet forums stopped you deleting comments, posts or your account iun general. In 99% of ones I've come across, there's a time limit on editing a post, normal members don't have the right to delete their content, and accounts can't be removed.

And to be honest, I don't expect any different. What do you expect to happen if someone deletes their post on a site like this? If it's standalone I guess it'd be fine, but if there are replies (or it's the whole thread), then what? Do you remove a whole bunch of random people's replies as well? What if those people don't want their content removed but you do?

Forums are very much a collaborative effort, not an individual one, and I feel the interests of the community outweigh that of any one member here.

AFAIK you're not able to delete your stack overflow / stack exchange posts either. The site basically says anything you post is CC-BY-SA 4.0 so once you post it it's effectively available for everyone forever.

You can delete your account but your posts will not disappear. Maybe HN should add the same terms so you know your posts can't be deleted.

As for deleting your account that's annoying. My solution for at least not using an account is setting minaway to 9999999999 and the turning on noprocrast. suddenly my account is unusable.

Maybe a simple solution for HN is they could follow S.E. and when you delete your account they just change the username to user-<number>

Agreed. I should be able to remove comments and posts ive made. Pretty weak for a site that primarily caters to devs

You’re missing the point of HN

The main reason I support allowing deletion of content is that for individuals in abusive households or citizens of certain governments, if they posted something in the past that was dangerous to their health or life, they should be able to delete it to ensure they are not harmed by a parent or spouse who may be in a position of power over them and may be abusing them, or in the case of a government it may target them for something they said in the past.

We've helped many such users, and I don't believe that anyone who has contacted us in such a situation has ever been unhappy with the result. It is true that they have to contact us, which isn't great, but I don't know of a better way.

perhaps it would be a good idea to make it more visible / obvious to people that they would have that option? many of the people who are in vulnerable situations, may already be feeling powerless or have learned helplessness and may not even think to reach out via email. that seems like something someone who is normally quite empowered might think to try, but if one thinks of large internet companies like google or facebook, the idea of emailing to get a human being to help you seems impossible so people might not even think to try with HN in this age of algorithmic support.

HN isn’t the appropriate venue to do that nor should that very important burden be placed on them. There are numerous organizations setup to assist people in the exact circumstances you speak of, however.

I’m with you on this, and don’t like the fact that delete windows for comments and posts is quite short and that accounts (along with content) cannot be deleted. This is why I never put any personal or demographic details in my comments here.

HN is also not a platform that changes much over long periods of time (in UI, UX or policies). So don’t keep your hopes up on this one being dealt with as you’d like it to be. HN the platform does not keep up with the times as much as you’d expect it to be for a platform with deep pockets behind it (don’t bring up Facebook in comparison; that’s a downright malicious platform). “The right to be forgotten” is a stranger here.

I’ve seen in past discussions that HN wants to preserve conversations and doesn’t want to delete content, especially if it means making threads meaningless. Imagine deleting a reply to a comment based on a request that in turn has replies from others beneath it. The people who posted those replies may not want their content to be deleted. I’ve seen platforms deal with this in different ways. Facebook deals with it by removing the entire comment thread or subthread when the top comment is deleted. Reddit deals with it by removing only that specific comment (marking it as deleted) and leaving replies dangling without any context.

The other side of the coin is that HN is not a platform you or I own. So the platform is well within its rights (up to legal limits) to do anything with your content.

People must really understand that anything they put on the web is susceptible to stay forever in corners they may not even be aware of. The content you post may also be mirrored on the Internet Archive with time based snapshots without your knowledge. The Internet Archive doesn’t have an easy way to request for deletion (or even exclusion from being archived). If you send emails, sometimes you get asked to provide more proof (like invoices for domain registrations) even after you’ve provided evidence of ownership through other means (without exposing personal information). Is the Internet Archive wrong to copy content and make it difficult (or impossible) to remove it from its databases? The answer depends on who you ask. You’d also find people who have different views on how it ought to be on HN vs. Internet Archive.

What people and platforms cannot seem to agree on is what content truly belongs to you in a way you can edit, delete and modify it as you please and have that be the only version that everyone else sees.

The typical way to preserve content upon account deletion is just to remove the displayed username from the posts, but keep the content. I don’t see why that couldn’t apply here also.

The content itself might have specific signals or links to who that person is. Those cases also deserve to be covered during deletion. For the sake of being complete, even the content must be allowed to be deleted.

My inability to remember everything I've posted on this account over the years makes me consider it unsafe to tie to my real identity.

I've grown over the years. Since I can't review and delete anything that no longer reflects who I am now, I've written HN off as a place to talk about anything that might identify me.

If this is something that would make a difference to you, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com. We can rename accounts, and we can delete or redact sensitive info, including historical stuff that people are worried about. We just need to do it in a more precise way than nuking entire histories.

I appreciate that, but it goes so far against the self-service nature of every other web site that it feels bizarre. It's an activity that I've never associated with anything but full privacy.

If I knew of a specific recent thing I needed to delete and it was important, then yes I'd take you up on that.

But if I have a set of comments in my history that I just don't want there anymore, the last thing I want to do is email them to another person. It feels weird enough to keep me from embarking on the project to sanitize my account. It doesn't even feel like my account. Lacking freedom and control makes it feel like it could only ever be a throwaway.

I too would be interested in a way to delete comments or accounts.

I am not very versed in those legal matters but I imagine there is a whole spectrum between Facebook (where all your content is personal and you should be able to take it out as needed) and Stack Overflow or Wikipedia (where taking out answered questions or articles when an author wants it doesn't make sense). I wonder how this is regulated, especially in regions with "strong" right to be forgotten e.g. Europe.

More than once I have stumbled on deleted Reddit comments that looked to have something I was looking for. Maybe it's good that the right type of content is posted in places with the right kind of deletion rules, but this should definitely be advertised clearly (so people don't start Q/A type subreddits, and conversely don't post personal info on HN).

Im okay with that. One should assume a transparent community and remove any hints to the real identity just in case. One can easily create a separate email address for HN or just use one for this type of semi anonymous identity on internet: HN, reddit, etc

I think you should be able to unlink comments from your account, but I don't support a blanket delete. Any old reddit thread is basically unreadable from auto-deleted comments.

It definitely should be possible to at least anonymize some comments (disconnect from the main account). Norms are changing so fast an innocent joke made in 2015 could be enough to get someone cancelled, and the retroactive norms are only getting stricter (I wonder what's acceptable today that's going to be enough to cancel people in 2025?).

I imagine many people who posted under their real identity, or revealed it, are now regretting it for this reason.

The guidelines should be more visible when signing up but HN recommends anonymous/throwaway if you have something sensitive to post.

Note that they usually have more than enough context to still link your accounts and will ban both if they want to, but that's their prerogative. Be careful with who you trust and what you put online, that's the best advice for everything.

Keep private and divulging information off this site. Also one can create a throwaway for any info they dont want associated to their main accounts. Eg bragging about stupid things they do or did at work, bragging about slacking, about being lazy at work, about things that we normally shy away for saying outloud IRL

I think I understand HN's philosophy (ie: this is the web; you can never really delete anything), but there are a few of my old comments I wish I could hide. Does there exist no compromise that is simpler than emailing HN, yet onerous enough to prevent HN from becoming a shifting pile of sand?

It does seem odd you can’t delete your own content, but beyond that, I don’t think any of our comments are worth paying for. Comments on HN feel a bit like recorded discourse in a techie Roman Forum. No one invites you to participate but people will remember what you say

Idea: Add a "post anonymously" option for comments. HN can dynamically generate a new account for each thread so all of your comments are linked to the same identity for the same story. This account can then be accessed through a special link shown only once.

There's no limit to throwaways, and recently, the Internet has decided that "Anonymously" means "free to be a dickhead".

Just adding my advocacy for a delete option. Hacker news has been around for long enough, it’s only reasonable that you give the content creators control over that content. Did i even sign a TOS back then?

The problem is that the content is a co-creation. Comments aren't atoms, they're nodes in a tree that only make sense in connection with other comments. A reasonable deletion policy needs to fit this domain, and that makes it more complicated than "these are my posts and I'm taking them back and going home". It's not that we don't care about users or don't want to treat them fairly; not at all, and we go to great lengths to help.

pg wrote about this here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6813226. I wrote more at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23623717 and elsewhere in this thread.

While I agree that it breaks the conversation around others posts by allowing deletion, at the end of the day this isn't unique to HN. If i delete myself on Facebook, i delete myself, why does HN feel it's special in that it deserves to maintain conversation integrity?

I am also upset and concerned that I cannot remove the posts I want. Having to send to someone the content you don't want people to know anymore is wrong and a huge psychological barrier.

I can understand why that's upsetting and would be open to a better way. If you read my other posts in this thread, and have a better idea of how to achieve the balance I've written about, i.e. a way of achieving that balance that would lower the psychological barrier and not involve doing wrong, I'd like to know what it is.

Thanks for your answer.

If the concern is about threads, why not at least allow deletion of comments that does not have answers?

I think in many cases instead of deleting, it would be nice to anonymize a comment, so it does not show the user name and does not show in the comments list of a profile either.

Imagine some AI process reads all your comments and re-builds your digital identity on the other end. As long as it is not tied to your real identity you’re okay

This has just disappeared of the front page!! Wow ....

Things disappear off the front page all the time. When they do so suddenly it’s usually because they tripped the flamewar detector, which notices heated comment threads and pulls the post from the front page to avoid adding more fuel to the fire. (The exact criteria are undisclosed, but afaik it looks at things like comments per minute and comment-to-upvote ratios.)

It set off the flamewar detector. We didn't touch it, if that's what you're wondering.

Odd you used to be able to delete comments.

You can assuming you do it within their timelimits: https://github.com/minimaxir/hacker-news-undocumented#editde...

Ah, okay. That is interesting, I don't suppose anyone has looked at the arc source?

To find what?

Okay, right next to the 'edit' button on this comment I see a 'delete' button. That suggests one can indeed delete things.

Come back in a couple of hours and see if the button is still there...

I'm not sure why you would put any information about yourself on a public forum and expect it to not be permanent. Do people actually have that assumption? I fully believe that everything said here and anywhere else on the internet is being slurped up by some random guy/org's bots.

That's not paranoia btw, believing otherwise would be incredibly naive. So no, I am not upset and I don't think I should be upset. I think you are the one with unrealistic expectations. If it's on the internet it is permanent, gdpr be damned.

Is there a publicly available link as to what PII is collected/logged/stored by HN and for how long?

HN is not a scoped platform with a compliance control on PII.

My solution is to get a new account every now and then

Wouldn't this be illegal for EU residents due to GDPR?

though even if they respond emails and help you I'm pretty sure they break EU laws without informing you about rules in advance with clear information about DPO, data processor/controller etc

Wouldn't this be a major problem for GDPR compliance?

I am not a lawyer, but GDPR compliance looks like it doesn't quite apply due to not necessarily being targeted at European citizens https://gdpr.eu/companies-outside-of-europe/

I haven't dove into it since the initial panic around how far it would reach, and the work I've done at work to accommodate it at work, but my understanding was that just by providing the service to EU citizens (i.e. you haven't IP banned the entire euro region) you are liable to face penalties. I'm probably just talking about of my ass though. IANAL

No Euro presence, good luck enforcing.

Unless you happen to travel within the EU, or live in a country that has an extradition treaty with EU members, right?

GDPR is extradition worthy to the US? Doubt it.

HN should allow you to delete accounts at the very least.

That but allow the history/comments?

If you no longer wish to access your account set up a new autogenerated password then forget it.

Usernames themselves can be linked and associated around the web, and they chain all the posted comments to a single identity. Changing to [deleted] at the very least provides better protection.

A bit more stronger than that. Have a [deleted] user tag. Deleting all comments too would be nice but I get that it messes up the comment system.

There's a lot of bad shit going on in the world. I really don't have room to care about this.

Yes, this bothers me too.

HN should allow this for a small fee as a compromise between the conflicting interests of comment authors and readers. The fee would limit the number of [deleted] comments but when someone really wants to have their comments removed, they would be able to.

that's just a lot of words to say HN should hold data as ransom

If you see this post before the inbound bots come and give it a -4 downvote, M5 Hosting controls this.

It's a front company. They have something like 30 names, only 7 employees who can be inferred every really worked at the company + are real humans.

Also, try finding the verified account on Twitter for Hacker News. You can't :)

The idea that this platform, full of comments and small stories from some of the best sysadmins in the world, it not a high value target...is somewhat naive.

This is the fourth time you've brought this up, and it's frankly starting to get weird. I answered this in detail a few days ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23554341 — to the extent that it's possible to answer anything so ill-specified.

Again, I just saw your reply from earlier, after I made this post. I am reading and thinking now. I've also promised to make no further comments, except maybe reasonable questions in a limited follow up, and then drop it.

That being said, if you didn't see my earlier reply to your earlier comment, no worries as I definitely made that oversight previously myself.

Look I think in technology today, we should take suspicion as a positive trait (which it most certainly isn't always). Asking questions of who controls what, who is in charge, what is that person like/what can we assume their motivations are, is to be applauded. That being said, I know this must stress you out only more on top of all the work you do. That is extremely fair and tbh I would be resentful.

I could be wrong about all this. But even if I am, I ask that you imagine the positive consequences. Perhaps others elsewhere will question suspicious things they have seen. Hopefully they will be respectful and seek a path of investigation that while willing to "blame and shame", which does sometimes happen, use those powers sparingly, and only with some level of consensus.

EDIT: Also just upvoted you as show of good faith :)

I notice consistent drive-by downvoting on comments on certain topics related to humanities ongoing existential problems. I assume there has to some form of narrative contestation going on on any open online forum.

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