VBulletin – Thoughts on user requested account deletion

We’ve all had it – an email from a user on our VBulletin forum asking for their account to be deleted.  Usually they also mention they can’t find the delete account link.

For a while this really bugged me for several reasons:

  • Why isn’t there a delete account option for the normal user to use?
  • Why must I, the system administrator take 5 minutes out of my (very) busy day to navigate to the site, login in to the admin panel, flick back over to their user’s email to find their username, see a username hasn’t been mentioned, and then search for their email address and hope for a user to be found, and then go about deleting the account?  This annoys me.
  • Deleting an account also marks all posts as guest posts or deletes them entirely.  This depends on what the user requested in their email.  Mostly I find people are requesting to delete their account because they’ve been handed their backside on a plate after getting into an argument (and losing) with one of the resident trolls.  This then leads to them requesting all posts be deleted along with their account.

    You may think this isn’t a big loss, but there’s been more than one occasion where one of the long time members and regular poster on the site decides they want to remove all their posts.  Sometimes this is thousands of posts.  Not only is this a loss of a fair chunk of the content of the site, but it’s breaking the flow of a good number of threads that that user has participated in.

So, after listing the reasons why I hate people requesting their account be deleted, I sit back and think about what is morally right and what I would want if I was the user and not the admin.

Should the posts be “owned” by the user who made them?  I’m not quite sure.  They must take responsibility for their posts and they’ll have to put up with a temp ban or even a perm ban if they step too far out of line.  However, the admin has to take responsibility too – Google will really penalise us if we step out of line with their advertising policy and even search engine guidelines.  One of my sites is 100% forum content.  So, when a long time member decides to (in my eyes) throw a hissy fit and take all their posts with them to /dev/null, this impacts various aspects of the site as mentioned.

I have thought about what goes through my head when I’m on a forum and making posts.

  • Mostly, I don’t care.  I usually always have control over each individual post and if I have posted something I later decide I don’t want to be there, I can edit it or delete it entirely.  Yes, usually this means editing the post and putting in something along the lines of “deleted.’ as the post text.
  • When I sign up to a forum I know what I’m getting into.  Once posted, you can never really take anything back.  Google never forgets.  In the shorter term, you’ll probably find some kind soul has quoted your post in their post so even if you do edit it, there’s a lovely big copy of what you posted for you (and the site) to refer back to in later days, weeks, and years to come.
  • I think of the site as being owned by the admin.  What right do I have to tell them to delete my account and my posts?  If they’re really kind they may do it, but generally I would expect to be ignored or told where to go.

So, after writing all that out, I’m still looking at an email in my inbox asking for an account to be deleted.  This time the user isn’t requesting all their posts be deleted, but I’m still left wondering do I ignore the email (hmm, not good), reply and say sorry I’m not doing that – it’s in the forum policy (debatable – is the policy morally/legally right?), or simply delete the account and reply with “done” and get it over and done with?

I’m probably going to reluctantly go with the last option and just delete the account.

If you run a largish forum you’ve probably run into this issue.  What are your thoughts?

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One Response to VBulletin – Thoughts on user requested account deletion

  1. Toby Osbourn says:

    Having ran a couple of forums in the past this is certainly something I have come across and it is a thorny subject to say the least.

    The first thing I tended to do was open a dialog with them and ask why they wanted it to be deleted, I did this for a couple of reasons.

    1 – I might find out something I could do to make the website better
    2 – Sometimes what the user actually wants is to stop getting emails from the site.

    In the case of 1 – I would say that is something I would look into and see if they want to stick along for the ride (assuming it *is* something I want to look into) and in the case of 2 the user is likely a non-active user who doesn’t like a prompt they get when someone PMs them or something, in this case I normally just change their email settings whilst keeping the user and posts intact.

    In the cases when people have expressly asked for their content to be removed I normally explain to them that this isn’t something we do lightly and ask for a reason – I found that the majority didn’t have a good reason and then simply asked to stop getting emails. If someone did have a good reason (or at least a reason *they* thought was good) then I would delete the posts, after all I was performing a service for the users.

    Not sure if that helps your thought process any, but my two pennies anyways 🙂

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