December 7, 2022

An answer, which was highly upvoted, has been recently deleted by a mod.

After searching briefly on the net, the content seems to be original and the author's explanation more than valid, which explains why it attracted 20 upvotes in the first place. The post contains no links, it doesn't cite any website or leading authority but there are also other answers without references and citations.

It could be the user, who is currently suspended, paraphrased an entire excerpt which leads to an interesting question: is content that has been sourced outside but bears little to no semblance to the original text, still plagiarism?

In the past, users–especially newcomers–who'd copied content from an outside source without attribution or using block quotes were given a second chance to name their source, and to correctly format their answer.

It seems this opportunity was denied to the user, and their answer was deleted.

Why was a good answer deleted when other answers have been left alone? Answers that were posted later, repeating more or less the same information, albeit a few with more detail. Only one of the answers actually includes a helpful link.


Has this deletion anything–I mean, is it in any way connected–with the ban of ChatGPT on Stack Overflow?
Use of ChatGPT generated text for content on Stack Overflow is temporarily banned.

[emphasis in bold mine]

The primary problem is that while the answers which ChatGPT produces have a high rate of being incorrect, they typically look like they might be good and the answers are very easy to produce. There are also many people trying out ChatGPT to create answers, without the expertise or willingness to verify that the answer is correct prior to posting.
As such, we need to reduce the volume of these posts and we need to be able to deal with the ones which are posted quickly, which means dealing with users, rather than individual posts. So, for now, the use of ChatGPT to create posts here on Stack Overflow is not permitted. If a user is believed to have used ChatGPT after this temporary policy is posted, sanctions will be imposed to prevent users from continuing to post such content, even if the posts would otherwise be acceptable.

@Makyen ♦️Mod

I've only just unearthed this, frankly alarming, innovation.

My Conclusion
9 December 2022

In the end, a total of seven answers were submitted between December 5 and 6, and each one was deleted on December 6. The answers were written in good standard English, nothing in them reveals anything suspicious except for their inexplicable deletion.

Four of the seven answers were for single-word-requests, one answered a transliteration question, and two were about relative pronouns, and meaning. Even though the answers were not copied from online sources, e.g Wikipedia, they appear to be generated by the AI chat bot known as ChatGPT. The answers were written very clearly, included detail, and sounded perfectly natural and very believable. There were no grammatical or lexical errors but they didn't cite any references or include any supporting evidence. However, I believe this will be an easy-enough obstacle to overcome for anyone looking to camouflage their A1 contributions. Consequently there are probably many other AI generated answers on EL&U that have slipped through the net.

UPDATE 2 (21 December)

So I discovered an easier method to track down deleted answers. Initially, I thought the user had only posted two answers, but upon further investigation I discovered twelve answers had been posted within a two-day period before the account was swiftly suspended. This sudden surge of productivity likely triggered alarm bells among the moderators, leading to the eventual announcement of banning answers generated by chatbots.

  • I can't speak to the mod decisions here and I won't weigh in on the appropriateness of the deletion, but yes, paraphrasing a block of text without attribution is plagiarism.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 7, 2022 at 13:49
  • 1
    @DanBron In which case, other similar answers could also be seen as plagiarism. How do we know that a user didn't first look at Wikipedia or any online source before posting an answer in their own words? The answer to the spelling question is fairly easy to search for. A person's expertise and experience is what makes an answer "valuable"...
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 7, 2022 at 15:23
  • 3
    I'm still trying to figure out how much detail I can give since this involves a suspended user, but I can assure you there was a good reason why the answer was deleted. (There are no problems I see with the other answers.) Throughout the process I've been consulting with other moderators, and we've been in agreement about the actions that were taken.
    – Laurel Mod
    Dec 7, 2022 at 16:16
  • 3
    @Laurel Is your comment reasonable enough to put in an answer? "We had good reason to delete it. We can't tell you the reason at the moment. Because of those hidden reasons, we didn't give the new person any leeway to fix it up."
    – Mitch
    Dec 7, 2022 at 16:32
  • 3
    As to process... is it that bad to give a link to the problematic question/answer?
    – Mitch
    Dec 7, 2022 at 16:33
  • 2
    @Laurel Anyone with 10K rep can see the deleted post and visit the user's profile page. It clearly states the reason for their 7-day suspension. I respect the user should be allowed back with a clean slate but in the meantime I think we should be allowed to know what rule/s was/were broken because as far as I can tell, that answer was perfectly reasonable. And lastly, for self-preservation, I'd like to be sure that any answer/s I post in the future will not lead me into trouble.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 7, 2022 at 19:10
  • ChatGPT is awesome. Such a fun toy. If you provide a link to the question I can provide an assessment of whether it looks like it was written by ChatGPT (I've been speaking to it a lot over the last week). But without a link, I don't know what question, answer, or user you're referring to.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 7, 2022 at 22:19
  • I'm inclined to believe this is the reason for the deletion, as I know of least one other answer, by the same poster, has been deleted.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 7, 2022 at 22:27
  • 1
    @DanBron I found a total of six answers, posted by the same user, deleted. It must be because they were generated by an AI, and written in good English too! It sounds natural and very believable. There's no other logical explanation. I don't see why the mods on EL&U have to be so protective and secretive, it's all over SO and Meta. How long has this ChatGPT been running? A week, two?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 7, 2022 at 23:11
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA (comment redacted) ChatGPT is open and free, btw, if you want to play with it yourself. Yes the coherence of its English is one of its most breakthrough features.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 8, 2022 at 11:08
  • 1
    @Lambie please avoid a discussion unrelated to this meta here. I've cleared all such comments.
    – NVZ Mod
    Dec 8, 2022 at 18:51
  • NB I found an easier way to track deleted posts. The user in question had posted 12 answers in two days of activity. I should edit but I don't really want to bump the post again... after a week or so perhaps.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 10, 2022 at 22:45


You must log in to answer this question.