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Today a user got suspended because caught using two accounts in a non legitimate way (voting irregularities to be more specific). The duplicate account got deleted.

After less than an hour a new question from a fresh new user came out.

Since both the topic, that it's not very common, and the (poor) question style were the same I flagged a moderator explaining my doubt about this new user being always the same person, and asking to check on him.

My flag was a while ago deemed helpful, but the new user is still there.

  • My question is about what tools a moderator have to check on that?
  • Was the moderator who looked at this case sure that it wasn't the same person?
  • Or it's more likely that he just didn't share my doubt, and thought that there wasn't enough ground to take action?
  • Could a moderator monitor this user activity to see if there might be a further development?

Edit: Obviously I'm not sure why he got suspended, but he was repeatedly asking the same question with both accounts to prevent his "main" one to get downvoted (due to lack of research, poor style, etc..).

Here's an example of his previous double activity: main, duplicate. Other ones can't be found because he deleted them.

This was his last question.
While this is the new question from this new user. (This one got edited, so to see the similarity you'll have to look at the original post).

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A lot of the stuff on sock-detection is hush-hush; this keeps people from figuring out how to circumvent it. AFAIK, mods can only see patterns, not the actual data. –  Manishearth Mar 27 '12 at 17:17
    
Also, a mod will deem your flag as helpful even if he/she doesn't act on it--this just means that the mod thinks you were acting in good faith, though on further investigation your hunch was wrong –  Manishearth Mar 27 '12 at 17:20
    
@Manishearth: I was stating that my flag got deemed as helpful, just to provide a more complete information. I wasn't implying/expecting that it should've also brought to some consequence for this new user. –  Rik Poggi Mar 27 '12 at 17:50
    
(main, duplicate questions have now been merged; duplicate was by an anon (deleted) account) –  Won't Mar 27 '12 at 17:57
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@RikPoggi: We don't have the option of adding any information when marking a flag as helpful, only when declining one. –  Won't Mar 27 '12 at 18:01
    
@Won't: Thanks for your feedback, is good to know how things ends! That anon user was previously this one: stackoverflow.com/users/1271005/user1271005 . It got deleted along with the suspension (due to another answer deleted before the suspension took place). If you could see that answer you'll see how the original version of this new question have such a similar style (blank line after each sentence with lack of punctuation). –  Rik Poggi Mar 27 '12 at 18:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

This account is temporarily suspended for voting irregularities.

^^^ That's the message that is displayed at the top of the user's profile page. It should tell you all you need to know about what's going on: "voting irregularities" is code for "caused voting to happen in a way that would not have happened naturally had he not created fake users or solicited friends to vote on things".

There are a bunch of tools in place to detect and deal with this. Some are automated, and some are there for the use of moderators in tracking down more involved patterns.

I'm not going to go into details on any of them. You can probably figure out some of the obvious stuff, and the non-obvious stuff is what keeps us one step ahead of the folks who've decided that gaming the system is more important than contributing useful questions and answers.

In regard to a new user posting lousy questions in the pattern of a previous user: down-vote them, vote to close them, and flag them. Regardless of whether this is a new account for an old user, or a new user, these actions will aid the system and the moderators in removing low-quality posts from the site and eventually block the user as well.

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I was mainly curious, that's all, since this new question wasn't just the same but it seemed like build on the other answer got from that user. Anyway I got what you're trying to saying. Thanks for your answer. –  Rik Poggi Mar 27 '12 at 17:40
    
After a second read I'm not sure about what " "caused voting to happen in a way that would not have happened naturally had he not created fake users or solicited friends to vote on things" means. Are you saying that he got suspended for using a fake user or because he may have solicited friends to vote on things or neither of those? –  Rik Poggi Mar 27 '12 at 19:45
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Either of those or both of those. These descriptions are intentionally vague - he manipulated the voting, got found out, the extra votes (and possibly users) were removed, and after his suspension is up he'll be free to continue using the site so long as he doesn't do it again. –  Shogging through the snow Mar 27 '12 at 19:52

Moderators can check the IP addresses associated with a particular account. That said, there's nothing wrong with merely having two accounts. While certainly questionable behavior worthy of investigation, it is not generally sufficient grounds on which to merge an account.

The problem only comes in when you start using that second account to vote on posts made by the first account or engaging in other types of sockpuppetry. In order to assess that, the moderator who processed your flag would have examined the voting patterns and other history for those users. They probably also would have looked to see if the original user had been banned from posting questions/answers, and therefore had created a second account in an attempt to get around this ban. That would also be considered "abuse" of the system and would provide sufficient grounds to merge the accounts.

Your flag was likely deemed "helpful" because it was, and your suspicions were investigated, but the moderator found no evidence of abuse, so they did not take any action on the users in question.

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Thanks for answering. To my knowledge the user was using a double account to test the ground of his question in order to provide a better one with his main account. I've added more info in my question. –  Rik Poggi Mar 27 '12 at 17:34

Today a user got suspended beacuse caught using two accounts

He wasn't suspended because he was using two accounts, but because he upvoted each other, which is forbidden.

Moderators have tools to detect suspicious activies on user's account.

Flags are deemed helpful if they're considered they were raised in a good faith even if moderator haven't found any evidence of voting irregularities, which probably was your case.

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There really isn't a compelling use case for having more than one account on the same site, unless you're trying to circumvent something (a question ban, for example). –  Robert Harvey Mar 27 '12 at 17:22
    
Not to mention that the terms of service are to provide accurate, complete and up to date information when registering for an account on Stack Exchange. –  bmike Mar 27 '12 at 17:41
    
@RobertHarvey I've seen it happen when a user wanted to avoid having some questions linked to their name. Might not be much of an issue on a site like SO, but may be different on others. It's true that every post can be disassociated from its author, but that also kills your ability to respond to comments and the like. It's rare, but there's a use case here. –  Anna Lear Mar 27 '12 at 17:42
    
I was meaning that he used them in an irregular way. I've updated my question to add more information. –  Rik Poggi Mar 27 '12 at 17:44

The moderator tools at a user level is extremely complete. Moderators can see various patterns of a specific user, including where they connect from, who they vote for regularly among other things.

The voter fraud scripts and the auto banning scripts are even more detailed. If a moderator did not find any visible proof that a user is a sock puppet, your flag would still be helpful since the moderator would be required to check on the account to ensure that there are no funnies with regards to voting and patterns.

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