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Not so long a go a user here on Meta Stack Overflow asked how he could prevent getting downvoted. To make a long story short, it turns out he had multiple accounts to evade multiple bans. He finished off the discussion with the admission that he just had to go on creating new accounts and changing his IP address.

Lo and behold, today I commented on a question which was about to get closed and the OP turned out to be this user. How can I be so sure? He explicitly said so within a comment and linked to the above post, stated he had multiple other accounts, before he deleted the question. I flagged it for moderator attention, and it was dismissed as helpful.

That's all fine and well, but it got me thinking. I've raised several such flags before on other accounts, which we equally dismissed as helpful. Of course, I can't see the details, but it seems nothing really happened. Perhaps the OP was already post-banned on those accounts, so nothing really needed to be done. I don't know.

Is there however still a point in me flagging such violations? Whenever we see a user on Meta Stack Overflow ask "Or do I have to create a new account?" when banned, we collectively go "Noo, don't do that. You'll be caught and banned and the accounts will be merged and Unicorns will do terrible things to you when you sleep".

That doesn't really seem to be the practical case however. Yes, we do get tough language in previous very related cases, but on the other hand there have been various admissions that Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange tends to stay away from IP address range bans for obvious reasons. And given how easy it therefore is in practice to evade a ban by creating a new account, should I perhaps simply think "Well, if you manage to stay out of trouble this time, good for you"?

Yes, the OP should ideally bring back the account into good standing, unbanning him/herself by improving content and contributing well where still possible. But are we going to enforce that if the new account is not really doing anything wrong? That is, if the lesson has apparently been learned?

In summary:

Should I continue to flag ban evaders who create new accounts for moderator attention (especially if their current accounts seem reasonably okay), or is there no real point and should I just let it slide?

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This is very tricky, on the one hand you know the user created a secondary account to circumvent the ban, on the other multiple accounts are allowed and moderators kinda have to wait for the second account to screw up before taking action. –  Yannis Feb 9 '13 at 20:16
1  
@Yannis Yeah, and it's such a game of cat and mouse anyway that I'm almost thinking it might not be worth flagging. If they screw up again, well, they'll be banned. If they don't, great.... but then again, they really shouldn't do it.. –  Bart Feb 9 '13 at 20:20
    
I was going to post a far more detailed answer based on a real and recent incident, but I couldn't figure out how to separate the private from the public information in a way that would make sense to non diamonds. Short version: 10-15 flags from different users, all marked helpful, but no (user) visible action for a week or so. I intentionally left a couple of socks roam freely until they generate enough evidence to convince SE to go for the nuclear option, and eventually an IP ban was put in place (they are rare, but if you push us hard enough, we'll push back). –  Yannis Feb 13 '13 at 5:55
    
@Yannis Thanks for the answer though. After posting I realized it was somewhat difficult to answer for various reasons. –  Bart Feb 13 '13 at 6:00

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

If you have reasons to suspect that someone is trying to circumvent a suspension / post ban, you should flag. Assuming your flag has merit, there are a few reasons that may prevent the moderator answering it from taking action:

  • There may not be enough evidence

    We have an arsenal of tools at our disposal, but sometimes you just can't be certain, at least not certain enough to bring out the hammer. In those cases, the user will probably get annotated, and we'll get them next time. If (when) the next time comes, the annotation that resulted from your flag will be extremely helpful.

  • We might turn a blind eye

    It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a user that's evading a suspension / ban may actually be putting some real effort in their posts. If the account is otherwise in good standing, we might let it go, with or without an annotation.

  • Special cases

    There are a few cases that need to be further examined by Stack Exchange (network wide issues, etc). In those cases it might take a couple of days (or more) for the account to be dealt with, your flag doesn't need to be in the queue until that happens.

In any case, the flag will almost certainly lead to at least an annotation. A permanent black mark on the account is something, even if you never see it.

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