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Background

There is a known troll (Python Newbie aka Python Questions) who, along with his various sockpuppets, is very easy to identify, because:

  • He always asks questions along the lines of "How do I do X using Y?", to which people answer "Maybe you should use Z instead", to which he responds with "No! Using Z leads one further from God and into the clutches of the fascist and godless Google!"
  • He always uses similar names.
  • He never fails to flame people who tell him to use Z.

Mods have deleted or suspended several of his sockpuppets by now.

(Note for the curious: X = some webapp-related task, Y = Apache + mod-wsgi, Z = some Python web framework.)

Problem

Every time mods delete a few of his sockpuppets, a question pops up that's similar (but not identical) to something the troll would ask. The two I've seen so far:

These rouse my suspicion because:

  • These are pretty unusual questions.
  • They turn up only when the troll is around. The first one appeared when he was on his first spree. The second one appeared today, just a few hours after the troll posted his first question after a days-long hiatus.

However, the askers in these cases aren't using the troll's usual name, and aren't insulting the commenters, so I'm not perfectly sure.

Plus the questions are getting closed and downvoted as they ought to be, so I'm not sure if this is something that even needs to be reported.

Possible account hijack

The second of those questions comes from a pre-existing account. Prior to asking that ridiculously broad question, all the questions they asked were reasonably-scoped. Absolutely none of them have a negative score. This leads me to suspect that their account might have been hijacked by our troll.

Or am I just being paranoid?

Update

Both the posts I linked to have been removed in the 5 hours since I made this post.

The first question was "voluntarily removed by its author" about an hour after this question was posted. That's not particularly interesting, though. (I don't see how his decision on deleting it would be affected by whether or not he's the troll.)

The second question was "removed from Stack Overflow for reasons of moderation". This is highly interesting. From what I've seen, similarly broad questions aren't deleted posthaste; they're just closed (as this one was, before being removed). Other questions by this user have been left intact.

Could the mod who removed that question please comment on what happened?

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Just flag it when you see it. There is not much to discuss here. Let moderators handle it. They have the means to do so. Use a custom flag if you need to. –  Bart May 15 '13 at 8:41
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"These are pretty unusual questions." - not really. There are dozens of such vague questions that get asked every day, so I wouldn't consider that to be a red flag per se. With regards to a hijack, a moderator can look for IP discrepancies, but based on prior questions by the user, it just appears to be a poor question related to their current skills. –  Tim Medora May 15 '13 at 8:43
    
@TimMedora It's not just that they're vague, it's their topic that's unusual. Not many people would specifically want to build a webapp without a web framework. –  Anubhav C May 15 '13 at 8:48
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@Anubhav I've seen a lot of such questions, along with "I want to build my own MVC/CMS framework". Some people just want to re-invent the wheel as a learning exercise or as a symptom of NIH syndrome. –  Juhana May 15 '13 at 8:52
    
Agree with @Juhana. Not saying you are wrong in this particular case, but there are many such questions that match a query such as, "mvc build my own framework". Example, Example‌​, Example, Example –  Tim Medora May 15 '13 at 8:54
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Personally I believe in post-by-post judgement. If a known troll posts a question that's perfectly fine on its own (either with his primary account or a sock puppet), then why shouldn't the community benefit from it? –  Joachim Sauer May 15 '13 at 9:02
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Honestly calling the original person a "troll" seems unconstructive to begin with; is it really so hard to believe a PHP user doesn't think you should need frameworks to write web apps, when they're used to a language that essentially is a web framework? Assuming any other PHP user moving to Python is a sockpuppet borders on the ridiculous. –  Wooble May 15 '13 at 11:54
    
@Wooble: Don't judge the original person by the posts I linked to here. These posts certainly don't seem like trolling; if they did, I'd have flagged them instead of voicing vague suspicions. The posts definitely attributable to the guy had gems like "I'd do some research, but I found this site full of suckers to do my research for me for free." –  Anubhav C May 15 '13 at 13:55
    
Fair enough; I haven't seen comments so blatant, and I guess they're deleted now. But I have seen enough similar questions both here and on IRC to think the people asking them are usually just misguided, not trolling. –  Wooble May 15 '13 at 14:01
    
@Wooble I don't see why everyone's ignoring the timing issues here. Yes, the questions themselves may be semi-common, but are they so common on SO that you expect to see two of them in a week? And always on days when a troll is known to be around? The last similar question I can find on SO is from 2011! –  Anubhav C May 15 '13 at 14:09
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2 Answers 2

up vote 24 down vote accepted

We are well aware of the troll you're referring to and are actively monitoring them and removing their accounts as they appear. They are the most persistent troll I've seen yet, so we're trying other countermeasures to block them. I deleted 8 accounts of theirs in one day alone, and I think I've deleted nearly 20 of them by this point. Their posts are pretty obvious, though (rants about robots.txt, the sex lives of programmers, censorship of Iraq War veterans, etc.).

For the record, neither of these users are at all associated with this troll. They simply happened to ask poorly received questions. Again, you'll know this guy's posts when you see them.

We're watching, but if we miss an account, flag and we can destroy within minutes.

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Thanks for looking into it. –  Anubhav C May 15 '13 at 15:03
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You are being paranoid.

We had a very similar situation on Programmers recently. Our troll would post borderline on topic questions, would respond to comments and then suddenly, without provocation or any other obvious reason, would post a terribly offensive comment. When the account was destroyed / suspended / automatically question banned, he'd return with a new one and do exactly the same.

While the community learned to identify the troll very quickly, and their questions were closed almost immediately after a point, some of our regulars became overly suspicious (imho). For a couple of weeks I was being pinged in our chat room almost every other day to check if a new account was yet another incarnation of our resident troll. That wasn't really a problem, but it was a strong hint that the troll was actually "winning". Some of our regulars were ignoring perfectly legitimate (albeit poorly phrased) questions from new users, or worse, they were voting to close just on suspicion of trolling alone (I only spotted a couple of close votes, but still).

This is the real problem with trolls, they exhaust a community's regulars and create a - frankly quite counterproductive - atmosphere of suspicion. Don't fall in that trap, if you don't have concrete evidence that a question is actually from a troll, assume good faith. Unusual questions appear all the time, there are several other reasons that might lead to unusual and seemingly arbitrary requirements in questions.

If you must, flag the questions for moderation attention and ask the moderators to take a closer look. But until you have concrete evidence (such as the comments you mention), I'd advise against labelling a new user a troll.

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This is exactly why I chose to ask here first instead of going in with all guns blazing. Thanks. –  Anubhav C May 15 '13 at 9:02
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Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not after me... –  J. Steen May 15 '13 at 13:59
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@J.Steen But apparently it does mean they're winning; apparently you're not vigilant enough. You need to be much more careful about not being paranoid. –  Servy May 15 '13 at 14:44
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@Servy You're in on it, aren't you. You're one of them. –  J. Steen May 15 '13 at 14:45
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@J.Steen If I say no, would you believe me? –  Servy May 15 '13 at 14:46
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@Servy ...Of course. *frantically pushing panic button* –  J. Steen May 15 '13 at 14:47
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