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So as a moderator on Ask Ubuntu yesterday, I found a sockpuppet account and nuked it from orbit. I then suspended the puppeteer account through the standard moderator messages interface.

Usually when this happens people either admit to their crime or try to spin an epic tale of how their account was hacked or aliens did it... Or you know, their "friend" came round and used their wifi, slipped in the shower and accidentally gave them ~200 reputation over a couple of hours.

None of that happened this time.

Rather than lie, he demanded to know what rule he'd broken. I started rubbing my hands together, ready to get biblical... But where is using multiple accounts to artificially inflate your reputation against the rules? I really thought it was going to be easy but after ten minutes bumbling around the best I was able to come up with was section 4 in the Terms and Conditions (restrictions) that states:

Under no circumstances will Subscriber use the Network or the Service to [...] (c) create a false identity or to impersonate another person

It's a bit of a feeble interpretation. I couldn't really find anything in the documentation that would, for example, disallow me starting an Oli2 account (clearly meaning me) and voting for all my main account's posts.

I appreciate that the T&Cs is full of "SE can do whatever the hell they like" and that this user was just trying to troll a mod but I can't see how it would hurt to just lay out the ground rules that people are expected not to falsely or unfairly boost their or others' reputation. Could that be added?

You might think this sort of thing should be common sense but even when it's just friends in a voting circle, things can spiral out of control pretty fast. 15 months or so ago we expunged 1850 reputation between just three users who thought they weren't at fault. That doesn't happen often but when it does...


Another aspect to this is moderators aren't being told when the automatic checks and balances nullify suspicious votes. The only reason I found this sockpuppeteer is because he (and his puppet) were raining downvotes on another user. When I inspected their voting patterns, that was when I found that one account had been voting for the other, but some of the votes were already dealt with.

The user was able to vote again at a less suspicious rate and beat the system.

I really appreciate the auto-tools (they save us a ton of work) but dealing with the problem without dealing with the user isn't a great idea. If at all possible, when somebody has had a block of votes nuked, could the tools flag them for moderator/staff investigation?

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Voting for yourself through another account is fraudulent, and the TOS clearly states that Any fraudulent, abusive, or otherwise illegal activity is grounds for account termination. –  Martijn Pieters Jan 20 at 14:04
    
The help center tells users to be honest. Using a second account to vote for yourself is dishonest behaviour. –  Martijn Pieters Jan 20 at 14:05
    
You could also point out how voting is important to the site, and that sock-puppet voting subverts that system, breaks it by bypassing honest voting behaviour. –  Martijn Pieters Jan 20 at 14:07
    
@MartijnPieters Fraud and honesty are very subjective terms. You know what SE means because you're an upstanding member of society but younger and less lawful types struggle. As I pointed out nearer the end, some people feel it's just fine to vote for all your friends. –  Oli Jan 20 at 14:08
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But most of all, the user is a POS and should be told to go cry to his mommy for being caught red-handed. In my humble opinion. :-) –  Martijn Pieters Jan 20 at 14:08
    
Ha, well yes I can agree there. As mods (and Ubuntu members) we have to be a little more dignified than that though. –  Oli Jan 20 at 14:08
    
This voting fraud blog post quite clearly states what happens to sock puppets that commit voting fraud. –  Martijn Pieters Jan 20 at 14:15
    
    
@MartijnPieters I'm not sure if you're just being thorough or fighting a point I'm not making. I'm happy with the actual policy but this is a rule we moderators exercise frequently. It would be nice to have something spelling it out in the actual site rules/documentation rather than a hodge-podge of threads strewn across multiple domains. In a similar way to the "be nice" rule is codified. It could even go in that document. –  Oli Jan 20 at 14:35
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I'm just trying to find any and all information for you to wield. –  Martijn Pieters Jan 20 at 14:36
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@MartijnPieters: Re: your first comment, IANAL, but to me the phrasing "fraudulent, abusive, or otherwise illegal activity" (emphasis mine) suggests that that specific phrase only refers to illegal fraud or abuse, rather than just any deliberate misrepresentation; if it did mean that, it wouldn't say "otherwise". I'm pretty sure upvoting your own posts with a sockpuppet account doesn't actually violate any laws even in Delaware. –  Ilmari Karonen Jan 22 at 10:55

1 Answer 1

It might be worth adding something along these lines to the help center. But I'm a bit reluctant to do so, and if we did I'm afraid it would necessarily be almost as broad as the ToS regarding which behaviors are allowed... And even if it wasn't, it still wouldn't help.

See, there are folks who make honest mistakes. Vote for a friend's posts a bit too often, or maybe 10 friends a bit too every day, without ever realizing that this isn't just another social network where that sort of behavior isn't just encouraged but expected...

...And then there are the folks who create sockpuppet accounts, reverse-engineer the automated fraud detection, enlist proxies and red herrings to try and cover their tracks, and maybe plagiarize the actual content of their posts to boot... And when caught then try to lawyer their way out of this mess by asking, "show me where IN THE OFFICIAL RULES it states that I couldn't do that thing you're saying I did but which, if it's disallowed, I didn't do anyway!"

Guess what: the latter folk aren't really interested in better understanding the rules, except insofar as doing so lets them find loopholes that let them go back to abusing others. I recommend bowing out of any arguments that head in this direction. But if you absolutely need to summarize the "rule" that they broke, you can find it in my writeup here:

if the second account allows you to do something on the site that your normal account would be prevented from doing, it is abuse.

That's it in a nutshell, and it covers everything from double-voting to backing up your own arguments via supportive comments. If someone can't accept that, then be very suspicious about their motives.

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That's pretty much how the conversation went yesterday. By the time things had skewed around to Canadian privacy laws (yeah, wth?!) we stopped responding... It just seemed odd that there was nothing about this sort of behaviour (which we "all" recognise as abusive) not being brought up in the documentation. If you have to tell people to be honest and be nice (far more general life rules), why not tell them to not game the system too? –  Oli Jan 20 at 16:21
    
@Oli - I think it's pretty clear to explain the creation of fake accounts used entirely to vote for yourself as fraud, and that seems already well covered. The one area that we potentially could expand upon is the use of targeted voting to boost individuals you know or work with. I could see adding something along the lines of our "targeted votes" mod message template somewhere in there, because many people genuinely aren't aware that voting rings are wrong. They simply think they're helping out their friends and coworkers. –  Brad Larson Jan 20 at 18:45

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