On Ask Ubuntu we've got a bunch of users who we believe to be friends at school together.
- They ask questions for each other to answer
- They vote for each other (and recently also against each other)
- They have thousands of invalidated points between their numerous accounts
- They started in 2012 and I wrote this meta question about voting for friends, we contacted the users and they all quit... but a year they came back and started doing it again (with more people, more accounts)
- There have been multiple reputation wipe-outs from SE staff
- They complain to us when they see votes cancelled out or they serially down-vote each other
- We have deleted their sock-puppets
- We have banned their accounts multiple times but they just come back with more of the above
- They are also contributing users. It's hard to know how much reputation is valid but they are posting helpful content and submitting helpful edit suggestions.
It's basically an unsustainable situation. Our only scope for dealing with this at the moment is banning them indefinitely or dealing with their nonsense every day and having SE try to wipe up behind them. It's been going on for months and it's a mess.
I'm a developer so my first thought now (given that we've attempted diplomacy and punishment) is to try introducing some technology. As mods, we've been fairly decent at detecting our deviant users. We know who they are and we're pretty decent at finding their Tor sock-puppets. The problem is we don't have a decent feature to handle the problem.
I'm suggesting moderator-defined relationships to stem their ill-gotten reputation.
- Mods can create a "ring" and add users to it
- Within a ring, users can still vote for each other but they get no reputation from it.
- This inclusion in a ring and even the loss of reputation could be obscured from the user. I'm just thinking about how many more sock-puppets this could create.
People are usually pretty anti-Oli when I suggest punitive measures on MSO but even if you don't like my idea, I'd like to know: What would you do (or like to) in this this crappy situation?
Regarding the need for a feature, the answer for this instance of this problem might be nuking the users from orbit or another round of suspensions but this is not an isolated issue.
We have had several groups of users who accidentally fall into targeted voting habits on Ask Ubuntu and when we spot them, usually just contacting them to point out the problems is enough but sometimes people just fall back into bad habits. If we can formalise physical relationships between users, we can pro-actively help stop this being an issue.
Sock-puppets will continue to be an issue for people who really want to cheat the system but I have no problem deleting a sock account. It's much harder to handle an account with several thousand reputation with hundreds of posts.
@SE Staff, feel free to pop into our mod room to discuss specifics.