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This guy keeps appearing, and we're not sure why.

He posts anywhere between 5 - 12 of the same sort of "answers":

Use native Win32 zip dll apis (used by IE)
Never use external DLLs on Windows !

Simply hook it (very classic, see Compuserve and MSDN)

Simply see the source code of Sleep (Kernel32 source, posted on Compuserve and Google Groups, Win32 api ng)

You absolutely don't need any plug-in (absurd !)
Simply use a standard Win32 COM hook, and that'all !

See and copy the classic and perfect MSDN sample from SDK.

if you have 10k rep on SO you can see these links to older deleted posts, same thing. I believe this is one of his "runs" from a while back.

How to hook external process with SetWindowsHookEx and WH_KEYBOARD
How do I decide whether to use ATL, MFC, Win32 or CLR for a new C++ project?
How to get hardware MAC address on Windows
Who is responsible for clearing up memory from image lists?
Disabling keys using windows hooks
Windows Utility to force application fullscreen?
How to clear MSIE/WinInet cache programatically?
How do you determine the last process to modify a file?
How to download a file with WinHTTP in C/C++?
How can I get the system drive letter?

The pattern is non-answers that point to vague "newsgroups" and "MSDN" and so forth. It's not horrible trolling, but it's clearly some kind of passive aggressive resistance to Stack Overflow that keeps recurring over a period of months.

Dealing with this is essentially a one-click operation on our end, so it's no real work per se. But it is strange. This is the most persistent (and odd) troll we've developed. I think I've deleted at least 6 instances of this user, and I'm sure Bill and Marc have deleted the same stuff several times.

I have not been able to cross reference his IPs reliably, so banning does not appear to be an option.

I saw his IP one time and it geolocates to France, which is consistent with some evidence from previous runs. Man this guy is persistent. Will IP ban if we can get some consistent ranges from him.

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lol, he probably works for experts-exchange –  Joel Coehoorn Jul 6 '09 at 4:24
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It's probably one of those Aussies you annoyed on your blog Jeff... (yes, I'm an Aussie...) –  Antony Jul 6 '09 at 6:31
    
Just flagged another one here stackoverflow.com/questions/1108075 . –  macbirdie Jul 11 '09 at 12:41
    
Wow - there are idiots with that much time to waste ... and even repeat the cycle of wastage! Please deny that human his share of oxygen. I wish we could really track him down -- i wonder you could tracert his IP and get in contact with someone from his ISP .. 'cause there's bound to be some major ISP IT Pro's around here who love the StackExchange consortium and will help and it's all above board, legit, etc. (unless he's anon proxy'd..) –  Pure.Krome Jul 15 '09 at 5:39
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A long time ago, in the early heyday of Usenet, there was a troll that had automatic searches for Turkey in any context (including cooking), and the bot would post a reply consisting of a few quoted sentences, a random insult or two, and long rant on the Armenians committing genocide on the Turks (all history books I've read have that the other way around). Hasan Mutlu/Serdar Argic/whatever was a hot topic back then. This smells similar to me. –  David Thornley Oct 2 '09 at 14:25
    
Simply hellban him... –  Calmarius Sep 12 '13 at 9:42
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10 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I'd just keep deleting them as they come - i.e. your current course of action.

As you say, you can't do anything systematic about it to ban him. If he is actively trolling (i.e. he knows he's being unhelpful and he's trying to irritate people) then fretting about it is just feeding that desire.

If everyone just deals with trolls in the simplest way possible, hopefully they'll get bored. That's certainly been the standard advice on newsgroups etc for years. It doesn't always work, of course: if a dedicated group of trolls "attacks" a newsgroup, reducing the signal to noise ratio below any useful level, it can sometimes effectively spell the end of that newsgroup. Fortunately I see no sign of that happening on SO - yet. As the site gathers momentum, it will become more of a target, of course. My guess is that SuperUser will be trolled more than SO/SF/MSO.

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Completely agreed on more trolls on superuser. I think it will also have a big ganging up and group voting problem. –  LeakyCode Jul 5 '09 at 14:08
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One possibility is that its not a troll at all, but a spammer testing the waters with automated/semi-automated tools (in the same way email spammers sometimes send non-spam email to test what's getting through filters)... My reasoning:

  • They're posting pseudo nonsense, but using vaguely relevant sounding words (maybe testing what sort of content an "acceptable" post needs to contain to slip under the moderator radar)
  • They're posting links off the site (if they're aiming to start spamming they're going to want links, so they need to test messages that contain links. Also could be testing what kind of links get more/less attention - eg. using tinyurl type url shrinking services to hide the true endpoint).
  • They're persistent, yet don't exhibit traditional troll-like behaviour
  • You said you can't pin down the IP address, so it could be coming from a botnet or similar

Maybe I'm just brewing unnecessary conspiracy theories, but just something else to consider.

More likely though, its one of the new breed of more subtle trolls that attack sites like wikipedia and make subtly wrong edits because they get off, not on intentionally annoying people, but on the knowledge that they're tricking people into believing incorrect information or sending them on wild goose chases.

Either way I think the other answers here have the best (only?) solution, which is to just keep on dealing with it as it comes...

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just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not watching you –  Jeff Atwood Jul 6 '09 at 11:51
    
Maybe it's the opposite, someone that wants a good anti-spam system and they're testing SO to see how well it deals with spam. –  Sam Hasler Jul 6 '09 at 16:25
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How about contacting him?

Ask him if he is misunderstanding the way this particular system works and offer suggestions where he can better himself. (if he is interested)

If he is unwilling and doing this on purpose, then the job is to just keep going as Jon suggested, that he will eventually get bored.

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Even if there were sensible contact details, I expect that would simply act as a catalyst "hey, I've had an effect!" –  Marc Gravell Jul 6 '09 at 7:04
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Too late, he's got his own thread on meta now. –  hyperslug Oct 2 '09 at 11:23
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Make him invisible to the rest of the site. He posts something, it looks like it's there on his end, but no one else sees it. Then he's less likely to create a new account, so you won't have to keep finding the new one. And when people ignore him he's likely to just get bored and go away anyway.

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He regularly spins up a number of new accounts at once as a matter of routine. I doubt he ever bothers revisiting an account. I don't think this would work. –  Marc Gravell Jul 6 '09 at 7:06
    
@♦: but would work for other, less sophisticated trolls. I'd be sure fooled by that :) –  perbert Oct 2 '09 at 14:17
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@voyager: so you admit you're an unsophisticated troll? –  Joel Coehoorn Oct 2 '09 at 14:37
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My advice to the community: just flag them as spam or in need of moderator attention. Don't waste a downvote - we'll get to it if you flag it. Perhaps add a comment "flagged for deletion" or similar...

I think I've deleted at least 6 instances of this user

Just 6? I think I usually destroy a handful of these accounts each week.

The behaviour is pathetic, and barely even a nuisance - but I seriously wonder what they get out of it. If they hope they are being annoying, they're very wrong; it takes 2 clicks (on a single page) for the community to flag the posts, and the same for me to destroy any and all activity from each account.

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I don't consider down votes a waste, but a duty! And I also value all you moderators...and think you should spend cycles only on the more sinister stuff. But that is just me... –  Stu Thompson Jul 7 '09 at 22:37
    
It takes almost no effort. You can "flag" for free ;-p –  Marc Gravell Jul 7 '09 at 23:08
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I may be missing something, but aren't these simply bad answers, that could be dealt with via the normal upvote/downvote mechanisms? They don't seem to be particularly abusive in any way.

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No, they aren't. It is a long-running campaign of deliberately pointless answers, all a small number of near-identical phrases. Quite simply: that option has been long since excluded. –  Marc Gravell Jul 6 '09 at 7:05
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Jeff, I'm not sure how complicated and performance hitting it will be, but...

Can you maybe implement some sort of indicator sets, where you will put marker words that are together specific to these trolling posts?

Then you get a scheduler to run to match new posts from very-low rep users against these sets. Whatever gets flagged will disappear from public view until a moderator gets to it (to delete it or to unflag it if it was a false positive).

Something like this:

{Win32 zip dll hook Kernel32 Compuserve Never absolutely perfect }
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This would work with possible future spam. Also, I'd couple this with meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/2520/… by IP subnet, instead of by user. –  perbert Oct 2 '09 at 14:23
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Thanks for the heads up. I suggest that anyone who sees an answer that fits the pattern simply flag it for the moderator to make it (and the account) easier to delete. Normally I wouldn't have flagged such an answer, but I'll keep my eyes open from now on.

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Could you implement a delete-count system that suspends the account for 24 hours if 5 questions get vote-closed sequentially? And the account-suspension goes up 24 hours eat time this happens.

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Any kind of automation can be gamed fairly easily. I'd like to see the system just flag down a moderator for attention, rather than take action on its own. –  Bill the Lizard Jul 5 '09 at 16:57
    
The account is throwaway - I'm not sure this would help. @Bill - which pretty much already happens by the users flagging them as spam. –  Marc Gravell Jul 6 '09 at 7:06
    
On second thought, the spam-flag may be the best option. Does a collective-flag have any immediate effect aside from alerting a mod? If 10 users raise the spam-flag on a post, could it send the post into hiding, and disable the users account until the mod arrives? –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 6 '09 at 9:36
    
@Jonathan we have considered things like this, it's just that true abuse of that magnitude is so rare –  Jeff Atwood Jul 6 '09 at 11:49
    
IIRC, 5 spam/offensive votes will delete+lock the post, but not the user account. –  Marc Gravell Jul 6 '09 at 12:57
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Maybe Hipcrime is trying to figure out how to continue to annoy on a post-Usenet Internet?

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