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First of all, please note the precedent: Dealing with persistent trolls: “see the newsgroups guy” - Jeff himself has posted about a similarly troublesome account. This is also tangentially related to What's the SO policy about having multiple user accounts?

Check this guy out: Erwin Smout (no rhyme intended)

Over 9 pages of user accounts registered. It looks like some have already been deleted, but type his name into the user search on SO right now and you'll see a full page of results, so there are at least 35 current accounts.

Let me be clear about this, I am very apprehensive about complaining about a specific user and would never start this type of discussion if I didn't think it was an extreme case. People argue on SO (and probably the other trilogy sites), it's natural, and sometimes they get heated and/or spill over onto Meta - I'm not upset or offended by conflict, but this user's outbursts are completely random and unprovoked and usually off on a tangent, and I honestly think that the only logical conclusion here is that he/she/it is a serial troll.


Some of his answers (and note that these are all coming from different accounts):


So to summarize, we have someone who:

  • Answers with a combination of circumlocution, flowery prose, and four-letter words, typically only to explain that the question author is an idiot or that it's impossible to do what he's asking;

  • Creates new accounts every day, sometimes multiple times per day, so it's not even worth the rep cost to downvote;

  • Repeatedly posts comments as answers and even acknowledges that he's doing it and that it's frowned upon, but apparently doesn't seem to care.

  • Actually has one account that's accrued over 500 rep (mostly from one-off upvotes), so he clearly knows how to register properly and even provide useful answers once in a while, but seems to create these rather obvious sockpuppet accounts to troll.

  • Is submitting these troll answers to questions that are not even remotely controversial!

I suppose it's possible that whoever this is is creating all these accounts simply can't figure out how to use the login system properly, but seems more likely to me that he's creating throwaway accounts in order to escape culpability (downvotes) from his troll posts.


Thoughts? Does my theory make sense? Is it reasonable to want to do something about this, or am I making mountains out of molehills? Assuming it's a reasonable complaint, can something be done about it, and is it appropriate to bring up the subject here on Meta?

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Dude, you should totally drop whatever you're doing in Django and use JQuery. –  DVK Apr 4 '10 at 22:57
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Seriously, nice piece of research! If I can do something with my brand shiny new 10k super-powers that I was so far mostly reluctant to flex, tell me what the guidelines/rules are and i'll be glad to help –  DVK Apr 4 '10 at 22:59
    
@ChristopheD, he seems to have worked at the Ippa bank for 15 years and two months and at the ippa bank for 16 years and had a two years education at St Lodewijk. –  perbert Apr 4 '10 at 23:06
    
I went through and deleted a few of the more inflammatory "answers" so those won't show up for everybody. I can't really justify deleting an answer for simply being wrong, so please just downvote any that are incorrect. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 4 '10 at 23:39
    
@Bill: Of course, I would not expect a post to get deleted or even flagged for being wrong or off-topic; there were varying degrees of "badness", some included only as perceived evidence of a pattern so that others could judge the facts for themselves. Actually, I wasn't expecting anything to get deleted, so thanks for taking quick action; every little bit helps. –  Aarobot Apr 5 '10 at 0:09
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@json: I'm scared to ask where you found that... last thing I want is this question showing up at the top of a Google search for somebody's real name (this is one reason I don't use my real name!) Should I maybe edit the parts (well, part) of this question that include the name? –  Aarobot Apr 5 '10 at 0:11
    
@Aaronaught - probably linkedIn/Google/other social networking crap. It's downright scary how much personal info can be obtained from those (one reason I'm seriously contemplating removing my LinkedIn account and never even considered having Facebook/MySpace/other such things and never use my real name on SO –  DVK Apr 5 '10 at 0:15
    
P.S. Wonder if you put in more work in tracking this down than I put into tag hierarchy War and Piece... errr ... proposal (that was a couple of hours of writing, for comparison :) ) –  DVK Apr 5 '10 at 0:17
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Oh and P.S. to other readers, don't start thinking I go around digging for dirt on other users... was more a case of, I happened to notice what I thought was a trollish pattern, pulled up the profile to see if these were balanced with more "helpful" answers, saw that there was only 1 post which made no sense, and then the whole mystery started unraveling by itself. I don't want to imply that I am encouraging grudges or elitism - extreme cases only, in this case I just saw a lot of inflammatory posts and very few upvotes. –  Aarobot Apr 5 '10 at 0:19
    
Lol @DVK, I'm sure it looks like more effort went into this than really did, it wasn't more than 20-30 minutes, because the realization was passive, I wasn't looking for people to indict. :P –  Aarobot Apr 5 '10 at 0:21
    
Perhaps his 500+ account has benefited from some upvotes from his legion accounts. There must be some people quietly building rep from dummy accounts. –  amelvin Apr 5 '10 at 1:21
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@dvk: google.com/search?q=erwin-smout –  perbert Apr 5 '10 at 2:27
    
Huh. Apparently connected to a number of militant anti-SQL academics. Puts some of this into perspective, but everybody should be held to the same standards of discourse regardless, doesn't matter if you're a lowly freshman or Stroustrup himself. –  Aarobot Apr 5 '10 at 3:19
    
@Aaronaught - Stroustrup trolls on SO? Wow! :))) –  DVK Apr 5 '10 at 3:36
    
@DVK: Hey, anything's possible. Somebody's got to answer all those why doesn't C++ have garbage collection questions, maybe they're all his sockpuppets! –  Aarobot Apr 5 '10 at 15:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

This really probably should have been an email to team@stackoverflow.com. I know it's way too much information to succinctly put in a flag for moderator attention, so I understand why you bypassed that option. We sort of frown on singling people out in a negative way here on meta, though.

That being said, I do appreciate you bringing this to our attention and pulling all of this information together. I'll be merging these accounts soon. We (the moderators) will decide what action to take once we can see the entire body of work in one place.

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Understood, I wasn't previously aware that the e-mail address was intended for that, and part of me figured that this kind of thing should be given a public hearing to weed out any personal bias I might have been harbouring. But I'll remember that for next time (if there is a next time, these occurrences seem rare). If you want to close the question and/or edit out the personal information then I'll understand. –  Aarobot Apr 5 '10 at 0:03
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@Bill - you're going to JOIN all this evil??? And then people start wondering where Skynet started from!!! (me running for the bunker) –  DVK Apr 5 '10 at 0:19
    
@Aaronaught: He does seem to be trolling us pretty hard, so I completely understand why you brought it up. I'll let Jeff decide what to do with Erwin and this question itself. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 5 '10 at 0:21
    
@DVK: The bunker should be safe, just don't get on the submarine. ;) –  Bill the Lizard Apr 5 '10 at 0:36
    
@Bill - was that some veiled reference to T4? (I didn't bother seeing that yet, but I doubt it has any truly spoiler-prone secrets :) ) –  DVK Apr 5 '10 at 3:38
    
@DVK: Yes, that was a T4 reference. There are one or two spoiler-prone secrets, but they're pretty easy to guess. You were probably right to wait and rent it. –  Bill the Lizard Apr 5 '10 at 7:29
    
@Bill, I'm just arriving at this question for the first time, and the Google link already has five pages of results for Erwin's name again. It seems that there are at least four active accounts at this moment. –  Pops Sep 14 '10 at 16:51
    
@Pop: Thanks. I had merged over 50 accounts back when this question was new. It looks like time to do it again before it gets out of control. Looking at the history, I'm not the only one that's done some merging. :( –  Bill the Lizard Sep 14 '10 at 17:18

For a case as extreme as this one, I think posting to MSO is the right thing. A mod will see it here. A flag on one of his posts would have been fine, as would an email to the dev team, linked from the bottom of each of the trilogy sites' home pages. Your research will save the mods some time, though.

This case is fairly egregious, though I can't really see the motivation behind it (vs. simply posting from one account). Might be someone being annoying for its own sake. Regardless, you're not even close to crossing any ethical/other lines with your post.

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Down voting and flagging for a moderator's attention is the best way in my opinion to deal with someone like this.

Thoughts? Does my theory make sense? Is it reasonable to want to do something about this, or am I making mountains out of molehills? Assuming it's a reasonable complaint, can something be done about it, and is it appropriate to bring up the subject here on Meta?

Per the FAQ

What kind of questions can I ask here?

If your question is about:

* Stack Overflow
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* Super User

... it is welcome here. No question is too trivial or too "newbie".

Please look around to see if your question has already been asked (and maybe even answered!) before you ask. If you end up asking a question that has been asked before, that is OK and deliberately allowed. Other users will hopefully edit in links to related or similar questions to help future visitors find their way.

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@Josh K: The problem is that there are 30, 50, 100 separate accounts doing this. Aside from running out of flags, it's not entirely clear that moderators will see the pattern of behaviour or know to check for sockpuppet accounts. I could leave a comment in the "flag for moderator attention" - but what should I write so that it doesn't come across as merely vindictive? I definitely wouldn't want to encourage frivolous "this user is a troll" flags, subsequently wasting moderators' time; coming here with "proof" seemed more appropriate, so that they don't have to be the ones to dig. –  Aarobot Apr 4 '10 at 22:43
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@Aaron: In that case you bring the problem here. Kudos for the write up by the way. Proper links, formatting, etc. Must have taken a while. –  Josh K Apr 4 '10 at 22:46

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