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In the SO moderator nominations, two candidates withdrew their entries after it was revealed that they had been caught using sock puppets with many cross-votes in the past (with the number of fraudulent votes in the hundreds in one case, in the thousands in the other).

Although I was personally a bit sad to see one of those candidates go - I felt that case to be somewhat forgivable - I welcome very much that this information was revealed. It is arguably something that voters have a right to know about.

But the information was published only after somebody commented about remembering having seen the nominee in the penalty box once. @Will then added sock-puppet information about two other nominees underneath their entries (I assume that is a complete list of all nominees with a record of sock-puppeteering.) So the form seems a bit random, and this needs a defined form for the next elections.

Also, users can change their ways, and shouldn't be excluded from elections forever for their misdeeds. Records of past infractions should expire after a reasonable period of time.

I suggest that either

  • information about past sock puppets with cross-votes (having a sock puppet alone is not a crime!) be published officially, for every candidate, including the number of fraudulent votes the user was caught with. Users nominating themselves will expressly agree to having this information published when entering their application.

  • Candidates who have a record of vote fraud within the last two or three years (or whatever time span is decided) be silently removed from the nomination page - the more boring, but probably wisest option.

share|improve this question
Great suggestion. Moderators must be as spotless as possible. But at least honour the spirit of SO. – Toon Krijthe Jan 21 '11 at 11:54
Make sure you get the detection right then, otherwise it would be easy to make someone ineligible for future consideration by just creating a sock puppet and purposely voting every one of his answers and questions up, in the hopes that it would be detected and attributed to him. Whatever system you set up can usually be broken to subvert some other system. – Lasse V. Karlsen Jan 21 '11 at 15:01
@Lasse true and good point, but from what little is known about SO's sock puppet detection, they seem to be very careful and diligent when looking into possibly fraudulent activity. – Pëkka Jan 21 '11 at 15:03
Every single vote cast in the system is IP logged, so that mitigates some of the concerns. @Lasse – Jon Seigel Jan 21 '11 at 17:36
@Lasse Unfortunately it is VERY hard to detect sockpuppets definitively. The only thing moderators have to go on is IPs (which are often shared, moreso in small shops) and blatant vote patterns. With a little knowledge you could sockpuppet all day and never get caught. Its only the lazy puppeteers that do. – Won't Feb 7 '11 at 15:22
up vote 20 down vote accepted

Let me clarify what happened and what I did, then make a pitch for what I think should be done in future elections.

At the beginning of the election, I was reading the nominations page and did see on one particular nominee a comment, as Pekka said, suggesting the user was suspended at one time.

This piqued my interest, so I went and had a peek at the user's profile. I saw that the user was suspended, and that one of the other mods had annotated the account with details about the suspension.

As a moderator, there is only so much we can tell about a particular user. We can view a history of the user's actions as they relate to the system (rep recalcs, suspensions, account associations, etc), and "annotations" which are notes that a moderator can put on a user. These are usually short notes which are supposed to communicate to other moderators concern about a user or the reasons why a particular action was taken against the user.

I did see that this particular nominee was suspended, and that a moderator added an annotation to the effect that the user had been sock puppeting with X number of fake users and Y number of fake upvotes. The annotation was very clear about the details.

Now, my actions past this point enter a grey area. Obviously, revealing information about a user only known to moderators is unethical. I believe, however, when someone is nominating themselves to become a moderator, that some of this information should be revealed.

So I did confirm that the user was suspended and that it was for sockpuppetry. To be (at least a little) fair, I scanned all the other nominees and saw two others were also dinged for bad behavior. I did leave comments to that effect. One of the two was well documented in the annotations, the other, not so much. After a short conversation I did remove all comments related to moderator annotations for the second nominee because the annotation wasn't as definitive as it should have been.

Now, as to what I'd like to see in future moderator elections... I do believe, like politicians must reveal their tax returns, investments and other such details about their private lives, people who nominate themselves to become moderators should have to reveal any suspensions and annotations of their account. I believe they should also be allowed to rebut the annotations. I think most people here would overlook single incidents in a user's past. I do think that they have a right to know these details about someone they are voting for.

In the interest of openness, let it be known I have never been suspended and I do not have any annotations on my account. I probably should have; many of my pre-moderator comments have been deleted. Some post-moderator comments as well. But I'm usually the one deleting those.

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Unless I'm sorely mistaken, people who are nominating themselves, unless it's after a stint as a pro tem moderator, don't have access to their own annotations. – Grace Note Feb 7 '11 at 15:31
@Will, this behavior is what prompted a tweet from me.!/jjnguy/status/28167714879053824 I'm glad you've explained your actions, and I feel much more confident in your moderator abilities now. Thanks. – jjnguy Feb 7 '11 at 15:37
(Minor detail: shouldn't the user was suspended maybe read something like the user had previously been suspended? Or was the suspension still current, and hence for that user visible to everyone?) – Arjan Feb 7 '11 at 15:47
@Grace they don't. Obviously some mechanism would be used to add the details of such on their nominating post. @jjnguy I often think I'm the most hated mod on SO... Most controversial, no doubt. I'm getting better, but every once in awhile I put my foot right in it. – Won't Feb 7 '11 at 16:04
@Arjan "was" indicates past tense already. If the user was still in suspension, "is" would be appropriate. Not that "had previously been" is wrong, but it illustrates basically the same picture. – Grace Note Feb 7 '11 at 16:08
True, @Grace, but the above is all in past time :-) But I guess the suspension was "more in the past" than the description of the events above. – Arjan Feb 7 '11 at 16:13

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