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How can I report a specific bad user?

From time to time we encounter situations on SO or any of the other SE sites where we expect foul play*. Two users seem far too much involved in asking, answering and accepting each other's questions. Or perhaps the questions of one banned user seem surprisingly similar to those of another new user.

Whatever the case, we all have the ability to flag their contributions and inform moderators that we suspect foul play.

Here on Meta SO however, from time to time a question is asked, I assume for reassurance of the OP that what he considers to be odd is seen in the same light by his peers. While I can understand the desire to do so up to a point, I personally think this is unnecessary. Your efforts are surely appreciated and your concerns taken seriously, but what does a public discussion add?

After all, what can we as regular users do about it? Moderators (from what I know) have far more tools at their disposal to investigate foul play and actually take action in case of confirmation. So a flag should be enough.

And there is another problem in the public calling out of your suspicions. What if you're wrong? Just because it looks suspicious does not mean there really is a problem. The users might be related, but actually provide fair and reasonable contributions. All the while having their contributions negatively evaluated because of a gut feeling. Most of you will at least have seen one case of gut-feeling downvotes where the content of the contribution itself did not necessarily warrant it.

This leads me to ask:
Is there any benefit in such a public discussion that I'm missing? Should we perhaps discourage and close these discussions?

**Please note that I'm talking about possible offences that might cause user suspensions or complete account deletion.*

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    The language here is a bit odd and rather vague, but if something warrants possible suspension or account deletion, I believe that it should definitely be reported. – Yawus Jul 31 '12 at 12:52
  • Any sort of example, even hypothetical, would really help with this discussion. – Yawus Jul 31 '12 at 12:52
  • @Yawus Reporting can be done by a simple flag. And I can do you one better than a hypothetical case: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/141759/… Why not just be done with a flag? What does the discussion add? – Bart Jul 31 '12 at 12:53
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    I don't see the need for explicit examples here. Bart was perfectly clear, and he's not talking about some bizarre edge case that's hard to imagine or a hypothetical that's rarely seen in practice. – Pops Jul 31 '12 at 13:00
  • @PopularDemand I'm not terribly good with interpretation and it took an example for me to realize that we're talking about reporting behavior through questions on Meta.SO. I thought we were talking about whether we should report issues to mods... – Yawus Jul 31 '12 at 13:03
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    Not an exact duplicate, but close enough for Meta. NB from an answer there: "Please, do not call out the user by name here on Meta." -Bill the Lizard♦ – Pops Jul 31 '12 at 13:06
  • @PopularDemand Yeah, I agree that it is almost a dupe. However, with that in mind, would you agree that we should more actively close and perhaps delete such questions that do call out specific users? Should I flag it as "not constructive" perhaps? – Bart Jul 31 '12 at 13:15

What about the fun and entertainment that calling out users and grabbing the pitchforks brings us during a boring work day?

enter image description here

(Image source unknown)

Have you thought about that? Huh? Have you?

Seriously though: yes, stuff like this is usually best handled through flags. Posting on Meta may be sensible in rare cases, for example when...

  • Calling out users for continued exceptionally rude behaviour. This may sometimes be justified in order to start a dialogue with them, especially if they are not pure trolls and are constantly on the border to ban-worthy behaviour (but understand rules well enough to stop short of it). There was a complaint about a certain user once that made that user aware of how the community feels about his continued rudeness... it was nasty, and had no effect on him (he currently has a 1 year ban I believe) but I tend to think it was still necessary.

  • Discussing cases of massive plagiarism. The Meta crowd can serve as a mechanical turk to find more occurrences of plagiarism in the user's Oeuvre. There is an extensive list of such cases here.

  • it is uncertain whether a user is engaging in bad behaviour or not. This is a double-edged sword though, as Meta users will (rightly) demand links to be able to judge the situation.

  • Bad behaviour that happens off-site (like plagiarism) that can't be dealt with through flags. (Example)

  • and sometimes users bring it upon themselves!

... but as a general rule, if you're unsure, prefer mod flagging over a public discussion of a specific user's behaviour on Meta.

  • What about the "is this bad behavior?" questions? I've seen plenty of those, they're much more of a gray area than the "Hey, this guy is a sock lol let's throw rocks at him" posts – Ben Brocka Jul 31 '12 at 13:05
  • @Ben yeah, good point, I'll add an item on those – Pekka Jul 31 '12 at 13:06
  • Ah, you know I like a public lynching as much as the next person. It's the cleanup after it that I don't like. But in all seriousness I think we should be more careful about questions like these and perhaps close/delete them sooner (not constructive perhaps) if the answer is "flag it for moderator attention" anyway. – Bart Jul 31 '12 at 13:07
  • @Bart yeah. I added a conclusion to emphasize that. You are (sadly) right - mod flagging is usually much preferable over a public lynching. sniff – Pekka Jul 31 '12 at 13:10
  • Ooh, that last addition is a beauty.... – Bart Aug 1 '12 at 11:18

I share your apparent distaste for these, however there is at times a good reason for such posts; In order to instruct 1) the asker and 2) future visitors about what correct actions should be taken.

The site is moderated in a democratic way, so there is generally no harm in discussing specifics publicly - we should only be discussing things that are publicly available, anyway (to 10k users, anyway).

I agree that if a user knows what to do about Behavior X, said user should simply do it, and not make a Meta post about it. But if there is any question, asking appropriately serves a purpose, I think.

  • My problem is not even so much with the discussion per se. If it merely serves to be illustrative, fine. My (often confirmed) worry in cases like these is the (sometimes unjustified) outfall these discussions cause. – Bart Jul 31 '12 at 13:01
  • @Bart Yup, I agree. However, I believe the thinking here is that such outfall tends to want to try to find someplace to express itself, at least marginally, and Meta is - in part - here to be such a place. – Andrew Barber Jul 31 '12 at 13:03
  • Don't you mean "fallout", not "outfall"? – Yawus Jul 31 '12 at 13:03
  • @Yawus I re-typed "outfall" without even thinking about it! hehe... yeah, I assume he meant "fallout", too. – Andrew Barber Jul 31 '12 at 13:04
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    @Yawus Yeah, fallout. My Dutch brain at work there. – Bart Jul 31 '12 at 13:08
  • With regards to your last sentence, I think something that can be phrased as "What should I do in case I find two users who apparently misbehave in this way?" does not need to be phrased like "I found user X and Y who apparently misbehave". It's a minor difference, but both questions would get you the same answer, while the first one is preferable IMHO. – Bart Jul 31 '12 at 13:13
  • @Bart I don't know; I think concrete examples tend to help give more accurate answers. – Andrew Barber Jul 31 '12 at 15:23

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