A user recently reacted with frustration when a post of his was closed, so I added a number of advice comments. When I interact with a user in this way, I sometimes poke around their account to sample some other questions.

In this case, many of the previous questions are too broad, don't feature code, or have been abandoned without responses to seemingly helpful answers (the last one is a great personal annoyance, and I often downvote it in the hope it will change behaviour). I would be inclined to downvote quite a lot here, but there must be a point where downvotes focus too strongly on one user.

I seem to recall that 20 up or downvotes triggers the reversal script, but I'm interested in the spirit of the law here. If 20/day is the limit, is 10 downvotes for one user acceptable? Since I am judging all posts on their individual merits, it's not voting fraud or mean-spirited downvoting, but I accept the automatic system (and moderators) won't be able to tell the difference.

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    Don't target users. Period. – Bart Dec 5 '13 at 17:07
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    If they gave out the actual number here, that would just tell serial downvoters what the limit is so they can do that many minus one. – Geobits Dec 5 '13 at 17:07
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    @Generic, a fair point. I'm not looking for exact limits though - as I say, more the spirit of the thing. – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 17:09
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    The problem is, I can find (at least) ten things to downvote for just about any user if I browse through all their posts. So any time I get a rude comment from someone, there goes twenty of their rep. That just isn't right. – Geobits Dec 5 '13 at 17:10
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    @Generic: no, because you would be downvoting 10 times for one infraction. In my case, I am downvoting 10 times for 10 independent judgements (insofar as they can be unbiased, of course). – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 17:13
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    @halfer there is no need for a single user to rescue the site from a single other user. Even if you see a sufficient amount of poor content, tackle the worst, and rely on the community for the rest. – Bart Dec 5 '13 at 17:14
  • No, I'm saying I can find ten things worth downvoting for just about anyone, judging on content alone. Anyone with a decent amount of activity, that is. Scale that ten up/down by user's rep. – Geobits Dec 5 '13 at 17:14
  • Fair enough @Bart, thanks. – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 17:15
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    The trigger threshold is less than 20. It's probably less than 10. I don't know exactly what it is, but you can get a fair idea if you ever get serial voting reversed on your account. – user102937 Dec 5 '13 at 17:16
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    The threshold is ~5, you'll normally get away with 4 upvotes/downvotes before the reversal kicks in but I believe there is a historical component to it as well (ie: if you frequently target the same user the threshold reduces, or something like that) – Flyk Dec 5 '13 at 17:33
  • This is a great question and is effectively the same situation that has resulted in me being banned this week. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/297482/… Human moderators need to rise above the sterile algorithm and make informed decisions when the software isn't equiped to provide an accurate judgment. The human touch is essential when the software finds a pattern. – mickmackusa Jun 22 '17 at 22:41
  • @mickmackusa: are you saying you think you've been serially downvoted by one user? If so, you can usually have that rep recovered. However, if you're saying you've been auto-banned, then this question probably isn't all that germane to your situation. Human moderators don't auto-ban you - they downvote/close your questions, and the system applies the auto-ban. – halfer Jun 22 '17 at 22:50
  • @mickmackusa: ah, sorry, I misunderstood your situation. It looks like you've been serially downvoting folks, and have been manually suspended by a mod. Yeah, I am not sure what one can do about that. You could try to appeal it. Did you know about the user targetting advice contained above? It seems to be only a short ban, so you could just ride it out... – halfer Jun 22 '17 at 22:52
  • If you want to add more detail about your situation (ideally in a new Meta Stack Overflow post) then people will give their thoughts on it. – halfer Jun 22 '17 at 22:59
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    @mickmackusa: ah, I see. I sympathise to some degree, there is an awful lot of shockingly bad content here. Nevertheless, it is not possible (or reasonable) for mods to be expected to differentiate between "good" serial-downvoting and the normal bad version. In any case, Sahil's work does not look at first glance to be in the same category. The vote tallies on his answers do look a bit high to me, but unless there is evidence of voting fraud on his side, I think you'd just have to accept the community likes his work. – halfer Jun 22 '17 at 23:18

In general, voting up or down posts should occur as the result of organic surfing of the site, not by focusing on a user account. Voting on a user's posts specifically through their account places undue emphasis on them as an individual, regardless of the technical merit of your votes.

As a mod I've seen many examples of users who upvote their friends' posts. It's not hard for mods to spot that kind of behavior in the user's voting history, and we have tools to catch it specifically. It's difficult to imagine how that kind of voting can be objective, any more than someone who dislikes a particular user's bearing or behavior on the site could be completely objective while reviewing their posts.

So while I agree with Shog9 that there's good reviewing and bad reviewing, I think you should take a look at how you arrived at the user's account, and refrain from combing it if your interest is not objective.

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    Thanks, I'll bear that in mind. Would you say the same for close voting as well? – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 17:23
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    There's no fraud detection script for close voting and flagging, AFAIK. But common sense still applies. – user102937 Dec 5 '13 at 17:24
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    Just to note: I've more than once run into folks using close votes or flags for "revenge" purposes, and I don't consider it any less despicable than the folks doing it with down-votes. Less effective, and certainly more likely to attract the attention of a moderator who can see exactly who's doing it and take action in response... But every bit as wrong-headed. – Shog9 Dec 5 '13 at 17:27
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    @TheGrinch: it's a fair point - whilst I believe that I am being objective when looking through a user's posts, if I have it in mind that their posts are generally poor, that might unfairly colour my judgement in a way that I'm not fully conscious of. Thanks. – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 18:35

First off, any system that considered a fixed number of downvotes as clear evidence of abuse would be crazy. Folks would be triggering it accidentally all the time. The system would break. And it would be trivially easy to game. So, we don't do that.

Here's my advice:

  • Don't worry about the voting-fraud script. Unless you want to be fraudulent with your voting; then you should probably worry.

  • Don't just go through someone's profile looking for stuff to down-vote. Not because the script might eat you; because it's stupid and unfair and completely contrary to the "vote on content not personality" philosophy we try to stick to here.

Now, of course it's easy to find areas of the site - including user profiles - full of terrible stuff. But if you're going to review them, do it right: up-vote the good stuff, down-vote the bad stuff, edit the stuff that should be edited, leave comments where you can do some good that way... If you can't do that, then you're not really giving these posts a fair shake and you shouldn't be reviewing them at all.

See also: Ignore votes on answers deleted by moderators when checking for serial down-voting

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  • Fully agree with the "do it right" suggestion. I think that is an important mindset to have if you are going to iteration through someone's posts. If done right, the user can actually benefit from the increased attention instead of just feeling like someone hates them when they see a set of downvotes in a relatively small time frame. – Travis J Dec 5 '13 at 17:34
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    Thanks for the answer. I hope it was fairly clear from my question that I'm interested in doing it right, so I'm obviously not looking to be fraudulent, and I'm obviously not stupid. – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 17:39
  • Not saying you are, @halfer - but this topic comes up a lot, and the only thing I can figure is that folks either think the serial vote script is really stupid, or they're imagining themselves engaging in usage patterns that are effectively identical to voting fraud. Not saying it's not possible to confuse the script - it is - but it's quite rare outside of insane situations where someone thinks down-voting obvious spam is an effective way to deal with it. – Shog9 Dec 5 '13 at 17:47
  • Did I mention that this topic comes up a lot? Because it comes up a lot. Everyone wants fair voting until it's someone they personally like/dislike... – Shog9 Jul 21 '15 at 20:15
  • "do it right" is not supported by SO moderators. I was banned this week for doing it right and assessing full pages. (see my link on this question for proof that moderators go too far to protect users that serve up bad content.) My recent discovery of this stance by moderators has me shocked, and I hope my case is good cause for the smart people in this network to discuss and refine their philosophy. – mickmackusa Jun 22 '17 at 22:54
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    Yeah, you've been raising a stink all day. And I know for a fact that someone directed you to at least one post that directly addresses the behavior you were engaged in, so kinda funny you decided to comment on this tangential post instead of that one. If you wanna comment over there, I'll address it; this is far off-topic. – Shog9 Jun 22 '17 at 23:04

Downvoting USERS is never acceptable. Period.

Don't browse a user profile to vote on the posts. Nothing good comes from that. We like posts being voted on by content and not by user.

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    I am voting by content, though :). – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 17:08
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    But you pick the posts by user. – juergen d Dec 5 '13 at 17:08
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    That is also true, yes. – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 17:09
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    My approach is that a user with an off-topic question is, statistically speaking, more likely to have other off-topic questions than a user whose posts are not known. What's your view on casting close votes by user - same? – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 17:11
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    @halfer: Yes, don't do it by user. You could leave a nice @ comment to a user to advice him/her about a certain problematic behaviour. – juergen d Dec 5 '13 at 17:25
  • That's not a bad idea. Alright, I'll bear these thoughts in mind; thanks. – halfer Dec 5 '13 at 18:39

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