There is a certain pattern of Stack Exchange users who habitually post plagiarized content.

Some cases are easy to deal with. If the user is still pretty new, a message explaining that plagiarism is not cool can turn them into more useful contributors. Some plagiarizers are so bad at it that their posts are irrelevant and can be removed wholesale. Some accounts do nothing but plagiarize and their accounts can be removed while leaving their positively-scored “contributions” (with proper sourcing added) in place.

This leaves quite a few accounts who:

  • Post a mixture of plagiarized and original content. (Invariably you can tell the plagiarized content at a glance: it's the posts that contain a grammatically correct English sentence.)
  • Do generally post more-or-less relevant answers, even when the answers aren't their own.
  • Never, ever provide attribution for the content they copy, and sometimes even make a habit of editing attribution out.

It seems to me that we don't have a good way to deal with these people. Suspend the account for rules violation? They continue when they come back. Delete the account? Well, they do contribute decent content sometimes. Delete the posts? No, not when they're relevant.

When I see an account whose top-scoring answer (+50) is from copying a blog post from 2006… and whose second-highest scoring answer is from copying a blog post from 2011… and whose third-highest scoring answer is, well, you get the drill, I think that we should at least remove any reputation gain from those answers. Reputation is very much part of the game there; if you aren't too stupid or uninformed to do a web search for good, relevant preexisting blog posts, plagiarism is an easy way to earn lots of points. If plagiarism wasn't a good way to earn reputation, that would at least remove some of the incentive.

Can we have a procedure to remove reputation gains from plagiarized posts? Deletion isn't the answer because the posts are relevant and useful to future visitors. (Note that if the posts violate the author's copyright, that's a completely different matter; that complaint must come from the author themself through the formal channel of copyright counterclaims.) Community wiki conversion would only prevent future upvotes from mattering.

Is there a procedure we can follow (we being community members, moderators and Stack Exchange staff) to deny all reputation from plagiarized posts, even if (as often happens) they are discovered months after the fact?

I realize that “remove the poster's reputation gain from this list of posts” is a very dangerous tool — is there a better solution? What controls should be in place to make this both practically doable and not abusable?

  • 3
    This is a serious problem on tag wiki/excerpt too where the content is not only plagiarized but far cry from useful.
    – Braiam
    Jun 14, 2014 at 12:42
  • 6
    @Braiam Plagiarism in tag wikis is a completely separate problem. It isn't done by the same people. The people who plagiarize tag wikis tend to post useful, original answers. Jun 14, 2014 at 12:45
  • "Relevant and useful" should not be decoupled from reputation gain. If it needs to stay, then by definition it is acceptable content. If it needs to go, then the reputation goes with it, if you catch it in the first three months. If you don't catch it by then, how big of a problem is it really?
    – user102937
    Aug 7, 2014 at 19:51
  • 3
    @RobertHarvey But the reputation should go to the original author, not to the copier. Aug 7, 2014 at 20:04
  • Been hanging out on ELU again, eh Gilles? :)
    – tchrist
    Aug 11, 2014 at 11:45
  • 4
    I don't care if the post was accepted and upvoted to the stratosphere. If it's obvious plagiarism, it's getting edited or deleted immediately. Aug 11, 2014 at 12:04

1 Answer 1


Once upon a time, there was a feature that would retroactively make a post community wiki, thus erasing any/all reputation gains/losses.

So far as I'm aware, it was dev-only and rarely used. It hasn't existed in years, and I've no first-hand experience with it so pardon the lack of detail in my description...

...the point is, the feature you're asking for used to exist! It was removed because, it turns out, a "deny all rep" button is entirely too tempting - I know I routinely encounter posts that I'd prefer weren't pushing their authors toward getting privileges on the site; not just plagiarism, but grandstanding, hyperbolic opinionated rants purporting to be "the voice of experience", properly-attributed posts that none the less consist entirely of copied content, answers that link to w3schools... Not saying I would hammer these, but... Taking that option off the table keeps us honest.

And that's really the issue here, after all: honesty. If someone can earn a few upvotes by being good at searching, more power to 'em - as long as they make it clear that's what they're doing. Pretending to have written an answer you pulled off someone's blog is dishonest; regardless of whether or not the answer might have "deserved" the votes, or the author the reputation, the issue is the author's behavior.

Can we have a procedure to remove reputation gains from plagiarized posts?


  1. immediately suspend the plagiarist.
  2. If he repeats it, suspend for longer.
  3. If he still doesn't get the message, delete the account.

All of these remove reputation gains. #3 removes them permanently.

I still believe that most of these posts should be unceremoniously deleted, at least until the author or someone else feels they're useful enough to edit - but that's a separate decision, and one that should be made based on the perceived usefulness of the post. The behavior of the author is not something where there is room for compromise, however.

  • 9
    Possible to just run a script for the w3schools answers? Only half joking... :)
    – Travis J
    Aug 7, 2014 at 20:33
  • I'm with Travis, here.
    – user50049
    Aug 8, 2014 at 3:23
  • But the reputation is restored after the suspension is finished. If score >3 and older than x months
    – user310756
    Dec 7, 2018 at 9:13
  • 60 days / two months, @Yvette. Which is kind of a long time. If we're not regularly detecting plagiarism in that timeframe, then that's a much bigger problem than fake Internet Points - which, after all, can be permanently removed via user-deletion if need-be.
    – Shog9
    Dec 7, 2018 at 19:18
  • @Shog9 we keep uncovering stuff that's been on the site for years - even far back as '09. Some of it is highly upvoted. So account deletion is not always viable, as it's not reflective of the individual's overall contribution. We've been talking about it in FBM. There's a mod feature we like. I'll ping you
    – user310756
    Dec 7, 2018 at 19:49

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