29

I couldn't find a Meta post on what to do when a user keeps reapplying their revenge serial votes no matter how many times it is reversed, so I'm asking this question.

So recently I had an interaction with a user, who was accusing another user of "personally attacking" them in the comments on their answer, over some feedback they left pointing out some flaws in their answer. Seeing this I left a comment explaining to them that critiquing their answer is not a "personal attack", which it simply isn't. Shortly there after this user apparently had a meltdown, and started lashing out with actual personal attacks and revenge down votes against at-least one of the involved users, me.

They down voted all 3 of my answer on this SE site in the space of about a minute, leaving a nonsensical "this answer is worthless" comment on one of them (had I had more more posts on the site, I'm sure they would have continued).

incident 1

Unfortunately, the automatic script did not detect it for some reason, so I used the contact page to request a review into this abuse, mainly because I hate to see this kind of abuse degrading the quality of SE.

Anyhow, I got the canned response in unrendered markdown about 2 weeks later telling me a developer would investigate the situation, and shortly there after the fraudulent votes were reversed... To which this unsavory individual responded by immediately reapplying the same fraudulent votes as soon as they noticed just under 3 hours later.

incident 2

Following the instructions in the email on if the behavior continued, I replied to the email to say that the abuse had continued. And you guessed it, the same thing happened again! Clearly this person has some personal vendetta and doesn't mind abusing the Stack Exchange system to enact it.

incident 3

This time the automatic script got wise to their abuse though, and automatically reversed it.

incident 3 reversal

But the story doesn't end there.

Apparently this user really wants to have their revenge almost 3 weeks later, and apparently realizing they can no longer beat the system so easily, they start spacing their votes out by a couple of days. So the day after it was reversed once again, they start doing just that.

incident 4

NOTE: I realize that correlation does not imply causation, and that theoretically there could be some other users who happen to be looking at my older content and just happen to all decide to down vote while never happening to find the same post, but I think this is what XKCD means by:

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

So, after 3 confirmed cases of voting fraud doubtlessly by the same user, and what is almost-certainly a fourth case where they got semi-clever, I have little doubt they won't just do it again. I don't really even mind the loss of 6 paltry unicorn points, it this type of abuse in general that bugs me.

So what should someone do in this situation?

  • Reply one more time to the email and see if the cycle repeats again?
  • Just let it go, and leave the fraudulent votes to skew the score?
  • Something else entirely?
  • 2
    What site? I think we need to have a look, got something in the tool shed that might come in handy. – Tim Post Dec 1 '16 at 15:12
29

A couple of things here.

We're re-doing the automatic vote reversal system.

As in completely. It was great for the problem we solved when we created it, but it doesn't work at scale. Way too much human time goes into doing what smarter algorithms could be doing.

We're about 2/3 of the way there. Soon, mods won't need to go looking for this sort of stuff anymore. They'll just see reports of suspicious activity where the system couldn't make an automatic decision, and the mod will indicate if the votes should be invalidated or not.

Until that happens

You can post as you did here, or contact us and let us know that they've done it again, in a very deliberate manner after waiting just enough time to try and evade the scripts.

Since you posted, I just need to know what site, and I'll have a rather candid chat with the user involved.

  • It was on that site most wouldn't touch with a 10ft pole, Politics Beta. Thanks for taking a look! – Alexander O'Mara Dec 1 '16 at 16:09
  • 4
    Glad to hear the reversal system is getting an upgrade. It seems bad actors have learned how to avoid it. – Alexander O'Mara Dec 1 '16 at 16:12
  • 3
    Looks like we might have a couple of users coordinating here, going to dig deeper into this. Gimme a day or two and you'll see the votes removed. – Tim Post Dec 1 '16 at 17:12
  • Tim I've got a feeling that new anti-fraud system is rolled out, is that correct? The reason why I think so is I've got a bunch of really ancient revenge votes reversed today, I remember complaining about these more than half year ago (IIRC back then it was confirmed as fraudulent and I was given a promise that new system will revert) – gnat Jan 12 '17 at 7:25
  • @gnat Not yet, but close. What you noticed is probably an artifact of someone having to go in and deal with a ring manually. When the new system goes in place (and the breadth of the revised queries go into effect), that won't happen anymore. We'll catch it much sooner so folks don't see a manual reversal of a ton of votes that the system didn't catch in time. – Tim Post Jan 12 '17 at 15:15
  • understood, thank you. While I have your attention, do you expect something like "wave of vote reversals" when it goes to production? (this can probably be predicted by some "dry run" of the system or by trying it at some smaller site first) If yes you'd better make some sort of meta announcement to serve as dupe target for "wave of complaints" that may possibly follow :) – gnat Jan 12 '17 at 15:22
17

For regular users

This is a problem for the mods to handle. Flag either account (the suspected serial voting account or the suspected target account) for the site moderators' attention. Serial downvoting is 100% not okay and, though there are automatic tools to handle most cases, persistent serial downvoters need personal attention from the mods.

To flag a user, find any of their posts and use a custom flag on it, briefly providing the necessary information for the mods to pick up the investigation. A custom flag may seem too short, but not much more than the suspicion and the affected account is needed — it's not necessary to provide all the circumstantial evidence, since mods can see the same public reputation patterns, and have better tools than regular users do to determine if it's caused by targeted voting.

Using the Contact Us form will also work, but is overkill and less quick. Those messages bypass the mods and are handled by Stack Exchange paid staff directly, who have more powers than necessary for this problem, and have many more demands on their time. Since mods have the tools to fully handle this, you'll get a faster response by contacting the mods and they're more likely to personally notice if the problem continues.

For mods

You can give them a short time-out: one of our moderator message templates is named “revenge downvoting”, and says in part:

After reports of unusual voting patterns coming from your account, we found a lot of downvoting against specific users. Please note that these downvotes have been invalidated. … voting irregularities are something that we take very seriously and can result in a prolonged suspension for all involved.

A message with a short suspension will a) temporarily stop them from repeating their serial voting, b) send the message that this is unwelcome behaviour that can and will have negative consequences for their account, if continued.

If they continue undeterred, a few rounds of this will make their misbehaviour not anyone's problem anymore, because they'll have escalated themselves up to a long suspension. Letting the mod tools handle this puts the choice back in the user's hands, leaving it up to them to choose between self-destruction or changing their behaviour, with a minimum of wasted mod time better spent on pretty much anything else.

  • 5
    "You can give them a short time-out" Maybe if I was a moderator. :) – Alexander O'Mara Nov 30 '16 at 19:19
  • 2
    @AlexanderO'Mara D'oh, there's what I get for assuming. I have edited the answer to cover both mod and non-mod readers. :) – SevenSidedDie Nov 30 '16 at 19:22
  • Custom mod flag seems the way to go. But there is a large amount of circumstantial evidence here that wouldn't fit in a single custom mod flag. Maybe the "Contact us" link? – S.L. Barth Nov 30 '16 at 19:25
  • 2
    @S.L.Barth Mods can see all these details by looking at the account though, so just pointing to the user and indicating that you suspect repeated and sneaky serial downvoting is all they need. On top of that, mods have access to tools to confirm suspected targeted voting that make the circumstantial evidence unnecessary to provide. – SevenSidedDie Nov 30 '16 at 19:30

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .