Moderators can't see individual votes. Fortunately, abuse on our platform has yet to reach a scale where investigations into trolling and outright abuse are so consuming that we have to provide moderators with additional powers. I hope it never comes to that.
However, when we see a question where:
- It's blatantly off-topic (and / or)
- It contains targeted harassment, bigotry, racism, or other egregious violations of our Code of Conduct (and / or)
- It's overt SPAM or self-promotion
... and it's visually identified as being welcome in a community through up-votes, employees ARE going to query the votes table and find out what the heck is going on. If they're not, that means they're not doing their job, and Joel is going to take away their standing desks.
Our promise to visitors is the best information rises to the top. If someone is deliberately interfering with the efficacy of any of our products, it's a serious issue, and one that will lead us to thoroughly investigate and might lead to multiple accounts being terminated. This has happened in the past.
The fact that you received a courtesy email from an employee prior to major action being taken giving you an opportunity to explain what's going on is quite frankly way above and beyond anything we'd normally do in a situation like this.
Your vote is your business, and there will never be repercussions for you voting as you see fit as long as you're not using votes tactically. If we see that, we're going to contact you (moderators do this every single day based on patterns alone) - that's nothing really new. What changed here was the seriousness of what happened, and in cases like that, we do need to be awfully thorough.
If you post:
I think we should kill [targeted group of people]. It will make PROLOG a better language. Please also buy discount Gucci shoes from my favorite psychic in India
.. and that gets up voted, I'm gonna do more than just look at patterns, and you'll only get away with blaming it on your cat once, max twice.
We're not big brother, but we do need to ensure that the actions of a few don't result in the many not being able to have nice things. But at this point, we're talking about outright abuse, not a difference of opinion on the merits of an otherwise on-topic post.
For voting rings where the content is on-topic, just of dubious quality and correctness, it's seldom that we need to look beyond patterns, and most of that is automated. It's all fun and games until our private SEDE instance times out.