This has come up a few times now in moderator circles, but with the exception of Andy's Robot there hasn't been a lot of public discussion that's applicable. That feels kinda negligent to me, so... Here goes.

The setting

For the past five years, it's been trivially easy to script requests to the Stack Exchange API that trigger actual changes to these sites. Kevin Montrose laid out some ground rules for this at the time...

Stack Exchange is very protective of the quality of content on its sites, and will deal harshly with harmful behavior. While it's impossible to list all forbidden behavior, a good rule of thumb is "if a user would be flagged or banned for doing something, your app will as well".

Some examples of write abuse that will be punished:

  • Spam, of any sort.
  • "Auto-commenting" based on post heuristics.
  • Abusively "following and pestering" another user.
  • Automating flagging or closing based on dumb heuristics.

Now, I think those are pretty good rules - and they certainly make it easier on the moderators; if you see a user doing something bad, suspend them - no need to worry about whether they're doing it via the API, via a userscript, or by manually clicking buttons.

But there's a wee problem when it comes to votes... Moderators and other members of the site can't see them at all.

These sites make it pretty easy to earn voting privileges, and quite generous with their daily allowance of votes once those privileges have been earned. Most folks don't vote nearly as often as they could... But an automated script certainly can. We have some fairly well-established rules about voting when it comes to targeting other users, but when it comes to heuristic-based voting... There's been relatively little consistency or discussion on what is appropriate.

The crux

There's currently a user using some sort of script to down-vote questions based on some sort of heuristics: old, unanswered, no votes... Maybe something else? Not sure. The end result of this is often deletion - the questions are either deleted by their authors, or by the system.

Now... It's debatable whether this is doing any harm; these are effectively abandoned questions, and there's a compelling argument that we should be deleting more of these anyway.

But, there are a LOT of questions being downvoted this way. 3399 questions over just the past 7 days, across several dozen sites - and over a thousand of those questions are now deleted. As a result, we've been getting questions and complaints from moderators asking us to look into this...

The question

If we were going to start consistently restricting automated voting - or punishing it - what should the criteria be for doing so? And, why?

One requirement: restrictions must be applicable to anyone voting via any normal mechanism - on-site, via an app, via the API, etc. In other words, "no one should be able to vote more than 5 times per day via the API" doesn't work, but you could argue "no one should be able to vote more than 5 times per day period."

  • 1
    Is this being done to expedite Roomba deletion? It seems they're doing this to questions that don't quite meet the RemoveAbandonedQuestions criterion, in order to push them to deletion via RemoveDeadQuestions. Apr 2, 2019 at 3:40
  • 7
    The restriction at the end of your post is at odds with the title. It would be better worded as something like "What restrictions should we place on voting to limit abuse via automation"
    – david
    Apr 2, 2019 at 4:52
  • 2
    I'm probably naive but did you ask the owner of that bot what their heuristic is and while having that conversation ask for their motivation?
    – rene
    Apr 2, 2019 at 7:06
  • 5
  • @SonictheWizardWerehog ah, missed that. Thanks for the links
    – rene
    Apr 2, 2019 at 7:09
  • 9
    let's see, we're talking about someone who managed to gain 125 rep (necessary for downvoting) at several dozen sites, correct? That sounds like you aim at changing the cornerstone mechanism of voting that has proven to work well enough for many years at many sites for all users, only to account for a single one-off case - are you comfortable with that?
    – gnat
    Apr 2, 2019 at 9:01
  • 11
    We might also want to discuss if a (quite similar) system would be ok that instead of downvoting upvotes all questions that are in danger of being auto deleted. Imho, if we allow one of the system to work, the other one should also be allowed.
    – BDL
    Apr 2, 2019 at 9:31
  • The question is about restricting or punishing automated voting, @david. The requirement pertains to restrictions only, and is a practical matter: I can warn, suspend, delete a user for abuse of a script, but I can't effectively limit their votes without limiting everyone's votes.
    – Shog9
    Apr 2, 2019 at 15:38
  • 4
    Why does the restriction at the end apply? Why are you unable/unwilling to restrict the API in ways that the actual human UI doesn't? Obviously someone can write a script that uses the human UI, not the API, to automate behaviors, but it at least makes it clear to such a person that they're doing something illicit. Most "rules" around voting are technically unenforceable. They're mostly "on your honor" already.
    – Servy
    Apr 2, 2019 at 17:21
  • 1
    Technically we still have mobile apps that use the API, @servy. And there's no reason why someone couldn't or shouldn't build their own. Heck... The first version of the API was built by Kevin before he worked here and just hit the normal routes. I routinely build my own scripts that bypass the API for stuff it doesn't provide. A technical restriction that mostly just inconveniences people acting in good faith isn't a solution.
    – Shog9
    Apr 2, 2019 at 17:36
  • 5
    @Shog9 So then make a rule that votes must be the result of an intentional choice of a person, and not automated. Even if it's unenforcable in most instances (in the way most voting fraud is unenforcable), it lets you catch the people who are blatant about it, and tells people acting in good faith where the line is.
    – Servy
    Apr 2, 2019 at 17:53
  • Post that as an answer w/ justification then, @servy
    – Shog9
    Apr 2, 2019 at 18:27
  • @Shog9 The question specifically says we're not allowed to though.
    – Servy
    Apr 2, 2019 at 18:56
  • 2
    And yet, here you are...
    – Shog9
    Apr 2, 2019 at 18:56
  • 1
    Yeah, to be clear: there are a lot of people doing this, just not a lot doing it at quite this scale, @GlenH7
    – Shog9
    Apr 3, 2019 at 14:58

10 Answers 10


What distinguishes the well-behaved robots that help moderate the sites is that they have some kind of human oversight. And they perform actual moderation actions like flagging.

Voting is not moderation alone, it was supposed to be a person judging the quality of a post. It has moderation side-effects, but it's not a pure moderation action.

Voting should not be done by bots, only by humans. As you already said, there is no way for mods to track this at all, there can't be any oversight. Voting should be about real persons evaluating posts, I would disallow voting with automated bots entirely. It's of course rather difficult to identify the bots, but I assume SE can do this if they're very active like in this case.

It might also make sense to attack this from the other direction as well. I've always been very uncomfortable with users using downvotes only for the purpose of triggering the automatic deletion. This mechanism drastically amplifies the power of users that couldn't delete or close questions at all under regular circumstances. A single downvote is as powerful as a diamond moderator or several 20k users voting to delete in these cases. Late downvotes are also almost entirely invisible to other users (unlike downvotes on new questions), so other users can't counteract this.

The automated deletion should maybe ignore votes cast after a certain age of the question, and not work retroactively. Either the question met the specific threshold after 7, 30 or 365 days and gets deleted automatically, or it didn't meet it and never gets automatically deleted.

This kind of change will affect the number of automatically deleted questions, but that probably can be balanced independently.

  • 2
    A single downvote is as powerful as a diamond moderator or several 20k users voting to delete in these cases.. Perhaps a better idea is to adjust the fundamental tenets of the RemoveDeadQuestions criterion so that a single downvote is never a unilateral delete vote, even if no one bothers to check after 7, 30, or 365 days later? Apr 2, 2019 at 7:04
  • 8
    I would disallow voting with automated bots entirely > As much as I'd like to see this too, given Shog's requirement in the last paragraph of the question, I feel this is one of the options that's already ruled out? It reads to me like if voting for all bots is disabled (via the API) so would voting for all humans.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Apr 2, 2019 at 10:57
  • 6
    DIsallowing all automated voting is probably a non starter from a policing standpoint. Bots can vote via API or directly, and so can users. Blocking any one method inconveniences users but doesn't prevent bots. And heuristic detection can be beaten by randomizing vote intervals and bucket size. Doesn't seem worth it to directly do it.
    – Magisch
    Apr 2, 2019 at 11:13
  • 4
    @Magisch someone determined enough can probably disguise this well enough to make it extremely difficult to detect, but I still think we should decide on the fundamental question whether bots should be allowed to vote or not. The second part of my answer is the practical solution, and independent of whether bots cast the votes or not. Apr 2, 2019 at 11:38
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    @Ramhound SmokeDetector does not utilize votes in its flagging. In fact, only a small part (autoflagging) even uses fully automatic flags. It mostly just reports posts in a chatroom and members then do whatever's useful.
    – Magisch
    Apr 2, 2019 at 11:57
  • 1
    @Ramhound That uses spam flags, not downvotes. My arguments here don't affect bots that cast spam flags, as there is still human oversight in this case. Charcoal doesn't cast all 6 flags, and there are additional internal mechanisms to review actions. Apr 2, 2019 at 11:59
  • How about "stackexchange client" like mail clients? Nov 26, 2020 at 13:22

I don't think additional limits are needed to solve this problem.

Instead, I think altering the roomba so that this kind of voting can be seen before the roomba takes action on these posts would be more effective.

  • The roomba should bypass any posts that have received a vote or whose answers have received a vote (up or down) in the past 7 days.
  • Add a list of questions that fit this criteria to the tools page.

This would give the community a full week to take action before deletion occurs due to a recently cast vote without interfering with the normal usage of votes by users or bots alike.

If it isn't noticed within 7 days it probably isn't a post worth keeping anyway, but it might help if there were a list on the tools page that displays posts that are in that 7 day limbo period to help with detecting abuse.

  • 12
    Regardless of what happens with downvotes, I like the idea of a "Roomba pending" list. We want the community to be able to audit that, but older questions aren't very visible and after-the-fact auditing is only possible by mods and (10k) users who happen to have the link already. How often would people audit this? Probably not very, most of the time, but when there are reasons (like somebody notices questionable deletions or a bot), people can. Apr 2, 2019 at 23:54
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    I really like the idea of more 10K tools, especially tools geared toward more targeted oversight of deletion.
    – Shog9
    Apr 3, 2019 at 2:02
  • 1
    A simple way to implement this would be to use the activity metric (if it includes votes). Someone's done something on the question in the last seven days? Then the roomba can ignore it. It does potentially have the issue of people making minor edits to questions to continually save them from deletion, though.
    – fbueckert
    Apr 3, 2019 at 13:12
  • 1
    @fbueckert it's still easier to monitor minor/useless edits though, and a mod flag will also be automatically raised if there are too many edits on a single post. Apr 3, 2019 at 14:16
  • @GetAnswerWizard No argument there. Just trying to evenly present pros and cons to my proposed approach..
    – fbueckert
    Apr 3, 2019 at 15:16
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    I"m not really concerned with the "issue of people making minor edits [or votes] to questions to continually save them from deletion", as that would be rather visible by anyone who routinely visits the list in the tools page. It wouldn't be invisible, and it would be relatively easy to spot. It should happen infrequently enough as to not be a roadblock. The same can be said of someone monitoring the list and using it as a tool to prevent deletion by roomba all together for a subset of questions, it'd be visible in the post's timeline for all to see.
    – Kevin B
    Apr 3, 2019 at 15:19

I'm generally wary of using downvotes to trigger moderation actions in an automated way. While I do believe that automatic moderation and heuristic based flagging and content actions are appropriate, I don't know if downvotes fall into that. They are mostly inscrutable (only CMs can see them) and due to the nature of the system can be used in a way that massively amplifies the power a single user wields.

Now, downvoting, even targeted downvoting, isn't the same as sockpuppetry, but it does sometimes have the same effect. If I were to identify all questions that I could unilaterally delete by downvoting them and then made a script that does this say, a couple of hours before the roomba runs, I've just condemned a large chunk of questions to unilateral and inscrutable deletion.

We had a similar discussion around manually downvoting answers to get their questions roomba'd. This practice was rejected for obvious reasons, but some of the reasons why still apply here:

A question's answers can sit at +7 for years, but as soon as they get downvoted to <= 0 the question immediately qualifies for auto-deletion under one or more criteria. No need for 10K privileges, no rationing your delete votes, no concerns about having your name attached to the moderation you're doing...


This is talking about downvoting answers, but it's the same concept. Using downvoting in a way that effectively uses it as delete voting, and automating that process, is skirting the transparency and ruleset that we have set out for deletions. It should be stopped or at the very least regulated and be made transparent, like other automatic moderation projects have to be.

  • I've answered this question with a proposal as to how to regulate them. What do you think of it? Apr 2, 2019 at 8:55
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    @SonictheWizardWerehog I lean more towards thinking votes shouldn't be automated at all. Yes, you can fix the roomba, but the purpose votes are supposed to serve is to indicate content quality. I don't think there can be a sufficiently accurate automatic way to do that, and if it exists it still has nothing to do with traditional moderation
    – Magisch
    Apr 2, 2019 at 9:01
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    The last bullet is how we can catch automatic voters. Apr 2, 2019 at 9:01

If such voting is harmful, then perhaps just limiting downvotes on posts older than 90 days to five per day would be palliative enough. That's old enough to not interfere with most of what the various "close-vote review" chatrooms do, and newer posts are more likely to be rescued from shenanigans.

Another tack might be to have the Roomba factor in anonymous feedback.

But we need more data about the targeted questions:

  1. How many views?
  2. Were the owners "drive by"?
  3. Was there any anonymous (positive) feedback?
  4. What percent of similar questions are "salvaged" after many years/months? That is, eventually get upvotes and/or positive scored (late) answers? Any get late accepted answers?

Without some more details, we can't be certain if the individual, or behavior, is doing more harm or more good.

Personally, I'm conflicted:

  1. I'm all about the "Long Tail", so content should be left up if it's not harmful (sucking in invalid search hits because of sloppy or wrong terminology, for example).
  2. On the other hand, I quite often manually downvote old posts so that they will get Roomba'd and count it a job well done. I could live with a 5 per day limit on such posts, no problem.
  • 2
    This seems to be a good idea for me. Apr 2, 2019 at 7:43
  • 3
    This might be appropriate on some sites, but on others older questions frequently resurface with new answers, edits to the questions (sometimes unhelpful ones), etc. I'd actually consider it a healthy sign that old questions have an active life. Limiting downvotes to a measly 5 would not be a good thing. Apr 2, 2019 at 12:00
  • 2
    @curiousdannii Maybe the limit should apply to questions without activity for the past 90 days instead, or older than 90 days and no activity for 14 days.
    – HAEM
    Apr 3, 2019 at 12:35

We should be voting for the post - and judging it by its qualities as a post. It isn't any different from voting on a specific user, or tag for whichever reason. It's simply more spread out because it's trying to take advantage of a mechanism we have to help in curation. It's not an inherent flaw in the API as it's intended - it's an inherent flaw in reasoning that it should be used like that.

Now, in this situation - where the issue is someone trying to trip the roomba by knocking over questions that are on the edge across the network - there's nothing that a mod really can do. It's no different from when we notice voting fraud, and need a CM to help (because it is).

That it's automated, and done over the API is actually secondary. I'm assuming that official (and unofficial) apps use the API - and using it to read and vote on posts is useful.

Writing some automated thing that tries to "clean up" the site on poorly thought out criteria like "it's close to being roombaed" is not, especially as people get affected.

Logically - it feels like the problem is less with the voting system - a normal human could use up their votes on one site in a day, but rather with someone going "ooh shiny! What happens when I pour nitroglycerin into my diesel engine" and using a poorly thought of "helpful" tool across many sites.

If we're going to put a break on downvotes - there's a few things we need to consider. A user who can downvote should know better - they'd need 125 reputation (though you could squeak by with 20 rep and the association bonus).

It might be useful to "borrow" the network wide question throttling mechanism - that you can only downvote X times in Y minutes, on a site you have less than 125 rep earned. Something reasonable like 3-4 downvotes an hour would slow down the casual bot and mildly annoy a human user.

At the end of the day though, someone with the reputation and the skills should know better than to do something like that.

  • From what I've seen, a simple "3-4 downvotes an hour" ratelimit would be entirely ineffective here, given that it'd be applied on a per-site basis.
    – Undo
    Apr 14, 2019 at 14:00
  • Oh true but I was spitballing the actual number and having the rate limit on sites with less than that rep earned might let you set stricter limits Apr 14, 2019 at 14:11
  • Point is, if you attack this with any kind of ratelimit it'd have to be so onerous that you'd drive real humans insane and bots wouldn't even care. Cron jobs are easy & cheap.
    – Undo
    Apr 14, 2019 at 14:15
  • Hence the second criteria. If you're involved enough to get reputation on the site the rate limit wouldn't apply. Apr 14, 2019 at 14:21
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    Even a super aggressive ratelimit, like 5dv per day, is a decent percentage of many sites' total question volume. Rate limits are a non-starter here, IMO. Better to adjust how Roomba behaves.
    – Undo
    Apr 14, 2019 at 14:26
  • Or adjust how the user behaves - chances are they will adjust to Roomba adjusting. I fundamentally think this is also a people problem and the rate limits are a secondary suggestion Apr 14, 2019 at 14:26

The problem I'm seeing here is that voting patterns like this can be harmful, but can also be very useful. Limiting voting to less than normal users get might help in some cases, but could also be harmful in other cases where the script is performing a legitimate action.

I do agree with what Kevin said: if a normal user would be punished for doing something, they should be punished equally if their script does it. But the problem is, the system usually isn't smart enough to know if a script is doing something bad or not. Automatic suspension is a bad idea; it's better to have other users check it manually.

So I propose to make the Community user raise automatic flags for suspicious behavior performed by a script. This might include consistently downvoting old questions to trigger roomba, leaving possibly harmful comments, etc. This would allow moderators to manually check for abuse, while at the same time not preventing users from doing things that look harmful at first, but are actually helpful to the site.

  • 13
    My first objection to this is that it doesn't scale. Automatic flags have to be manually processed by moderators, and we already have enough flags to handle. Investigating vote fraud is a difficult, manual operation. Which brings me to my second objection: this won't actually solve anything. Moderators can't see detailed voting information anyway, so we won't be able to do anything useful in response to the automatic flags. Apr 2, 2019 at 6:36
  • If it's only catching suspicious behavior performed by a script, then it fails to meet Shog's requirement: restrictions must be applicable to anyone voting via any normal mechanism - on-site, via an app, via the API, etc.
    – Catija
    Apr 2, 2019 at 22:04
  • Well, technically that wouldn't be a restriction so much as a trigger for punishment, @Catija. Although there's no point in raising flags for voting, since moderators can't actually review anything relevant in this scenario. Also, there's no "is from script" bit attached to votes, so realistically the only way this could be implemented would involve checking all votes anyway. At which point we're back to Pikachu's original dilemma: how do you differentiate between "harmful" patterns and "useful" patterns?
    – Shog9
    Apr 3, 2019 at 14:57

For me your question leaves an option open; is it a kind of abuse?

On smaller sites, not many users actually upvote questions, and as such a lot of questions remain stuck at zero. It would be easy to abuse this characteristic in order for content to be removed.

If we answer yes, the system should remove all the downvotes from the user who cast them unilaterally and roomba should undo the damage done. I would not restrict for some special case.

I'd suggest a tool/report for moderators, built on the same principle that we have for the detection of serial downvoting. For the undoing of the damage, I would leave that to the CM, a person who can actually see the votes, to see whether there is a pattern or not.

My proposal would make it possible for a moderator to tell if a user is abusing the system, similar to how revenge downvoting is able to show us on a user, but it would leave the burden to see if it was an abuse or not to the CM when a new user got caught by the detection.

For the detection part, I would leave it to your discretion for an actual threshold, but any number over a certain percentage should cast an alarm.

My idea is to punish user that abuse, but not restricting the whole community because of some(s), exactly like upvote.

  • 2
    So, the irritating part about investigating these is... We kinda want folks to vote a lot. That is... The system doesn't even work very well on sites where almost nobody votes. So "you're breaking the system by being the only person to actually use even a few of the votes available to you on a regular basis" is... A really, really sad thing to say. A site full of questions that nobody votes on is... already kinda failing; it's like yelling at someone for showing up at your party late and knocking over the house of cards you'd been building... alone... for hours...
    – Shog9
    Apr 3, 2019 at 1:57
  • @Shog9 That almost sounds like y'all need to revisit the criteria for keeping sites open.
    – Magisch
    Apr 3, 2019 at 7:00
  • @shog9 I see it the other way; its a private party, with somes good old friend that have fun and kept the house ok, but a know friend come late and drunk and make a mess in the house. Why? because he acted alone and didnt called (warn on meta of his plan) You do what? put the guy on warning and give him a bottle of water of course (and make it clean his mess too)
    – yagmoth555
    Apr 3, 2019 at 10:22
  • None of this is really an issue on private sites, @yagmoth555.
    – Shog9
    Apr 3, 2019 at 14:21
  • @Shog9 I told private by error in my analogy, as in your, the guy is alone. no, he isnt, as even on small community there is a nice core usually, but yes it's easy to break the balance with a bad user.
    – yagmoth555
    Apr 3, 2019 at 14:28
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    To the contrary, I think we need to find ways of encouraging people to vote more, @Magisch. And to vote on more posts.
    – Shog9
    Apr 3, 2019 at 14:29
  • @Shog9 oh, I totally agree on that, more voting is a must for a entire site to survive
    – yagmoth555
    Apr 3, 2019 at 14:34

I agree with Mad Scientist that a single downvote can effectively become a unilateral delete vote in many cases:

I've always been very uncomfortable with users using downvotes only for the purpose of triggering the automatic deletion. This mechanism drastically amplifies the power of users that couldn't delete or close questions at all under regular circumstances. A single downvote is as powerful as a diamond moderator or several 20k users voting to delete in these cases.

Also, they raise a very good point:

Late downvotes are also almost entirely invisible to other users (unlike downvotes on new questions), so other users can't counteract this.

As they suggested, it might be a good idea for the RemoveDeadQuestions check to only run if the question is less than a certain minimum age, to prevent very late downvotes from unilaterally deleting the question. However, given the current state of the deletion criterion (it doesn't run if the question is less than 30 days old, and many of the questions being downvoted by said bot are anyway eligible for automatic deletion under RemoveAbandonedQuestions once they turn 365 days old), I don't know what specific threshold between 30 and 365 days should be set as the arbitrary "ignore downvotes" deadline.

Additionally, their solution doesn't address the central problem: that in case no one votes on a question or consensus as to whether the question is useful and clear is evenly split, a certain user who on their own downvotes for any reason can effectively unilaterally decide the question's fate. This is especially amplified if the voting is very controversial, such as +50/-51. In my opinion, the fate of questions should generally be decided by consensus, not by majority vote.

For this reason, I propose the following changes to the Roomba system:

  • Keep the current RemoveDeadQuestions deletion criterion as is, except make it only work on questions with a score of -2, -3, or some other lower threshold. This will increase the chance that any questions automatically deleted under this criterion will have an overall consensus for deletion, and quell the "damage" being done by any sort of bot (if, say, the threshold is -3, it will already have a score of -2 before it can even be unilaterally pushed to deletion; effectively, this means that for a zero-score question, a consensus of three users is required rather than one user with a unilateral vote).

    • Also, to ensure completeness, modify RemoveAbandonedQuestions so that the minimum deletion threshold is one more than the above required score for RemoveDeadQuestions (e.g. if that's set to -3, set this to between 0 and -2, or 1 and -2 in case the owner's account is deleted).
  • Raise an automatic moderator flag (e.g. "dead question") in case the question meets the current deletion criteria for RemoveDeadQuestions. In such flags, clearly indicate the time of the last downvote. Moderators can decide if the question should be deleted, if it should be immune to deletion, or if the standard criterion of [proposed threshold, used -3 in the above example] should continue to apply (effectively skip it).

    • We can also potentially make this a community queue, and allow users with 10k+ or 20k+ rep to review potentially dead questions and vote to either delete them or immunize them.
  • Raise another automatic moderator flag if a certain user causes an excessively high number of posts to have a "dead question" flag raised. Clearly enumerate the number of posts for which such a flag was generated, as well as the number of [threshold + 1]-voted posts they downvoted and caused automatic deletion of.

The first bullet will help quell the problem of a single downvote becoming a unilateral delete vote in many cases, the second will ensure questions are being adequately curated per the spirit of the deletion criteria, and the third will ensure that there are no "bots" or users who tactically downvote posts just to trigger automatic deletion.



If it is not possible to block automatic voting, then:

  • Limit the number of votes per day on borderline questions to automatic deletion scripts (i.e., all criteria for deletion are met, except for one downvote). It could be a threshold of 5, 10 or 15 votes. Currently, we have the 10 "Q-votes" and 30 "QA-votes" rule, summing up 40 daily votes per user. This would be a third limit added to the algorithm (within the 40 votes, up to 'x' on borderline questions, "BQ-votes").


  • Run the RemoveAbandonedClosed script closer to 0 UTC time. Currently, it is running near at 3 UTC time. This means there is a 3 hour window which users can burn 40 downvotes (on questions and/or answers) on borderline questions to the mentioned script, and after such posts are deleted, votes are refunded meaning a single user can delete up to 80 questions in a single day with such approach (see here; it works).

  • Tweak the RemoveDeadQuestions to make it less aggressive. Add a parameter based on the user's activity:

    • user has not logged in the past 'n' days.

    This is mainly to prevent new questions being deleted while OP is there to respond to comments and make edits.

Recent experience 'using' the automatic deletion scripts

In the past 3.5 months (2019) I have used the automatic deletion scripts to manually nuke low quality questions with downvotes; but it went either ways, have upvoted, editd, answered and voted to reopen valid questions as well. I've done this by finding borderline questions in Stack Exchange Data Explorer.

In GIS SE, the number of Qs which were deleted, more than doubled in this period (I am sure I had significant participation on this; results here). Here are my findings after this experiment:

  • Most of the borderline questions to the automatic deletion scripts were read/reviewed by other users and failed to collect upvotes (positive score). When I cast a downvote I did not feel I was the only one deleting that question, but also all the people who reviewed and read it before me, and did not upvote as well.
  • RemoveDeadQuestions script: upon reviewing such type of questions I found a reasonable amount (more than 20%) of false positives (normal questions hanging there with zero score). I realized when reviewing the same group of questions, except that OP was also inactive (has not logged in) by 'n' days, that the number of false positives drop drastically. Basically, OP was not there to reply to comments, improve with edits, or responding to answers (query is here).
  • RemoveAbandonedClosed script: I have found most of them (both question and answers) were indeed of poor quality, either because the posts were originally organically poor (for example, link only answers) and/or because the guidelines have changed (for example, shopping list questions, opinion-based, etc.) (the respective query is here). One thing I noticed was that many of the questions which had answers were neither upvoted (zero score with no up or down votes) nor edited by those who answered it, while there were opportunities to improve the question.

I engaged studying the automatic deletion scripts mainly because of spending considerable time reading low quality (besides off-topic or outdated) posts while try searching content and curating the site.


This must be entirely prohibited.

I am shocked that this is even being discussed. I have had various plans for automated voting to help push some of my values for a long time, but have never implemented any of them because it seemed obvious to me that non-human voting would be an extraordinary rules violation and swiftly punished.

The automated voting we have on comments is already starting to obliterate some of the remaining shreds of humanity on this site. Expanding that to all content will harm the reputation of our communities and the legitimacy of our moderation practices even further.

If y'all decide that automated voting is permissible, you're going to immediately see several bots casting the maximum number of votes, using criteria that you might not agree with, if you can even tell what they are. Maybe we'll end up with some bots that just cast votes at random, if that's allowed. Or voting down posts whose character lengths evenly divide the author's user ID. Maybe we can have "guess what my bot's doing!" challenges on meta.

It sounds pretty dsytopian to me.

  • 2
    Shucks, you know this already but the reason there is a cap on votes is because someone wrote that script already during the private beta. This stuff's been going on forever, and it's a never-ending cat & mouse game. That's why I'm thinking about better rules here, something closer to what we have for targeted voting.
    – Shog9
    Apr 17, 2019 at 2:52
  • That's not a bad thought, and there are some reasonable ideas in this thread, but it seems so difficult to predict the various types of potential abuse, coupled with the challenge of moderating this kind of anonymous activity... it freaks me out, so I share Servy's instinct to try to ban it outright. If that isn't really practical (and maybe it's not) then I'm really not sure how to handle it. Very tough situation. *Disappears in a poof of smoke.*
    – user289396
    Apr 17, 2019 at 2:58
  • 3
    A nice thought, but... One might as well try banning sockpuppets...
    – Shog9
    Apr 17, 2019 at 3:10

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