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Recently on Meta SO, someone reported an animated ad. Someone using the name Will Westendorf responded, with the claim that they are an official Stack Exchange employee. However, their profile does not contain any mention of their status as an official employee. They don't have any reputation beyond a token amount from the Sports stack. And they haven't yet responded to any requests from users to add this information to their profile. The only thing that matches their statement is that they have a large amount of question on the Meta SO related to Stack Overflow ads, which to be fair seems like it can't be faked.

From a normal user perspective, there feels something fishy about this whole situation. Could someone from the Stack Exchange team clarify whether this person is who they claim to be and whether they are actually speaking for the team? And if they are an official employee, could you please ask them to state so on their profile?

marked as duplicate by Glorfindel discussion Aug 1 at 5:11

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  • Whether they mention it on their profile or not, what difference does it make for others? Their answer appear to be pretty generic and could cause no harm even if said by a non-employee. – Nimesh Neema Jul 16 at 8:47
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    @NimeshNeema It is against the rules to impersonate a Stack Exchange employee, so if they are not an employee, that's cause for concern. – Nzall Jul 16 at 8:49
  • Have you considered asking them? – Nimesh Neema Jul 16 at 8:52
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    @NimeshNeema Generally speaking, if you want to verify if someone is who they claim they are, you don't ask the person you're trying to verify themselves, unless they have something from a third party vouching for them they can use to verify themselves (like in this case the API). – Nzall Jul 16 at 8:55
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    Note that Will can post on Stack Overflow Meta with a reputation of 1 when 5 is required for mere mortals. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Jul 16 at 12:01
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    @Nzall I've edited the title, there's no need to call Will out specifically. – Tim Post Jul 16 at 14:52
  • @TimPost thanks for the edit. I didn't consider making the question more general when I originally asked it, and I didn't think it would be that big of a deal to mention Will by name. – Nzall Jul 17 at 9:41
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The best change to be made for this is, give some visual indication that the post was written by an employee at the time the post was created. We've also had issues with things CMs wrote years ago on some of the network meta sites not really surfacing because the diamonds have long since gone.

There are some issues surrounding this that we're discussing internally, namely that it can kinda impact how employees use the sites recreationally, which quite a few of us do, but we've got to kinda force ourselves to work this out with 300+ people now working here that might just occasionally need to be public-facing. Giving everyone diamonds isn't the solution.

Someone pretending to be an employee is a pretty outlandish case, but it does illustrate that we need something more defined.

Finally, please be kind to people's names in search engines by not calling them out by name. You're welcome to contact us with any doubts, or just use the API as Bhargav mentioned.

  • If employees want to use the site without identifying themselves as such, can they not just use a separate account? – Stop Harming Monica Jul 17 at 10:20
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    Maybe something like the "mod hat" ("Mod hat firmly off, I think...)- while we don't like signatures, if something's official, or in the position of, indicate it in the post. I've often done the reverse, and every now and then, worried about something I post as a mod here being seen as official. For a question tags could help indicate something is official but Is there anything else 'sticky' to an answer that can indicate a post has the weight of a employee acting in their position ? – Journeyman Geek Jul 18 at 7:43
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    @JourneymanGeek What we're sort of leaning toward is a box we can click that says "This is an official response forever and I realize I'm speaking for the company here" which would put a ribbon or something next to the answer. This would be open to anyone that has an employee account type and would be "sticky", so in 100 years my official responses are still official long after I'm off the payroll. But nothing is yet definite and we have to see when the community product team might be able to do it. That this keeps happening gives it additional urgency, though, for sure. – Tim Post Jul 18 at 14:29
  • Or a post notice style thing ... ;p – Journeyman Geek Jul 18 at 14:37
  • @JourneymanGeek possibly. I know the community product team is looking at post notices to make them consistent and easier to understand (some are up top, some on the bottom, some way too wordy) so it might be a good opportunity to get this in there then, as a use case. Once I see it scheduled on their Trello board I'll post back. – Tim Post Jul 18 at 14:41
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    What about users with the is_employee value having a "company response" check below the answer box (alike the "community wiki" for all users) that then shows a visual indicator? – fedorqui says Reinstate Monica Jul 19 at 6:40
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There is no need for any employee to verify this, you can look it up in the API yourself. For Will - this is the request to be made and you can see that "is_employee" is set to true.

That said, there has been no cases of non-employees masquerading as employees, because some users already have userscripts that do this look up and catch them.

Also, there is really no use of some one claiming to be an employee while they aren't. Not to mention that there certainly is a level of trust which we have over at Meta Stack Overflow towards one another, and one wouldn't want to break it. If someone were to do it, flag it for mod attention.

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    I see. Still, I think something like that should be clearly marked on their profile and not hidden in an API somewhere. – Nzall Jul 16 at 8:53
  • This is something that's come up a few times, especially here. That said, not all employees even get diamonds these days, and its as needed. – Journeyman Geek Jul 16 at 9:18
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    @JourneymanGeek, the issue (which I've heard) is that the diamond brings along access to several restrictive fields which generally shouldn't be given to every employee. – Bhargav Rao Jul 16 at 9:28
  • @BhargavRao can you link to one of these userscripts? – MEE - Reinstate Monica Jul 16 at 9:44
  • @MEEwasthemissingbracket SOX stackapps.com/questions/6091/stack-overflow-extras-sox has an option. – Bhargav Rao Jul 16 at 9:58
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    @BhargavRao There's surely a middle ground to be located between "a diamond with all mod powers" and "literally nothing" – Lightness Races with Monica Jul 16 at 10:25
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    Worth to mention, people can hack SE and mark themselves as employees in the API. It happened before, so it can happen again. (So I don't trust the API, only a known SE employee who will confirm "yes this person is also working here".) – Shadow The Princess Wizard Jul 16 at 10:26
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    There isn't, at the moment. @LightnessRacesinOrbit. – Bhargav Rao Jul 16 at 11:51
  • @BhargavRao I clearly meant a hypothetical one. You seemed to be suggesting that such a hypothetical feature is impossible because the devs would have to give all employees full moderator rights, which is obviously nonsense! – Lightness Races with Monica Jul 16 at 11:58
  • I was talking of the present, @LightnessRacesinOrbit. I never mentioned about any hypothetical feature in the future. – Bhargav Rao Jul 16 at 12:00
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    @BhargavRao We are all aware of the current state of things. You were replying to a comment about how it can be improved. Having to hand-craft an API query to find out whether a post is from a genuine SE employee or not is utterly ridiculous. – Lightness Races with Monica Jul 16 at 12:32
  • I was replying to Journeyman's comment about "these days" where not employees are getting diamonds, @Lightness. I'm happy to see improvements, but at the present it isn't there. – Bhargav Rao Jul 16 at 13:49
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    @ShaWiz if that happened, I imagine that there's a meta post somewhere describing the event. Care to post a link? Thanks. – CalvT Jul 16 at 14:20
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    @CalvT blog post, no meta post. They claim the usual "it can't happen again", I didn't even bother to read the details; Like I said... if it happened once, it will happen again, it's just matter of time. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Jul 16 at 14:46
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    There may not be any cases of people impersonating SE employees, but there are certainly cases of people being mistaken for SE employees (I've seen it happen to Monica Cellio on a regular basis, for example). – Mark Jul 16 at 20:04

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