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The following question might be a duplicate of the canonical question on serial voting. If so, feel free to close it. But I ask because it's not clear to me whether it's a duplicate question or not.

Sometimes I see a question or answer by a user which I like so much, I wander over to the user's page and scroll through their other questions / answers to see what else they've written. I click on the ones that look interesting and read them, and from time to time I upvote or (more rarely) downvote a question / answer which I find deserving. In practice, it's unusual for me to vote on more than 2-3 questions / answers from a single user in a session of doing this. Once I've visited a user's page in this way, it's unlikely that I'll ever return to their user page, and especially unlikely that I'll return to their page within the next few months. The intention of the whole business is not to give the user "extra rep", subverting the bounty system, nor to punish the user with spurious downvotes, but simply to expose myself to some of a good user's work on Stack Exchange.

Now, I'm pretty sure that this behavior is entirely borderline appropriate on any Stack Exchange site. That is, there's some line between the kind of behavior I've described and vote manipulation, and I'm pretty sure that what I've described is well on the acceptable side. I imagine the actual threshold for vote manipulation is well slightly above the level of voting I've described.

Question: Is there anything else to be said about the kind of behavior I've described in the context of avoiding vote manipulation?

I understand that the voting fraud detection system never automatically punishes a user beyond reversing inappropriate votes -- any punishment for voting fraud is manual and would presumably only come about if there were a repeated problem, with ample warning and clarification on what's appropriate. I also understand the value in not being too precise publicly about what counts as "appropriate" and what doesn't to avoid the scenario of somebody trying to game the system and fly just barely under the radar in a vote manipulation campaign.

So I'm perfectly happy with the answer to my question being "No, just use your best judgment and don't be stupid; if it ever becomes a problem we'll talk about it then". I just thought I'd ask in case there is more to be said.

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  • You kind of target a person there and that is usually a bad idea because you are biased and your actions are correlated (more so than if different persons would do that). I think that nothing really forbids you to answer open questions from one and the same user and voting on self-answered questions is also okay, but mass voting on questions of one single user is frowned upon. – Trilarion Aug 30 '20 at 22:16
  • @Trilarion Ah! I'm glad I asked then! So would you advise against scrolling through a single user's questions / posts altogether? Or would you advise that if I choose to do so, I should refrain from voting altogether during the process? – Tim Campion Aug 30 '20 at 22:18
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    Yes, I would say that scrolling through a user's history is okay, but voting should be restricted to when you "naturally" arrive at a question/answer. Anyway, this is a common issue and there should be another question about this already. I even recently saw one on meta.stackoverflow but cannot find it right now. – Trilarion Aug 30 '20 at 22:22
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    @Trilarion I'd be very interested to see any further discussion of this. For instance, are there other situations which should count as "unnaturally" arriving at a question / answer? To be honest, voting on 2-3 posts of a user in a context like I've described above still seems harmless to me (especially since I don't do any of it very often), but if there's some kind of accepted advice against even this level of such voting, I will happily try to change my behavior. – Tim Campion Aug 30 '20 at 22:29
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    @TimCampion I guess going through two or three posts is fine, but refrain from voting on more of those posts. At that point you are targeting the user, which goes against the downvote policy. – 10 Rep Aug 30 '20 at 23:24
  • Ah— does it make a difference if it’s upvotes versus downvotes? I can see how downvoting more than one of a user’s posts in such a context would be problematic. To clarify I rarely downvote in general and don’t think I ever actually have in the kind of context described above. – Tim Campion Aug 30 '20 at 23:42
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    As I think about, it’s been awhile since I’ve done anything like this, I do seem to recall in the past specifically refraining from casting more than 1-2 votes in such a context because it did feel like any more than that was an inappropriate kind of targeting. So I think I do agree after all that the “line” is not as far off as I suggested in my question. – Tim Campion Aug 30 '20 at 23:50
  • @TimCampion If you are downvoting a users posts by going through them, then it depends on your intent. As long as you aren't targeting them, you're fine. If you coincidentally downvote their posts while just wandering, it's fine, but try not to think "Hey this user is making bad posts", downvote. – 10 Rep Aug 30 '20 at 23:54
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    Absolutely agreed – Tim Campion Aug 30 '20 at 23:58
  • "does it make a difference if it’s upvotes versus downvotes?" No. The bias and correlation can be positive or negative, it's still the same. – Trilarion Aug 31 '20 at 10:40
  • Serial upvotes are worse than serial downvotes, both will be reversed, and both can get you suspended if the voting pattern is discovered. – Ramhound Aug 31 '20 at 11:19
  • The system would ban you for serial upvoting/downvoting only. For that you'd have to vote a user mindlessly. As you suggested in your paragraph, the behaviour is not a serial vote issue because you interact with the content of other users and vote them as well. If you study the answers well, and then upvote/downvote, the system would let you pass...the max number of votes you can do in a day is 30-40 i guess. – Fourier Pikachu Aug 31 '20 at 11:56
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    It's really annoying that "Related Questions" is still down. Anyway, I've been scrolling through the questions linked to the canonical serial-voting question, and I found this one which seems pretty close to my question here. – Tim Campion Aug 31 '20 at 19:30
  • @Rob Yeah, that seems pretty close. I'd like to think the discussion here was a bit more nuanced, and I'm glad to have had it, but I'm happy to mark it as a duplicate. – Tim Campion Sep 4 '20 at 18:50
  • @Rob Thanks for the comment btw. I don't think I ever got a notification about the suggested duplicate, so I probably would never have noticed it if you hadn't pinged me. – Tim Campion Sep 4 '20 at 18:53
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The biggest problem is potential bias. You see a great or awful question or answer and you visit the profile, maybe that's good or bad, then you go through their posts with the information you've gathered thus far fresh in your mind - ask yourself: "Are you voting unbiased on each post, based on the quality of each post, or are you swayed by information you've gained before each post you subsequently look at?".

IF you can approach their profile, and other posts of theirs you find by other means, with a vote and/or comment based on the post itself (the same as if it was written by anyone else) then your actions are independent.

Remember: You are not voting for/against them, you are assisting other users to find the best questions and answers possible. Biased voting, or targeted voting, may seem to accomplish one goal in the short term - but it depreciates the value of the sites for other users.

Fortunately the votes tend to even out as more votes come in, and hopefully the voting fraud detection catches the remainder. It's not a perfect system. One would always want to read and make their own decisions regardless of the votes and/or comments as you are the one who accepts responsibility for how you use the information.

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Let me just try to summarize some of the themes that have been discussed here. My main point is that multiple viewpoints have been expressed, not all in agreement -- so I'll make this CW and encourage folks to add more.

  • First, there are really two questions at play here:

    1. In an ideal world, how would we define the difference between appropriate voting and serial voting?

    2. How does the vote fraud detection algorithm define the difference between appropriate voting and serial voting?

Regarding (1), there doesn't seem to be unanimity. Everybody seems to agree that the way one lands on a post should factor into how or whether one votes on it. In particular, there seems to be agreement that if you find a post via a user's page, a potential element of bias has been introduced which is relevant here. That's because

Votes should be for posts, not for users.

Here are some of the views which I've seen expressed:

  • Some would say that because of the potential for bias, you should not vote at all in such situations.

  • Others would say it's appropriate to vote if you can honestly disentangle the bias from your voting considerations.

  • Others (such as I when I wrote the question) might assume that it's easy to maintain one's usual voting habits in such a context, with the effect of bias being minimal. I think I've come around to the view that this view is naive -- if it's possible to correct for this bias, it's surely not an easy thing to do.

  • Others (such as I when I wrote the question) suggest that the degree of voting in such situations is relevant. Maybe it's okay to vote on 1-2 posts linked from a user's page, but much more than that is not okay. This might be viewed as a heuristic to minimize bias -- if you know it's difficult or impossible to truly correct for your bias, you can at least set yourself a limit, thereby forcing yourself to only vote on the most extraordinary posts.

Regarding (2), rather less has been said explicitly, but I gather that the degree of voting is highly relevant to the fraud algorithm. And of course, the algorithm can't really make nuanced judgments about your handling of bias. In practice, one doesn't want to waste time voting on posts in such a way that the votes will just get revoked, and one doesn't want to make a habit of tripping the fraud algorithm as it may be bad for oneself or others in the long run.

So perhaps the practical advice would be a combination: try to avoid voting on posts you've found through a user's page, especially if you're looking at multiple posts from the same user's page. If you really can't help yourself, then at least severely limit the degree of voting in such a situation (maybe keep it to at most 1-2 votes ever for posts found through a given user's page? I don't want to be too definitive about numbers, but one's threshold should be quite low).

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