I welcome any details that can be shared, but I understand if there are specifics that cannot be. I am primarily interested in whether the process exists, rather than what that process is.
What's been happening:
In the last few months, and especially the last week or so it seems, there is a particular user that has been blatantly abusive of the Stack Overflow site. They post questions tagged with the C# tag that seem superficially reasonable, but which are at best overly vague and poorly researched, and at worst are really just a "word salad" of click-bait programming words like "object", "boxed", "heap", "literal", "reference", and more.
Not only do the questions not contribute, the user then takes advantage of their lack of clarity, which always induces other users to post comments asking for clarification, to drag those other users into extended, fruitless discussions in the comments under the post.
If someone should happen to answer the question, this user then takes that opportunity to start the same sort of extended, fruitless discussion in the comments under that post.
In my view, this seems like straight-up trolling. I will admit, it's more sophisticated than a lot of trolling is (maybe even aided by a linguistic AI to compose these questions…that would explain all the buzz-words that when put together don't really mean much). But it's trolling, nonetheless.
Initially, it sufficed to just downvote and close the questions. But this quickly escalated to the user creating multiple user accounts, posting the same question using different accounts (and probably sock-puppet-voting on them too). When the community got wise to that tactic, they got abusive. They posted abusive comments, and even edited the questions themselves to include abusive language, including death threats.
Every time they create a new user and others post comments calling them on it, they lie and pretend that they are a brand new user, never having visited the site before. This lie doesn't last long though, because they soon after devolve into insulting the community members who are voting, flagging, and commenting on the posts, revealing themselves to be the same.
Suffice to say, such a user has no place on the Stack Exchange network at all.
What I know has been done about it:
The community has done a good job keeping up with the posts. They now get closed and deleted soon after posted, often within minutes. Moderators are apparently on top of things too; while I don't get any specific feedback on the matter, my flags are marked "Helpful" and the accounts created by the user have been suspended, and eventually deleted (of course, I don't know if the latter happens by the user themselves or by moderation staff).
But is it enough, and what else can the site do about it?
It would not surprise me at all if Stack Exchange had a mechanism for banning users by IP address. But as we all know, it's not hard to get around such bans. Use of a VPN or Tor can easily bypass a ban like that, unless Stack Exchange is willing to ban whole VPN services and Tor exit nodes.
If I recall correctly, creation of a user account requires that the user provide an email address. But of course, there are plenty of ways to get throw-away email addresses.
Because the Internet is so accommodating of anonymity, and because of the relatively open policies for Stack Exchange (i.e. nothing that requires any sort of reliable proof of identification…to be clear, I'm not proposing that this openness change), it may be impossible to verify a user's true identity in any reliable way. So in theory, a persistent user could just keep bypassing ban after ban after ban, continuing to harass the community.
From my point of view, not knowing the behind-the-scenes capabilities of Stack Exchange and its staff, it seems to me there are only two strategies we can really take here:
- Give up. Let the user post. Let other users post answers and then suffer the endless comment discussions. Hope that the more-active users will all eventually get wise, and that the less active-users won't have to interact often enough with the user for it to be a real problem for them.
- Keep moderating the posts and the user into oblivion. This is very time- and resource-intensive, but it keeps that particular mess off the site. For now, the user seems perfectly happy to just keep trolling, but I'm sure that as with every troll in the history of the Internet, they will eventually get bored of whatever thrill they were getting and go away.
I don't find either of these strategies particularly gratifying, but I do admit that they seem like possibly the only reliable approach.
Other than the above, is there actually anything else the Stack Exchange sites can do about users like this? Are there in fact other actions being taken behind the scenes that can more reliably put an end to the abuse of the site by users like this?