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Could users who commit serial voting (probably without awareness that this is prohibited) be informed after they make that mistake?

Many years ago when I was new to mathoverflow, and saw a great answer on the site, I would often be tempted to look at other answers by the same user, which were often also excellent, and upvote them if I appreciated them as well. I was not aware this was prohibited. There is now a good explanation of this on the tour, but casual users who do not take the tour can still make the mistake, and I understand they are not informed. When I raised this question in a comment Oleg Valter suggested that I post it here.

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  • Why do you want this notification? What benefit is there for the system of notifying users of such reversals? How do you think users are going to react to such notifications (consider both users who are doing everything right and just happened to trip the automatic detection, and the far more common case of users intentionally acting inappropriately, who already know they are doing something they shouldn't be doing)?
    – Makyen
    Jul 25 at 2:13
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    The main benefit is for the over-enthusiastic innocent users to avoid wasting their time. Educating users about proper use of the site is a goal of the system, and this notification would serve that purpose. For those intentionally acting inappropriately, informing them their actions have been noticed may deter them. Why do traffic police place speed cameras on the side of the road that inform drivers of their speed (which they already know)? Jul 25 at 2:30
  • How did you find out that your votes have been reversed? Jul 25 at 7:11
  • I was not informed that my votes (years ago) were reversed, and I have no knowledge if they in fact were reversed. All I have seen is that recently a few votes that others cast for my answers were reversed, I have no idea who these people were, but my assumption is that they did it innocently. Jul 25 at 16:30

2 Answers 2

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It might be a good idea to inform new users that serial voting is not allowed before they trip the voting reversal algorithm.

For example, consider the following scenario:

  1. A user with < n votes casts a vote on a certain post.

  2. They follow that by casting another vote (of the same type) on another post by the same author in < t time unit.

  3. They repeat the same process x times (where x >= 2, TBD). The value of x can also be dependent on the value of t.

  4. They get a toast notification saying something along the lines of

    Please avoid going through a specific user's posts and voting on them because that's considered [serial voting](link here) and might be reversed by the system. It could also lead to [account suspension](link here) if there's proof of abuse. Feel free to ignore this message if you think you received it by mistake.

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    I like this idea- it completely solves the problem I raised, without divulging too much information to bad actors. So I believe it is superior to my initial suggestion. Jul 25 at 16:35
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No, let's not have automatic notification that your votes have been reversed.

Let's keep the status quo with respect to notifying users about when their votes are reversed for serial voting. In other words, that they:

  1. Are not notified for automatic reversals which don't affect their own reputation (i.e. they do see an adjustment in their reputation of the -1 for each reversed downvote on answers), and
  2. May be notified by a moderator with a moderator message if the situation came to the attention of moderators and the moderator deems it appropriate to take action to inform/remind the user about what's inappropriate when voting.

Moderators and staff are already involved in any manual reversal and can choose to notify, or not

Any manual reversal is, well, manual. Such manual reversals are handled by moderators and staff, who can choose to send a moderator message to the user(s) whose votes are reversed, or not, depending on the circumstances.

So, really, this question/feature-request is only about automatic reversals, as manual vote reversals are already covered, with notifications at the discretion of moderators. Note: I'd support improving the tools for moderators in this area, so that it's less work for them to send such messages, but I wouldn't want a notification that is always automatically sent.

Users who are voting conscientiously only relatively rarely have votes auto-reversed.

If such reversals were not rare, then we'd have a much larger problem and the automatic reversal mechanism wouldn't really be doing what it's designed to do. So, I'm going to take it as a given that reversals of votes that really were appropriate are actually quite rare, at least as a percentage of all those which are reversed automatically. There might be a significant number, but it's a small percentage of the total automatic reversals.

While there are times when people who have voted conscientiously do have their votes reversed, due to being detected as serial voting, that's really not something they need to know about. As long as they are giving votes primarily after actually evaluating a post and not targeting a specific user, then it's relatively rare for them to have their votes reversed due to serial voting. Overall, it's better to just let the votes be reversed. If the user happens to come across that post again in their normal use of the site, then they can re-vote.

Informing users that their votes were automatically reversed has negative consequences for the system.

Giving feedback to users that their votes have been reversed has, from the system's point of view, mostly negative results:

  1. People, mostly bad actors, more easily learn what does and does not trigger automatic voting reversal. This allows them to more easily learn how to avoid automatic detection. We really don't want that, because there's just not enough moderator or staff time to manually handle the bulk of what is currently handled automatically. We already spend an inordinate amount of time tracking down cases where people have learned enough about how the system works to avoid much of the automatic detection mechanisms.
  2. Those people notified will be much more likely to try to re-apply the reversed votes. From a system point of view, we don't want people doing that. A very large portion of those who have their votes reversed, particularly when reversal is done as an automated process, will feel that their votes shouldn't have been reversed. Mostly they will either feel that they didn't do anything wrong and that the automated process was there to catch someone else, or they will already know that what they did wasn't appropriate, but they will still want those votes applied. So, the users will try to re-apply the votes. In many cases they will continue to do so until successful. This will leave us with many more inappropriate votes active in the system.
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    you made some useful points that I was unaware of, and you apparently have experience from the moderator side, which I do not. However, the tone of your answer seems angry at me for even making the suggestion. While I agree my suggestion has drawbacks, it led to the answer by 41686d6564 which seems much better. Jul 25 at 16:49
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    The only time I had "serial" votes reversed was when the Late Answer review queue presented me with a string of answers from a new user. They were not good, but apparently I behaved badly by reviewing them "serially"... So it goes.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 25 at 17:38

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