The association bonus grants otherwise no-rep users a lot of privileges. That's good if we trust them (great even, since it allows us to flag spam across the network), but could be terrible if we don't.
Similar requests have been suggested before (Shouldn't the association bonus acquired via serial upvoting be reversed?, Don't let the association bonus be given away as bounties), but have been mostly dismissed as either being extremely rare or an edge case or whatnot. However, the landscape of both the world and SE has changed considerably since then. We have:
A plan to implement 1 rep upvoting on some sites, making the association bonus easier to get (so users can upvote on all sites, and more).
A strike lasting two months behind us (depending who you ask), during which a surprising number of people behaved themselves, but not everyone. It would be naïve to think that none of that involved voting shenanigans. Plus, it didn't help the following issue:
AI answers which camouflage themselves well enough that they may be up for a while before being handled, while accumulating votes from users who don't know better in the meantime. This can be exacerbated by some other factors (HNQ and a high enough rep cap of 200) that can make getting the association bonus much quicker and easier.
Traditional plagiarism can also be exploited like that, but it requires more skills and is more rare. I do not think that dissociation (SO only) removes the association bonus.
This is not purely a hypothetical. I've seen a brand new user (no previous posts!) with a ChatGPT copy/paste answer that made it to HNQ, earning them the association bonus. The post was removed by a moderator (let's be honest, it was actually me), but the user is still at 101 reputation on all their sites. This is terrifying from a moderation perspective, because so much damage can be done. Unless I actively stalk this user (not practical or desirable, really), they can pop onto any site (even ones they don't belong to yet) and cause any amount of trouble.
The most important upgrade
There needs to be some method to revoke the association bonus under certain conditions, preferably automatically. I think it's fine to allow users who lose a little reputation (e.g., downvotes, self-deleting wrong answers with upvotes) to keep the bonus, but if a moderator removes nearly all of the user's upvoted posts, then they really shouldn't get to keep the association bonus. I'm not sure the exact best way to do this, but as a quick and dirty idea: if none of your accounts have more than 200 reputation (association bonus + 100 points, excluding deductions from offered bounties), you shouldn't get to keep the association bonus. That's a somewhat arbitrary pick
I keep flip flopping in the range of 200-250 seeing no real benefits to any specific number.
Some other nice-to-haves
- When a user first reaches 200 reputation, award the association bonus after the serial voting reversal script runs. This is an inconvenience for legitimate users, but not a big one. Nobody needs reputation that badly. (However, if the bonus is automatically revoked, this wouldn't be all that necessary.)
- The bounty-delete-bounty loophole should be closed somehow. Arguably, the most elegant solution is that it shouldn't be possible to go below 100 with bounties if you've earned the association bonus. Alternatively, you should not be able to regain bountied reputation by deleting and recreating your account.
Isn't the time to address this now?