Meta Stack OverflowShouldn't anonymous serial downvoters be banned from SO?
[+54] [9] sbi
[2011-10-06 09:27:40]
[ discussion serial-voting ]

There was a discussion about unexplained anonymous serial down-voting in the C++ room this morning (starting here [1]). The user affected by it explained it to me thus [2]:

It started on a particular Q, Wherein, I had a rub-in with a particular user over one of my answer. Immediately,within seconds, there was surge of downvotes(>10) on me,I queried this user in the comments about it & this user agreed it was him who downvoted and bragged it was within his rights to do so & that SO policy allows him, We had an heated argument over it, following which the user deleted his comment.
On that ocassion the Fraud detection algorithm detected and reversed the downvotes.
After the incident I have been on the receiving end of regular serial revenge downvoting but that user seems to have wisened up & learned to game the system, The downvotes happen but just enough to not trigger the Fraud detection.
Few noticable ones:

Oct 6: 3 Downvotes
Oct 5: 3 Downvotes
Sep 21: 5 Downvotes
Sep 22: 2 Downvotes
All anonymous, with no real reasoning.

Every time I see the downvotes happening, I can see this user is active and on almost all occassions I could match his vote casting pattern with the downvoting against me.
Even yesterday,He posted a wrong answer & I just pointed the incorrectness(without even downvoting) & the response is a quick 3 downvotes(which you upvoted) where in there was no reason for any.
I have flagged for moderator attention & the mod said there is nothing they can do to write to I haven't written them there yet, but this whole situation is rather disturbing. So that's the story, without the who part in it, but i sure know who the Ass hole is.

Note that I know that these are only mosquito bites to Als' rep [3], but I still believe that such users are severely damaging this site's usefulness, not to mention its reputation. (This affects answers to questions where one down-vote makes a considerable change to which answer is up-voted most and thus seen as the right one by others searching for solutions to the same problem.)

This user knows exactly what he is doing. He is trying hard to fly under the vote fraud script's radar and thus keeps it always along the edge of "but I consider those wrong!". (However, the half a dozen questions and answers I have checked which were last affected by this are all factually right and at the very least deserve no down-vote; some deserve up-votes instead.) He takes out is incertitude on others, repeatedly, and Als might not even be his only victim.

IMO such users should be banned for a while, and for all eternity if the repeat the offense after the ban is lifted.

(64) and what about serial upvoters, those dirty bastards? - shabunc
(3) @shabunc: This, too, abuses the system and damages its usefulness. But, first, it's not so harsh to honest users as revenge downvoting is and, second, since honest user aren't directly hurt by it, they rarely note it and thus cannot flag for it. I'm all for SO detecting this, though. - sbi
(1) I haven't downvoted, honestly ) - shabunc
(2) They just don't like cereal. - bobobobo
Updated the Q with yet another instance of highly suspect anonymous downvote. - Alok Save
I am so thankful that this isn't Reddit, where a flurry of down-votes makes your hard-work disappear. - Adel
I had a crush on one SO lady and gave her a cereal-upvote session. So all my CTS-ridden mouse-clicks were for naught :`( - Adel
@Adel: Interestingly, the downvotes to this question do come in flurries, and all anonymously. Also, six answer more or less agreeing to my idea and ten downvotes without any arguments given really makes me wonder which kind of users would not want serial anonymous downvoters be banned, but do not dare to say why they think so. - sbi
(6) @sbi - I downvoted for several reasons. The primary one is I sometimes vote a lot of questions for a user down, not because I dislike them but because they caught my notice with something particularly terrible. One of the first things I do on an awful question is check the user's history. I think we need to encourage downvoting terrible askers, so they get banned ASAP. - JNK
@JNK: You make a good point there. Let me change the question to "anonymous serial downvoting". If you downvote a bunch of bad stuff of some user with proper explanations, then that's fine with me. - sbi
@sbi - I don't always comment when I do that, but I guess I should :) - JNK
@JNK: Yes, you should. How can I improve my question or answer, when those considering it poor do not tell me what's wrong with it? - sbi
(1) @sbi - typically I won't comment only if people have already put a comment on it about WHY it's a bad question. I add DV to these questions to help trip the "terrible asker" heuristic sooner. - JNK
@JNK: OH, I fully approve of that. If there already is a comment for why some question/answer is bad which I agree with, I upvote that comment and downvote the question/answer. That's fine with me. - sbi
(1) One user cannot cast 10 downvotes. Your question was probably rubbish. Grow up. - Lightness Races in Orbit
@TomalakGeret'kal: I fail to understand your comment,One user cannot cast 10 downvotes. The context of the Q is serial downvoters and if you read the Q it talks about serial downvoters revenge downvoting anonymously. - Alok Save
(11) @Tomalak: Your comment is so rude, offensive, and ignorant, that for a while I considered flagging it as such. What is it, really, that makes you write such dumb comments? Do you strive to be rude, even at the cost of seeming ignorant? Or are you really that ignorant, and can't help but put your comments into a rude form? If you cannot be bothered to even read the question, let alone to gather the facts necessary to understand its reason, why not just keep your mouth shut? And if you can't, at least ask, rather then attempt to condemn what you can't grasp. This makes you look like a fool. - sbi
(2) @Als: You need to let it go. Also, there really is nothing a mod can do about this. If you think you've spied the culprit, then let us know. We can at least see that they have downvoted at the same time you have received a downvote. But that's the extent of what we can do. And, for the amount of rep we're talking about, it is pointless to try and do anything more. Let petty assholes be petty. Honestly, in the end, it doesn't really matter.. - Won't
@Won't: Your statement "there really is nothing a mod can do about this" seems to contradict what Tim had said. Als said the guy who did it admitted to doing so. And contrary to you I believe that it does matter when petty assholes sour the user experience of those users who try to help others. In the long run, SO's success will be measured by the number of users satisfied with it. What happens to Als is not satisfying at all. - sbi
@Won'tಠ_ಠ:I already shared all the relevant info whenever I could(or was asked for).There is no consensus amongst Mods on whether they can help this situation or not.2 Mods claimed they cant,while Tim & Jeff answered below they can?.*Rep* was never a criteria,Sbi mentioned it already,Fairness & principles is.*n* no of downvotes undermines serious efforts to contribute just because some jerk is revenge downvoting.None gets paid to contribute,so least one can expect is appreciation(in form of upvotes)or atleast a fair treatment,later denied I don't see why should one even feel like contributing. - Alok Save
(1) @Won'tಠ_ಠ: The forget A-Holes will be A-Holes policy you suggest,should entail We just do away with the Fraud detection mechanism and let the A-Holes take over. - Alok Save
(5) @sbi: Let me be clear about this. There is almost nothing a mod can do about petty revenge voting. We can only see when a vote is cast, not who it is cast against. We can't backtrace a downvote, so unless you tell us who you think it is we are powerless. If you do tell us, we can only check downvotes on both accounts to see if they roughly match up. At that point, we kind of know who it is and usually will give them a warning. Their confession is the only way we can know for sure, and that is rarely given. So we rarely do anything as drastic as suspension for revengevoting. - Won't
(8) @Als: I will no sooner act without proof than is responsible (no mod would), no matter how much the victim cries. Your hyperbolic response does not change the facts about the internet: Yea, verily, there shall be trolls, and feeding yon trolls with thine tears of the hurt of the butt shall maketh them stronger. Believe me when I say this you do not know revenge downvoting until you have been a mod. Hell, I had a guy recently downvote me right out in the open because I pissed him off, and I did nothing. It was the best thing to do at the moment. - Won't
@Won'tಠ_ಠ:I already provided all relevant info.Updating again,For your reference.Yes,t‌​his user openly admitted on doing it here.If you could check the history of deleted comments you can see it.Bearing with an A-hole seemed to be your perspective,Mine is not.I try to be a good community member,few regulars on the C++ tag would vouch for it,And I just expect fairness in return,And I don't really think I'm asking for too much. - Alok Save
(3) @Als: From what I see in all the comments of that thread (deleted and undeleted), you have no claim. First off, you said "I pity the immaturity" in response to one of his comments (he was not unreasonable before this). Rudeness isn't acceptable here, btw. He admits to downvoting, yes, but he admits to downvoting answers which he believes are misinformation, and references the faq. In other words, your claim that he admitted to revenge downvoting is false. - Won't
@Won'tಠ_ಠ:Its perspective based,If it was appropriate why the fraud detection system reverted those? Are you not just selectively quoting the comments here? - Alok Save
(2) @Als: In addition, his responses to your comments are always respectful. You seem to assume the worst of him at every turn, calling him unethical in the end. Realize that one of the pitfalls of communicating via writing is that you can misinterpret the tone of others. It is always better to assume the best of other's intentions unless proven otherwise. I see absolutely no evidence of bad faith on Foo's part. - Won't
@Als: Because it is an algorithm and is not perfect. - Won't
@Won't: As I have already written, the answers I have seen that were downvoted very clearly did not deserve to be downvoted. And at least for some of those, nobody who knows a bit of C++ could in their right mind assume they were downvoted for an objective reason. - sbi
@Won'tಠ_ಠ:What do you call a person,who starts downvoting you serially while you are in midst of an argument over an answer(for whatever reasons)?Is UnEthical not the word? Besides,As you claim you cannot backtrace a downvote,So you just go by the users words on downvoting for misinformation?You selectively, choose to ignore my comment there which If I remember correctly indicated that the user is using FAQ as an medium for his unthical actions?The Q states another instance of revenge downvoting after an comment on the same users wrong answer,You chose to ignore even that? - Alok Save
@Won'tಠ_ಠ:I was asked to give a suspect,I told of One Whom I think is.It is upto Mods(or whoever the Authority)to confirm that.If that user is not the one, then there is someone else(who needs to be found),If not how do you justify the regular downvotes(uncalled for & unjustified)?Are we just trying to ignore this and put it under the wraps? - Alok Save
(2) @Als: That someone is already found. You were told to mail the team. If I was you, however, I'd wait for what Tim comes up with. - sbi
(4) Thank you for the exemplary efforts you put in for helping me get justice, As this thread shows It was not easy and yet you stayed there right till the end, till justice was served.I really appreciate your unbiased,unselfish and judicious efforts.Thanks good old grumpy man,My respect for you has grown many folds :) - Alok Save
"Justice". This meta question is a perfect example of everything that's wrong with Stack Overflow. You guys are obviously here for the wrong reasons. - Lightness Races in Orbit
@Tomalak: You mean because we are not uninformedly insulting other users as you do? - sbi
without even reading this question, I came to the conclusion - hell yeah ! - Time
[+53] [2011-10-06 10:16:08] Tim Post

We sometimes give a warning the first time, depending on how outwardly hostile their current (and past) behavior might be. In quite a few cases, no actual malice was intended, and I'll explain.

There are cases where someone happens across an answer that is just really questionable. The person then goes to the author's history and looks at other answers, while voting down things that they feel are also wrong. This is not what people should be doing, but in many cases our 'first offenders' are actually trying to be helpful by adding their vote so the best information comes to the top. They aren't going on a revenge pattern, and the votes really aren't about the person, they're really about the content.

The problem is, the evidence this leaves (as far as a user's view goes) is identical to what you'd see if someone was just going off on a temper tantrum. This is an exception that is rather difficult to handle automatically, so we (moderators) are here to apply some human intelligence and take the appropriate action.

We will suspend anyone that goes on an outwardly hostile rampage for at least a week, perhaps longer, depending on their history. We're quite good at figuring out the difference, so alert us to it as soon as you see it by flagging. We absolutely can, should and will remove disruptive individuals from the community for a period of time.

The point being, we really need to look at it. We can't have the system dishing out harsh suspensions to new(er) users that thought they were doing what we want them to do.

I'm all for moderators looking at it, but in this case Als claims the mods said they can't do anything about it. That was my experience, too, when this happened to me: A mod just said either the algorithm would pick it up (it did), or he can't do anything about it. And that's what I'm after: This shouldn't need the intervention of an SO god/programmer, mods should be enough. - sbi
(2) @sbi In most cases, we can do something, depending on the pattern. I can't go into any kind of detail regarding the mechanics of investigating such a report, but I can say that we catch quite a few individuals 'red handed'. Also, remember, almost every single thing on a Stack Exchange site has a history. I realize how annoying it can be when we don't manage to nail it down, though. - Tim Post
(1) As @sbi, already indicated I did Flag. Here is the reply from a Mod, when I flagged an answer which was a part of serial downvoting, The flagged message had all the relevant information(with the suspected user pointed out as well). I am not saying the Mod action was appropriate or not, for I don't what Mods can do in such a case, but Yes I was left a little disappointed. - Alok Save
The potential abuse is much higher than the potential gain of the scenario you give. Therefore, I feel that not supporting it is not a bad thing. I also question whether or not it's a case that's actually good, at all. - DeadMG
@TimPost: It has been a little over 6 hours since this Q came up, and has generated a lot of interest since lot of users have been regularly hit by this same problem. Me being the victim user in this case, Can you please tell me about the course of action being taken by the Mod community over this? Is there any update on the root cause of this specific case of mine? - Alok Save
@Als It's something that is being discussed by several of us. Short and censored version: There are a few things that could possibly be done to our tools to make it easier to spot this after it's reported. I hope you'll trust that I'm being as open as I possibly can regarding something that isn't at all open. We get equally frustrated when we're not able to help as much as we'd like, it's just coming up with ideas that stand a shot of being implemented. - Tim Post
@TimPost: I am sure the discussions & resulting actions would bring about policies for the betterment of the community.Thanks for that.What about this specific case of mine?I already had reported a certain suspect user to a Mod,A dig in to the history or patterns of voting should reliably establish who the culprit is in this case,While you wont want to reveal names publically, Atleast a acknowledgement or note that this particular offender has been handled appropriately would make me happy & relieved that my problem has been addressed. - Alok Save
@Als That's also being discussed, I've raised it with our community coordinators (after you reported even more coming in). This is obviously becoming a chronic nuisance. Of course there would be some indication to you when/if action was taken (however vague). - Tim Post
Thanks for your responses to queries,You are always helpful and do apt justice to community electing you a Mod.I have a query,with 3 days gone by & No updates on this thread about any actions against anyone,Should it be assumed that no user has been found guilty of the reported matter and that this specific case is to be left as is?I had a couple of anonymous downvotes on two of my very old answers in between these two days,but the answers were indeed not too correct & Hence they might have been by a user trying to help but the anonymous nature & those being very old still cast me a doubt. - Alok Save
(3) Four more anonymous Downvotes since morning today & I think I really need some closure on this.I deserve to know if this is just plain sheer stupidity of some troll serially downvoting or just that I am not fit enough to be participating on SO(after 25k+ rep) - Alok Save
(4) @Als I'm pretty sure I've identified the source. I just need a bit more confirmation before taking action. This particular source seems to be very careful to not establish much of a pattern, so I'm watching something very carefully. If you receive any more, please flag immediately, I'm now alerting the other moderators to what I found so they'll know what to check. Sorry for the late reply, I was on vacation over the weekend (and there went my fanatic badge .. so close this time too!) - Tim Post
@TimPost: Thanks Tim, I will flag If I do get more(I flagged one today adding the link to this answer),And I will wait for your further reply/findings. - Alok Save
(1) I just noticed,justice has been done,sanity has prevailed & actions have been taken against he guilty.Makes me feel vindicated.Thanks to you for all the efforts you have taken in persistently tracking this specific case & serving justice in an appropriate manner. - Alok Save
(2) @Als Quite welcome, sorry it took so long :) Another mod was able to see my notes and determined that the pattern had continued. I'm quite happy to see this come to a favorable ending. - Tim Post
[+43] [2011-10-06 10:35:41] sbi

In the beginning when I downvoted the system popped up a message urging me to explain why I do so. The system also seems to count my upvotes to questions and answers and points out when I neglect to vote on questions.

Would it be so hard for the system to pick up when I'm downvoting more than, say: three posts of one user and pop up a message explaining that revenge downvoting will be caught and offenders prosecuted?! (No hint at any mechanisms needed.) I bet this would reduce 90% of this crap immediately.

The rest can then be dealt with in the way it is dealt with now: users flag when they are at the receiving end of such a rampage, and humans with access to the actual data look at it and decide.

+1 This should be possible to implement with least of efforts and doesn't even need any policy change which means no debate wherein most ideas here get lost in for against war of words. - Alok Save
(1) A nice idea, but it won't stop somebody on a rage downvoting spree. - Pëkka
(3) @Pekka - it won't stop them all, but might make some people think about what they are doing - ChrisF
(23) Actually it might trigger the revenge downvoter to wisen up and be more subtle about his revenge... "hey we've almost caught you! stop now!" "Oh, okay. See you tomorrow, sbi, see you tomorrow." - badp
(7) @Pekka Though, it would stop someone that isn't on a rage voting spree, which means more stronger 'automatic' measures wouldn't seem so problematic. But, as (badp) says .. we don't want people to become even more calculated when determined to misbehave. I don't know if a 'good' fix for this exists. - Tim Post
@Pekka: What are you arguing for? When someone is so enraged that they aren't stopped by being told they are to be caught and will be prosecuted, then nothing will stop them. That's not an argument against holding up the message for the benefit of the 90% who will be stopped. - sbi
@sbi I'm arguing for leaving everything as it is, but adding automatic flagging of revenge downvoting when the anti-vote-rigging script runs. When a user is caught by the system, have a mod suspend them for a short time; on subsequent offenses, for a longer time. - Pëkka
@badp: You might want to re-read the question. We already have that. It was caught. It triggered this discussion. - sbi
@Pekka: If a simple message box might prevent 90% of all offenders (or even just 50%, if you disagree with the numbers) to ever run into offending, why would you not want to have the message, but rather enforce detention? That does not seem logical to me. - sbi
The message box may deter some from rage downvoting, but it will make sure that all the others create sock-puppet accounts for the occasion. - Pëkka
(1) @Pekka: You can't just create a sock-puppet and start downvoting, because in order to downvote you first need to earn 125 rep. So your argument doesn't apply to the heedlessly enraged rampaging maniac you invoked before. - sbi
@sbi That's because who's downvoting you has a clue. Most people don't and a warning message would help that tremendously. - badp
@badp: (It wasn't me, BTW.) He has a clue about the algorithm. Note that I said "No hint at any mechanisms needed." To those who have never heard about the algo it's obvious that the user on the other end will notice and might flag. - sbi
@sbi A warning message is a hint that such a system exists in the first place... As it is, the system fools you in thinking you can downvote the same person as much as you want and the limit's your normal daily vote limit. Then poof go the downvotes. I don't even know if the reputation spent downvoting is even given back... - badp
@badp: Didn't I just explain why a warning message not necessarily implies a hint that an automatic system exists? - sbi
(1) I quote your post: pop up a message explaining that revenge downvoting will be caught and offenders prosecuted. I'd add emphasis on "caught", but it turns out you already used all available emphasis yourself. - badp
@badp: That might just be me not being a native speaker, but wouldn't "caught" allow "being caught by the user suffering having flagged the downvotes"? If not, please substitute some other phrase for this, I'm quite sure there's one that would include this possibility. - sbi
(11) I assume I just don't get it, since this has 30 upvotes, but I don't understand what this solves; the system already detects when you've downvoted a user too many times and deals with it. Adding a popup is like sticking a sign on the road that says "there's a speed trap coming up, so even though you've been breaking the law, you can slow down right now to get away with it" - Michael Mrozek
(1) @Michael: Speed cameras are announced with a sign in some places. The effect is that cars slow down at that patch even though the cameras are offline 75% of the time. My idea is the same: When people go on a revenge downvoting spree they usually will not think about whether what they are doing is right or wrong or whether they could be caught out. Being told that it hurts the community and therefore users doing this are actively hunted down by the system will often be enough to bring them to their senses. Note that no explanation is needed how they are hunted and how to slip through the net. - sbi
@sbi So is this idea separate from the question you posted? Your question is "this guy is intentionally and maliciously working around the vote fraud filters", and your answer is "we should help out users that are committing vote fraud without thinking about it" - Michael Mrozek
(1) @Michael: I can see that this is confusing. My original question was "Shouldn't anonymous serial downvoters be banned from SO?" to which the mods said that they would have the power to decide that already. Here, now, I added an answer proposing to make sinners aware that they will be caught and the sins punished. This would only leave those who would ignore a stern warning, making it easier to weed them out. (I do not see, however, how such a warning helps the sinners - except for leading them back on the right way, of course, but you didn't seem to refer to that.) - sbi
@sbi The sign is shown to everybody and it has the effect of causing all people to slow down, which is the purpose of the speed trap to being with. It doesn't come out of the ground when another speedtrap 200 meters ahead notices you're going too fast - badp
@sbi However you word the message, it is going to actually read: "yo. you're doing this too fast. do this one more time and bad stuff's coming your way. cool down for a few hours before you continue your downvote rampage!", and not "do not downvote rampage!" - badp
@badp: Maybe. And maybe many who do this simply do not know that they can be caught and their damage reverted. I don't know. When this happened to me, the guy obviously didn't even bother to check whether his work had any lasting effect, doing it several days in a row, despite the fact that his "work" was reverted every night. Pointing out to him that what he does is not accepted, will be detected, is futile, and might get him banned might have stopped him repeating the same with others. However, from what I know the mod didn't even seem to contact the guy. So how could he know? - sbi
[+30] [2011-10-06 09:30:49] DeadMG

Agreed. The problem with running a script is that scripts can be gamed, people can learn how they work and work around them. Scripts aren't intelligent, they don't learn.

In my opinion, users who have been detected to have engaged in serial downvoting should be forced to leave a 50-character comment for all downvotes for a significant period, e.g. a month, and have their fraud detection threshold reduced permanently, with bans occurring from a second infringement.

It's one thing to say that people in general can downvote without commenting, but when you start abusing the system, then you should have to justify them.

(1) Unfortunately, you'd probably end up with a lot of asdfasdfasdfkjasdfsdfsfasdfsadfasdfsaddasfasdff laden comments in that case. I think lowering the threshold for these users is a great idea. It may happen already, for all we know, though. - jonsca
(10) aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa - Time Traveling Bobby
(2) To add something constructive, forced comments will do nothing. And depending on the algorithm/system it might not be possible to lower the threshold for certain users. Ban them from downvoting instead. - Time Traveling Bobby
(13) @Jonsca, the idea is that adding comments will remove the anonymity which is a great step forward (albeit I give no damn about voting, positive or negative) - bestsss
@bestsss Very true. It would reveal the identity of the downvoter to the person writing the question. The identity of the serial downvoter would already be known to the system, though. There would be a lot of comments left that needed to be flagged, etc., I would think. - jonsca
(2) @jonsca, the idea is the person would publicly discredit themselves otherwise having the comfort of anonymity. - bestsss
@bestsss Some of the abuses might happen regardless of whether the user is anonymous. Just like when there's destruction of material property, people are acting out of anger and may not care about the consequences. - jonsca
(14) @PaddedCell: This is different than what has been discussed before. DeadMG proposes to force those who had been caught at abusing the voting system to leave comments, not the general public. That is quite a difference IMO. - sbi
(3) Removing anonymity as a punishment is very different to suggesting it for the general public. Yes, people might leave a lot of "aaaa..." comments, but then, they can just be banned permanently, as it'll be very obvious. - DeadMG
(11) It's very easy to work around this. I can write a comment saying "+1 Great question!" and still downvote you. - NullUserException อ_อ
@NullUserExceptionஇ_இ, well spotted, I hadn't thought of that - you evil hacker! :) - Benjol
@NullUserExceptionஇ_இ: Yes, you can. But it's much more likely you would be caught with that. - sbi
(3) The comment should be semi-automatic. "I downvoted this because " should be force-prepended to the comment they are forced to leave, and they fill in the reason. Then if they leave nonsense it's obvious that they are a serial downvoter continuing their bad behavior. - Matthew Read
[+27] [2011-10-06 09:46:05] Pëkka

Agreed. Like with any other deliberately destructive behaviour, serial downvoting should lead to a ban - for a short period (like a week) the first time, with penalties increasing for repeat offenders and sock-puppeteers.

[+20] [2011-10-06 10:04:57] Jeff Atwood

If you're seeing a pattern of downvoting, flag for moderator attention. In the flag, indicate that you also believe this user has a history of engaging in such a pattern.

Enough flags of that type (substantiated by evidence of course), and those users will absolutely be suspended.

(11) I don't think it can work like this. You can usually tell where a downvoting pattern comes from when you are the victim (e.g. if you had a heated discussion a few hours back). But it's impossible for you to tell whether that user has done this before to other people. There should be an automatic flag if the system picks up a pattern - Pëkka
(6) I see a lot of flags (and emails) from users claiming serial downvote stuff. And we do follow up on all of it. - Jeff Atwood
(9) I have no doubt about that. I'm just saying that is an imperfect way of tracking it, as not everyone will report serial downvoting. Why not have the system auto-flag when the pattern detection script runs so there is a complete data set to recognize repeat offenders? - Pëkka
"I have flagged for moderator attention & the mod said there is nothing they can do." Als would need to email the team. This seems to be a hurdle for him (I have no idea why, but then I'm not exactly known for holding back my POV), and I bet it is a hurdle for others, too. Some might not even flag for a mod. - sbi
(3) As @sbi, said I did Flag. Here is the reply from a Mod, when I flagged an answer which was a part of serial downvoting, The flagged message had all the relevant information(with the suspected user pointed out as well). I am not saying the Mod action was appropriate or not, for I don't what Mods can do in such a case, but Yes I was left a little disappointed. - Alok Save
Also, it is worth nothing that the accepted answer to the canonical question on the issue suggests that there is no need to flag or E-Mail the team when serial downvoting happens. - Pëkka
@Pekka: The pattern Als saw doesn't seem to be caught by the script, though. - sbi
@sbi yeah, true. ---- - Pëkka
(2) I'm serially downvoting this answer - kekekela
(1) Four more anonymous Downvotes since morning today & I think I really need some closure on this.I deserve to know if this is just plain sheer stupidity of some troll serially downvoting or just that I am not fit enough to be participating on SO(after 25k+ rep) - Alok Save
(1) It took a while, but this has been resolved. This pattern was just as cunning as it was prolific. We now resume our regularly scheduled programming. - Tim Post
(1) @TimPost: Thanks for sticking with this and helping Als to get the guy off his back, despite other moderators shrugging it off! - sbi
[+8] [2011-10-12 18:03:30] Shog9

Lemme tell you a story...

Back in the day, when SO was young, and Meta SO didn't yet exist, I would occasionally log on to find some user had gone and down-voted a bunch of my posts.

It hurt. Not my rep, because trying to seriously hurt someone's reputation by down-voting them out of spite is quite difficult. But it hurt my pride. Especially seeing questions down-voted, because I don't ask very many questions, and the ones I do ask tended to be on niche topics that didn't catch a lot of votes.

The anti-fraud scripts helped a bit. As irritating as seeing a handful of posts down-voted out of the blue can be, having to sit and watch while someone goes through and down-votes 20 of your top answers one after another, while you can do nothing to stop them, is worse - and now days, that takes some amount of cleverness to pull off.

Realizing that I was indirectly to blame helped a lot. It's really not necessary to leave a comment every time you down-vote or close-vote someone's post, and when it is it's usually worth being a bit tactful. There's never any good reason to tell someone that you down-voted them. And once you've explained the problem, there comes a point where you're not really helping anyone by continuing to argue [1]... You've made your case; some folks you just can't reach. And in my experience, the fewer knock-down-drag-out arguments I got into, the fewer people decided to make down-voting me their business. Imagine that...

Recognizing that I'm also a serial down-voter at times gave me some perspective. Oh, I don't follow anyone around down-voting their stuff in retribution for some perceived slight. But if I see a particularly bad question, or especially a bad answer, I'll often check the user's profile to see if they've been doing the same thing elsewhere - and as a result, hand out a few down-votes to them in quick succession. From my perspective, I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do: down-ranking posts that aren't useful. But from their perspective, it probably looks like someone's got it in for them.

But y'know what helped me deal with this more than anything else? Realizing that one vote (per post) doesn't matter. Even if it is completely misguided, or out-and-out malicious. Those questions I was so concerned about years ago, to the point where I made several of them Community Wiki just to discourage the voters? If I'd taken the long view, I would have gotten something like 500 rep points from just one of them [2] - the handful of down-votes I was so discouraged about are nothing compared to the up-votes received in the years that followed.

If your post is any good, it'll be viewed by hundreds or thousands of future readers, and voted on by enough of them to more than obliterate any ill effects wrought by a malicious voter.

So do what you gotta do

Flag for a moderator, email team@, rant in chat... Whatever helps you deal with it here and now. But at the end of the day, don't stress about it. If the system depended on every single voter voting "properly" it would have been dead before you ever signed on. Serial down-voting is sad, for you of course, but mostly for the person doing it... But in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't make that much difference.

Might I recommend a nice cup of tea?


(6) This might be true, but mods shutting him down with "it's not that big of a deal" seems completely unnecessary to me. It's like calling the cops because somebody broke into your place, and they tell you "look, it sucks, but think about all the other days you came home to find out your house wasn't broken into. And all the days in the future where it won't be broken into. Maybe you should just suck it up and stop bothering us because somebody broke into your house this one time" - Michael Mrozek
(1) From my question: "Note that I know that these are only mosquito bites to Als' rep, but I still believe that such users are severely damaging this site's usefulness, not to mention its reputation. (This affects answers to questions where one down-vote makes a considerable change to which answer is up-voted most and thus seen as the right one by others searching for solutions to the same problem.)" Not every answer that gets downvoted undeservedly has enough upvotes to make the downvote irrelevant. Your "anecdotal evidence" does not necessarily reflect the statistics. - sbi
(3) @Michael: no, it's like calling the cops because you came home to find someone's dog had crapped on your lawn. - Shog9
(1) Since you're basing this entire screed on anecdotal evidence, I don't really feel the need to go far out of my way to prove you "wrong" (whatever that would mean) @sbi. "It hurts" you said. "I know it hurts" I replied. We've been complaining about serial downvotes for three years, and the devs have done a lot to discourage it - your apparent attempt to instigate a witch hunt because current penalties aren't harsh enough for your liking doesn't strike me as warranted, but if you want to put up some stats to prove me wrong, go for it... - Shog9
(1) @Shog9: What more statistical evidence is needed than you saying that this is going on for three years and that the team put considerable resources into lessen the damage? An argument I'd file under "weak" then. Also, from what I can see, I said "it hurts" exactly once, and then I was saying "it hurts the community", so that argument is somewhat moot, too. What does that leave? Oh yeah, the "witch hunt." Well, I don't feel compelled even to reply anything to such a cheap rhetoric device. - sbi
(1) @sbi: Since there's apparently no further point in being tactful here, allow me to dispense with the pleasantries: you're dragging other users out into the open and accusing them of voting contrary to your own preferences. That is completely unacceptable. Either you find a way to deal with this gracefully, or it gets dealt with for you. - Shog9
(3) I have always felt that @Shog9 was one of the conspicuous good examples of this community. This post is absolutely one of his shining examples of good stuff. - Rosinante
(1) @Shog9: What? Where and when exactly have I lost the right to be dealt with politely? Is disagreeing with you enough for that? And did you really think for a moment accusing me of "witch hunting" could ever be considered "tactful"? Also, can you please explain what you are talking about with your accusations of me begrudging others acting against my preferences? (That makes you feeling you need show your mod's biceps when your arguments fail to convince me quite pathetic, BTW. If you have the feeling I did something wrong, why don't you simply explain your POV, so I be made aware of it?) - sbi
(3) @sbi: you have no proof that this is a problem. You don't even have proof that the user being accused is the one down-voting the user accusing. You have nothing, so far as I can tell, apart from one very pissed-off comrade, and your sympathy for him as he suffers through these down-votes is charming... But hardly warrants ignoring the repeated advice - from users, mods, and Jeff himself - to simply flag for moderator attention and let them handle it. It's a witch hunt as soon as you decide to start throwing out suspects and making a public spectacle of this - you should know better. - Shog9
It has been flagged and the response was We can't do anything about it and hence this follows,I do not understand what the big problem and the big discussion about it,since @TimPost already commented saying he pretty much found the source.Why not just stop the bickering,wait and let Tim come back with his findings? - Alok Save
@Als: for future reference, mods can view a per-user history of flags - both from and for - as well as annotations and various other statistics. None of which will necessarily tell them instantly if one user is abusing another by voting, but which persist and can be examined repeatedly as new flags arise to help them make a decision. So don't get discouraged if nothing happens the first time you flag - if the abuse continues, continue flagging. - Shog9
(2) "You have no proof that it is a problem" - he wouldn't, after all that data isn't publicly available. I still don't see why people being downvoted need to flag for mod attention when the mass voting detector could easily do the flagging for them - much more thoroughly than users ever could? - Pëkka
(2) @Pekka: the dirty little secret about all of this is that there is no definitive proof. Folks get a few down-votes in a short period of time and suspect a serial down-voter. The system has a number of metrics based on which it will take steps to stymie voters. But the scripts are stupid - they can't judge intent. And the votees are biased - they tend to assume malice. So sooner or later, you've gotta have a disinterested third-party sort it out. Mods work as well as anyone... - Shog9
@Shog9: From what was said here not even mods have the access to see the proof in the DB, let alone me, so why are you asking me for proof? Als did flag and was told by a mod that he can't do anything if the algo doesn't pick it up, so why are you now accusing him of ignoring that advice? (Which came after the question already said that the mod couldn't help, BTW.) And I did not want to make a spectacle of this, but make SO a better place. Shall I again politely refer you to what I already quoted in my first comment to your answer? (Oh, and I did note that you avoided all my questions.) - sbi
@Shog yeah, agreed - this under-the-radar stuff is really hard to deal with. And there's something to be said for "If the system depended on every single voter voting "properly" it would have been dead before you ever signed on." - Pëkka
@sbi: of course you don't have proof. As I noted already, you're here on behalf of Als, which is great, but doesn't really change anything. But who said a mod couldn't help? I can assure you, at least one moderator is keeping an eye on the voting, and action will be taken. This was answered several days ago, by Jeff himself, so I'm not sure why you'd doubt it. I must apologize though; I'd originally assumed you'd been the one editing in updates to this question, but see that it was Als. Regarding your "questions"... Not sure what you're looking for; I cannot reveal the details of the scripts - Shog9
Keeping all the controversy aside on this for a minute.I am just expecting a closure.I just expect to be told that yes we got the source & sorted out the problem or tell me atleast that no all those anonymous serial downvotes are valid & good and I should live with it.Let me have a chance of just making a calculated decision whether its worth all these hassles to be a part of this community as an unpaid contributing member.TimPost already commented he is on to something so Lets just stop and wait his response. - Alok Save
Tim is indeed watching over your account, @Als. In the meanwhile, please allow me to caution you again against taking it too seriously - I know it can be frustrating, but believe me - in the end, it'll all come out in the wash. - Shog9
@Shog9: I feel Als should be helped, but I am mainly here because I think this damages SO. This is the third time I say this to you. (Really, three times ought to be enough for anybody.) And I am not going to quote the question for you after I have told you several times that it quotes why Als said the mods couldn't help him. I understand that this discussion has grown, but this happened to a great extend because people come here dumbing their prejudices without bothering to first read the already given explanations why they don't apply. (The questions you avoided were about your behavior.) - sbi
@sbi: You posted your conversation with Als, at which point a moderator and a site admin both stated that they could take action... They just needed to wait for sufficient evidence. I'm really not sure why that wasn't enough. I don't know what moderator said that to Als, or if that's even a fair summary of what was said, but since it was answered ~6 days ago I don't really feel the need. Regarding your questions about my behavior... If you have a problem with something I've done or said, feel free to drop into chat and rebuke me or post a separate Meta topic about it. - Shog9
@Shog9: Als (and I) heard yesterday that Tim is indeed dealing with this. Immediately afterwards I recommended Als to wait for what comes out of this. (Did I ever question why you let yourself be dragged into this, when you so obviously have no intention to even closely look at the issue?) And regarding your behavior: After what I have seen here, I have absolutely no intention to let my joy of chatting be singed by your behavior. Not of my own free will. - sbi
I AGREE COMPLETLY Shog9! This is what I was trying to convey, I just lacked the effort to write a good answer like you did! - The Unhandled Exception
Thanks, @TheU... FWIW, I thought your answer was fine - the reception has as much to do with frustration over the lack of a technical solution to a social problem as anything. Which is understandable, but nothing new. - Shog9
Anonymous downvotes should not be allowed. Also, all the actions take by moderators should be made visible as a log. This would clear up a lot. - Anderson
[+6] [2011-10-06 22:37:05] Ben Voigt

One way to automatically distinguish between the case Tim mentioned, of identifying a user that is poisoning the well with bad answers and dealing out well-deserved downvotes, vs revenge voting, would be to check for correlation between those votes and those cast by users with high reputation in associated tags. A user consistently voting opposite to high rep users is likely on a revenge spree. And false positives at worst identify users who don't have the expertise needed to correctly wield the voting privilege.

Finding users whose votes are significantly correlated against high-rep users might justify requiring them to defend some of those votes to mods. Such comments don't have to be made public, but would assist with making a decision.

[+2] [2011-10-12 13:29:54] The Unhandled Exception

They're just downvotes. Post a good answer; one upvote cancels out five downvotes. Move on with your life. Anonymous downvoting is important to the system for a variety of reasons which I don't have time to search for and link to. Requiring serial downvoters to comment is not the answer -- the people are bad apples and requiring them to comment will just encourage them to leave bad comments. More automation is not the answer. Ignoring idiots who downvote for no reason (and flagging for moderator attention if you are really bothered by it) is.

Erm, I think you are missing several points here. For one, I, who asked the question and whom you are answering to, wasn't hit by this (this time). I was merely prompted to ask by someone else's bad experience. Further, I do not want to require all downvoters to give comments (nor does anyone else, but you were answering my question). Finally, we are not even discussing anonymous downvotes here, we are discussing serial downvotes (which are, of course, also anonymous, but that's not the point). You might want to go back to square one and start to actually read the question. - sbi
I did read the question, and many of the answers. Serial downvotes are picked up by the fraud detection script. They were in this case also. Other answers talked about banning anonymous downvotes, which is why I mentioned that. But really what I am trying to say is, let's stop complaining about downvotes. There's always going to be people who act like a-holes. We have systems in place to prevent that behavior... while nothing's perfect, if everyone who spent time complaining about downvoters just answered questions instead they'd have more rep than they started with. - The Unhandled Exception
(2) I have no idea which question you read, but it can't have been the one you were answering to. In the case I am referring to the algorithm failed (and still fails, BTW), nobody here talked about banning all anonymous downvotes (others failed to understand that, too, but were corrected, which makes you misunderstanding this even more suspicious), and nobody here is complaining about downvotes in general. - sbi
I thought you yourself said the algorithm picked up the downvotes. "A mod just said either the algorithm would pick it up (it did)". You are correct: I did misunderstand DeadMG's answer. I rushed through reading it, that's my mistake. I thought he was saying to do away with anonymous downvotes altogether. However, I still think this question is just another downvote complaint... Maybe I'm just a jerk. Clearly nobody else agrees with me given the downvotes this answer is getting, so let's just call my answer pointless noise, LOL. - The Unhandled Exception
I wrote in that comment "That was my experience, too, when this happened to me..." and I only write that to say that I, too, heard mods can't do anything about it. The question, OTOH, was all about what happened to Als. - sbi
Clearly my answer is wrong/unhelpful/pointless noise, and I have misunderstood nearly everything about this whole thread including that comment. So I'll stop trying to salvage my answer, and follow my own advice and just move on :-) - The Unhandled Exception
[0] [2011-10-12 17:45:55] Rosinante

Let's see if we can summarize this event without all the emotion.

At time zero, two people had a testy exchange of comments.

Starting at time one, one of those people noticed a pattern of downvotes appearing on their posts. Those downvotes were no more or less anonymous than any other downvote. The recipient, suspecting that the other person was stinging them in retaliation for the comment exchange, received an actual admission of same from the perpetrator.

OK, well, this is really easy. You send mail to team, or use a flag, and something happens. This is the unusual easy case because of the open admission.

Nothing to see here, people, just move along. Of course, you have no right to know the details of the enforcement operation.

The more troubling case is when you don't receive a 'postcard' explaining that you are the subject of antisocial behavior. What do you do if you suddenly notice a series of downvotes on otherwise ordinary posts that have been sitting out there minding their own business?

Well, as I discovered in the last few days, you ... email the team.

Absent some evidence of a ton of this sort of thing happening to unsuspecting victims, I don't see what else we need here. We have mods, we have flags, we have email to team@.

I asked this question in order to A) lobby for harder punishments on serial downvoters and B) raise awareness that there's users out there actively trying to fly under the algorithm's radar. I later made a suggestion to prevent some users from going on a downvote spree. If you are not interested in any of these, just move along. - sbi
How can you lobby for a 'harder' punishment when you can't possibly know the current punishment? How can you claim that something is under the radar when you can't see what's on the radar screen? - Rosinante
Your first argument has some merits, although I believe if banning those is what is usually done, it would have been pointed out to me quickly and this question would be closed. That the user doing this is flying under the radar I am concluding from the fact that Als is reporting this for quite a while now and the reverting algorithm does not pick it up. - sbi
The Q already has the list of downvotes and when they occured, ofcourse those can be verified against my profile stat,It should be noted that the ones I listed here are the ones that are suspect(any C++ user shall be able to confirm if those downvotes).So as it is unless proved otherwise I see it as recursively happening phenomenon. - Alok Save
(2) No one claims it never happens. The question hanging here is whether the team is keeping up with it sufficiently for overall community health. To prove a negative here would require much more than one person's experience. - Rosinante