You may be aware that a certain user on EL&U has been suspended for voting abuse and that this user has repeatedly circumvented his/her suspension and continued to ask questions. In addition, this user has plagiarized content extensively, attacked the community, and committed other acts which are generally abusive to the community and site.

So far, the general policy has been to delete this user's questions on sight, since to not do so would be to essentially tolerate this circumvention of the suspension. However, there have arisen cases where answers have been posted, and legitimate users received reputation for their answers, before a moderator saw the question. In this scenario, deleting seems unfair; not deleting seems like tolerating the site's most abusive user.

With that in mind, I am asking the community for suggestions. Under what circumstances should we delete this user's questions? And are there any methods that you think we should try to enforce the suspension more effectively?

  • @JasperLoy Not that we can think of; an IP ban is not an option at this time for several reasons. – waiwai933 Jun 30 '12 at 20:46
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    Since the mods can't be on the site 24/7 keeping an eye out for this user, is there any way of implementing temporary mod powers, maybe to mods from other sites? That way deletion is possible much faster so the plagiarized content can't stick around. Or maybe mark the user as spam on sight – simchona Jun 30 '12 at 21:29
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    @simchona temp mods are apparently not feasible, sci fi asked about "temp mods" due to difficulties in moderating a contest and was shot down. – Ben Brocka Jul 1 '12 at 19:38
  • my answer is entered in an autodeleted status, due to - I suppose - a lot of down-votes (-10); thus the suggestion on pay-to-use is being considered unacceptable from the community. But I have had a new idea, certainly helpfull for the future. This idea is very simple: a new user must to have 100 rep to ask the first question. How about? – user19148 Jul 1 '12 at 20:23
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    @carlo it wasn't auto deleted, it was deleted by votes. And I disagree with your new idea. – simchona Jul 1 '12 at 20:37
  • @simchona: are you so kind to explain why you disagree. For example, if this rule already existed, user named "Awesome" may not asked his theoretical/humanitarian question. – user19148 Jul 1 '12 at 20:44
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    @carlo if the rule existed, we would lose a good portion of the possibly valid questions on the site. You yourself wouldn't have been able to ask your first question. – simchona Jul 1 '12 at 20:45
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    @Carlo_R. Anyhow, if you can't ask questions, you can still post answers. And if you say no one can post until they have 100 rep, then there's no way a new user can do anything, since new users start at 1 rep. – Daniel Jul 2 '12 at 18:10
  • @simchona and Daniel 51, I didn't think to this problem! – user19148 Jul 2 '12 at 18:13
  • @waiwai: I'm interested in some guidance from the moderators. While we debate this issue here, what's an appropriate response when we observe this happening in main? (We could flag the question, but I don't want to be flagging questions daily if the moderators would rather not be bothered with this for now.) – J.R. Jul 3 '12 at 8:25
  • @JR Please flag and let us know, especially if the question hasn't been answered yet. We can still merge the user's accounts even if the question has been answered, though. – waiwai933 Jul 3 '12 at 14:04
  • @Danielδ + Carlo_R. I just want to remind you that a new user to EL&U who however has already acquired 100 reputation points in a different Stack Exchange section starts at 101 rep, so your suggestion would be of no use. I suppose it is not possible to tag this user in such a way to make him recognizable, is it? I'm asking because, although I'm a regular visitor to EL&U, I have not understood who the user is. – Paola Jul 3 '12 at 15:32
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    @Paola From the current state of things, it looks like only one of the half-dozen or so new users in the last week has not been a sockpuppet. That does mean that any question appearing from a new user with 1 rep can (at the moment) be treated as suspect. – Andrew Leach Jul 3 '12 at 21:44
  • @waiwai933 if we are to flag, why was my flag declined on this question? Should I have flagged it as spam instead? – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jul 3 '12 at 22:09
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    Now I find myself being very hesitant to even look at a new user's posts. Like those from "EveryDay" that are occurring this morning. – JLG Jul 11 '12 at 15:14

The best way to deal with good questions from banned users is, as Andrew Leach said, to transfer them to Community. (I thought that was already one of Community's functions; if not, it clearly should be).

But the best way of dealing with the user himself is surely to ignore him. Dummy accounts, circumventing the rules, abuse; these are just ways to annoy 'those SE [expletive deleted]', and an extra day's suspension is proof that it's working. By all means add it to the dossier to consider at the end of the suspension period, but nothing else, unless an IP ban or legal action become necessary.

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    Just for reference, one of the functions of Community is indeed to "own community questions and answers so nobody gets unnecessary reputation from them." meta.stackexchange.com/questions/19738/… – Andrew Leach Jun 30 '12 at 23:12
  • An IP ban was already in consideration, but waiwai said it's not an option. So, since an IP ban was highly considered, what now? – simchona Jul 1 '12 at 0:28
  • @simchona: actually, I meant "ignore him". Rational criticism won't work; scolding him or extending the ban is what this user is hoping for; ignoring him may not be easy, but is the best way (and, incidentally, will hurt more). – Tim Lymington Jul 1 '12 at 20:00
  • @tim does ignoring him include leaving his questions up? Many are plagiarized from another forum – simchona Jul 1 '12 at 20:07
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    (I feel I'm repeating myself rather). Bad questions from any source should be closed and deleted because they are bad. Good questions from a banned user should be transferred to Community. 'Taking action against' this user is a bad idea. – Tim Lymington Jul 1 '12 at 20:12
  • Tim, Would you please tell me how you can find what bad/good question is? For example maybe there are some users who hate Feminists(For example!) so they may delete or vote down all questions which are about Feminism or view profiles then by an ugly reaction reply offensive like a person called "Calro" did it about me while referring my kind of reply to my "nationality ",I think if you want to suspend abusive users it is better to begin it about people who send offensive comments with no exception who he/she is even a moderator! we want moderators here not abusive dictators with racial trends! – user36922 Feb 5 '13 at 0:50
  • @SnowFlake: first, calm down. Hysterical ranting does no good. (It also supports the view that 'people like you' are irrational, which presumably you want to avoid; personally I neither know nor care what race or sex you are.) Second, learn to distinguish between a view and the person holding it; no post should be downvoted because you dislike the poster or his opinions, unless they are specifically relevant to the question. – Tim Lymington Feb 5 '13 at 20:47
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    (contd.) Third, if you want to learn what a good/bad question is and how closing differs from downvoting, study some questions and answers without immediately posting a reply. You could also look at the faq. (If you don't want to learn but just to impose your views on everybody, please stop wasting our time.) – Tim Lymington Feb 5 '13 at 20:47
  • Tim, I am sorry for you. You and some one like you can not tolerate any critic . There is no insult or impolite sentence in all my sentences or comments or topics but it is you who are judging me very ugly. It is a kind of insult. So I can find why many cheesy and basic topics here have high scores and some interesting and more complicated topics are under attacks of negative votes! – user36922 Feb 5 '13 at 23:32

I'm fairly new to EL&U, and am not sure who this discussion is about, but I would say that I would not mind in the least losing reputation points if I unwittingly answered such an abusive user's questions and those questions were subsequently deleted. I wouldn't want "tainted" reputation points! I think this person's questions should be deleted as soon as detected, even if answers were given.

  • Looking through your answers, you did answer at least two of the questions in question. – simchona Jul 1 '12 at 5:06
  • @simchona, I thought so. Perhaps when the person is removed and his/her questions closed, the note could say "removed/suspended user" or "closed/suspended user," something like that. Users would understand that, and it would alert the community that something was afoot. – JLG Jul 1 '12 at 14:43
  • I also would not mind losing rep for answers on deleted questions from such a user. Of course, I have sufficient rep that losing a few upvotes' worth doesn't affect me much. On the other hand, I see @kiamlaluno's point as well (see my comment there). – John Y Jul 5 '12 at 4:55

I expect the mods have discussed this amongst themselves. Here's my two-penn'orth:

If it's obvious that a user has created a sock puppet to circumvent a suspension, one way to deal with it is to delete the question before anyone has a chance to answer it. This means effective moderation will have to be possible from all time zones — Europe, Australia and western US is probably sufficient. We should all probably be on the ball with flags too.

Or, if it's not obvious but probably the product of a sockpuppet, it could be locked pending the result of any investigation, and then unlocked or deleted as appropriate. (I'm not sure of the interplay between locking and deletion; I'm aware there is some.)

It could be argued that not only is this user abusing the site by flouting a ban, as his questions will be deleted he is also abusing those other users who answer. It would be reasonable for the suspension to be extended [by a day?] for every infraction and further extended [another day?] if it's caused a waste of effort for others.

If the question is actually within the FAQ, would normally be worth keeping and actually has answers (or even not yet but would be useful), then perhaps it could be transferred to the "Community" account in order that the sockpuppet can be deleted? Answers can be added and gain reputation, but the asker cannot gain anything except an extra day's suspension.

A Meta.SO question is also relevant.

  • One thing about the user's questions is that several of them have been pure plagiarism. I would feel that keeping them puts ELU at risk (and I think Reg has said something to this effect) – simchona Jun 30 '12 at 21:26
  • @simchona If a question must be deleted, it must be deleted. But if answerers' rep can't be salvaged then an additional penalty seems justified. – Andrew Leach Jun 30 '12 at 21:30
  • I'm not sure an additional penalty is fair. Users get deleted and people lose those rep points. – simchona Jun 30 '12 at 21:32
  • On second thought, I think the user should get dinged for each additional sock, not necessarily each question with answers – simchona Jun 30 '12 at 21:37
  • Unless and until there is a genuinely effective way of preventing sockpuppets, extending the ban will only make the user behave worse. – Tim Lymington Jun 30 '12 at 22:18
  • @TimLymington But an IP ban is apparently not an option, and the user has literally lambasted the community and mods...I don't feel like he should be given the time of day here. – simchona Jun 30 '12 at 22:23
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    @simchona; not arguing what should happen, merely what will. (My tutor once wrote a book pointing out there is no route from is to ought, or vice versa). For clarity: any effective way of stopping this behaviour is a good thing, but ineffective sanctions are worse than nothing. – Tim Lymington Jun 30 '12 at 22:31
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    It's a bummer to invest some time into crafting a good answer to what you thought was a good question, only to find out that You-Know-Who has been at it again, and the question, user, and answer have all been deleted. Then again, I'm much more concerned with the disruption to the community as a whole than about the loss of any short-lived points. Still, Andrew's migrate-to-Community idea has some appeal; it seems like a good way to salvage whatever legitimate work went into any good answers to the question. – J.R. Jul 2 '12 at 0:35
  • @simchona: Even if the text is plagiarized, perhaps its text can be rewritten from scratch. Ideas are not copyrightable, only the original expression of those ideas. – Mechanical snail Jul 3 '12 at 17:46
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    @Mechanicalsnail In some cases, the "original expression" was copied. – simchona Jul 3 '12 at 18:31
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    I mean, if there are good answers to the plagiarized question, we can rephrase the question, leaving the answers intact. – Mechanical snail Jul 3 '12 at 18:56
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    @Mechanicalsnail I think Reg mentioned that that's still considered a copyright violation because it acknowledges that something was plagiarized. Policy, if I recall correctly, is to delete plagiarism on sight. – simchona Jul 4 '12 at 1:28
  • Suspensions cannot be extended; once a user is suspended, you can just wait the suspension is over, and suspend the user again. – kiamlaluno Jul 5 '12 at 9:25

I think that merging the new account with the suspended one would avoid removing reputation to users who provided a useful answer, which would be a punishment for something they didn't do.

If the question is legitimate (apart the fact it has been asked from somebody who is not supposed to ask questions because suspended), then who answered deserves the gained reputation. If the question is not constructive, off-topic, not a real question, then it should be closed, and deleted.

In such case, deleting a question sounds like a punishment for the users who answered because they didn't notice the account is a sock puppet, as if they would have any information for noticing that.

  • And in fact that appears to have been done: english.stackexchange.com/questions/73185/relatively-which-one – Andrew Leach Jul 2 '12 at 0:42
  • However, once the user is reinstated, they will be awarded any reputation gained by the question, even though it should not have been asked. – Andrew Leach Jul 2 '12 at 6:43
  • A suspended account keeps gaining reputation from its old posts, even if the reputation is shown as 1 for all the suspension time. – kiamlaluno Jul 2 '12 at 8:08
  • Yes: but what about questions posted during the suspension? Should they gain rep too? – Andrew Leach Jul 2 '12 at 8:55
  • You need to decide if it is more important not to remove reputation from users who answered without knowing the account is a sock puppet, or from who wasn't supposed to ask a question because suspended. If you delete a question, the reputation is removed for the OP, and everybody who answered, if the question is not old enough. – kiamlaluno Jul 2 '12 at 9:04
  • What happens if (as well as merging the user's two accounts) the question is transferred to the Community account? [It may be necessary to do that in another order] – Andrew Leach Jul 2 '12 at 9:11
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    Moderators cannot transfer post's ownership to another account. If you mean making the question a CW, the reputation gained before it is made a CW is not lost. Still, you would avoid the OP and any user who answered gain reputation. I don't think CW should be used to avoid a user gain reputation. – kiamlaluno Jul 2 '12 at 9:19
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    I believe that it is more important to avoid punishing innocent people than to (fully) punish the guilty. I'm not saying we should do nothing about the guilty, but I think we should strive to avoid collateral damage, and if in so doing, the guilty are not punished as severely as they (seem to) deserve, then so be it. If the point of this site is to be a useful resource, then legitimate questions should not be deleted no matter who asks them, and any rep earned on legitimate answers should remain with the answerer. – John Y Jul 5 '12 at 5:05

As a mod on two other SE sites and a long-time creator and moderator of online communities, I feel for you.

May I share some principles to help guide your considerations?

  1. Abusers want attention, even if it's extremely negative. Deny them this and they will go away.

  2. Time is of the essence. Online communities are inherently fragile, even when closely moderated. Continue to be fair but take action quickly and do not hesitate to be firm.

  3. A transparent public policy is your best tool. When your FAQ or a prominent meta thread says "this kind of behavior will get the following response from the community," you can carry out your action with minimal numbers of complaints, flags, comments, and meta threads.

These principles suggest some elements to consider in your solution:

Principle 1 supports those who call for deleting all affected questions. If you wish to ameliorate the effect, you can permanently suspend all accounts known to be sockpuppets. There is no reason for those suspensions ever to expire. In the meantime, their questions will stand and answerers will retain their reputation points.

This principle also suggests minimizing comments and meta threads dealing with the abuser. Moderators should consider deleting all such discussions. Make the abuser's mark on the site disappear!

Principle 2 indicates the time has passed to give second chances or warnings. Act unilaterally.

Principle 3 is often carried out in the breach by posting previously unwritten rules or policies when they are found to be broken. This helps in the future and it keeps the moderators (and the entire community) consistent. (Abusers love to find and flout apparent inconsistencies.)

One noteworthy personal experience concerns a problematic individual on one of my sites who was attacking me personally. Let's call him "Harry." As a mod I was willing to put up with it, in retrospect for too long. Eventually I consulted other mods on Teachers' Lounge, a SE chat room dedicated to moderation. The moment I named this individual, mods from three other SE sites piped up to say "Oh, do you mean that Harry! Guess what problems he caused for us!" And laughter all around... . The moral of this story is that consulting early in the process with other moderators can reveal unexpected information and garner helpful advice. It can also show that you're not alone.

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    Excellent advice from experience. Thanks for taking the time to write it up for others benefit. This deserves some airtime. – Caleb Aug 1 '12 at 11:58

Could the user be hellbanned, slowbanned, or errorbanned, or did these never come to be? The distinctions come about halfway down the page.

  • I think you need the IP for this to work, and from what I gather, this troublemaker doesn't have a static IP. – Daniel Jul 20 '12 at 21:39
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    None of those exist on stack exchange. Jeff was thinking out loud. – Ben Brocka Jul 20 '12 at 23:48
  • @Danielδ: No, the beauty of these is the account seems like not banned; the account looks like it's still active so there is no reason to create a new one. With Hellban they only must act on their suspicion and create a new account from a new IP to view their old posts to detect it. – SF. Sep 9 '13 at 5:55
  • @SF. Once I had an internet provider that changed the IP every time the router was turned off, whether I wanted it to change or not. So the perpetrator might be put off for a while, until for some reason his IP changed, after which he would no longer be banned. – Daniel Sep 10 '13 at 12:44
  • @Danielδ: If the auto-login feature works right, IP won't matter. Hellban is bound to account, not just IP. They would need to either create a new account (needlessly) or browse their old answers as unlogged, after purposefully logging out. – SF. Sep 10 '13 at 13:09
  • @SF. I see. And I can see how it might be useful. In the user was a serious troll, though, it would hardly trip him up much. – Daniel Sep 10 '13 at 23:15

Let's delete any questions by suspended users unless either 1) they have upvoted answers or 2) several users think a certain question is valid and helpful for the community (i.e. upvoted well; also see Why was this question deleted? for examples of questions which this user has illicitly asked, but which seem to be well-liked and useful).

If either of the above criteria are met for a certain question, let us turn it into a community wiki question, to keep rep from accumulating for the wayward user.

One issue: I know it's possible to take the CW status off answers to a CW question, but I think that has to be done manually. If this would take too much time for our mods, we'll just have to live with CW answers to those questions. But IMO that would be better than deleting them or reposting them.

I'm not sure how possible it is for Community ♦ to repost these, but if that's possible, that would be the best option.


If a user sees a situation like this, flag the question and use the custom reason to explain the situation (shortly).

If the mod sees the question or the flag, then the standard practice would not be delete the queston, I think, but rather merge the new user with the old (suspended) one. This way, I think you solve both the punishment and the "people got rep" problem.

By the way, if a user understands the situation and still answers even knowing that they should flag instead, why care about their lost reputation? I know this is not always the case, so I don't want to raise an accuse here. :)

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    Merging the new user with the suspended one is necessary (we do it already), but it doesn't solve the problem per se. The rogue user still gets his questions posted (and sometimes answered), and after the suspension, there will be no difference between his history and a normal user's—the rep, posts, and activity from the suspended period will all be counted as if they were legitimate. – Daniel Jul 21 '12 at 0:31
  • @Danielδ If you merge the two users the new user won't exist anymore, and the situation will be like before, a suspended user. By the way, if the user keeps acting like this, just increase the suspension so there won't be any "after suspension" no? – Alenanno Jul 21 '12 at 9:57
  • The situation which led to the question was that the user was suspended for voting irregularities and created sockpuppets to get round the ban. Once the ban was ended, he continued to post under sockpuppet identities. He's now been suspended for a far longer period. However I suspect that he will continue to create sockpuppets, and those sockpuppets will accrue "illicit" rep while creating poor questions which others will also gain rep from (and which they should not be penalised for). – Andrew Leach Jul 21 '12 at 21:06

Perhaps questions from users below a reputation threshold (TBD) should go to an approval queue before appearing on the main site? I recognize that this would require (1) a code change and (2) more work for the mods. I can't comment on the reasonableness of (1); for (2) we would need to know the approximate rate at which posts from new users show up today (as all of them would be affected, not just our problem user). Would such an approach be feasible? Yes, it delays the legitimate questions by up to several hours, but true language emergencies where that would matter should be rare, right?

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