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One user who used 3 different user names, one mainly for posting an answer and another for down voting other users' answers was suspended on ELL. There seems to be another user who uses two or more user names.

One user posted one question on EL&U and posted the same question on ELL using a different user name one day later.

The different user name was also used on EL&U to ask four questions, three of which were closed as off-topic. This user (using his/her main user name on EL&U) kept asking off-topic or strange questions without proper reference or research and that's why I remember this OP.

I don't think it is the right thing to do to use more than two user names on Stack Exchange.

Questions:

  1. Is it allowed to use more than two user names on EL&U or ELL?

  2. What is the procedure? Do we need to flag the question in need of moderator intervention and explain the situation?

  3. Is there any system to detect this kind of user on EL&U and ELL?

Thanks to Dan Bron's comment, I found the related question, How should sockpuppets be handled on Stack Exchange?, but it doesn't seem to address the issue.

  • 2
    Short answer: multiple usernames / identities are kosher, so long as they don't interact with each other. – Dan Bron Jan 14 '16 at 20:14
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    In re: a link, just search Meta Stack Exchange for "multiple accounts". Note that there are a number of upvoted questions on this topic, so follow the "duplicate of..." links. In re "no reason to have two user names", as I said, users are permitted to have multiple accounts, for any reason, or no reason at all, so long as they're not used to game the system (i.e. sockpuppetry). So reasons are not relevant: behaviors are. – Dan Bron Jan 14 '16 at 20:34
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    "I already determined this practice is wrong..." Fortunately, you don't get to make the rules on SE/SO. It's not wrong. I have two usernames (as do many others), and most people who've been around a long time know it. It's perfectly legitimate, and as long as one account/name has no interaction with the other account/name, it is perfectly OK. I can't ask a question and answer it with a different user name, getting points for my answer. I can't vote on my own questions or answers. If you think voter fraud might be occurring, flag the mods and explain. That's one of the duties of a mod. – anongoodnurse Jan 14 '16 at 20:41
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – user140086 Jan 14 '16 at 21:02
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    Sockpuppets are not the same as one user having joining different SE sites. I am a member of ELL, my avatar is different, I am a member of SE meta, my avatar is different, but my name is the same. A sockpuppet is creating a new account on the same site, it would be like me creating a new account on EL&U with a different name, avatar and profile. There are users who have created three, four and five different accounts on EL&U and abused the rules. – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 '16 at 21:23
  • The user in question, is asking the same questions where they are a member but with a different name. If a question is off-topic on one site, he then tries on a different site. It is not strictly ethical, but I've not heard of any rules against this behaviour. – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 '16 at 21:23
  • @Mari-LouA As far as I understand, cross-posting the same question is not allowed even under one user name on Stack Exchange. If it is done under two user names, not only is it unethical, but also there could be a hidden agenda. I am not sure. I am curious. – user140086 Jan 14 '16 at 21:32
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    If the two questions are identical and are on both sites simultaneously, then it's incorrect behaviour. If one question is closed on one site and the user tries his luck on a different site, and that site doesn't close that question... then why not? – Mari-Lou A Jan 14 '16 at 21:35
  • @Mari-LouA The question was not closed on EL&U. The second question on ELL is even quoting a comment posted to the first question. Strangely the second question received an answer by a 20 or 30-rep user and the answer (not very high-quality) was accepted by the OP. I thought something was going on and that's why I asked this question. – user140086 Jan 14 '16 at 21:38
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    "What is the procedure...?" - flag it. That's it. – Mitch Jan 14 '16 at 23:05
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OK, I'll give an answer, but it will be substantially similar to what's been said before.

  1. It's perfectly fine to have more than one account on a site. It's perfectly fine to use each account separately, even using each one to post a different type of question. Some users purposely maintain accounts at different privilege levels so they can see the site from different points of view. Many moderators have a non-mod account so they can post screenshots without revealing mod-only data.

    However, if multiple accounts are held they may not interact with one another. They may not vote for each other; they may not act in concert to give multiple votes on a particular post; they should not comment on each other's posts. Sockpuppetry is not allowed. Having more than one account increases the risk of doing something wrong, and more than two takes some work managing it all.

    It's not allowed to create an account to circumvent a suspension or a system-block on posting. Thus if a user has an account on ELU which is blocked, it's not acceptable to link a different account from another site to ELU (or create a new, separate ELU account) and carry on posting.

    Each Stack Exchange site is separate, and accounts are separate. Individuals may choose to link accounts and receive an association bonus, or they may keep each Stack entirely isolated. There's no requirement to link accounts on different sites. It's fine to post on ELU with one account and on ELL with another. Indeed, even with linked accounts, the display name can be different on each site.

    Cross-posting is discouraged, because questions should only be asked once, even if they may be on-topic on more than one site. Migration should be used to move good questions to more appropriate sites. If a question is on-topic on more than one site, it could appear on each in a substantially-similar form, but each version should be tweaked to differentiate and make the most of each site's speciality.

  2. If you suspect prohibited interaction between accounts, flag a relevant post which was made by one of the accounts. The custom text probably won't be long enough, but do make sure you say which other account is interacting, and what the interaction is. It's helpful to use user numbers rather than user names — you can get these numbers from a link to an account profile; hover over my name below and you will see a link mentioning my number of 18696.

  3. There are system processes which will detect some activity, and these may raise flags or even take action themselves — many vote reversals happen automatically. Moderators may detect such goings-on, and may be able to investigate activity which is drawn to their attention by flagging. This may be appropriate if you don't think the automated processes have acted. Some things need direct access to the data held in the database, so those reports are passed to staff.

    It may take some time for your flag to leave the Pending state, while things are looked into, particularly if it needs to be passed upstairs. Moderators or staff may make a private chatroom to discuss the background to the flag, or there may be enough evidence one way or the other to make this unnecessary.

    Don't be upset if all you get back is a "Thanks; it's been dealt with." We're not at liberty to discuss sanctions taken; nor would it be wise to reveal details of what was actually going on, especially if the automated tools did not detect it very quickly. You may also get a reply saying nothing untoward was happening, and that could mean the flag is declined.

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"I don't think it is the right thing to do to use more than two user names on Stack Exchange."

That is really neither here nor there, since there is already ample discussion on Meta about multiple accounts with different user names.

If the accounts do not interact with each other, it's legitimate. In other words, if they are not used to upvote each other, or to circumvent bans, or to close or reopen questions, etc., then it's fine. Many users on SO have (for reasons best known to them) more than one username.

Some Meta responses may be pertinent here.

  • People are allowed to have multiple accounts as long as they don't use them to vote for themselves.[1] - Jeff Atwood
  • Many people are very civil and will not engage in abusive acts when registering extra accounts. And for those that do, the rest of the community has proven to be very good at noticing these trends.[2] - Grace Note
  • It is not a problem to have multiple accounts, as long as they aren't voting for each other and doing other sockpuppet-y things.[3]
  • If you are not a moderator, you cannot know if a user is using multiple accounts, in the same way you cannot know if two accounts using the same display name are really used from the same person.[3]
  • If you found such false voting activity, just flag it for moderator attention with "other" option and write your description in text box. Moderator has better view and tool to find such users. You yourself can not perform such IP level activity, So better leave that matter with moderators.[4]
  • The chat is automatically associated with the account with the highest reputation.[5]
  • Users can always come back if their behavior improves. However, in this case, it is too much manual work to re-associate the deleted account, so the user should start at zero, or whatever the new accounts have. Probably better to start with a fresh slate anyway.[6] - Jeff Atwood
  • I think we should give people the benefit of doubt and assume that their intentions are honourable. ...perhaps keep an eye out for sock-puppetry but otherwise do nothing.[7]

A user asking/answering with one account and downvoting with another... well, it's not against the rules, as long as one account doesn't interact with the other. In fact, it might be that the user doesn't want someone (maybe, like you?) keeping track of their down votes. Or are embarassed to DV. Who knows?

When in doubt, flag a mod. But please know that multiple accounts are sanctioned on SO.

Edited to add: I think all your questions are answered here, but to be on the safe side,

What is the procedure? Do we need to flag the question in need of moderator intervention and explain the situation?

As @Andrew Leach commented, if you think there is something shady going on (not just that there are multiple accounts), flag a mod and explain what you suspect with a reference to the unflagged action.

Is there any system to detect this kind of user on EL&U and ELL?

Yes, mods have the ability to detect such improper activity if they suspect it, look for it, or are pointed to it.

[1] Why are people allowed to have multiple user accounts?
[2] What's the SO policy about having multiple user accounts? [duplicate]
[3] What's the SO policy about having multiple user accounts?
[4] What if a user uses multiple accounts with different names?
[5] same user two login - chat username on site x shows SO user name
[6] Combine multiple accounts
[7] When is it right to report multiple accounts?

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    Medica has it right; more than one account is definitely allowed provided they never interact. The only thing to add is that if you are absolutely certain that an account has been acting in concert with another, raise a flag on a post of one user and in the flag text, reference the other. Moderators can investigate, and in cases where they can't see enough evidence they can refer the matter upwards. – Andrew Leach Jan 14 '16 at 21:54
  • Oh, and different sites are treated separately. A user can have different accounts on different sites. What isn't allowed is to create an account to get round a suspension or post-block. That is, linking an existing ELL account to ELU to circumvent a ban on a different ELU account would be dealt with in a just manner. – Andrew Leach Jan 14 '16 at 21:56

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