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How do the beneficiaries of sockpuppeting get punished?

It seems to me that whereas it's relatively easy and uncontroversial to penalise the sockpuppets (temporary banning/deletion of account etc.) it may be very tricky to detect (possibility of false-positives) and punish the sockpuppeteers. But then again if they're allowed to go scot-free, they might engage in same kind of behaviour over and over again.

One incident motivated me to ask this question.

As of 2nd October I had asked 7 questions (excluding deleted ones), out of which 5 had positive (> 0) scores. That night within a minute all of my five questions with positive scores got one upvote each (precise timestamps: 21:49, 21:50, 21:50, 21:50, 21:50). Upvotes from multiple people at the exact same time sounds too good to be true. So I assumed they came from a single user.

Now in any review mechanism this should look suspicious, and will possibly be detected as an incident of sockpuppeting (even though I don't have any idea where those upvotes came from).

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    You mean "serial upvoting" - not "sockpuppeting". Sockpuppet serial voting involves multiple accounts all owned by you to boost your rep and such. Serial Upvoting is different and doesn't necessarily involve sockpuppets at all – Thomas Ward Oct 4 '17 at 19:37
  • I was serially upvoted on three consecutive days. Nothing particular happened except for the automatic vote reversal. – muru Oct 4 '17 at 20:35
  • @ThomasWard I guess my concern was serial upvoting getting misdiagnosed as sockpuppeting. If I correctly understood your answer and the other one you linked, I reckon the probability of that happening is almost zero. Thanks a lot for your detailed answer and the interesting link. – pomsky Oct 4 '17 at 21:08
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    @pomsky We have the ability to determine if it's sockpuppets or not. The specifics are not relevant, but what you're discussing is targeted voting or serial voting, not sockpuppetry. Unless they're generating accounts from your computer, which got hijacked or something, and using those to massively inflate your reputation, in which case it may look like you and you could get misconstrued for that but I don't think that applies here either :P – Thomas Ward Oct 5 '17 at 1:51
  • @ThomasWard Well, you can never know for sure. What if Hackerman is after you?! :| – pomsky Oct 5 '17 at 1:56
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    looks around at the bubble of isolated space-time he inhabits That'd be hard for them to do, but you're not wrong. Point is, though, you'd know if we thought it was sockpuppets. It's not in this case. So put sockpuppets out of your mind because this is simple good-ol' targeted/serial upvoting. – Thomas Ward Oct 5 '17 at 2:05
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There's several different aspects here of "sockpuppeting" being addressed, but what you're talking about isn't necessarily sockpuppetting but targeted voting. So let's address each part individually.


But before we go into this into detail, with regards to your "wrongly detected" comment...

It should be made known that, to Moderators, it's very very easy to identify sockpuppetry and using them to bolster one's reputation. It is almost impossible for one who is receiving upvotes that are just targeted/serial in nature to be wrongly accused of sockpuppetry.

Now onto our regularly scheduled, overly-detailed explanation and answer.


Sockpuppeting

Sock puppets are duplicate accounts made by an individual. On their own, sock puppets which don't break any rules or have any mutual voting to boost one's rep are perfectly fine - I myself have one for testing things in a non-privileged manner and to run a chat bot in a private channel for moderation purposes.

Sock puppets which, however, have a very strong record of voting for each other, result in bans, account destruction of the socks, and invalidation of votes. And each subsequent offense of it can increase the bans significantly and cause issues.

These types of things are fairly easy to spot because they have very suspicious voting trends, and usually only vote for each other. It's harder to initially detect, but once found you can start to trace the 'master' to see future incidents of this.

This doesn't apply to you in this case. Ultimately the 'beneficiary' of sockpuppeting is the puppet master of the socks. (and they get banned as well in increasing severity for repeat offenses)


Targeted Voting / Serial Voting

Now, i mention targeted voting above for sockpuppets, but this is different because no socks are involved, and it's usually one person voting for another but not being the same person.

While this is understandably possible of happening, a handful of votes here or there from one person to another isn't necessarily against the rules. The system, also, has protections to detect serial upvoting in a way that is a violation of the rules, and as such those cases have automatic voting reversals within some period of time (not instantaneously).

Like for sockpuppets, though, it can result in suspensions for voting irregularities for the person who is doing the voting. The person who 'benefited' from the targeted upvoting isn't punished other than the loss of the reputation they had gained as a result of voting invalidation.

Ultimately I wouldn't be too worried about this. I'd suggest you consider reading up on serial voting for more info on the subject, but if you are just being given all the upvotes and it isn't a sockpuppeting issue, you'll just lose the rep when the system invalidates the reputation (either automatically or as a result of moderators requesting that it happen due to voting irregularities).


Why you shouldn't worry about the occasional set of upvotes from someone

I personally get a handful of upvotes in small clusters and batches - usually a few of my most popular answers and sometimes in rapid succession I get 50 - 100 reputation. The problem is, though, votes are by default anonymous so not even moderators can go and see who all voted for a given question and what their votes were, so tracing one-off cases of serial voting is VERY difficult.

If it's a violation of the rules then either the system will autoreverse the voting, or when we invalidate votes for a given serial upvoter the system will indicate you lost rep because of vote invalidation.

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