Yesterday the moderators and SE staff wiped out 1850 reputation points between three accounts. Our current understanding is that these accounts are held by three real people who know each other in real life. They had voted for each other prolifically, occasionally asking questions so that another could answer (and attract the points). But they were still helping other people at the same time.
Our problem with this sort of behaviour is — to put it bluntly — that it undermines the whole system. Reputation is supposed to reflect the technical quality of users' answers over time, but as soon as users engage in preferenced voting campaigns, reputation now also reflects the number of friends a user has and that is not something we are prepared to allow.
Yeah, it seems you can have too many friends...
The reversal of these votes has made one thing clear, the line between friendliness and "gaming the system" is extremely fine. I thought it might be time for a few guidelines on what to do when you know another user personally.
This might seem like common sense but some people struggle with these particular moralities.
When you ask questions…
- Don't prepare an answer for your friend and let them answer it. Answer it yourself.
- Do give everybody an equal chance. Your friend's answer may not be the best.
When you visit the site…
- Do browse around like you would for anything else.
- Don't overexpose yourself to your friends' profiles.
- Don't open their answer list and vote for each.
When you view a question with multiple answers and one of those is from your friend…
- Do read all the answers.
- Don't blindly vote for your friend.
Note: This list is by no means exhaustive. If people can think of some good additions, by all means edit them in. If you're unsure about things, leave a comment or an answer to discuss the point.
TL;DR: Treat your friends like any other user.
As soon as you're doing anything that could be perceived as showing a marked preference, you're probably straying the wrong side of the line.
Do this too much and you'll find out what losing a thousand reputation in a second feels like. If you continue past that point, you're an idiot and you don't want to know what hells we unleash. It probably involves a rusty spoon.