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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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    Nice to see an official opinion on this laid out in an st least semi-formal post. – hexafraction Oct 17 '12 at 21:05
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    None of my friends have AU account ;( – Tachyons Oct 18 '12 at 0:31
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    It's reassuring and most welcome to see that such steps are being taken. I can't help wondering what people hope to achieve by rigging their reps. – user25656 Oct 18 '12 at 6:23
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    It is sad that this needs to be pointed out. – David Stockinger Oct 19 '12 at 21:46
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    Just as a side note: Reputation does not reflect the "technical quality of users' answers over time" but rather the interest of AU-Users in the questions. I can write the best and most useful answer on a very narrow side topic and never get an upvote but once I write an answer with bad grammar on howto improve Youtube or Facebook slightly, I'll get thousands. That's okay and my answer still has to work, but it doesn't reflect the "technical quality" either. I still like the reputation system but its not all about quality. – con-f-use Oct 20 '12 at 10:36
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    A good move. I personally don't wish to see AU become another Twitter/Facebook where numbers matter more than quality (except that most people here are g33ks). – TomKat Oct 24 '12 at 17:46
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    TL;DR: ? Had to look that up... Too long, didn't read? – don.joey Dec 29 '12 at 10:48
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    @Private, Oli is trying to say that you don't have to read that part to understand the question and it is not essential to read. Another version of TL;DR is 'too long, don't read'. – Mochan Jan 14 '13 at 5:24
  • Few months ago we have one guy here and I think he was removed after one month or so. I found many times his reputation roll-backing. – Ten-Coin Feb 7 '13 at 17:31
  • That just had 42 votes. It feels somehow significant. – MadTux Mar 9 '13 at 0:13
  • @ALL-USER : Be Ethical. – Pandya May 2 '14 at 9:13
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    I would plus one simply for the image in my head after 'it probably involves a rusty spoon' – DaveM May 20 '15 at 17:33
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    +1 for 'it probably involves a rusty spoon'. – DaveM Jun 18 '15 at 14:45
  • I have no real-life friends here. I gain friend from here from all these superb mods & members. I learn the meaning of giving & really love it. – Wafie Ali Nov 28 '16 at 5:42
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    @UbuntuUser That's not necessarily how meta works. This will never stop being up-to-date. – Jacob Vlijm Jan 15 '17 at 22:22

This occurs on almost every popular SE site. I recommend migrating this to Meta SE.


Assuming this issue may affect the meaning of reputation, or cause true disturbance in the system, is quite a stretch.

Boosting friends is bad.

However...


Disclaimer: My experience comes from Stack Overflow, where this behavior is very common.

Addressing some of your statements would help express why this is a non-issue in terms of bringing harm.

I found your post by searching for this same issue, but for SO.


Reputation is supposed to reflect the technical quality of users' answers over time

Reputation doesn't express current ability

Ranked #17 on Stack Overflow for all-time reputation. Hasn't contributed a question or answer since July 12, over 5 years ago in 2012.

His content is still useful. The quality of his posts seem up to par. It fits the philosophy of SE.

But, for all we know, this user could have switched hobbies/careers since, got rusty, and they may struggle contributing properly in modern times.

This proves reputation isn't based on current capabilities.

Adding the issue of answering blantant duplicates, reputation appears to signify the amount of traffic you can generate.


Our problem with this sort of behaviour is — to put it bluntly — that it undermines the whole system

Sounds familiar.

The system undermines itself

10 upvotes. 20 downvotes. 60 rep was gained.

Users' reputation would mean nothing if SE died out. So why risk inflation of duplicate content to gain rep?

Hmmm...

I can't easily advertise maintenance. Yet, marking duplicates properly requires you to not only understand the question, but understand the site.

Those who help maintain the site by linking related information through duplicates get rewarded nothing.

But write an answer, have the OP upvote & accept, and you can gain 25 rep (10 for vote + 15 for accepted). Downvoted 10 times? -2 * 10. Still made gains.

This isn't an oversight. An elementary student could determine that downvoted content could gain rep while spending less time on quality.


reputation now also reflects the number of friends a user has

Not even close

These actions are obvious when performed in a way that would cause any harmful or noticable impact.

If reputation started reflecting popularity, it wouldn't be the fault of the users, rather the system itself. Automate it.

"The system sounded an alarm based on... fairly stupid heuristics. 5 deleted answers in a day is pretty alarming for most users, but when you average > 2 answers per day every day it's hardly a real problem. By volume, this is hardly a great loss; by % of total contributions, it's nothing."

The system has no issue automatically banning someone for removing content they contributed. Yet, it's up to the users to ensure the site remains clean?

Friend boosting becoming an impactful issue on the exchange sounds like a joke. SE has already proven it's capabilities to automate tasks. So why not this?

Should we also ban ourselves for deleting our own content?


Your sugestions

In terms of what users can do, I have no suggestions. Rather, this section of the post explains why your suggestions wont work.

In previous meta posts, I touched on the issue of rep hounding. There are reputable members doing things they know goes against the philosophy of the site.

For newer users who aren't familiar with how the site works, asking or answering a blantant duplicate doesn't seem malicious. But friend boosting? That's not a given?

If new people don't care to check out the tour or help center when asked... If reputable users don't care to maintain the site's philosophy...

What makes you feel anyone would follow this? What do they gain?


My suggestions

1.8k rep. Across 3 users, a combined total of 1.8k rep.

Would anyone care to go out if their way to prevent such small impact on the system?

"Stop it before it becomes an issue" is what one would say if they were oblivious to the much, MUCH, larger issues, which have a far bigger impact on the exchange than 1.8k across 3 accounts.

If you fear of it expanding, dish out some automated temporary suspensions.

Do this too much and you'll find out what losing a thousand reputation in a second feels like.

Who is your target audience here? Regular SE users, or people who may contribute for about a year, then leave?

If I lost 1k rep, out of my small total of 8k rep, I couldn't say I'd care. Reputation has lost it's meaning to me.

But for those who do care for rep... 10 upvotes, 20 downvotes, +60 rep. Come on..

I love the site, which is why I'm somewhat heartbroken that it has come down to this.

It's as if the serious issues won't be addressed properly, so we have to make 1.8k seem like a big deal.

As you can tell, there was no suggestion. This issue isn't on us.

We are contributors, not slaves. How are you going to tell us to go out of our way to enforce something the site could do itself?

You can hope. But until the system changes, it's going to be inevitable - the community is too large.

SE wants high quality? Fix these extremely simplistic pitfalls. Kinda makes you wonder the intentions of SE.

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    Some people who seem to be voting for their friends may actually be voting for high quality content which was posted by someone they don't know. If the system automatically flags for 1.8k rep will the system have any way of distinguishing between the world's top expert in a topic who got a lot of upvotes from grateful users who the world's top expert saved their bacon numerous times but who otherwise don't know him personally and possible friends in real life who are otherwise not distinguished in any way that the system can detect? – karel Aug 12 at 7:13

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