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I notice that there is a group of users on this site who like to leave unconstructive comments on each other's posts. For example, A writes "Great answer, +1" on B's posts and B writes "Short and sweet, +1" on A's posts. Often there are a few of these comments each day, accompanied by the upvotes on each other's posts, which I notice upon further investigation.

What should the community, mods or SE staff do about this? These users have learnt to upvote only a certain number of posts of his friend each day so as not to trigger the automatic script for removing serial upvotes. Can the mods tell these users to stop writing these silly comments? Also, can the mods invalidate all their upvotes on each other's posts if they exceed a certain number a week or a month?

I am aware that mods can view long term patterns, and I would like some kind of policy to be set on removing this kind of tactical serial upvotes. I will not name these users here, but I know exactly who they are.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a great question, oh wait... $\endgroup$ – IAmNoOne Sep 20 '14 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ Something I also see happening on this cases is that the other answers go ignored and, many times, I can't find pedagogical/mathematical reasons for one answer deserving an up vote while none of the others do. $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Sep 21 '14 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ Just to play the devil's advocate... Suppose that for whatever reason, person A likes looking at person's B answers. I can imagine a number of ways this could happen, e.g. by similarity of tastes, knowing one another in real life, etc. Nothing wrong with that, I guess. Once A reads X's answer (where maybe X=B, but could also be anyone), he should presumably upvote or downvote, probably upvote more often. And so he does. I agree that this does produce very fair distribution of votes, but we have worse biases than that (e.g. over-voting elementary questions). $\endgroup$ – Jakub Konieczny Sep 21 '14 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, you tipped them off, Will! Now they're going to shift their "unconstructive" comments to Facebook or IRC or to offline and thus give you even less evidence of their "mutual tactical serial upvotes"! $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Sep 22 '14 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertSoupe That would be a satisfactory resolution as far as I'm concerned. Nothing wrong with mutual love and appreciation; they just need to get a (chat) room to express it in. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Sep 22 '14 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ Sweet question, +1! $\endgroup$ – VividD Sep 22 '14 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Great question! I wish I could give +3! ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) ;) :D ;) ;) ;) $\endgroup$ – VividD Sep 22 '14 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ There are a set of users who consistently post answers I find to be complete, informative and well structured. I upvote complete, informative and well structured answers. Therefore I upvote some people more than others. I certainly hope that they find my answers complete, informative and well structured and upvote them too. $\endgroup$ – Blackhawk Sep 29 '14 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ I would downvote, but I don't understand the question. $\endgroup$ – Fred Kline Sep 30 '14 at 9:48
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Some notes in the form of an answer.

  • Moderators cannot invalidate votes. Any votes. Ever. (And those downvotes I received on that answer were certainly not appropriate! Why can't I invalidate them!? Why!?) We're trusted with a lot of information and tools, but SE still likes to keep certain things out of our reach. Invalidation of votes is either done automatically, or else by Community Managers and other SE employees when situations warrant.

    At best moderators can make suggestions and present our case to the SE team, but they do not always agree with us. (Again! Why not!? Those votes were not proper votes!? I! Want! My! Rep! Back!)

  • Can the mods contact users to tell them to stop bad behaviour? Yes. And we do. I've lost count of the number of messages I've sent. And on a variety of bahaviour. Consistently bad questions. Abusive comments. Sock-puppetry. Inappropriate flagging. (Downvoting my answers.) The list goes on, and does include posting too many chatty/non-constructive/off-topic comments.

    This isn't to say that our messages are universally well-received and suggestions heeded. (Some colourful reactions to these messages can probably be found in meta, at least for the 10K+ users.) But moderators also have additional tools at our disposal.

  • Moderators can delete comments. (And we do. A fair bit, actually.) Unfortunately we can't patrol a site this large searching for comments to nix. (At present, somewhere between 1700 and 2300 comments are posted every day, and there is no easy way to search recent comments.) But conscientious flaggers are a great help, and I/we salute you!

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    $\begingroup$ So: TL;DR would be "flag as too chatty"? $\endgroup$ – user147263 Sep 19 '14 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ I think you're emphasizing the inability of mods to directly deal with votes too much. While there are significant restrictions, they don't prevent dealing with actual vote fraud. We might have to ask SE to investigate and intervene, but the tools are there for the serious cases. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Sep 19 '14 at 18:28
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Your post leaves many important details open. Some questions follow:

  • How are the answers? Are the answers that are being upvoted any good? If they're not good, then this is an issue indeed.
  • If the answers are good -- could these upvotes be deserved?
  • So: are you sure this is an incident of mutual tactical serial upvoting?
  • Is the symbiotic relationship of these users the main source of their reputation points?
  • What's the incidence rate of this? Are they doing this on every answer, or only occasionally?
  • "These users have learnt to upvote only a certain number of posts of his friend each day so as not to trigger the automatic script for removing serial upvotes." This is a strong claim. How are you sure of this?

Granted, if you're on to some nefarious reputation-gaming villainy here, then it's great that you caught this. The flip side of this is that Math.SE is a community, and it is important not to erroneously detect (perhaps overly) friendly behavior as serial upvoting.

Many of the more frequent users here recognize each other by name, and I assume that some users like certain users more than others, which happens naturally. If some statistics were collated, I would expect that we would see some subtle voting/commenting patterns of the sort of which you speak, though perhaps not as extreme as you have indicated.

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    $\begingroup$ "How are you sure of this?" In the one instance I got (stupidly) upset enough to do some digging, because user sillily discussed the way they did it in MSE chat (describing it as a - then - daily habit).. If you care to check, I answered a similar question on meta in which I outline my take on how to deal with it (by and large, ignore it). $\endgroup$ – gnometorule Sep 28 '14 at 3:26
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Is not some of that bound to happen? Perhaps a great deal. I keep track of where I am spreading the joy and it amounts to about 10 different people are getting 50% of it. Why is that? Well because those same people and I look at the same type problems! They do it better 1+, they do it more interestingly +1, they do it differently +1...

I have been told right here that no one is particularly impressed by someone's reputation. Seeing those green markers when you get an upvote is really one of the nice features here. If a couple of guys are giving each other a little boost once a while do they need to lower the boom on them?

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    $\begingroup$ As to your last question: because if those answers actually aren't all that good, then "giving each other a little boost" runs contrary to the very core of the site, as it makes the good answers harder to find, and lends false authority to bad ones. $\endgroup$ – Newb Sep 21 '14 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ True enough, but laws that can not be enforced are silly laws. Who the heck is going to keep tabs on 3 guys giving each other 4 upvotes? Also, I do not think people here place much stock in those upvotes that any answer gets. Thinking critically about any answer and proving it to your own satisfaction has nothing to do with how many upvotes it has. $\endgroup$ – bobbym Sep 21 '14 at 16:53

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