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A moderator mentioned this and it piqued my curiosity. Is there any reason why there cannot be a viewable record when someone registers under a different alias? I like that someone can, Ulysses-like, enter as a visitor and look around. But if someone posts a question and weighs in with a pre-cooked answer this is something I'd like to know so I don't unwittingly contribute to a farce.

There are no privacy issues, right? If I know that arf-arf = rapstar no one's privacy is compromised.

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    $\begingroup$ If someone posts a question and then answers it using another account, that is something the moderators would like to know about so they can kick him out. But how would the system know that some individual is registered under two different accounts? I don't know if anyone contemplates that possibility, unless suspicious circumstances arise. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Dec 7 '14 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson: answering one's own question is allowed, even with the same account. However, it is bad to vote on one's own posts or to praise one's own posts in comments, from an alternate account. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 7 '14 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ I'm aware that answering your own question is allowed with the same account --- I've done it a few times myself. I would have thought there were all kinds of problems with having your sockpuppet answer your questions, but I guess I must be wrong about that. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Dec 7 '14 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson: There would be a problem with voting for your sock's posts (and vice versa). If your sockpuppet asks a question which you upvote and answer, to have the sockpuppet accept and upvote your answer, then IMHO the only problems are the votes (accepting vote included). But if the two accounts don't vote for each others' posts (including accepting), I don't think there's an issue as the two accounts aren't interacting with each other (or others) in a manner contrary to what a single account can do. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Dec 7 '14 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ Your Honors, I withdraw my objections. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Dec 7 '14 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ As @GerryMyerson notes it is a possibility few would contemplate. I thought perhaps it was transparent at some level but maybe not. It's not something I would worry about on an individual basis. If someone appears to have built considerable rep on 300 variations of the same question all asked by sub-100 rep users it makes me wonder. More important than the particular case is the sense that this should not even be possible. $\endgroup$ – daniel Dec 7 '14 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ @ArthurFischer Perhaps this is not an issue of the sort that would get mods involved, but I would not be happy with someone planting questions to answer them from another account. Those are perceived differently. If someone asks "How to integrate $x\sqrt{x^2+4}$?" and answers "Hint: substitute $u=x^2+4$" at the same time, from the same account... that would not earn them much rep, in fact the opposite is more likely. But if the answer is posted from a different account, this creates the false impression of a helpful hint worthy of upvotes. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Dec 7 '14 at 14:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Behaviour: I completely agree that this would be poor, err, behaviour, but it would also be very difficult to detect. This is in part due to the nature of the questions asked on this site (and also their answers). People have tried to find ways of detecting this, and it has probably been fairly successful elsewhere on SE, but as far as math.SE is concerned it hasn't really been helpful (if indeed the number of occurrences of this here is significant). $\endgroup$ – user642796 Dec 7 '14 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn "Answering one's own question is allowed, even with the same account." The "even" seems to put emphasis on that case as the bizarre one, but it strikes me as the opposite. No one here has expressed any concern with asking and answering questions with the same account. $\endgroup$ – Jonas Meyer Dec 7 '14 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @JonasMeyer: I don't see why anyone would care if someone answers their own question with a different account if they can do it with the account that asked the question. Thus, the "even". $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 7 '14 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ @ArthurFischer There are a few restrictions that are evaded in such a case, e.g. you get no reputation for a true self-answer if you accept it. It is also deceptive and might result in different voting behaviour as self-answered posts are often evaluated by slightly different criteria. Using socks to self-answer is generally considered an interaction with regards to the global SE policy on sock puppets, and I've warned a user on one of my sites for this kind of behaviour. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Dec 7 '14 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ @MadScientist I tried to find an answer by an SE employee (I think it was Robert Cartaino) that specifically addressed the interaction aspect, but no luck so far. Do you happen to know of such a post? (I quoted an answer by Anna Lear below, but it is relatively brief.) $\endgroup$ – user147263 Dec 7 '14 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn Do you see now why some would care? $\endgroup$ – user147263 Dec 7 '14 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Behaviour: I would imagine that that is a pretty rare occurrence, and if someone were to ask/answer a lot of questions like that, it will draw attention (and probably action after some investigation). A user who would do that would probably also cross-vote. In any case, it is a bit of extra work to determine if two accounts are from the same user, unless they use the same email address. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 7 '14 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Behaviour This post is pretty much the most official reference on this subject. It's a bit hard to find because it's on a very small SE site. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Dec 7 '14 at 20:23
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Viewing information on multiple accounts

SE does not make any information about users public other than what they decided to share themselves (with the exception of suspension notices, but those don't give much information). So, you can only know about the coexistence of accounts if the user shares this information, like some people do on other SE sites: e.g., Shadow of the Shadow and NotDoorknob.

SE position (as understood by me)

While cross-voting is definitely prohibited, this is not the only disallowed behaviour for multiple accounts. The guide for moderators mentions "supporting own position" as one non-reputation related form of abuse, and it says that the list is not exhaustive. There is a gray area as in many other places, something that is OK as a singular event may be not OK if it becomes a pattern. I quote two SE employees:

"Faking it" also includes pretending to be two people where the content is concerned. Don't support yourself in comments, don't answer your own questions, don't stir up staged controversy (or quell it by playing a supportive peer) -- Robert Cartaino

So long as there's no voting or other dubious-looking stuff (like one account asking a question and another immediately answering it) going on between the accounts, it's really not a big deal. -- Anna Lear

Note the parenthetical.

Answering with a pre-cooked answer

In theory this should not matter as long as accounts don't vote up or accept each other's posts. According to this theory, any upvotes received for an answer signify that it was also helpful to the voter, so the whole Q&A is a beneficial addition to the site.

In practice, specifically on this site, answers are sometimes upvoted in appreciation of the answerer being helpful to the asker, even if the voter already knew everything that's in the answer. There is a good chance that the voters would not approve of the Q&A pair if they knew it's a setup, especially if it's a low-level problem with near-duplicates already existing on the site.

My suggestion: vote up only when you personally benefited from the post, or feel it is a worthy contribution to the site as a knowledge base. If it's something of use only to the OP, let the OP reward it: they can at least accept the answer, even when they can't vote. I think there's been enough of "+1 for being nice" already.

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  • $\begingroup$ My only concern is for the self-serving upvote--if someone wants to post an answer to his own question that seems fine. If it's helpful so much the better. I am only troubled by the idea of several alter-egos upvoting their sponsor who thereby accumulates fake rep. $\endgroup$ – daniel Dec 7 '14 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ The parenthetical statement from Anna Lear is only really a problem that would require action if the answer is upvoted by the OP or accepted (or if the answerer upvotes the question); that is, when cross-voting occurs. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 7 '14 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn please provide a legitimate reason for this type of behavior. Why would somebody want to do this (except for farming points and related)? $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 7 '14 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: By "this type of behavior" I assume you mean having two accounts. There are a number of users here who only ask questions with one account and answer questions with another. As long as they don't cross-vote, it is generally unharmful. In the hypothetical situation that Behaviour mentions in a comment to the question, the answerer might get some upvotes they might not have if they were the same person, but if it became a pattern, we would deal with it. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 7 '14 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn no, I did not mean the general issue of having more than one account. By this type of behavior I meant specifically what you were talking about here, that is the parenthetical comment, to spell it out: "one account asking a question and another immediately answering it" $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 7 '14 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: I cannot fathom why many users do what they do, but unless it causes a significant problem, there is not much one can do. Sure, we could check when a question is answered "too quickly" (and this has been flagged in the past and acted on). We could also check if there are a pair of users who always seem to answer the other's questions (I don't know if this has been flagged or acted on). However, the expense in investigation time usually prevents the moderators from finding a lot of cases like this. There are plenty of other issues that we can handle and so that is where our time goes. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 7 '14 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn so it seems you cannot think of any such reason either. I do not see why you somehow feel the need to defend this practice then. Why not agree it is inadmissible? That it will be hard to prosecute it in practice is another thing. But, if you say it is alright how do you want to do anything about it ever. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 7 '14 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: Where am I defending it? I am simply saying that "one account asking a question and another [account from the same user] immediately answering it" is not something we can detect easily, and that it is relatively harmless unless it becomes a pattern and then it is usually flagged. Then we can act on it. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 7 '14 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ @robjohn see your first comment on the question. $\endgroup$ – quid Dec 7 '14 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ @quid: That is not defending the action. I was simply indicating when that single action is a significant problem. When that action becomes a pattern, that is a different matter. Upvoting is encouraged; serial upvoting is not. A single action can be endurable or acceptable when a pattern of the same action is not. $\endgroup$ – robjohn Dec 7 '14 at 20:22
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Is there any reason why there cannot be a viewable record when someone registers under a different alias? (...)
There are no privacy issues, right? If I know that arf-arf = rapstar no one's privacy is compromised.

A very large privacy issue comes about when one account is clearly tied to the user's identity, while another account is used for anonymous questions. This is a major issue on sites like The Workplace and/or Academia, where people will ask questions that insult their bosses, point out illegal and/or unethical activity in their company, or admit to cheating/plagiarism in an academic environment. Because of this, it is not uncommon for people to have multiple accounts to conceal their identity.

Because it's a privacy risk on other sites (and StackExchange links accounts across sites), it becomes a privacy risk on Math.SE, too.

tl;dr: Sure, knowing that arf-arf=rapstar may not be a privacy risk, but knowing that MyRealName=IHaveEmbarrassingAndOrIllegalQuestion could be.

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  • $\begingroup$ A good point, although I wonder if it's a privacy issue. The "right" to do things online anonymously is different from the right to be secure in one's person, papers, and effects. It seems to me the advantages of being able to anonymously criticize or admit wrongdoing are eclipsed by, for example, the suppression or manipulation of political speech via paid anonymous comment. There has never been a right to anonymity. It's a convenience and while I side with the oppressed employee I don't know if it's worth the loss of clarity. $\endgroup$ – daniel Dec 9 '14 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Daniel: never do I claim one has a "right" to online anonymity; rather, I simply claim that linking accounts does reduce privacy in a measurable sense. Whether or not you like it, placing barriers to anonymity online is a great way for people to either 1) be encouraged to circumvent your methods or 2) leave the site for a competitor. $\endgroup$ – apnorton Dec 9 '14 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ My point was only that the privacy that is reduced in some measurable sense here is then maybe something different from classical (legal) privacy. And for sure my ideal internet where joe=joe would consist of half a dozen Cato-like citizens who could ill afford to keep it afloat. $\endgroup$ – daniel Dec 9 '14 at 4:46

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