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In the list of mathSE users by number of votes in the last quarter, there are a few examples of users with little to no reputation gain or site activity, but a lot of votes. Specifically:

  • A user has 101 reputation, no questions, and no answers, but voted 2443 times in the last quarter.

  • A user has 398 reputation, 19 questions, and 5 answers, but voted 719 times in the last quarter.

I think the "last quarter" includes July, August, and September.

Is this (particularly the first bullet point example) suspicious behavior that should be reported to the mods? Everyone like upvotes, and these users are throwing a lot of votes around. But it also seems that this ghost behavior (casting so many votes but remaining invisible) may be questionable for the following reasons:

  • The user could have some bot or some script installed.

  • The user could be attempting to game the system to get badges (Civic Duty and/or Electorate).

  • Even if the user's voting is genuine, perhaps their voting is uninformed, mostly only voting on popular questions, or otherwise not helpful to the site. (Especially considering, if their reputation is under 125, they cannot downvote, so all the votes are upvotes.)

So, I'm looking for community and/or moderator feedback as to (i) whether this is undesirable behavior and (ii) what, if anything should be done about this.

I'm tagging this (specific-user) but the question is really about this sort of behavior in general, not any particular case.

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    $\begingroup$ It is worth worrying about whether some accounts are being used for rep-farming. I might look at the activity on other SE sites, on the premise that they start here with 101 "because they are trusted on another" community. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Sep 7 '16 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ There is some 398 rep user (at time of commenting) with several thousand votes. And another with some 90 downvotes, and only a handful of upvotes. Which does raise some initial suspicion. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Sep 7 '16 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ There's so much paranoia on SE about bots that there are some very good measures to detect them. These measures occasionally ensnare human users, so I think the bot detection is very robust. As for gaming the system to gain badges, what's the point? You can make yourself all the badges you want online. I give you a Watchful badge: auplod.com/u/dolupa86bf0.png $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Sep 9 '16 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertSoupe what's the point of badges, indeed--except a lot of us care about them, no point in denying it $\endgroup$ – 6005 Sep 9 '16 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ @6005 As I review my own badges, the only one that I can honestly say I attach any value to is the elementary-number-theory badge, I have to admit I'd like to get a few of the other "tag" badges. Most of the other badges that I currently have seem to be a simple byproduct of the activity that has earned me the elementary-number-theory badge. $\endgroup$ – Robert Soupe Sep 9 '16 at 0:57
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    $\begingroup$ On another hand, having users with random behaviors makes more difficult the seizure of power by a small group. I observe communities since the time of the french network in the eighties and I know that these kinds of groups are bad presages. $\endgroup$ – user354674 Sep 11 '16 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ It's a lot easier to vote and lurk than to gain reputation. $\endgroup$ – HopefullyHelpful Sep 17 '16 at 17:44
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Absent any evidence of wrong-doing, we must assume that users are right-doing.*

As long as a user has 15 reputation on this site, they are free to upvote as they wish (provided they are voting for content). After they earn 125 reputation they are free to downvote as they wish (again, proved they are voting for content). Whether they have the requisite knowledge to make "informed" decisions on their voting is rather beside the point because there is no way to impose controls of this nature.

The only additional thing I can really say on this matter is that the fact that some low-reputation users are high on our voting stats may be indicative of another problem on the site: our higher reputation users do not vote enough. (I freely admit that I am also part of this problem.) This is troubling because voting on posts is the only way we really have to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So should anything be done about this?

  • Yes! Everyone should vote more!

See a good post? Upvote it! See a crappy post? Downvote it!

Don't have the Civic Duty, Electorate, Suffrage, or Vox Populi badges yet? Get them!


*After using some moderator powers to quickly investigate, I see no evidence of wrong-doing.

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    $\begingroup$ Wait. Only 2176 Civic Duty badges? That's sad :(. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Sep 7 '16 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin: And only 666 Electorate badges. Satanically tragic. :P $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Sep 7 '16 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Lord_Farin then that place in the ranking corresponds only to having 1500 points. For votes/points this is higher than my ratio. and not much lower than your ratio. $\endgroup$ – quid Sep 7 '16 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ "See a good post? Upvote it! See a crappy post? Downvote it!" I have noticed a problem with my own behavior on this point. First, I have stopped reading almost all questions and answers outside of the representation theory tag. Second, I am very lazy. Third, I do not feel comfortable upvoting answers that I do not completely understand. The upshot is that I read only answers to difficult questions, I don't read very many of them, and I often don't upvote because I'm not 100% confident that I have understood. $\endgroup$ – Stephen Sep 8 '16 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila Keep Calm And Don't Vote: Voting will break 666, but, the Satanic powers must go!!! VOTE EVERYONE, VOTE! $\endgroup$ – EKons Sep 9 '16 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "there is no way to impose controls of this nature" $\endgroup$ – tilper Sep 9 '16 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Stephen: If an answer gives you any more (reasonably substantial) understanding, and it looks like it took a modicum effort on the part of the author, then why not upvote it? It might be a good idea to approach an answer the way you would a lecture: don't expect to understand all of it, just try to get something out of it and then, if you want, you can consolidate your understanding some other time. On the other hand, adopting this mindset may simply put you off reading answers, so feel free not to do so. $\endgroup$ – Will R Sep 10 '16 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ Wait, Vox Populi is a thing? Well, guess I'll go do my voting. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Sep 11 '16 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ Wait, does voting here count? $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Sep 11 '16 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Those badges aren’t exactly hard to get: I don’t vote nearly enough and don’t downvote at all, since I don’t find it at all useful, and even so I have the first three. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Sep 12 '16 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Brian You're absolutely right that those badges aren't exactly hard to get. Yet (according to the latest data dump at the SEDE) of the 243 current trusted users, 7 don't have Civic Duty, 71 don't have Electorate, 119 don't have Suffrage, 153 don't have Vox Populi, and 106 don't have Sportsmanship. I suspect that a lot of this is simply a lack of desire to vote, up or down. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Sep 12 '16 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ @SimpleArt The same badges also exist on meta.math, but only for voting activity here on meta. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Sep 12 '16 at 11:52
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    $\begingroup$ @arjafi Even worse, 5 of them don't have Critic, i.e. they never cast any downvote. $\endgroup$ – wythagoras Sep 16 '16 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ @wythagoras: I consider that a point in their favor. As far as I’m concerned, a downvote accomplishes absolutely nothing that a comment doesn’t do better. And I consider downvotes of mathematically correct, understandable answers vandalism pure and simple. I find the vote totals utterly useless. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Sep 18 '16 at 4:03
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For the first example, the specific user in question is a very well-known SE citizen. He (going by the image) is not known for tolerance of poor quality and non-sense, quite the contrary. And, he votes a lot. I think he holds the network-wide record for downvotes.

I cannot know what he votes for precisely, but absent evidence to the contrary I would assume he votes on decent posts (it is only up-votes we are talking about on this site).

For the second example, the user joined rather recently and seems fairly active overall. I do not find the voting disproportionate.

In general, if there were a blank account with hardly any activity anywhere in the network and only votes, it might raise an eyebrow. But voting is encouraged and the accounts seem both genuine. I see no reason for suspicion.

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