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There have recently been a number of set theory questions of very low quality - many of these (most?) appear likely to have been asked by the same person under different accounts (the username is always [oneletter].[lastname], and the question almost always ends with "Please help me.." (including the double period)).

Besides downvoting and closing the questions as they arise (which seems ineffective), what should we do about this sort of thing - both in this specific instance and in general?

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  • $\begingroup$ In the specific instance I am virtually certain the moderators are already aware of the issue. I'll write an answer for the general question. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 8 '17 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ All too sad, all too strange. In the past, I would have chucked this to a user not wanting to register. But now, when registration is mandatory for asking questions, this behavior makes negative sense. People be crazy, I guess. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 9 '17 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'll mention that you can also bring attention to posts which need closing in c.r.u.d.e chat room. Of course, it's up to users who visit the room whether they decide to vote to close/delete or not. (Admittedly, the room has been rather inactive lately. But some two year back several users visited that room regularly. Maybe it can become more active again.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Apr 18 '17 at 9:11
  • $\begingroup$ I've seen a lot of these kind of questions (set theoretic and having specified username) on the website, and I must apologize for answering some of them as well. Having said that, if we are persistent, then we can weed out this user (or these users) by simply rejecting his/her questions. I classify this behavior as being rude and abusive (as @quid says below) rather than spam. However, I wish to add that this behavior could be vengeance for (in his/her opinion) unfair treatment on the website. Since prevention is better than cure, may be we could step up efforts to accommodate more users $\endgroup$ – астон вілла олоф мэллбэрг Apr 19 '17 at 23:41
  • $\begingroup$ I could be wrong, very wrong, since we could be compromising our principles in doing the above, and some users may try to take advantage of the same. I am just floating this idea, because as I have said above, this question could possibly be linked to how we treat new users on the website. You can't please everybody, but if you can praise and inform users of good questions (and their reception) asked by newbies, maybe they will also fall in line, unlike our friend(s) above. In short, we must take measures to reward good questions, and set them up as examples for new users posting questions $\endgroup$ – астон вілла олоф мэллбэрг Apr 19 '17 at 23:46
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There are measures that can be taken, and are taken, to stop such things. I am not able to give details, which are not public for obvious reasons, but, e.g., (automatic) checks and restrictions are put on IP address from which a lot of poor content is created.

That is to say, to constantly flag, close, downvote, etc., this stuff is not completely useless.

Yet, we also need to recognize that a sufficiently dedicated person likely will manage to repost and repost and repost for a very long time. Don't get frustrated and just keep removing the poor content. Eventually they'll give up or some mechanism will kick in that stops them or at least slows them down. (Of course, eventually, a new like minded person will show up.)

If you find a clear pattern it can be a good idea to point it out to moderators via an "other" flag on one of the posts.

As mentioned in a comment, what you should not do is flag as a spam (as it is not real advertising anything and only this is considered as spam here). If you want to use a drastic flag use "rude or abusive" (in practice it is very similar to a spam flag). There is some debate if this is an appropriate flag. But I do think it is if there is a clear pattern of reposting the same thing many times. It is rude and abusive behavior even if the content of the post is not.

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  • $\begingroup$ Noah said, "a number of set theory questions of very low quality." He didn't say anything about "reposting the same thing many times." Are you and Noah talking about the same problem? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Apr 9 '17 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry: Yes. Same issue. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 9 '17 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerry The post has originally been tagged spam, which might be one of the reasons why quid included that paragraph in the answer to explain that spam flag is not the right thing to do here. If any of the two "nuclear option" flags should be used at all, then rude/abusive. (Although probably it is too harsh. I called them "nuclear option" flags because I do not know whether there is some standard terminology how to call these two types of flags - spam and abusive - which have rather strict consequences for the post and the poster.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Apr 11 '17 at 3:34
  • $\begingroup$ If the same user is using different accounts to evade removal of bad content (by reposing under newly assumed IDs), that is indeed "abusive" of the terms of service. However I do not think that is the intended meaning of the rude/abusive flag, and I'd instead be inclined to downvote and flag for moderator attention noting the apparent sock-puppetry. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Apr 12 '17 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ @hardmath as I said there is some debate about this. However, I believe it is among the admissible uses of that flag. Related, note that it is an established fact that gibberish-posts can be in scope of that flag. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 12 '17 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ Why is the "spam" flag solely reserved for advertisements? $\endgroup$ – Stella Biderman Apr 12 '17 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @StellaBiderman SE uses the data provided by spam-flags to tune the automatic spam-prevention measures. When spam-flags are used for other things this adds noise to this signal. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 12 '17 at 21:35
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Indeed, this is a problem. And when you first note it, you sometimes feel that being a single user (with a single account) it is impossible to downvote, close and delete these votes.

But you are not the first one to notice that. And certainly now with the meta thread, others are aware of this issue.

We can only help that now more people will be more vigilant, and will actively try to find these questions which are still open, still undeleted, and remove them too.

As quid said, we can only hope that with enough time and effort, this will end.

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The Noah description recall me a kind of robot or chatbot. May be any standard test "I am not a robot' may help a bit.

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    $\begingroup$ It seem that some kind of captcha already exists, see here for more information. (Although I am not sure whether information in the links give there is up to date.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Apr 13 '17 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ That is unlikely. There was either no interaction with the comments (and the question was not random nonsense); and if there was interaction, it was with another human. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 14 '17 at 5:46

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