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I received a message from a moderator today informing me that I have been penalized for some members voting up my answers:

We recently noticed a substantial number of votes on your account to or from specific users. While we encourage everyone to upvote great posts, the motivation for doing so needs to be anchored in the merits of the post, not the person who wrote it. This is just a reminder to please refrain from targeting specific users when voting.

Stack Exchange works by ensuring that the best information rises to the top. Voting specifically for content that benefits your friends, family or colleagues unfairly skews that system, and continuing to do so can result in a lengthy suspension for all involved.

Please note that the offending votes have been invalidated. The system has processes in place to detect various types of voting between groups of users, so if you know anyone who may be voting for your stuff in kind, please ask them to refrain before the system detects such activity and takes similar actions on their account. If by chance you created separate accounts for the purposes of voting for another, please send me a link to those profiles so I can merge them without further incident.

FYI, I replied:

Thank you for your message.

I have no idea who has been voting up my answers and I'm definitely not targeting specific users. If you could advise who has been doing this then I will follow up with them directly and request them to refrain from voting on any of my future answers.

Also, I certainly have not created (and never would create) separate accounts for voting for myself.

I'm extremely disappointed to see that my user account has been penalized by 2,000 votes. I can assure you that I'm not using StackExchange for any other purpose than it's designed for.

My activity has increased significantly over the past couple of months, but only because I have been devoting time each day to contribute to this valuable community. I take care and pride in providing accurate answers using tested code, sometimes spending several hours to provide valid answers.

What you need to be aware of is that all my answers are for marketing-cloud tags. This tag specifically refers to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud platform. While there are a number of users posting questions with the marketing-cloud tag, the vast majority of answers come from either myself or Adam Spriggs as we are both subject matter experts on Marketing Cloud and there are currently few individuals with extensive knowledge of this platform. This is currently a very small community of regular individual contributors; the majority of questions originate from India and based on the type of questions, the level of their knowledge is very limited.

Again, I have no idea who are the 'offenders' that have been voting for my posts, but I can only assume that it's based on the merit of my answers. Conversely, I regularly vote up answers for Adam Spriggs but that's only because he's a subject matter expert in the field of AMPscript and I believe his answers are correct and are worthy of a vote. I've just noticed that his answer count has also been reduced — if this is due to me voting on his posts then I can assure you this is not intentional either.

While I appreciate that have implemented automated measures to identify voting 'between groups of users', I think its unfair that you penalise users like myself who have legitimately been committed to contributing to this community — may I suggest that instead of penalising committed users like myself, you notify those who are regularly voting my answers to warn them.

In the meantime, I would urge you to reconsider the penalization of 2,000 votes on my user account, as I'm a genuinely committed user who is not knowingly abusing this platform. Please can you advise who I can contact to request my account to be assessed further and have my votes rightly reinstated.

Thank you.

Have other users experienced the same issue? It seems unfair that committed contributors like myself are being penalized for others voting on our answers, when the reality is that answers to marketing-cloud tagged questions is from a relatively small group of users with extensive experience on the platform, and as a result naturally you will get the same users voting consistently for our answers.

  • Hmm, that's kinda scary. I know there are some users whose content is so consistently good, and whose perspective I value highly enough, that I upvote them most of the time that I see them post. But...there are several such users, and they mostly have thousands of votes already to their name. Did you lose 2000 votes or 2000 points? That's an order of magnitude difference, though it still sucks either way. – Adrian Larson Aug 31 '16 at 23:45
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    Thanks Adrian, I've lost 2,000 points and a handful of bronze and silver badges too :-( – Eliot Harper Aug 31 '16 at 23:53
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    That seems overly punitive. Especially weird that you lost points for accepting answers from a variety of users. That's nearly all I can see in your reputation history is a series of unaccepts. Major drag. Maybe the moderators can reverse the process if was an automated decision and seems to be in error. Posting here sure seems like the right first step. – Adrian Larson Aug 31 '16 at 23:56
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    I am so bummed about this. – Adam Spriggs Sep 1 '16 at 0:12
  • I note that my points have been reversed due to 'serial voting' postimg.org/image/r5xg0n77x – Eliot Harper Sep 1 '16 at 0:26
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    @EliotHarper You don't lose badges from vote invalidations. Your badges are simply different here on Meta than on the main site (where you have 5 and 22). – animuson Sep 1 '16 at 0:35
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    Since I know squat about sfmc, I'm sure glad there is someone like yourself who can assist those users – cropredy Sep 1 '16 at 23:41
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I just want to throw in my two cents here, despite not being involved.

First of all, huge thanks to @animuson for taking time out of his day(s) to respond at all. I don't know that you owe it to us, and I appreciate the gesture. Judgment handed out from high is a tough pill to swallow, and it helps to feel like there is at least some level of access.

Next, I want to just say that I understand you have more data than we do, and it is probably frustrating to have such information asymmetry throughout this conversation. It might be a very clear cut case from your perspective in terms of time stamps and whatever other data you have.

At the same time, this sort of action does provoke a lot of emotion, because we put a lot of work into building our reputation here, and I think it can have an influence on our careers to some extent. And it doesn't exactly seem just to take such punitive action, where the consequences appear to affect the victim disproportionately.

In my opinion, great care should be taken to avoid removing legitimate votes, at the expense of leaving some possible question voting on the fence, as opposed to taking great care to remove all problem votes, at the expense of some legitimate ones. In other words, there should be a very strong preference for Type 2 errors over Type 1 errors*.

As soon as you start removing legitimate votes, you cross the line; it becomes a punitive decision. It becomes unfair, unjust. Sure, it's not a court of law. But I do think the moderators involved in this decision care about justice and making the system right.

I have no control over who votes for my questions. If I were the victim of serial upvoting at some point, and I lost a month or a year's worth of reputation because of it, I too would be upset. I'd probably have to walk away for a while, maybe forever. Go start a blog where I have total control.

I really hope we don't see that sort of chilling effect here, and I am impressed at the general aplomb with which everyone who is involved has handled themselves. Kudos.

* Type I and type II errors

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    Thanks, Adrian. I agree. I certainly appreciate everyone weighing in on this. Like Eliot, I've accepted it, but I'm still feeling butthurt about the whole thing. (Apologies for the anti-erudite terminology, @cropredy, but it's where I'm at right now.) I'm not going to touch anything SFSE for a while. Fishing for a week in the middle of nowhere Minnesota with my dad is a welcome break. – Adam Spriggs Sep 2 '16 at 22:29
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    @AdamSpriggs For what it's worth, from a moderator of this site your contributions are hugely appreciated and I'd hate to see you not returning once you've finished catching fish! I'd say the same for Adrian but I think it goes without saying :P – Matt Lacey Sep 9 '16 at 9:00
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OK, I'm not going to get over emotional about this. We're talking about my StackExchange points being revoked; not Pokecoins — that would be tragic. I'll just have to live with my reputation being hit for now. But I'm more concerned that the issue appears to be related to an edge case that the nice folks at StackExchange have apparently not considered when designing their "system has processes in place to detect various types of voting between groups of users", which I believe needs to be addressed.

Within the Salesforce StackExchange community there are some 'specialist' areas represented by tags; marketing-cloud is one of them. There are a relatively small group of regular contributors who take time to answer Marketing Cloud questions, including Salesforce employees, all of which have had their "reputation restored". This includes:

While it sounds like the judges decision is final and I'll now have to work to repair my reputation, I'm concerned that this will only happen again, unless I append all my answers with the following colophon:

If you are a regular user on this community, then please don't upvote my answer, even if you consider it to be worthy of one.

In summary, this isn't a result of anyone deliberately casting votes or some secret pact between the above mentioned users to upvote each other. If users are going through my questions/answers and sequentially voting on each one, then I can only assume that my questions and answers are well authored (I try my best to make them so).

Remember that marketing-cloud contains a smaller sub-community of dedicated users and by nature, these users will naturally accrue points organically from other users' votes.

It's disappointing to see that unless a change is made to StackExchange, I will continue to have my well earned reputation "restored".

  • As I've said before, users upvoting your entire list of answers without actually reading your posts is not "well earned reputation" - it's users just handing you reputation based on your name alone. We have plenty of tight groups of users in smaller subjects all over the network that do vote for each other quite often, but they do so through natural use of the site and not by going through each other's answer list on a regular basis. There's nothing wrong with voting for each other; some of you just need to make sure you're doing it the right way. – animuson Sep 1 '16 at 13:38
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    @animuson, I thought the actual issue issue was that [quote] the "posts were not as well accepted by the greater community as they appeared, but that there were just a ton of posts which only a tiny group of individuals considered to be great". If in fact, the real issue is that some users are just voting up without ever reading the posts, then can I suggest you add a feature to prevent this? For example, disallow votes if the page has been opened for n seconds, where n is calculated based on the character count in the question and/or answer? – Eliot Harper Sep 1 '16 at 16:21
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    Thanks for the mention, and I think a good example of the absurdity of this is to look at my reputation history. I have huge gaps in-between my point increases - I doubt someone would plan to go through and upvote me at random lengthy intervals. Seriously I don't understand how that would qualify at all and the response I got from support was just "look at the meta post" – Gortonington Sep 1 '16 at 18:49
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    I upvoted you. Be prepared for point deductions in 24-48 hours! – Gortonington Sep 1 '16 at 18:54
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    +1 for colophon -- one of the rare examples of vocabulary erudition on SFSE – cropredy Sep 1 '16 at 23:43
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The message is intentionally vague because we don't know your association with the other users involved - we can't know. What we do know is that there were many irregular voting patterns that existed between this group of users. It's one thing to casually vote for each other as you see each other's answers on the site, and there's frankly nothing wrong with that. However, the patterns we were looking at clearly suggested that many of the votes in this group were not casual votes on answers. Instead, it was quite clear that users were looking at a list of posts and going through them sequentially voting on each one. That is not something we want on our site, and not something we encourage users to do.

Now, you in particular may not have been casting votes in such a way, but others users were - and I'll add that the group of users involved here was more than just the two of you mentioned in your question here. As well, you're not being "penalized" reputation. Your reputation is simply being restored to a point where it would have been had these targeted votes not occurred in the first place. We cannot simply "warn those involved" because that still leaves votes around the site which are clearly bad, and unearned reputation on user's profiles.

Further, the reputation is also not the only thing we're attempting to fix here. Many of the users involved had a ton of questions and answers which were all scored 3, 4, or higher simply because of votes from a tiny group of users. Many of these posts fell to a score of 0 or 1 after invalidation. That means these posts were not as well accepted by the greater community as they appeared, but that there were just a ton of posts which only a tiny group of individuals considered to be great. Potentially, that leaves answers which might not actually be better than other answers with higher scores and more visibility.

Yes, vote invalidations are rather destructive. But they have to be. We cannot sit here and cherry-pick specific groups of votes which are clearly targeted and other votes which look legitimate. When we run across cases like this, the easiest and best solution to the problem is to simply wipe all the votes between the users involved, whether they were participating or not, and let them all start with a clean slate. Unfortunately this also includes other votes besides upvotes, such as accepts and bounties (although all the unaccepts in the reputation history could probably be handled better than just listing them all like that).

Remember that voting, and reputation from that voting, is meant to indicate how much the community trusts your answers, not how much your co-workers, friends, or otherwise trust your answers. If a huge proportion of your votes are coming from people you know or specific users voting all of your stuff up, then the trust system falls apart.

  • Wow, thanks for chipping in the detailed feedback! – Adrian Larson Sep 1 '16 at 1:35
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    The thing I find somewhat troubling is that some posts which are very good do seem to engender a bit of loyalty and incite similar behavior to this serial voting, where an individual user appreciates the answer so much that one upvote isn't enough, but maybe a bounty is out of reach or feels inappropriate. Then they vote on a few top/recent answers. Is that behavior subject to these destructive changes? I've done it myself too at times, and those posts I vote for do have merit. It's hard to tell where the borderline is. – Adrian Larson Sep 1 '16 at 1:47
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    @AdrianLarson That kind of behavior is exactly something that vote invalidations exist for. Tipping users by upvoting their other unrelated posts based on your reaction to one post is not appropriate. The bottom line is, if you're looking through a user's list of answers and upvoting them, you're probably using your votes incorrectly. You should reserve them for questions you actually run into through your natural use of the site. – animuson Sep 1 '16 at 2:23
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    But what if what you're actually doing is reading someone's best work because you think that their contributions are interesting? If I think I can learn a lot from them and want to do so... Is there a tipping point? It really does end up seeming like the beneficiary gets punished more than the perpetrator, at the end of the day. – Adrian Larson Sep 1 '16 at 2:30
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    @AdrianLarson If you're reading the posts then that's not as much of a problem and the votes will be much more spaced out. Probably even vote for the question or other interesting answers as well. But a list of votes all to the same user spaced seconds apart - it's hard to argue that you're actually reading the posts and not just loading pages to click a button. We do look at patterns, and if we believe there's a good chance you are actually looking at posts and evaluating content rather than just voting, it's much much less likely that we would invalidate votes there. – animuson Sep 1 '16 at 2:37
  • So just to be clear, the biggest problems here seem to be interval and variety? – Adrian Larson Sep 1 '16 at 2:48
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    @animuson I must agree with Eliot that the there is only a tiny group of people focused and knowledgeable on the marketing cloud part of the technologies this site covers. While it is a part of salesforce, the marketing cloud features and software are entirely separate from the main salesforce technologies, and there are far fewer developers in that area as a whole, and only a few of them are active on this site. As such they are a tiny sub community within our community until the greater lot of us expands our knowledge into that area. – Samuel De Rycke Sep 1 '16 at 4:55
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    @SamuelDeRycke I think you missed animuson's point about the pattern with respect to the time spacing between the upvotes. That's part of their algorithm for determining there's been an abuse. At least that's what I got from his comments. That's a point that I can't argue with. That pattern strongly suggests the answers aren't being read, but instead are being upvoted based on the user's name who wrote the answer. – crmprogdev Sep 1 '16 at 13:07
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    @crmprogdev For me that argument is too vague to really agree with the approach taken: "When we run across cases like this, the easiest and best solution to the problem is to simply wipe all the votes between the users involved, whether they were participating or not, and let them all start with a clean slate. " This implies that all genuine votes were removed too, and provides no insight into how many or little votes may have been suspicious compared to how many may have been genuine and legit. – Samuel De Rycke Sep 1 '16 at 13:46
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    @Samuel Yes that's vague, and we can't simply dump a list of all the votes with timestamps and user IDs out here. Pretty much the only votes that weren't being regularly targeted were the votes that Eliot and Adam (both participating on this question) had cast themselves. But that also accounted for a very small portion of the overall invalidation. As a moderator, you can somewhat audit this and see the numbers of votes from which users by visiting Eliot's votes page (it's in the mod menu on his profile). – animuson Sep 1 '16 at 13:50
  • As I said in an above comment, I think a good example of the absurdity of this is to look at my reputation history. I have huge gaps in-between my point increases - I doubt someone would plan to go through and upvote me at random lengthy intervals or "Upvote because of my name" every week or 2. – Gortonington Sep 1 '16 at 18:53
  • @animuson Can you check my answer and provide any feedback? Pinging you via mention just because I'm not sure you'll see it otherwise! – Matt Lacey Sep 9 '16 at 9:01
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Now that more information is available, what I find really shocking about this whole thing is that is sounds like this action was taken directly without discussing it with our site's moderators.

Our moderators shouldn't have to try explaining the situation on the comments in meta after the fact. If the system was showing suspicious activity, it should have been brought to their attention first, and action should only have been taken with their approval.

I find it more than a little unnerving that such drastic actions can be taken by people completely outside of the SFSE community.

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    I'm curious what exactly users think we would have to discuss with moderators when it comes to vote invalidations? Are the moderators supposed to chime in "wait please don't do it even though the votes are clearly invalid"? We can see a lot more information than moderators can, and they wouldn't be able to determine whether or not they're targeted with the tools they have. We're also not asking moderators to explain the situation on our behalf, and they're perfectly capable of contacting us if they want us to explain the situation on a Meta question that arises. – animuson Sep 1 '16 at 14:19
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    @animuson It's because we deeply believe in community moderation and we have democratically elected community moderators for this site. – martin Sep 1 '16 at 14:54
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    That's awesome, but that still doesn't really explain what exactly there is to discuss. It would mostly be informative of "we found irregular voting that's going to be invalidated, prepare yourselves" - but they can already see that invalidations took place via the mod messages that got sent out and are sitting in their mod inbox. As I said, they don't have the tools necessary to investigate this fully. – animuson Sep 1 '16 at 14:58
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    @animuson It kind of feels like you are skipping the trial and handing down a sentence without anyone ever seeing any evidence. I would feel a lot better about the whole thing if you were working with members of our community instead of just springing this on us. – martin Sep 1 '16 at 15:03
  • matrin - Isn't that a bit like complaining that the local city council didn't get a say-so in a federal tax evasion sting? What you are asking is that elected site moderators be granted access to the complete voting history and, most probably, full user account data for all users on the site? Note that many user accounts span more than one community! Personally, I'd rather that information stay relatively safe with SE employees. (Have you even asked your diamond mods if they want that responsibility... I bet you the answer is an emphatic no.) – JDB Sep 6 '16 at 19:52
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From holding back and reading the comments here the real issue seems to be a mismatch with how the system expects voting to work across the site, and how it actually works when there's a niche tag like .

This is the first time on this site where it appears that this reversal of votes has been applied in an unjust way. I can't see the votes or the timing of them but it sounds like the timing wasn't the main issue here.

Feature Request:

Is there any way that the rule balance can be adjusted on a per site or even per tag basis? That seems like the optimal way to deal with situations like this. If these votes were all clearly cast without time spent reading then it makes sense, but the tag at hand definitely relates to only a small sub-set of our community and it doesn't surprise me in the least that most of Eliot's votes came from a small group of users.

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    There really isn't any feature or mechanism at play here. This was an entirely manual process of looking through lists of votes and looking at voting patterns between a group of users. It's nice that everyone wants to defend this situation as "this is a niche tag" but that's not what happened here. There were blatant patterns of targeted votes that should not have happened, no matter what tag it was under. Anyways, I had responded to Samuel with some more detailed information about what happened. If the other mods would like it, you can get it from him or I can forward it to you myself. – animuson Sep 9 '16 at 22:41

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