A suspended user logs in with a new account. The system seems to detect the sockpuppet, and merges the accounts. But while the new account is merged into the existing one, the user seems to be able to login with his old account, despite that it's suspended.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "Sock puppet"? Is that a common expression in french literally translated into english? \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jul 25 '12 at 12:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olin - no that's how a Dutch speaking person who doesn't know the term spells it :-) \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Jul 25 '12 at 12:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ So do you speak dutch or french in your area of Belgium? Is dutch a official language in Belgium? \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jul 25 '12 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Olin - Flanders, in the North, where I live speaks Dutch (60 %), Wallonia in the south speaks French (40 %), and there's a small region which speaks German (1%). Yes, we are with 101 % in Belgium :-). They're all three official languages. Many think that in Flanders we speak Flemish, but that's not a language, that's a collection of dialects. The difference between Flemish Dutch and Dutch Dutch is less than between US English and UK English. \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Jul 25 '12 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olin - Belgium is a complex country. There's just 11 million of us, yet we seem to need 6 (six) governments to run things. You don't want to know. (BTW, the CIA factbook is wrong about the official languages.) \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Jul 25 '12 at 15:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Olin and steven - If you ask in Dutch for directions from French speaking Belgian, (s)he probably will send you the wrong way, even-though (s)he knows better ;o) \$\endgroup\$ – jippie Jul 25 '12 at 19:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ He's Baaaaack. See electronics.stackexchange.com/a/36556/4512 \$\endgroup\$ – Olin Lathrop Jul 25 '12 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Any way we could move this post to StackOverflow Meta (a.k.a the mothership?) meta.stackoverflow.com. This is a problem that the entire Stack Exchange platform suffers from, and is not local to the EE site. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Laplante Jul 25 '12 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop sock puppet is an se term. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 26 '12 at 5:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SimpleCoder If you want to ask about the issue there please post on meta.SO. Posting bugs here is just fine as they still receive attention from devs and managers and we bump them. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 26 '12 at 5:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jippie - Yes, and place names all are suddenly different when you cross the language border, like "Bergen" suddenly becoming "Mons". How we love to annoy the Dutch ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Jul 26 '12 at 6:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ And when you come from Luxemburg the Wallonians refuse to put up Maastricht on any of the road signs until maybe 3km before the border. Luckily we have navigation nowadays. \$\endgroup\$ – jippie Jul 26 '12 at 7:12

Let me slightly adjust your scenario to match what happens a bit better.

  • A suspended user creates a new account to bypass the suspension (this is against the rules)
  • The suspended user participates on the site, asking and answering questions with their new account.
  • A moderator notices that the new account behaves/looks a lot like the old one.
  • The moderator merges the new account with the suspended account, and the user is effectively suspended again.
  • The ownership of the questions, answers, and comments are transferred from the new user account to the suspended user account.

This has the appearance that the user was able to participate on the site despite the suspension, which causes confusion. The problem is that there are a few StackExchange philosophies that make dealing with malicious users a bit more difficult.

  • It should be easy to participate on any SE site, so it needs to be easy to make a user account. Just prove that you aren't a robot and you're in (practically).
  • User generated content is valuable, and should not be deleted if it could be beneficial to the site. Even downvoted answers saying "stick a fork in an outlet" are useful because the downvotes show that it is wrong.
  • Users have some good in them, and should be given opportunities to correct their issues. Notice that the user in question got a suspension instead of his account being deleted. Deletion is something saved for worst offenders and/or spammers. Once someone's suspension expires, all is forgiven.

The result is that normal actions that may be taken in a traditional forum (bans and deleting posts) are options of last resort. Aside from deleting content, a moderator doesn't have the ability to ban anyone - that's reserved for the developers. That's why the content stays up.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that it is difficult for non-moderators to see this struggle and how it is playing out. There are two options that I see that the moderators could take, but neither is a "slam dunk" policy recommendation.

  1. Delete content created under suspension. This isn't a good response because even bad questions can get good answers, and bad answers can inspire good ones. However, it would give the appearance that all is well.
  2. Add a comment from a moderator basically stating "This question was asked by a sock puppet account. The account has been merged with the original parent account." This provides a visible indicator to regular users that action has been taken. However, this leaves comments that would probably remain after the suspension is lifted, and gives more attention to an attention-seeking personality.

In summary, there aren't any great ways for a moderator to notify the community what is happening in this situation. Understand that the issue is being actively monitored, and the developers can act in the event that things get worse.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great explanation! Sometimes it's hard to reconstruct what happened when all you see is the end results. \$\endgroup\$ – drxzcl Jul 26 '12 at 7:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is why you would make a great moderator, clear concise posts like these on meta can help explain the system, keep it clear and improve our site direction. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 26 '12 at 15:28

This still shouldn't happen though - puppet accounts are forbidden.

The same problem happened on SO, and was reported here: Suspended user creating new accounts. Jeff Atwood says that IP blocks are used for users that do this.

According to the article on timed suspension (emphasis mine):

Depending on the severity of the problem behavior — and at the complete discretion of the moderator — your account will be placed in timed suspension for anywhere from 1 to 365 days. That means:

  • Your account will be locked at 1 reputation.
  • Your user page will have a visual indication that you are in timed suspension, and for how long.
  • You will be unable to vote, ask, answer, or comment.

The workaround that stevenvh (and others) noticed serves to violate the third point. The system merged the "puppet account" with the main account, but it should have enforced the restrictions on voting, asking, etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ the posts were made pre-merge, not post. If you not the accepted answer on "suspend user creating new accounts" is from a Dev and states that they merged it. This is standard practice, following up on actions such as IP-bans and more intelligent methods are something that is decided by SE employees. They know when situations like this occur and can decide if such a thing is needed. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 25 '12 at 17:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ The post from jeff you cited is from 2009, this is when they first added suspensions. They have grown a lot since then. If people have ideas to better deal with issues such as these please do post them as feature requests though, we all like a better running site. Selfish plug: My request on meta.SO for improved detection of this sock puppets of suspended users. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 25 '12 at 17:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm sorry @Kortuk, but you're mistaken. He just posted a new question: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/36555/…, and he's been posting new answers post-merge. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Laplante Jul 25 '12 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am actually not mistaken here. He posted that as another account and we merged it so it looks like he posted it. As the person actually performing these merges with Mark and Kevin I know this for a fact. I can easily explain this more clearly in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 26 '12 at 5:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk - so basically he can keep posting then, despite being suspended? \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Jul 26 '12 at 5:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OliGlaser and never have any rights and receive more stiff punishment as it continues. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 26 '12 at 6:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk - Ah, I see. Bit strange though, surely with this it should just be black and white - either "suspended" or "not suspended", not some grey "sort of suspended, but can still post stuff..." ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Jul 26 '12 at 6:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OliGlaser Stevenvh's other question's answer I write will shed more light on this, hopefully, but he is not posting with that account, he just looks as though he is because of the merges. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 26 '12 at 6:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk - I know he's not posting on that account, but the point is he might as well be... ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Jul 26 '12 at 6:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OliGlaser I feel a few users did not know that, I was just trying to be clear. Since you know that I understand your frustration. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 26 '12 at 7:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kortuk: the mistaken comment was in reference to you saying that none of the posts were made post-merge. besides that, I see what you are saying. I still think it's cheating the system on his part ;) and I agree with Oli. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Laplante Jul 26 '12 at 14:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, I feel like there is a disconnect here as to what the actual problem is. I don't think he's doing it for the reputation, otherwise he'd see that he isn't accruing any and stop posting. I think he's doing it for the sake of being difficult, which the current system doesn't prevent against. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Laplante Jul 26 '12 at 14:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Finally, the fact that he hasn't responded to any comments on his post merge answers/questions shows that he is, in my opinion, doing this to be difficult. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Laplante Jul 26 '12 at 14:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SimpleCoder he cannot do anything on the site with his main account, he cannot leave comments or anything. He really cannot do anything and he just received his first suspension extension so we will see if that is negative enough to stop this behavior. I understand your frustration with it but how can you better stop someone. The site is designed to be easy to make an account on and become involved with. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 26 '12 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SimpleCoder this seems to have stopped, I have not at least noticed any further socks. It may have just needed the clarity that suspensions could extend. Hope this leaves everyone more time to focus on answers and less on moderation(myself included). \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Jul 28 '12 at 14:29

It is just giving the answers of the sock-puppet account to the original account. This means that those answers are tied to the original account and looks like they posted answers after being suspended. This is by design as the user still is unable to accrue any rights on site.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I just looked at Tony Stewarts account and it's no longer suspended - has there been some new developments with the sock puppet issues? \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Aug 16 '12 at 23:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OliGlaser Tony Stewart \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Aug 17 '12 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah okay, must have been a temporary glitch in the matrix... ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Aug 17 '12 at 0:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OliGlaser he renamed his sock puppet tony stewart, probably the cause. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Aug 17 '12 at 1:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see, interesting - so it was a "loophole" he took advantage of then? \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Aug 17 '12 at 1:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OliGlaser Not really, you can name yourself Kortuk if you want, we will both show up as kortuk with different pictures and rep amounts. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Aug 17 '12 at 10:40

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