18

Tons of people across the site lost reputation yesterday (UTC 7/23/23). I lost a measly 20 rep, but some people lost tons more. After losing 11k+ rep, poor Valorum's back down to 660k (oh, the ignominy!), and a lot of other users have seen similar plummets in their rep-score.

What's confusing me is why this vote-reversal has been attributed to 'Serial Voting Reversed'. Though I'm familiar with the general idea of what that means, I can't see how anything that's evidently affected so many users can be considered targeted voting. (In my experience, it's generally account deletion that results in such widespread repercussions.)

I realize that the specifics of voter fraud and when votes are thrown out are guarded information, but I do wonder whether a general picture of what happened could be provided.

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  • 3
    I lost 1,500. I demand a refund!
    – Adamant
    Jul 25, 2023 at 2:43
  • 3
    I am also curious about this-- I have asked exactly one question on this site and last time anyone voted it up was more than 6 months ago. Yet I lost 10 points due to "serial voting". Is one vote considered "serial"? Very odd to me. Jul 25, 2023 at 2:50
  • Oof. -570 here. Jul 25, 2023 at 3:48
  • 1
    Might be related from Politics.SE: What's the deal with a dozen users removed yesterday (17 July)?. Seems a mod/staff detected anomalous votings from certain users.
    – Andrew T.
    Jul 25, 2023 at 4:50
  • -610 for me. What kind of a strike is this anyway? Grrr.
    – einpoklum
    Jul 25, 2023 at 9:29
  • @einsupportsModeratorStrike The majority of the SFF moderators are not currently on strike.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jul 25, 2023 at 10:38
  • 2
    -330 here. I thought I felt a great disturbance in the force yesterday, but I had guessed it must have been something I ate
    – user13267
    Jul 25, 2023 at 10:42
  • 4
    11,000 is not to be sniffed at. That's literally several days worth
    – Valorum
    Jul 25, 2023 at 22:04
  • 1
    -300 on my side, which I didn't even notice until I realised one of my posts dropped by 1 vote but didn't have any downvote. I was actually surprised anyone would go through the trouble of serial voting my posts.
    – Clockwork
    Jul 26, 2023 at 9:49
  • 2
    @Clockwork - Maybe it was a steampunk robot doing the robo-voting, hence the love for all things clockwork
    – Valorum
    Jul 26, 2023 at 10:12
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    @Valorum - sorry, didn't mean for it to sound like I was sniffing at anything. Feel free to edit out whatever you wish.
    – CDR
    Jul 26, 2023 at 13:36
  • 3
    @CDR - I was being ironical. I've got rep to burn at this point ;-)
    – Valorum
    Jul 26, 2023 at 13:55
  • 10
    I am genuinely excited to find that this is some sort of community wide event rathe than just a personal stalker.
    – Jontia
    Jul 26, 2023 at 21:45
  • 1
    I just noticed that I lost about 500 as well. I looked around a bit and thought it was story-id related, but I guess it's more general. Jul 29, 2023 at 15:53
  • 1
    -80, bot user didn't like me enough. Aug 1, 2023 at 19:43

4 Answers 4

27

I can't get super deep into detail here, but it deserves some explanation. I know this question touches a... whole hell of a lot of users on this site.

To be brief, we released a new tool to help mods find suspicious voting on sites, and sure enough, moderators of SFF found a user who was potentially voting without regard for the content on the site. They did a good job of diagnosing the problem, too (you've got a good team here). I looked through the voting record and found that the user in question indeed appeared to be voting on as much content as possible, essentially irrespective of quality. What I saw definitely qualifies as disruptive use.

So, I wiped the votes from this user. Unfortunately they numbered in the tens of thousands, across a wide range of users. Fun fact! A couple users lost over 10k rep from this.

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  • 7
    "Fun"? (Thanks for the explanation, though, I trust that the right decision was made.)
    – CDR
    Jul 25, 2023 at 16:52
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    @CDR It's always a fun day when we get to delete tens of thousands of votes! In all seriousness, I think it was. It looks right to me. I ran it by the mod team here before deletion and got a few concurrences that it sucks, but it's the right thing to do.
    – Slate StaffMod
    Jul 25, 2023 at 16:55
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    ^ yep, it was a good piece of teamwork between mods and CMs. Because Slate ran it by us before deleting the votes, we were never left blindsided by CM action, as someone seemed to suspect. (You, the community, were left blindsided, and we're sorry about that, but the nature of private voting means that we couldn't say anything publicly about this until the investigation concluded.)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jul 25, 2023 at 20:46
  • I lost 2120 which is about 6% of my total, which was a jolt but it sounds like there were good reasons. Good job to the people who figured it out.
    – Andrew
    Jul 25, 2023 at 21:21
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    I'd be interested to know whether this would have been announced in a meta-post even if this question hadn't been asked. Would this have been publicized?
    – CDR
    Jul 26, 2023 at 0:02
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    Probably a moot question, @CDR, since the action was so public the chance was nil it would go unnoticed... but more generally, I'm rarely averse to sharing light details like this, but would not personally go out of my way to do it. Managing vote fraud is an administrative task with no action needed by the community. Sometimes it's important for people to be aware in advance, in which case, sure -- but that's rare.
    – Slate StaffMod
    Jul 26, 2023 at 0:31
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    Well, for future reference, I think it would've been a good idea to proactively announce this in a meta post instead of leaving users speculating, @Slate. But thanks for your answer.
    – SQB
    Jul 26, 2023 at 12:18
  • 1
    @CDR based on personal experience, I've never seen such action be announced up front.
    – Andrew T.
    Jul 30, 2023 at 8:45
  • I can't imagine what kind of user would have vote count in the 10s of thousands. At 40 votes per day it would take 250 days with (vote cap reached each day). Seems like reaching tens of thousands is doable but I don't know who would actually bother. Could you at least share if this was an established account in existence for many years, or if it was someone using a bot rake up number of vote counts, or some kind of general pattern that tipped you off that this should be undone? I also vote on questions/answers in a large variety of genres and I don't want them to look random enough to risk...
    – user13267
    Jul 31, 2023 at 5:51
  • ..getting reversed at some point
    – user13267
    Jul 31, 2023 at 5:51
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    @user13267 I don't think any user acting authentically could have looked quite like this one. The user in question vote capped alarmingly fast, every day for an extended period of time (longer than a year), almost without missing a beat. And, of course, all changes are reversible if the user has a good explanation or new evidence suggests we acted wrongly.
    – Slate StaffMod
    Jul 31, 2023 at 6:02
  • @user13267 Really? Just look here: scifi.stackexchange.com/users?tab=Voters&filter=all It takes a while to make 10k votes, but it's achievable in one year with normal, even if intense voting. That's 20k after 2 years, 30k after three...
    – Mithoron
    Aug 3, 2023 at 14:16
  • I don't pay attention to rep points, but I am curious if this event was restricted to SciFi/F or was it sitewide? Or was there any particular pattern to the vandalism?
    – elemtilas
    Aug 11, 2023 at 1:54
11

This is a bit of a guess, but I'm posting it because I suspect there won't be any official comment about this. (There normally isn't about this kind of thing.)

I sometimes noodle around the subtabs of the Users page, one of which is the Voters tab. Every time (before now) I have visited that tab this year, the top voter, sometimes by a factor of two, was the same user. On one occasion I noticed they had voted over a thousand times that month.

That user no longer appears on the list; I strongly suspect that user is the one that was removed. What specifically triggered the removal (and why now) is obviously something that won't be shared with the community.

9

While originally this message always meant that you had personally received a suspicious number of votes from a certain user (or several!), it now is used for at least three different types of voting fraud, as I explain on Meta SE (reproduced below under "Types of serial voting reversal").

Going by DavidW's observation, I would assume it was some type of scripted voting. If so, it was reversed by staff after manual review. However, if that's true, the voter must have been at it for over a year, voting above and beyond what's needed to get badges. The votes for Valorium alone would have taken the better part of a year to cast, since the maximum per day is 40.

Types of serial voting reversal

  • Classic serial voting reversal, where one user voted too much on a single user's posts within a short time frame. This can be pretty distinctive since there may be a lot of votes being reversed at once (though I believe that in some circumstances it's not so many, maybe even as few as three).
  • Scripted voting reversal. This happens when staff decides that someone was gaming the system (usually to get badges), using what has to be automated voting, but they've posted enough that their account shouldn't be deleted outright. It's rare, but this type of reversal has been done on multiple occasions. Usually this is a single vote that's being reversed. Sometimes it's more than one, depending on how active you were during the period the voting was taking place.
  • Double voting reversal. In some cases, it is possible for the same user to vote more than once on the same post. Generally, this happens when two profiles who've both voted on the same post are merged, but this can also happen if the user exploits a race condition. As of June 2022, there is a script to reverse these votes. This means that if a user voted more than once the same post, all those votes except one would be reversed. More details at A post so nice, I upvoted it twice (actually, 10 times)!.
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    I once voted on a post when it was still on one Stack Exchange site. Once it was migrated into a sister site, I had the option to upvote it again, because the vote came from a "different Stack Exchange account" (the first site). As much as I was curious about it, I didn't dare try to check it out.
    – Clockwork
    Jul 26, 2023 at 9:53
4

What's confusing me is why it says 'Serial Voting Reversed'. Though I'm familiar with the general idea of what that means, I can't see how anything that's evidently affected so many users can be considered targeted voting.

My understanding is that sometimes, voting rings will provide large numbers of upvotes to people outside of the ring, to disguise their activities and make their targeted votes look legit. If and when a voting ring is discovered, those "disguise upvotes" are reversed along with the targeted votes, and the users who received them will lose large amounts of rep (330, in my case) through no fault of their own.

As you said, it's unlikely the mods are going to confirm this, but I believe that's what's happened here.

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    Rings are usually either very easy to detect (a votes for b, b votes for c, c votes for a) or practically impossible, as in this case, because they've sprinkled in votes for lots of active users.
    – Valorum
    Jul 26, 2023 at 13:57
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    @Valorum FWIW, tools have changed since the time you were a mod. As Slate's answer mentions, even just recently SE "released a new tool to help mods find suspicious voting on sites" - that btw explains why the undesirable voting in this case reached the scale of tens of thousands of votes before being spotted.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jul 27, 2023 at 9:48

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