12

Perhaps you've noticed an unexpected change in your reputation recently. For some of us this may be particularly significant, and for others it may be less noticeable. Please know that this is not your fault or any kind of penalty from the site or Moderation Team.

The Site and Community Moderators are sad to share that a network of nearly fifty artificial accounts has been detected on the BH.SE network, which has generated a substantial number of Questions and Answers over the past 18 months.

After concerns from some in the community we identified that one of the site's most prominent contributors appears to have coordinated this network, for reasons that are as yet unclear. This user has been suspended as we continue to assess the issue and agree a path forward. The moderation team has sought responses from the user to explain their actions and motives.

This network has not only been generating significant quantities of artificial content on the network, but has also been targeting and upvoting content, with unusual sophistication to avoid usual pattern detection. So for every targeted vote, four or five other votes were distributed somewhere in the network, possibly to some of your own posts.

As we wind down the activity of these falsified accounts these votes will disappear, and everybody's Rep will be recalculated fairly. The Questions and Answers have all been merged into the name of the network's coordinator, where previously it would have appeared under many different names. Much of this low quality content will be removed where it is deemed of no value to the community.

Please accept our apologies for not detecting this issue sooner. On the bright side, this means that going forward all content you post will not be "drowned out" by low quality posts, and so you should be able to expect better engagement with real people and better recognition of actual quality content.

Please respect the seriousness of this situation - disappointment and frustration are good and right responses in this moment, but please do observe the Code of Conduct in any comments or responses you choose to offer, or they will be removed as usual.

Thanks again to all our genuine contributors and for all that you have done and continue to do to make BH.SE a great place to ask and answer questions.

19
  • 3
    I know how frustrating and disheartening this situation will be to many folks here. In this situation, we've done the best we can with the information we have. As heavy as this is, the community will carry on, I'm certain, and be better for it. I personally believe the mod team took sensible steps at sensible times, and I'm proud of their work - it's obvious to me that they very much care about the site. And just to reiterate - please do not use this as opportunity or permission to question, accuse, or target any member of the site (including naming them directly here).
    – Slate StaffMod
    Nov 19, 2021 at 21:42
  • 1
    Will the the high quality content, if any, produced by this network of accounts be preserved? It would be a pain if it isn't. I wouldn't like to see great content disappear just because the individuals that produced it had an ethical slipup. Content and content producers should be judged independently, in my opinion. It would be a form of genetic fallacy to do otherwise. Nov 20, 2021 at 0:31
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator We'll be aiming to avoid deleting good content. But the network also produced a lot of low effort poor quality content too. We haven't decided what to do with that.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Nov 20, 2021 at 1:04
  • 1
    Sorry to hear this. It sounds like we have to trust that a trusted member of the community has received fair treatment. I had a similar concern to that of SRI if the persons involved wanted to explain their side, is their any opportunity provided for that, or is the action taken based on posting and voting patterns alone? Nov 20, 2021 at 6:37
  • 2
    @MartinHemsley The person has been asked if they can explain, and I really hope they'll give an honest one.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Nov 20, 2021 at 7:06
  • 1
    I see who disappeared from the member list. I appreciated much of his content. I answered many of his questions, and I certainly had no idea that my answers were in jeopardy of disappearing because the asker was somehow suspect. Naturally, I do not know whatever it is that the mods were privy to to "crack" this case and/or make a judgment call. But I have the same questions that others here have expressed. I don't think any of us would have been very critical of this individual who had been at the top of the list for questions. I hope the process is fair. My trust is compromised.
    – Polyhat
    Nov 20, 2021 at 12:22
  • FWIW, I care much more about my contributions of content/answers here than I do about whatever changes might happen to my reputation. But I think it would be wise not to be making those changes before giving the individual(s) a fair hearing.
    – Polyhat
    Nov 20, 2021 at 12:24
  • 4
    @Polyhat Most of the mods didn't think the person in question was suspect, and I personally was skeptical of it. But the investigation found evidence which convinced not only all the BH.SE mods but also the SE community manager team (ie, paid Stack Exchange staff.) We can't explain what that evidence was, but know that there was a lot of people looking at this.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Nov 20, 2021 at 13:22
  • 2
    @PolyHat - thanks, appreciate your concerns. There are many observations we cannot disclose which would not fit the type of pattern you are describing. You've got nothing to worry about.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 20, 2021 at 13:34
  • @SteveTaylor Thank you. That's really my biggest concern here, and if that was not the decisive factor, I am relieved in measure. I still question the value of removing someone who has been such an active part of this community when his posts were always so courteous. I felt he did much to lift the standard for BH. As you have seen and answered my concerns, which revealed more sensitive aspects of my own identity, I'll now remove my prior comment.
    – Polyhat
    Nov 20, 2021 at 13:43
  • 1
    @PolyHat - You can perhaps then understand why it took so long to realise something was up - until recently that courteousness made us overlook this situation. Please do rest assured that the response is proportionate.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 20, 2021 at 13:46
  • 6
    I must confess I am quite shocked to see who is the one among us who has disappeared. Totally shocked. I cannot blame the Moderators at all for not being aware. Not at all. I am at a loss to understand why anyone would falsify the structure of the site in this way. It seems to be utterly pointless - and so deceptively devious for no genuine profit whatsoever. How terribly sad.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 20, 2021 at 18:55
  • 1
    @MikeBorden SE Staff have merged their accounts across all the sites, so if they did it has also been taken care of. This was the main site though.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Nov 21, 2021 at 23:38
  • 3
    I thought I was going mad with the bouncing numbers!! I salute and applaud the good work of the moderators in detecting this perjury. I am also astonished about the identity of the person at the center of this whole affair! Any way - good work for finding the problem and working through the huge task of fixing it.
    – Dottard
    Nov 22, 2021 at 0:50
  • 1
    Hi @Bagpipes, all accounts involved in this incident have been merged, removing all duplicate votes and eliminating all self-votes for this case. Unfortunately I can't comment on specific detection methods as this could benefit anybody seeking to avoid detection in future, but the improved awareness of characteristics associated with these types of false activities will help us detect anything like them going forward.
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Dec 23, 2021 at 13:14

1 Answer 1

6

So any big event like this impacts the rest of the community, not only through changes to their reputation, but also possibly through the deletion of their answers.

This network produced many great questions that showed particular insight into Biblical texts and asked interesting and penetrating questions of those texts. But the network also produced some low or very low quality posts. Some of them had already been dealt with before, but many hadn't. We like to be welcoming of new people here, and so we overlook many flaws in their posts as long as the general message is understandable. But now those posts look like they have come from an experienced member, and it's harder to overlook their flaws. The network posted a whole lot of previously unnoticed duplicates, as well as some questions which are unmotivated by the texts in question, have big leaps in unexplained logic, are (borderline) off-topic, or which appear to have been posted under a fake persona. This content is not what we want on this site, and leaving it around could set a bad example of what this site is like. Ideally we would like to remove the worst of these questions.

When a question on its own merits is high quality, and it has received high quality answers from others, then we'll almost certainly just leave it all alone.

When a question is very low quality, and it hasn't really received any answers that look particularly insightful or that look like they involved much time to research, then we may just delete the whole thing. If possible we'll look for a duplicate question and move the answers to it. If we can move answers to a duplicate question you may still loose some reputation points if your answer was previously accepted.

If a question is particularly egregious (and many of them have already been closed), we may decide to delete it even if it has high quality answers. As above, we'll look for another question to move them to if possible, but that's often not the case. But there are some questions which are really just absolutely bottom shelf in quality, and I don't believe any of the people who answered them would have done so if it hadn't been posted by what appeared to be a new community member. In this case we might just delete the question and its answers.

I hope that you'll be understanding as we try to carefully clean up here. No doubt we'll delete some questions which you wouldn't if you were in our position. If you notice that one of your answers has been deleted and you'd really prefer that it be preserved, then please write a custom flag on the deleted answer asking us to reconsider. We'll look if there's another question the answer could be moved to, or we can just undelete the question if that's the only option.

Thank you for your understanding and patience.

3
  • 1
    Echoing Dannii's encouragement here - please always feel free to raise custom flags if you spot things that you think deserve some attention, but aren't outright breaches of the CoC. We're always happy to look through your concerns :)
    – Steve Taylor Mod
    Nov 20, 2021 at 13:50
  • 1
    "I don't believe any of the people who answered them would have done so if it hadn't been posted by what appeared to be a new community member." That presumption seems mistaken. I for one never refrain from addressing a question merely on grounds of the asker's reputation score. The existence of a high quality answer should preclude deletion. And moving a meritorious answer to somewhere else is a flawed approach if it gives the false and misleading impression that the answerer took things out of context. The audience has no way to know that the moved answer was intended for other question. Dec 1, 2021 at 13:39
  • @IñakiViggers I wasn't saying that people would refrain from answering based on rep, but because a question that seems innocuous when posted from a new account might seem disingenuous when posted from one of the site 'experts' who has been here a long time and posted dozens or hundreds of times before.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Dec 1, 2021 at 14:08

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .