Fake accounts and you

An unhappy customer (via ChiBart on Flickr)Due to a spate of recent incidents regarding this subject, I feel the need to give everyone a little refresher on the site’s rules and regulations.

While we’ve had our share of spammers and marketers clearly violating the rules of the site in the past (and recurring on a daily basis), the moderators and I have noticed a recent disturbing trend in another kind of violation of the site’s policies: fake accounts being created in order to rate the work of a single author, or groups of users.

These fake accounts are created by users for the sole purpose of manipulating or “gaming” the ratings system and author rankings on Protagonize for their own personal gain. This has been especially noticeable since the removal of self-ratings a couple of months back. There are some misguided individuals who’ve decided that it’s a good idea to create multiple, fake accounts to artificially improve their ranking on the site by rating up their own work, and sometimes by rating down the work of other authors. This is very uncool, and is clearly a violation of the site’s terms of acceptable use.

Not only is this type of behaviour a huge pain in the butt for us as moderators, but it affects all of the other authors on the site — those who aren’t breaking the rules — in a negative way, as well.

Due to this trend, I’ve had to make a few revisions and clarifications to Protagonize’s Terms of Use to make things a little more black and white, as some folks are obviously not paying attention. I’d encourage all of our members to please take the time to read through this document (the terms of which you accepted while registering your Protagonize account, by the way), and make sure you’re not violating any of these policies with your use of the site.

The moderation team is currently aware of a handful of users violating the terms of acceptable use of the site right now, and we’ve been quite actively dealing with these individuals with warnings and account bans, ranging from one week to forever. Each case, unless absolutely clear-cut, is evaluated and reviewed on an individual basis by our moderation team.

While it’s possible that we occasionally ban a user’s account in error, most of these trends are very easy for us to spot, and it’s even easier for us to identify the offending individuals. Users who think that they’ve been unfairly banned can appeal to me directly via email — I can see all of the data and I’ll make the final call on appeals.

Of course, this entire process has become a giant waste of time for everyone involved. Not only does dealing with these offending users take our time away from running the site, it takes time away from developing new features, which hurts everyone. No one likes dealing with this stuff, especially those of us involved in trying to make the site a fun and welcoming place for everyone here.

I’m honestly surprised at how dumb some of these offending users think we are — it’s pretty clear if you’ve created three accounts and rated all of your primary account’s work 50 times over in a 2-hour span. To that end, I’ve also instituted a timed throttle when rating story pages: now, you can only rate one page for every 30 second interval. If you try and rate pages faster than that, you’re obviously not reading anything, so you’ll get a warning message from the site telling you to wait a few seconds before rating again.

In the meantime, we will continue to notify and ban suspicious accounts as we discover them. If you find that you can no longer login to the site, there’s a good chance that we’ve banned your account, so check the email address(es) you registered with for a message from a moderator.

What I’d ask is that if you’re currently engaging in this type of behaviour, please stop now. Users will be granted amnesty if they contact the moderators and inform us of any fake accounts they may have created, and these accounts will be deleted. If you don’t fess up, though, and we happen to catch you, the consequences will be much more severe. Protagonize is our house, so you’ll have to play by our rules.

I’m also working on developing a reputation system on the site that should alleviate some of these problems in the future, but that’s still a ways off.

Feel free to contact me directly with any questions or concerns.

On that note, I hope that everyone enjoys the last couple of days of 2009, and have a safe and happy new year!

Image courtesy of ChiBart on Flickr.

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15 Responses to Fake accounts and you

  1. Rac7hel says:

    very uncool indeed :-/

  2. anonymous says:

    I accept that it was me who did out of idiocity and lure for greed, I promise that it won’t happen again.

  3. trevor says:

    It’s just so short sighted. I mean, this isn’t a video game, with “cheat codes”. “Hey, look everyone thinks I’m the best author here! (except me, who knows I cheated) ??? What’s the point?

    And treating it like that means that people are cheating themselves out of the collaboration and love for writing that this place is all about!

    I mean, Nick…”what you said”, and hopefully these measures allow you to focus on stuff you’re excited to be working on; to keep that positive vibe snowball effect rollin’!

  4. Nick says:

    For what it’s worth, “anonymous” up above wasn’t quite so anonymous and has incurred a one-week ban from the site.

  5. anonymous says:

    pardon me, if this sounds rude, I am still able to log on as i used to before.

  6. Nick says:

    I don’t see you logged in anywhere, and I just tested your account to double-check, and it’s definitely unable to login. According to my logs, your last login was before your account was disabled, too.

    Unless you have another account with a separate IP address that we’re unaware of, I don’t think you’re actually able to login. If you are somehow able to login, please use the contact form on my profile to verify the problem.

  7. anonymous says:

    yeah… I can’t… sorry for that anyway…

  8. anonymous says:

    I can login, read, rate other’s works… because I’m using incongito window in google chrome!

  9. Atropos says:

    It really is quite ridiculous. The point of Protagonize is not to become the best rated author. Even if I’m mistaken and it is, and someone padded their ratings enough to become that, everyone would know it’s a lie by reading that someone’s work. Really. We’re a website full of human beings–many of us partially fluent in written English–and someone thinks they can trick us into thinking they’re the next Shakespeare?

    In most cases, I will admit that the phrase, “You’re only cheating yourself,” is a lie, but here is one of the few places it is true.

  10. Nick says:

    @Avismara (ahem, “anonymous”):

    It seems to me that you’re not entirely clear on how Google Chrome’s incognito mode works.

    You might want to read this:

    Browsing in incognito mode only keeps Google Chrome from storing information about the websites you’ve visited. The websites you visit may still have records of your visit. Any files saved to your computer will still remain on your computer.

    For example, if you sign into your Google Account on http://www.google.com while in incognito mode, your subsequent web searches are recorded in your Google Web History.

    Chrome only prevents you from storing session information on the client side. We can still see who you are on the server side, and your account has deactivated and your remote address blocked from there. If you’re talking about the blog, well, that’s on a different server and visible to everyone.

    Now, if you persist in posting these rubbish comments on the blog, I will start removing them. I’ve given you the benefit of the doubt so far, but this is getting really irritating.

  11. trevor says:

    My brother’s failsafe method for dealing with his attention seeking toddlers is to ignore their obvious cries for attention. Does that work for trolls too? Guess it sounds like a good topic for the beta group!

    To the “Beta-cave!”

  12. Benjamin says:

    Wow, this is ridiculous. I do hope they don’t waste much of your time!

    The truly great thing about Protagonize though is that we are far too strong and intelligent of a community to be harmed by trolls. They may be able to waste our time, but it should become immediately clear to them that they are wasting their OWN time.

  13. kitten says:

    Okay, “anonymous.” Calm down; you’re a little too fiesty. You’re not ‘beating the system’ by posting blog comments.

  14. Me says:

    well I think people would pad their ratings to attract attention from other readers. No one would really want to read unrated work, while everyone wants to read the best rated stories.

  15. Ritu says:

    Only suckers and lame idiots would ever do something like that.

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