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.
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!