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Recently we have got a significant number of posts by users using pseudonyms. As explained in our FAQ we do not require using real names but we strongly encourage using real names.

I understand that people may sometimes want to asks questions anonymously and not under their real name, however, if someone is using a pseudonym in place of their real name then there will be much less tolerance for misbehavior. The site has formal and informal rules which are enforced using the fact that users are tied to user account and one should not abuse multiple and/or pseudonym accounts to game the system.

On MathOverflow a slight misbehavior by a user using pseudonym will result in suspension of the user. There are also rules for using multiple accounts. IIUC, if moderators notice that a user is actively using multiple pseudonym accounts they contact the user to ask him to provide a good reason for doing so.

Should we do the same on cstheory?

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    $\begingroup$ There is no way to distinguish between a real real name and a fake, but real-sounding real name. If you change moderation practices to discriminate against pseudonyms, users will simply use pseudonyms that look like real names. $\endgroup$ – user12425 Apr 14 '14 at 5:45
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    $\begingroup$ @MadScientist, I don't think your objection holds as it seems to be working well on MathOverflow, and it doesn't need to be perfect. IIRC, the issue you are raising did come up also on MathOverflow discussions. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 14 '14 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ Could you link to the relevant discussions on MO? It would be helpful in our decision making. I actually checked in at Teacher's Lounge a few days ago about this (so don't worry, you aren't the only one noting the surge) and the official SE policy is only to intervene if the multi accounts are being used to circumvent rules (say voter fraud, or escaping bans, etc) and that doesn't seem to be the case right now. However, it is definitely possible to implement our own house rules and ask that our members follow them if that is the imperative of the community. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 14 '14 at 6:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Artem, I just asked that on meta.MO. I recall that I have seen these stated in comments but don't recall where and a quick search didn't find them. There might have been on tea.MO. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 14 '14 at 9:37
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    $\begingroup$ ps: by the way, I think one of the rules is the restriction on the number of questions and answers a user can ask in a specific period of time. I think it is considered a nonconstructive behavior to ask a lot of questions in a short period of time, so if a user is using multiple accounts to do so that can be considered a misuse of having multiple accounts. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 14 '14 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Kaveh okay, I will look into that. Do you know where the guidelines on question numbers are? I recall seeing them in passing. If you don't know off the top of your head then don't bother searching. I can just ask in TeachersLounge. $\endgroup$ – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 14 '14 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry for signing up just to contribute here, but: the point is that the so-called real names policy on MO is misnamed. What is actually considered as relevant (at least this is wide spread opinion of those in favor of it) in theory is that users in some way make their identity known. The display names is mainly irrelevant. In practice there can be oversights both ways. But if 'it works' on MO (not sure it does but let us leave that) then it is mainly since to fake/impersonante some professional mathematicians identity would be needed which is not as easy (or harmless). $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 14 '14 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ And just some real name would not help you that much on MO. Since the 'full real names priviliges' so to speak are not granted to whoever but mainly only to mathematicians. (At least as far as the community goes and in the long run.) Still more generally, while in theory some will claim differently in practice (except for corner cases in case of conflict mainly in complicated meta debates) what is actually relevant is if one can write like a mathematician (in some vague sense) or bluntly if one is a mathematician. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 14 '14 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ So in somse sense both @MadScientist and Kaveh are partly right. To purely focus on "real" displaynames is not helpful; but there might be some value to having a large part of identified community in the core target audience. // Re the question rate The sites that have limits use 6 a day and 50 over 30 days if this is what you ask for. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 14 '14 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @quid, I also agree if the focus was on using user names which look like real names it might not work well. I think it is nicely stated in MO FAQ. Thanks for the answer. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 14 '14 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Artem, meta.MO question $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 14 '14 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ I am getting frustrated by pseudo-users who are asking questions taken from the problem sets of my present course. (So far I have seen two in the last few days.) These problem sets are not public so I am pretty sure the questions are coming from students in my course. I know I ultimately can't stop them from cheating, but it's really annoying when they could simply ask me. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Williams Apr 18 '14 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ @RyanWilliams You should answer those questions. Incorrectly. $\endgroup$ – Jeffε Apr 18 '14 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ That thought has definitely crossed my mind. But I need a pseudonym myself for them to really take the bait... $\endgroup$ – Ryan Williams Apr 19 '14 at 0:36
  • $\begingroup$ @RyanWilliams just wanted to clarify that as per moderator code-of-conduct rules we're not allowed to help you track down miscreants, although we strongly (or try to) discourage students from attempting to get homework solved here. $\endgroup$ – Suresh Venkat May 1 '14 at 18:08
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I think there are a few separate issues here, that perhaps should be handled differently depending on the behavior of the individual(s). I'll just focus on one that I've noticed (at least one other that I won't touch on is students, like Ryan's, asking homework problems under pseudonyms).

The surge I've noticed recently is primarily PilarLoof, HeloLobo, and Grid_y_Bill, who I suspect are all the same person (and others have expressed the same opinion), and have been posting questions more suitable for mathoverflow, often without any indication as to why they are relevant to CS, although a few of them seem to be. When asked why they chose cstheory.SE over MO, they gave essentially nonsensical responses. (BTW, I think we definitely should open the migration path to mathoverflow, because of these questions. It would make them much easier to identify and deal with...)

In this case, I think it would be appropriate for the moderators to 1) determine if these pseudonyms are all in fact the same individual, and if so 2) ask for a good reason they keep using pseudonyms to post off-topic questions, and if there is not a good reason then, 3) take some sort of action.

What sort of action? I could imagine several possibilities, though I don't know which of them are technically feasible with the current SE software:

a) Ban the user (by which I mean the actual person, not just the username - perhaps by IP address as suggested by Saeed in the comments, or some other mechanism?)

b) Ban the user (same as above) for a fixed period of time - e.g. 30 or 60 days

c) Put the user on "probation" (possibly for a fixed period of time). I imagine this would be something like: any of their questions must be approved by, say, 3 or 4 users with sufficient rep before the question appears on the site. This would be a pre-filtering approach to questions rather than the current post-filtering approach. If the user continued to abuse the site causing high rep users to spend lots of time rejecting off-topic questions, then more drastic action could be taken.

d) Other suggestions...?

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  • $\begingroup$ In the other suggestion part, I think we can add banning particular IP address in the case first three options didn't work. This makes it harder for them to abuse the site. Also there are some other pseudonyms, which are created very randomly around February and March. By the way there are some pseudonyms which are pretty constructive. $\endgroup$ – Saeed Apr 22 '14 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Saeed: When I said "ban the user" in (a) and (b), I meant the actual person, not just the username. I like your suggestion based on IP address (though if there is something more effective than that I'd be open to that as well). I'll update the answer to reflect this. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Grochow Apr 22 '14 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ Another alternative is merging or destroying these user accounts, though that might need SE action. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 22 '14 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ I want to suggest the opinion that these posts are not such a negative for the site currently. Maybe a slight annoyance, but I do not think these questions are pushing down all the good questions or anything like it. There seems to be plenty of space on page 1. Just saying to look at the cost-benefit ... for instance, I think a much bigger annoyance is first-time, sincere posters who mistake this site's purpose for that of cs.stackexchange.com. This is also much easier to address (e.g. make a popup "Is your question more suited to ___.se?" before each question). $\endgroup$ – usul Apr 23 '14 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ I tend to agree with usul: it's slightly annoying, but it may be better to just let the voting system take care of it. BTW, for those wondering, here is the explanation for this person's behavior: cstheory.stackexchange.com/q/22181/4896. $\endgroup$ – Sasho Nikolov Apr 24 '14 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Sasho, I don't think the explanation given there by the guy is a good one. As I said, I wouldn't mind much if the questions the guy have been posting were high quality or at least the guy really cared about those questions. They are mostly "I just come up with this idea, what can we do with it?" type questions. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 25 '14 at 3:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh It's an absolutely ridiculous explanation (although I had a good laugh); I am not sure if he's being truthful with it, either. I posted the linke because I know some of us were curious why he was acting as he was. Otherwise, I am just saying the situation is mild enough that maybe it can be handled by simple voting. $\endgroup$ – Sasho Nikolov Apr 25 '14 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ Now I am realizing that this guy's goal of posting 90 questions is only half-way achieved, which is actually making me reconsider my position. I am not sure I can handle the same amount of spam before he's done. $\endgroup$ – Sasho Nikolov Apr 26 '14 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ @SashoNikolov, Also I'm not sure if he really stops after certain number or he enjoys and continues with faster speed. I think his goal is something else. $\endgroup$ – Saeed Apr 26 '14 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ The user accounts mentioned in your post have been merged into NisaiVloot. There are a few other pseudonyms like Super8 and Super0 though it is not clear if they are the same user as that one. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Apr 28 '14 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaveh, I have a strong feeling that they are very related to each other (even if all of them are not same), e.g super8 edits logical bug in NisaiVloot question, and that guy accepts this edit (Actually probably, because if I was allowed to revisit edits, I would not take into account logical edits). Also e.g this days seems all of them together are in holiday and we can enjoy by different type of nice questions, and finally time of creation of them are very close to each other. Finally if you look at the query link that I provided in first comment, you can see there are more than few Super*. $\endgroup$ – Saeed Apr 30 '14 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ Or look at their both language in this question and answer: cstheory.stackexchange.com/questions/22053/… $\endgroup$ – Saeed Apr 30 '14 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Saeed, yes, I have similar suspicions. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh May 1 '14 at 21:48
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As I have mentioned in the post, I definitely support people being able to use pseudonym, I know there are sometimes good reasons for using pseudonyms. Using a pseudonym is not a problem by itself (though as stated in the faq, we prefer dealing with people who we know their real identities as we do in professional venues like conferences and workshops). I know we have a few famous researchers on the site who do post using pseudonyms and I haven't seen them act irresponsibly, so if they prefer to do so that is completely fine. However, I think these recent pseudonym users act in a way that is at least borders irresponsibly behavior.

I personally don't like it when someone uses a pseudonym for acting in a way that would be considered annoying in a way that a user with real identity would not. A user posting a bunch of questions one after the other which are not very good and where the user doesn't seem to really care about the question is annoying. I personally wouldn't mind that much if they were really good and interesting questions or if the user seemed to really care about them (questions that the authors are actively thinking about and working on and really wants answers for, not out of idle curiosity questions). However, it seems to me that these recent pseudonym users are not posting because they really have questions but for some other reason. I would at least like mods know why.

I think we need some basic ground rules for pseudonyms similar to MathOverflow. E.g. if a user is using multiple accounts only one of them can be used for voting and the user should not vote on his/her own posts. The no tolerance for rudeness policy should be applied far more strictly towards users who hid their real identities. In cases where there are no clear violation of rules but the behavior seem nonconstructive, disruptive, or annoying to other users (in a way that a user with real identity would not act) the moderators should still contact the user to seek explanation if that is possible (e.g. the user provides a email address that can be used to contact the user) and if not possible to contact the user or the user does not provide reasonable explanation for the behavior then the moderators simply merge, suspend, destroy the account, or take an appropriate action.

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