Our primary goal at SoylentNews is to provide a forum for the community; In as much as is reasonably possible, we try to take a hands-off approach.
The infrastructure provides a means by which the community can (among other things) vote on polls, publish journal articles, submit comments, and perform moderations.
There are, however, some things that require an active role by the admins.
One of these is dealing with moderation abuse, something which can come in different forms. See the FAQ [soylentnews.org] for some background. Addressed there are "mod bombs" and "spam mods". A mod bomb is deemed to have happened when one user (user1) has performed 4 or more downmods against comments by another user (user2). Upon review, if a mod bomb has been found to occur, then the moderator (user1) gets a 1-month mod ban on the first occasion; 6 months on the second and subsequent times.
Sockpuppets: And now we come to the focus of this article: there is another form of moderation abuse: sockpuppet accounts. Wikipedia has a suitable description: [wikipedia.org]
A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term, a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock, originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an Internet community who spoke to, or about, themselves while pretending to be another person.
The term now includes other misleading uses of online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a person or organization, to manipulate public opinion, or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer. Sockpuppets are unwelcome in many online communities and may be blocked.
There may well be other cases, but the one I have discovered shows this history of upmods. Out of the 100 most recent moderations performed by "user1", 80 of those have been upmods of the same user "user2". And of these, there have been 10 upmods on January 21, 10 more on January 22, and yet 10 more on January 23. (For those keeping score that is 30 points in 3 days).
This would be purely academic except that comment moderation affects a user's karma. All registered users start with a karma of 0. Submitting a story that is accepted on the site earns 3 points. Each upmod to a comment of yours earns a point. Similarly, each downmod deducts a point from your karma. Get enough karma and when posting a comment you can give it extra visibility so that it starts at a score of 2 instead of at 1. (Comments posted anonymously or by ACs start at 0.) Get a low enough karma and you earn a "timeout" against posting comments for a month.
Inasmuch as "user1" was able to perform 80 upmods of "user2" in 19 days ("user2" had hovered near the karma cap of 50 when this all started), that means that "user2" received approximately 80 downmods from the community. Excluding the actions of our sockpuppet ("user1"), "user2" should have been in negative karma and thus in a month-long "timeout".
What I see is that the community has spoken (the comments posted by "user2" are not of the kind the community wants to see on the site) and that has been intentionally countered by the sockpuppet activity of "user1".
Rather than the admins taking a unilateral action, I am asking the community what should be done in this case (and any others like it that may come up)?
I offer a proposal that is analogous to our handling of a "mod bomb."
What is a mod bomb? Four (4) or more downmods in 24 hours by "user1" against comments posted by "user2". qualifies as a mod bomb and earns "user1" a 1-month moderation ban (initially; subsequent mod bombs earn a 6-month mod ban).
Proposed: Four (4) or more upmods in 24 hours should also be considered a mod bomb (sock bomb?) and should receive the same treatment.
The point of moderation is not to bestow karma points, it is to help improve the visibility of well-written comments and reduce the visibility of the lesser ones. The karma is simply an incentive to actually perform the moderations.
I've toyed with various values for number of upmods per unit of time (4 per day? 20 per week?) I keep coming back to the same metric we use for our existing "mod bomb" definition: 4 down mods in one 24-hour span that commences when mod points are handed out at 00:10 UTC.
So, now it's your turn. I'd appreciate your feedback and thoughts on this. If we should choose to implement it, it would probably have a soft launch with any "violations" being met with a warning. Ultimately, it's your site. How do you want us to deal with sockpuppets?