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Recently, we've been getting huge numbers of posts from similar-looking accounts about C programming. These users have now started answering their questions and upvoting each other: for example, this completely off-topic question was asked 40 minutes ago and has already received six answers; those answers and the question have a total score of +26. Here's another question with similar behaviour; they're also hijacking legitimate-looking questions.

What should ordinary users do in this sort of situation? Flag everything? Flag just the questions? Flag one post per user? Flag them as spam?

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  • $\begingroup$ As far as I know, this is something users can do nothing but act on locally as per policies and call to attention of those with sufficient powers (mods or staff). Thank you! (On Meta Stack Exchange, this is called a sockpuppet ring. See here) $\endgroup$ – Raphael Mar 12 '16 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Raphael Sure. But I was wondering what the best course of action is -- I don't want to spam you guys with flags if they're not helpful $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 12 '16 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ They are helpful. If you notice suspicious behaviour, always flag. If we drown in them, it's not your fault but theirs. Better than missing any frauds. $\endgroup$ – Raphael Mar 12 '16 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ the phrase "hijacking legitimate-looking questions" sounds quite dramatic/ alarming but is just an empty/ baseless assertion. (a mere link is not a basis...) the obvious/ unavoidable response is what are you talking about? anyway everything youre talking about is typically handled with flags and voting... see no evidence of bogus voting... $\endgroup$ – vzn Mar 12 '16 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @vzn You see nothing unusual in an off-topic question getting six answers and it and its answers getting 26 upvotes in less than an hour? When did you last see an on-topic question get that kind of attention here? $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 12 '16 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ It is not dramatic, I have seen offtopic question, finished comment, it was +3, wrote simple answer, it was +4, swing by chat, it was 4 answers more. In no time it was like 6 answers, are dupes and upvoted high. When I was on chat David already posted this on meta - I do not think that we imagined it exactly at the same time. I have seen several questions with good expansion set, but they were accumulating for weeks, with unbelieveable thousands of views or were a bit opinion based to spice up the flame. $\endgroup$ – Evil Mar 13 '16 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ More common is to see something like 15-25 views, up to 50 within 2 days, there are maybe 2 votes, if it was not closed it looks a bit like 1/50 views gives vote taking under 10 votes in several days. And out of blue, first 6/8 visits ended up in upvote on the offtopic question, duplicating the answers? It is rather obvious that expected values are different. $\endgroup$ – Evil Mar 13 '16 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby did not express any outright disagreement so far only asked for specifics and please dont assume with the vague/ accusatory description they are obvious to anyone else. this mentions several questions, looked at a few, some are already deleted (the mods apparently agreed); did not see any total red flags. some questions are outliers on SE, called "hot questions". the hot questions sidebar draws a lot of (cross-site) attn/ newbies. they are infrequent on this site but will increase as it grows. anyway can you clarify what specifically remains of the objections? $\endgroup$ – vzn Mar 13 '16 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ @vzn The two posts I linked that have been deleted were a question about C programming and a vague one-line question about the "best" data structure to use for an RDBMS. These attracted six and four answers, respectively, within an extremely short time. With one exception, these answers were all from the same group of people, were barely coherent, didn't provide anything close to a satisfactory answer, yet had all been upvoted multiple times. Two of the answers, from different accounts, were identical. This is not close to normal activity on the site, even with HNQ listing. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Mar 13 '16 at 22:54
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Flag, flag, flag. If you see something, say something flag it.

The mod team is on it. Give us a little time to investigate.

In general, flagging is generally the best solution. It's usually better to avoid public accusations, for a variety of reasons.

I'd recommend using a custom flag with this, and explain your concerns in the text. As far as what to flag, anything to bring this to our attention is fine. You're welcome to flag every instance you see if you want; don't worry about drowning us with flags, it's easy enough to take a look. But don't feel like you need to go to the work of flagging every question or every answer if it becomes burdensome. For instance, a custom flag on one instance would be fine; if you want to include links to other instances, that's fine too, but don't feel obliged. We can see what you see and we're happy to investigate, so don't feel like you need to do that work for us.

Of course, if you see a non-obvious example that you think we might overlook, flagging that one or mentioning it in the text of a custom flag would be very helpful.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention!

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