Recently we've had a large number of questions deleted because they were clearly trolling. Some examples (sorry, this is going to be all 10k+ links): New coworker demanding $10k, Autistic teenager, Tickling boss, How to get fired

These questions were closed by enderland, and he said that there was information available only to moderators that made it obvious these questions are trolling. Can you share with us at least what type of information is leading you to this conclusion, even if you can't share specific details? It would help us to understand what we can reasonably ask you to determine for future questions.

There have been some other deleted or closed questions that weren't mod-deleted, but also could possibly be trolling. The fact that they were asked by brand new accounts makes them more suspicious to me: Bathroom peeper, I don't respond well to feedback, Working with a rapist

Now there's another new question from a brand new account that could potentially be legitimate, but sets off some warning bells for me: Running coworker

Is there a reason we're suddenly getting all of these troll accounts? Do we think they're the same person? Can a moderator verify whether all of these actually are all trolls? Is there anything we can do to stop it (e.g. IP blocking)?

The biggest problem I see here is that the trolling for some of these questions is quite subtle, and it's not always obvious which questions are real or not. Without access to the moderator tools (which I'm not asking for), it's difficult for most regular users to know whether to respond seriously or not. What can we as regular users do to help quickly identify trolling questions without attacking legitimate questions?

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    I would guess the reason is the article in Hacker News... Sep 28, 2017 at 16:59
  • @IDrinkandIKnowThings got the Link of that?
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Sep 28, 2017 at 17:01
  • It is worth noticing that both the Tickling and How to get fired posts were done by the same user, if I recall correctly from yesterday.
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Sep 28, 2017 at 17:03
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    @GrayCygnus news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14656945 Sep 28, 2017 at 17:05
  • Didn't realize that happened just 3 months ago, though it was longer given the age of that post.
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Sep 28, 2017 at 17:07
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    The fact they are coming from brand new accounts can also be attributed to wanting to maintain some anonymity. I work for a fairly small company, and it wouldn't take more than three details about any individual in a question to identify them if you know who I am to begin with, and I (obviously) don't obfuscate my identity. Sep 29, 2017 at 15:12
  • At the time of this comment there are 28 different questions marked as On Hold/Closed/Duplicate on the main page of the site, and 26 on the "Newest Questions" section. Is this part of the same trolling streak? I find it very weird that the majority of questions posted on the site are not answerable
    – BgrWorker
    Oct 2, 2017 at 7:19
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    @BgrWorker - "I find it very weird that the majority of questions posted on the site are not answerable" - those questions have been closed for a variety of reasons not related to trolling. On this site there is a tendency to quickly judge questions and close many. For good or for bad, this percentage of closed questions on the main page isn't unusual. Oct 2, 2017 at 15:16

5 Answers 5


Some thoughts:

By far and away the best way is to close questions which should be closed. Whether or not people are trolling or naive or dealing with really unfortunate and highly unlikely situations is secondary to the, "does this question benefit the site?" question.

It is also possible to find duplicates to the root problem and avoid the whole problem. This question is a good example. It is functionally the same problem as the "loud coworker" question we've had for a while, so after it picked up 3 close votes, I made it a duplicate.

Another approach is massively editing the question. The reason trolling is even effective is that questions normally have some level of meaningful "real" question in them - otherwise they'd just get closed. Editing to remove the fluff/details often can help here to sanitize a question (often this can be done and then the question is a more clear duplicate).

Can you share with us at least what type of information is leading you to this conclusion, even if you can't share specific details?

This post contains most of the key information we can have access to which is not something regular users would see, specifically:

For these duties, the ♦ moderators on a site have access to otherwise-confidential information about an account:

  • the private parts of user profiles (email, full name, etc.)
  • IP addresses that the account was accessed from a history of logins, profile edits, etc.

Also note that there are a lot of things to correlate, such as posting style, details in posts, etc. The more of these pieces which "match up" the more likely it is to be pretty clear trolling.

And a final note, if a question is just straight up bad for the site I'm way less inclined to "worry" about whether it's a bad question or blatant trolling, too, as the end result is the same.

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    Thanks for sharing a little bit of the magic behind the curtains.
    – Neo
    Sep 29, 2017 at 11:11
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    inquiring minds want to know, is Hans Moleman back with us?
    – gnat
    Sep 29, 2017 at 12:23
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    "if a question is just straight up bad for the site I'm way less inclined to "worry" about whether it's a bad question or blatant trolling, too, as the end result is the same." - the end result of the question should be the same. But shouldn't the end result of the account be different? I assume we delete troll accounts? Sep 30, 2017 at 13:11
  • By all means close questions that should be closed, but easier to reduce them in the first place. Many times I see a new account question from someone with a "1" Reputation, they ask their question and don't UpVote the correct answer - it's Hit & Run and they take off Scott Free. Would it be good if Question Askers had answered one question and got one UpVote, and if they had the 'Read the Help File' Badge? That way they'd have an investment in this Site instead of just being a taker. Easy for a Bot to have questions, very difficult to correlate correct answers - but that would benefit us.
    – Rob
    Oct 7, 2017 at 13:29
  • You don't mention flagging, but you do mention that mods can look into this. Would flagging potential / likely / obvious trolling (or patterns of trolling) be appropriate? Jan 13, 2018 at 17:42

Okay, as a grand-master troll of old, I can say that Enderland has been making the right moves even without looking at his proof.

I'm going by the old definition of troll, which came from the fishing term.

From Wikipedia:

Trolling is a method of fishing where one or more fishing lines, baited with lures or bait fish, are drawn through the water. This may be behind a moving boat, or by slowly winding the line in when fishing from a static position, or even sweeping the line from side-to-side, e.g. when fishing from a jetty. Trolling is used to catch pelagic fish such as salmon, mackerel and kingfish.

Trolling is nothing more than putting out "bait" and seeing how many users you can catch.

These four in particular were clearly aimed to get a reaction. While workplace stories are hard to sniff out as trolling thanks to the wild stories that ARE true, including someone putting poop in someone's lunch pail, others are blatant.

"How to get fired"... obvious. "Tickling"... obvious The saga of Sarah who wanted 10g and talked about adult activities involving pain and restraint... obvious.

If I wanted to troll this site, I would do this in similar fashion. I don't troll much any more, and I certainly respect SE and all it's incarnations enough to leave them alone, I have not forgotten how to do it.

Is there something I can put my finger on and say Well, if it's "X" + "Y" divided by the square root of "Z"? No, but being experienced in trolling lets me know a troll when I see one.

Let's trust in the moderators here. They do an excellent job and this is from someone with a long history of clashing with moderators, so it is no small compliment I give.

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    You know, you so much remind me of the movie "Catch Me If You Can". ;)
    – Masked Man
    Sep 28, 2017 at 18:02
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    @MaskedMan the world is lucky that I do not use my powers for the forces of evil (anymore) Sep 28, 2017 at 18:23
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    Oh I certainly trust the moderators to make the right decisions, but I also know that they can't be everywhere at once. I'm trying to figure out how we should be responding to these suspicious but not blatantly trolling questions in a way that doesn't make our moderators' lives more difficult.
    – David K
    Sep 28, 2017 at 18:34

What can we as regular users do to help quickly identify trolling questions without attacking legitimate questions?

What I do first is to use my common sense. I am sure that we all have a little troll inside of us, and we are able to recognize when some posts seems to have been done in such a way.

Second, one could try to get more information from the OP via comments, by asking for clarification or more details about his question. There you can also notice if someone is making it up, as probably will start contradicting themselves or saying even more troll comments.

Third, you can bring the subject up in chat, where one can get more opinions and considerations from other users (and their little trolls inside) to reach a better consensus on the nature of the post.

Lastly, you could flag for mod if you find the post too suspicious. However, if the post is truly troll-full the community will probably handle it organically and flag/DV the post.

Note: Now that you mention it, I am also starting to be suspicious about this apparent troll pattern on posts, and would also like to hear what out Mods have to say about it.

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    "we all have a little troll inside of us," not true! I have a great big HUUUUGE one with sharp and nasty teeth! Sep 28, 2017 at 17:36
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    Maybe you can scare the lesser troll away then ;)
    – DarkCygnus Mod
    Sep 28, 2017 at 17:42
  • I suspect I already have done that to a few. Sep 29, 2017 at 12:42

Here is a new question that had a similar profile and query-type as mentioned in the meta question.

I'm an assistant manager & I witnessed my manager sexually harass an employee. Should I report it?

Given the subjective nature of determining of what is and is not a "troll" I flagged the post and mentioned this meta question in the comment box.

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    That one's not triggering alarm bells for me, for whatever reason. Maybe just because it seems like something completely possible from an over-zealous manager.
    – David K
    Oct 12, 2017 at 12:38
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    @DavidK I would add that even in case if this is really troll, it is likely different from previous ones. They look much less experienced than prior trolls who likely understood how to push their questions into hot list and exploit that hype. As opposed to them, poster of "harass" question apparently is not aware that word "sexual" in the title will block their question from getting into hot list and therefore goes against the goal of getting attention
    – gnat
    Oct 12, 2017 at 13:18
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    @gnat agreed. This doesn't look like a troll to me. It looks like someone just not knowing what to do. Oct 12, 2017 at 13:45

All posts by new users (< 500 reputation) should goto a review queue. Only the approved posts by established users should go public.

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    This isn't how SE works, and would be an absolute nightmare to implement, as well as drastically reduce the number of positive new users without saving the time or energy wasted on dealing with negative new users.
    – user53718
    Oct 5, 2017 at 4:03
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    We already have the first post review queue, not quite the same, as the post is still allowed on the main site, but that helps with catching the obvious I've just created this account for making a bad question
    – Draken
    Oct 5, 2017 at 7:44
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    That doesn't scale well at all. I can't even imagine how horrible that would be to implement on a site like Stack Overflow that gets thousands of questions per day. We already have the late answers and first posts queue, plus various moderation bots that monitor SE for potentially bad content. Oct 11, 2017 at 20:57

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