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Recently a co-worker described to me a concept that he called the "bozo room" as a way to control spam, trolling and sock-puppeting in message boards, etc. I'd like to know if it has ever been formally studied, or has actually been successfully put into practice on any successful website, online game, etc. Specifically, I'd like to know:

  • Does this strategy actually control the number of sock puppet accounts, as compared to simple account banning or closure?
  • Does this strategy actually control the number of sock puppet accounts, as compared to the simpler hellban strategy?
  • Does this strategy carry significant negative side effects (like chasing away users), as compared to these other strategies?

The idea is, if a user is flagged as a troll or spammer by a moderator, no notification is given, and that user's experience is completely unchanged, but only flagged users (themselves and others) can see their posts. Flagged ("bozo") users can see all posts, even those of other flagged users, but unflagged ("good") users see only the posts of other "good" users.

The idea of letting "bozo" users see each others' posts is what leads to the term "bozo room", because they can still interact, but only with other "bozos", perhaps increasing the chance that they will not realize they have been flagged.

An an example, if we imagine that StackExchange has implemented this, then if you and I are in the bozo room, we can read this question, vote on it, answer it, and so on; but non-bozos never see it in searches, on the main page, or anywhere else. But there's no indication in our profiles or anywhere else that we can see that tells us we're bozos, and therefore there is no way to appeal to have the ban lifted (if we're sure we are banned), besides screaming into the void.

In my own research, starting from this metafilter post I found references to "hellban", "ghost posting", "sending to Coventry" and the "twit bit". From there I found Drupal Cave. Apparently the hellban has been used by Something Awful and on BBSes as far back as 1987, and Atwood's post claims that the hellban is secretly used on large-scale sites, but without naming names. But in the normal hellban scheme, only the bozo sees his own posts, not other bozos. By allowing bozos to see each others' posts, different metrics may or may not result. I found no discussion of attempts to measure unwanted consequences of using hellban.

This idea is also distinct from a simple bozo filter or killfile because those strategies are just simple filters; whereas the bozo room strategy takes care to conceal from the "bozo" user the fact that he has been flagged and his posts are not generally being seen.

  • sheer greatness! I've heard of different strategies – but not yet of the Bozo Room. Will share this with colleagues and ask, if anybody has experience with this strategy… – tillinberlin Sep 23 '14 at 21:17
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    Aargh! It's so good, it leaves me questioning my own reality. Am I in one giant bozo reality? It's the stuff of early M. Night Shayamalan... "I see bozo people..." – Tim FitzGerald Sep 24 '14 at 3:00
  • If one person is in a bozo room then everybody is in a bozo room. – jazZRo Sep 26 '14 at 12:18
  • Bozos see everything, non-bozos only see content created by non-bozos. I don't see how that implies everyone is a bozo. – wberry Sep 26 '14 at 15:56
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    Two problems. Most Bozos are not fooled that easily. Now the site not only has more content but now the logic of bozo versus non. It will not get em all and it is a resource intensive patch. It only takes one Bozo to post hey they got a Bozo room going on. People that don't want to play by the rules are pretty resourceful. – paparazzo Oct 3 '14 at 20:11
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Given that this question appears to be the only meaningful Google result for "bozo room" in this sense, I doubt there is much research available on it. Perhaps someone has implemented it, but given that the strategy requires secrecy to work well, we are unlikely to find out.

Is this a good idea? I doubt it. It is probably best to compare it to the "hellban".

Advantages

  • Banned users are less likely to find out they are banned, since they get some response to their posts.

Disadvantages

  • More work to implement.
  • Banned users are not necessarily encouraged to leave the site.
  • A lot of unwanted content has to be stored and maintained.
  • One person discovering the strategy defeats it permanently, because they can communicate to others.
  • If the strategy is discovered, you now have a disgruntled community of people who may band together and attack you.

(Credit to Blam on the last two points). To me this is clearly worse.

In comparison to normal banning of users, most of the above points still apply. In addition, because banning is secret, there is no recourse for a user who is wrongly banned. It also potentially erodes trust in the site to do things this way.

I am not a fan of either of these strategies.

  • I think I mostly agree. Your last two bullets, and particularly the last, are interesting conjectures. Maybe that's exactly what would happen, or maybe those who discover the scheme just create sock puppets and continue trolling. But I fear you're right - if it's ever actually been done, no one will dare admit it here. – wberry Oct 6 '14 at 15:59

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