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On a Stack Exchange community I moderate, we have received some complaints about what appears to be targeted voting. Targeted voting is where somebody goes through another user's posts voting for (or against) everything just because it came from that person. This distorts the voting on a site and is strictly against SE rules.

Sometimes, though, users who are following the rules can produce the appearance of targeted voting. This is because we all choose what to read (there's too much to read everything), and sometimes we choose to read something because of who posted it: "Oh look, a post from (known expert); I'm bound to learn something!" Or, alternatively, "sigh, what is (known low-quality poster) posting now?" Having read it we then vote. The vote is legitimate, but to the recipient it looks suspicious. Then people get agitated, complain publicly, leave hostile comments, and ask moderators to do something about that guy.

What social techniques can I employ to break this cycle when it happens on my site? I've tried talking with individuals involved in these kinds of disputes and asking them to be more careful, but I can't very well tell them what (not) to read or to distort their voting -- declining to cast a vote solely because of the author is as bad as casting one for that reason. What I'd really like to do is to help people read more broadly, which will naturally spread their votes out more.

Again, I'm talking about cases that do not violate SE's voting rules; there's nothing to be invalidated and no disciplinary action to take. I don't think the users in question are seeking out particular people's posts to vote on; I think some users are "attuned" to certain other users and are more likely to pick out their posts to read in the first place. How do I broaden people's reading?

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    I've suggested in the past that post could be made anonymous (either by the poster or the viewer), but it's been declined. You could develop (or get someone to develop) a user script that hides the flair behind a button and encourage people to use that. – ChrisF Dec 6 '16 at 21:38
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    Good question. We know the answer theoretically: emphasize that people should vote for Q&A quality, not on people. But it's easy to have the effect you mention even when you vote based on Q&A quality: Hey, there's an extended answer by Monica, let's read that, she often has good things to say. Read. Mmm, that's a good answer. Upvote. I have this with several people on The Workplace. Your title says it nicely: it's not so much 'targeted voting', it's 'targeted viewing'. – Jan Doggen Dec 8 '16 at 21:31
  • Why do you always post these difficult questions here? ;-) – Jan Doggen Dec 8 '16 at 21:34
  • Am I right if I guess that this is more a problem on a low volume site with just a dozen or so new questions each visit than oh, SO itself? If so, perhaps the best solution is to dramatically increase traffic and membership (because that's easy, right, but perhaps easier than the question you've asked.) – Kate Gregory Dec 10 '16 at 19:10
  • @KateGregory I'm seeing this on a site where the front page turns over in 1-2 days -- so, not the low volume of some beta sites, but not SO volume either. Increasing traffic is an ongoing effort but some topics will just never have huge user bases, so in the meantime... – Monica Cellio Dec 10 '16 at 23:12
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I have actually posted the idea as a proposal on main SE meta a while back (back when it was SO meta :), so it is only really applicable if asked from the point of view of people who control the commmunity software and not necessarily community moderators who have no way to add the features.

  1. Anonymize posts pre-voting

    • When showing a post (Q or A) to a user, hide ALL identifying info of the post's author - username, rep, badges, icon

    • Introduce a new 3rd "voting" option "I won't vote for this post" which is treated as a normal vote, except that it becomes irreversible-until-the-edit immediately and not after 5 minutes.

      This is needed in case you'd like to know the rep to evaluate the answer's reliability based on how rep-earning the poster is, but you don't intend to vote

    • Don't show people the poster info the post until AFTER they voted on the post, or cliecked "won't vote" vote

    In some cases, poster's identity is possible to guess to some degree of precision. Some well known users have distinctive styles, both in writing and formatting. But that's still a big improvement over current problem as described by OP.

    Of coure, someone can easily defeat this approach (e.g. view posts in private mode, not logged in as yourself, in another window. Or, abuse the change-vote-later ability, or abuse edit-and-revote). But as far as I understand, OP's desire is to solve the problem of unintended bias in voting, NOT intentional violation of the rules.

  2. Don't show "All posts by specific user" list.

    As an alternative (because viewing all posts by high rep user is actually a valuable learning experience you don't really want to deny to people!), add a limit of "don't allow more than 3 votes per user per day if you saw their posts from their user list".

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One thing you can do is to forcefully limit per-user downvotes (yes, this isn't quite "social" solution either, sorry). SE limits total daily votes anyway. In the same vein, you can simply limit the amount of votes (in general, or downvotes) someone can give to a single user per day.

This can be a

  • soft limit (warning that you're doing something that seems fishy),

  • hard limit, like SE's 40 vote limit that you can't breach.

  • silent limit (the vote either doesn't register at all, or gets silently reverted after a short period of time to avoid complaints "my downvotes didn't take").

(I'm posting this as a separate answer as it has nothing to do with the first answer I posted. However, if the community prefers, I can delete this one and edit into my original answer)

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