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I noticed a new question was receiving a surprising number of views for a question only a few hours old with no answers (and no votes as of this writing). So I looked at the question tab on that user's activity, waited a few minutes, and reloaded the page. To my surprise, the views for several of the user's questions increased dramatically.

Here are screenshots:

Question activity summary at 2020-01-01T02:55:07Z


five minutes later: Question activity summary at 2020-01-01T03:00:24Z


five more minutes later: Question activity summary at 2020-01-01T03:05:39Z

The views per question can be summarized as follows:

2:55  3:00   3:05    Question
 936    986   1010    Controversial Friends comic in the British LEGO Magazine?
 828    875    902    Instructions for the LEGO Star Wars Holiday X-Wing (4002019)
 816    866    886    Does the LEGO Star Wars Holiday X-Wing (4002019) contain any unique pieces?
 845    888    902    What are some LEGO Christmas trees designs I can build?
 597    624    647    2001 BIONICLE Trading Card #255?
 456    474    489    Complete set of 2004 Knights Kingdom card images?
 952    989   1018    What LEGO set has the smallest box?
 209    209    209    Is this non-disassemblable LEGO instruction step real?
 328    328    328    How can I assemble 2 opposing gears so that the axle rotations are perfectly parallel?
  62     62     62    What can I do with all my brick separators? [duplicate]
 234    234    234    Replace Battery in LEGO Dino Attack Light-Up T-Rex Head?
 394    394    394    Capture video stream from LEGO Studio Camera (Logitech USB webcam) in ev3dev?

Notice the bottom five questions in that table. Those question were ask before the Winter Bash and the views did not change at all, while the newer questions have gained ~100 views each in ten minutes - interesting.

For reference to see just how unusual this is look at the questions page. Normal questions on bricks are getting between 25 and 90 views. HNQs get a lot more 100 though 12000!, the normal number being around 1000 views.

I marked up a screen shot of the questions page, all of Alexander O'Mara's questions are in red and I notated all of the HNQs (When a question becomes a Hot Network Question it is logged). There is no question with over 90 views that was not a HNQ, except for Alexander O'Mara's.

Click for full size (it's big)
question page HNQs notated


Now this part is pure speculation. However it looks like there are phony views being directed towards this user's questions in order to get the "Fashionable" hat.

get over 9,000 combined total views on all questions that you asked during Winter Bash

This probably has something to do with the competition, and the user being in second at the moment... Kind of sad if this is what is going on.

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  • I also saw a part-ID Q&A with a suspect number of votes... – Alexander O'Mara Jan 1 at 3:49
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    @AlexanderO'Mara if your talking about my answer here I too was surprised. But more surprised was I to find it DVed - right before 10 UVs, the amount to earn the enlightened badge. Coincidence is it? – David Jan 1 at 3:53
  • Could be that it looks fishy. – Alexander O'Mara Jan 1 at 3:53
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    @AlexanderO'Mara I don't see anything clear and convincing here that would disqualify either of you from winning, and I don't have the tools or time at my disposal to adequately investigate any foul play. I am wondering, given the context, if the two of you would be open to splitting the grand prize rather than having it come down to a coin flip. I'd be able to send each of you something costing as much as 100 EUR on German shop.lego.com (Perhaps the new Mobile Crane?). This does deviate from the original rules, so I'd need you both to agree to it, otherwise I'll flip a coin to see who wins. – jncraton Jan 2 at 19:15
  • @jncraton The suspicious voting in David's favor and my disfavor got much more brazen at the end of WB. That being said, they did contribute a fair bit to this site and I'd be willing to overlook anything ugly that transpired in the final days and split the prize (not really sure about the Mobile Crane specifically though, might we be able to choose our own <= 100 EUR set?) – Alexander O'Mara Jan 2 at 20:37
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    @AlexanderO'Mara I appreciate your willingness to work with me on this. I'm open to any set that you want. You could each choose your own. – jncraton Jan 2 at 21:24
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    @jncraton I've purposefully avoided talking to AlexanderO'Mara since this all transpired. I'm lacking good or kind words. I'd love to refute each erroneous accusation he has made about me, but I'd need more then the 600 characters in a comment. (Even the reply to your comment here is charged with a passive aggressive attitude.) If Alexander has succeeded in painting the race for first as "voting fraud" (which contrary to what he believes never transpired from my end) then may I offer an alternative. Disqualify both of us and give the first place prize to zovits. – David Jan 3 at 5:13
  • Last-minute double downvotes 10 seconds apart on my post, while your wrong answer is getting 3 upvotes in 7 minutes? The picture paints itself. I'm still willing to overlook it, but please do not insult us. – Alexander O'Mara Jan 3 at 5:55
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    @NeverForget "Disqualify both of us and give the first place prize to zovits." I would donate the first prize to a charity (like Fairy Bricks), so should this decision be made, my involvement may as well be skipped over :) – zovits Jan 3 at 9:34
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    @zovits You know, I think I like that plan even better. That way all of it goes to someone deserving, and it doesn't reward those last-minute votes aimed at fixing the This is Fine hat results. I'm good with the set, or any other smaller sets that might be substituted, being donated to Fairy Bricks. – Alexander O'Mara Jan 3 at 17:52
  • CC-ing @jncraton because I think we've technically all agreed to this. – Alexander O'Mara Jan 3 at 17:54
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    @AlexanderO'Mara After doing some thinking about this, I'm comfortable not awarding a first place prize if you'd both prefer that. However, I don't believe that I'm able to donate the prize to charity. TLG is pretty strict about support staying within the community that it is intended for. It's not supposed to be "sold, resold, or handed over to the public". How do we feel about giving out 5 prizes assigned randomly to everyone with at least 3 hats, with the two winners excluded? – jncraton Jan 4 at 2:53
  • Seeing as how zovits is not interested and TLG has restrictions on donating the prize I'm fine with going with your original idea to split the prize (if @AlexanderO'Mara is still willing). – David Jan 4 at 6:51
  • @jncraton In light of TLG's rules about who prizes can go to, I'll still honor my agreement to split the prize. – Alexander O'Mara Jan 4 at 18:25
  • @AlexanderO'Mara That works for me. I'll move forward with the two of you splitting the prize. – jncraton Jan 4 at 20:18
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Since I have access to the logs, I spent a few minutes digging through this. Not a full-on investigation, just enough to see if there's fire behind this smoke...

Observations:

  1. Yes, someone's been scraping profiles & hitting a bunch of questions via a big ol' pile of proxies to inflate the view counts.
  2. That includes your questions as well as Alexander's.
  3. There's no compelling reason for me to believe the culprit is either you or Alexander.
  4. This is why we can't have nice things...

My recommendation: ignore the view-based hats for the purpose of this contest and just have fun.

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  • Thanks for taking the time to conduct this investigation! – zovits Jan 7 at 11:29
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One of my concerns about this competition was how high level users or moderators had a huge advantage over regular users as they could easily get certain hats without much scrutiny. Such as the hats that require you to close a question, edit it, and re-open it.

The goal of this competition has always been to facilitate positive engagement on the site and to celebrate the holidays. I believe the threshold of getting three hats (as in 2017) was enough to be achievable to everyone with a suitable amount of effort and hopefully it would have lead them to participate more to contribute on the site.

Unfortunately I cannot verify the claim that some questions could have had their view counts manipulates. As a moderator, the only relevant tools I have access to are very general viewing statistics and suspicious voting patterns (which in this case does not apply). It might be possible for Stack Exchange admin staff to verify suspicious views but I am not sure that would be the fairest solution to this problem.

It looks like David and Alexander O'Mara are currently tied for first place at the moment so it is down to a coin toss as to who will win.

As the competition is very nearly over, I think we should consider how we can make the event as fair as possible next year, assuming it will be held again at all, considering how the event was mostly a repeat of previous years events.

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