I keep a pretty close watch on spam and rude/abusive posts on this site, as much as is possible for a normal user without a diamond here, using the 10k tools and some other things that I use to watch for red flaggable posts.

And what I've seen is... sometimes, sub-optimal.

Let me say that I've made a lot of research into how Stack Exchange deals with spam. I've gotten about as involved in the process as possible - from flagging spam all over the network, to destroying spam accounts as a mod on Literature.SE, to reading a ton of posts on Meta.SE about spam... Spam and flags are my specialty.

And so... here are the things that are bothering me.

The bigger issue that I see is people voting to delete spam and rude/abusive posts. I can pull up examples:

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...and so on. I don't want to call out any specific users - they're not the only ones who have VTDed - but these are just some convenient recent examples.

So... voting to delete spam or rude/abusive posts is a misguided effort. Not only does it not help, it actively harms the system's ability to block these people from posting more.

When a post is flag-deleted that was red flagged, an IP block is thrown up to heavily rate-limit the person who posted the spam or rude/abusive post, the post is deleted and locked, and the post content hidden behind the revisions link (for non-mods).

When a post is manually deleted - either by a mod or by 20kers - that was red flagged, the post content is hidden by the revisions link.

That's it. Nothing else. The author doesn't suffer any blocks or anything. They don't get rate-limited if they try to post another rude/abusive or spam post. They don't get fed to SpamRam, the internal spam filters that SE has.

Needless to say... that's sub-optimal. We want the people who are trolling or spamming the site to get blocked and rate limited. We don't want them to be able to continually post without getting blocked.

Voting to delete rude/abusive or spam posts is misguided, and could cause some persistent trolls to get away with a lighter block than they would have.

The second thing is editing red flaggable posts. While a simple edit won't invalidate red flags on the post (as far as I know), a rollback will invalidate any extant red flags on the post. While this is less common than voting to delete red flaggable posts, this is also something that I have seen and that is less than optimal - a determined troll who is familiar with the system can rollback the post after it's edited and invalidate any flags, making it take a whole lot longer to delete (and get them IP blocked).

That's it - have any thoughts? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Did you learn anything?

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    The issue with spammers potentially not getting IP-blocked only matters if SFF has spammers who post more than once. But as far as I know, they almost only use one-off disposable accounts (and in the rare cases of a determined troll making multiple red-flaggable posts from the same account, the IP block doesn't work anyway). Plus, I generally do a sweep every so often and destroy the accounts of recent spammers. So while of course you're right, I'm not sure how much of an issue this is: either way, the post is deleted and its contents hidden, which is what counts. – Rand al'Thor Nov 18 '17 at 22:06
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    "I don't want to call out any specific users", you've done a pretty good job of calling out 4 users... – Edlothiad Nov 18 '17 at 23:10
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    @Mithrandir What exactly is a spam? I've seen many low quality questions and answers by sub 100 users, but I wouldn't really categorize any of them as spam. Perhaps you are doing too good of a job that we do not see any. – user65648 Nov 19 '17 at 9:41
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    @C.Koca - spam in the Stack Exchange sense is undisclosed affiliation and promoting a product or service. For instance, Scifi.SE sees spell doctor spam sometimes, offering to charm magic love blah blah. A rude/abusive post is one that violates the be nice rule and stuff - for instance, calling the site users inappropriate names, or making offensive jokes. – Mithical Nov 19 '17 at 9:49
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    @Mithrandir - I'm struggling to remember the last time I saw spam. We're an incredibly hostile environment for it, not least because we have a highly active community moderation 'team' who delete the stuff within minutes, a site that required registration before posting and a moderation team who then obliterate their accounts – Valorum Nov 19 '17 at 13:21
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    @Mithrandir - So, approximately one abusive message per day (that usually get deleted within minutes) and less than one piece of spam in a fortnight (the last one of which lasted less than 60 seconds). Hmm. It doesn't sound like we have much of a problem, period, let alone one that people need educating about – Valorum Nov 19 '17 at 16:37
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    @Mithrandir - When something is a problem for a tiny proportion of highly active users, for less than a minute once a forthnight, I think you may need to get some perspective here. I've literally spent more time writing my answer than it took to delete every piece of spam on SFF for the last year. – Valorum Nov 19 '17 at 16:43
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    @Valorum - my point is that I'm not concerned about the time to deletion; I'm trying to educate people that we were given specific tools to use for a reason, and it's best to use the tools in the way that they were designed. If SE has a specific way of dealing with something... that's how we should deal with it. Of course, the sooner it's deleted the better... but it's best to do that in the proper way. – Mithical Nov 19 '17 at 16:53
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    @Valorum - ...because that's how the system was designed and it's more effective when you use it in the proper way? That's the point of this post. The tools were meant to be used in a specific way. These tools exist for a reason. It is more effective to use them in the proper way so that they can have the full effect. Even aside from the effects - why not use them in the way they were designed for? Why misuse a feature of the site? It's not done with malicious intent, no, but you should still know how to use the tools you're given the proper way. – Mithical Nov 19 '17 at 17:52
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    @Valorum - it doesn't take longer (at least it shouldn't) - there are a whole lot more people with 15 rep who can flag than people with 20k who can VTD. And I disagree that it's no benefit to the site, as I explained in my post. But, if you insist on describing it that way... yes. I think you should do it the way it was intended. – Mithical Nov 19 '17 at 17:59
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    The author doesn't suffer any blocks or anything. So? Show me the amount of times a spammer has returned to post multiple pieces of spam and I'll take it seriously. – Möoz Nov 20 '17 at 0:09
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    Did you learn anything? Yes, I didn't know exactly how the spam blocking features worked, now I do ;-) – Möoz Nov 20 '17 at 0:13
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    If your goal is to educate people on the proper use of the site, then a simple post with "hey guys, here's how this thing works best, feel free to use" would have been better than your "You're all doing it wrong, this is the way you should do it". I fear your inexperience with us grumpy old farts has made you misjudge the tone you should have gone for mate ;-) – Möoz Nov 20 '17 at 1:51
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    "Did you learn anything?" Yes. That @Valorum measures everything in fortnights. – DCOPTimDowd Nov 20 '17 at 18:55
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    @ThePopMachine - For me it boils down to two things. 1) We've literally spent more time discussing this question than we've spent dealing with spam in the entire life of the site and 2) His proposed solution is harmful to our site. – Valorum Jan 19 '18 at 17:42

I think the issue here is that you're trying to look at the big picture, training the post system to detect spam across the entire Stack Network and to IP-block and 'punish' spammers to prevent them from doing it again but ignoring the little picture, that getting these posts off our site by deleting them is also an effective way to deal with them.

Given the vanishingly small amount of spam that we actually get (less than one piece a week), given the microscopically small number of repeat-offending spammers we have on SFF and given the fact that spammers tend to use disposable and IP-spoofed accounts anyway (rendering IP-blocking pretty useless), it's largely irrelevant how we get rid of them. The important thing is that we act on them swiftly, especially when they contain objectionable content. I'd rather they were just gone rather than leaving them up in order to help train some nebulous algorithm.

Your recent post in chat is especially illuminating on the subject;

I'll note that when spam or rude/abusive content pops up in the LQP queue I always click 'looks okay' because it should be flag-deleted, not regular-deleted.

People who hang around Charcoal tend to think that systemic solutions are required because they see dozens of spam posts each day but the reality is that these are spread out over an estate of hundreds of thousands of daily posts. They aren't even background noise on most sites and barely register as a blip on SFF.

Should we flag them as spam? Sure, that's the ideal way of doing it and I gather our mods periodically delete the accounts of those who've posted spam anyway.

Should we care that people aren't doing it or try to make them feel bad for not following the optimal procedure? No. We have bigger fish to fry than something that causes a minor annoyance for less than a minute once a week.

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    Like I said in a comment on the question - it's also good to educate people. While the actual effects of deleting things in a sub-optimal way are pretty small for us here, it's good to know the proper way to do stuff. Just because we're fine now doesn't mean we'll be fine in a couple months. – Mithical Nov 18 '17 at 23:17
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    @Mithrandir - If the "correct" way involves leaving abusive posts up, then it's not the correct way. – Valorum Nov 18 '17 at 23:20
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    It doesn't involve leaving them up. It just involves using the specific ways that SE has given us to remove them - via flags – Mithical Nov 18 '17 at 23:21
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    Perhaps the problem (that manually-deleted spam/abuse posts aren’t ingested by Stack Exchange’s automated spam/abuse block tools) is better solved by changing Stack Exchange’s automated spam/abuse block tools, than by individual site users trying to remember which unwanted posts they shouldn’t click “Delete” on. – Paul D. Waite Nov 22 '17 at 15:04

That's it - have any thoughts? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?


Should people use the spam flag to flag spam? Obviously. That's why it exists. But if people delete it instead, so what? It's not like SF/F gets a ridiculous amount of spam. I struggle to see why Smokey even bothers monitoring our site when spam here is practically non-existent compared to other sites.

If you are concerned about spam and want to make the effort to clean it up, that's absolutely a lofty goal and you should be commended for it. But there are tons of things wrong with this site that people could champion as lofty goals (would you like to talk about tags for a minute?). Your pet project is not everyone elses burden to bear. For most of us, we see a post that shouldn't be here, we vote to delete it, it goes away, we're happy.

And really, if a spammer or two gets through the system and their post gets deleted and they don't get IP blocked ... so what? Exactly who does that really hurt? If they spam again, we can just catch them. If their posts keep getting deleted, they'll get blocked from posting anyway. If they don't spam again, then it doesn't really matter one way or another.

Besides. All 3 of your examples clearly indicate they were deleted as spam, and their revision histories claim they were deleted by Community (though they'd received other delete votes as well.) Are you saying none of those posts triggered any further action behind the scenes? I find that difficult to believe.

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    "I struggle to see why Smokey even bothers monitoring our site" - Smokey monitors every SE site. Presumably the ones that don't get much spam aren't much of an extra burden on it. And sometimes a site's spam rate suffers a sudden spike - e.g. I think this happened with Movies & TV after it graduated, because the site was getting more traffic and consequently more spammers - so it's worth monitoring even spamless sites in case they suddenly become spammier. – Rand al'Thor Nov 20 '17 at 1:08
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    We do monitor it, with human eyes. Don’t let those stinking bots get too smart, we all know what happens then. – Edlothiad Nov 20 '17 at 6:32
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    The first one that that I linked was not deleted by Community♦ at first - it was deleted by user votes, until I flagged for mod attention and asked for it to be undeleted and redeleted the proper way (and Kevin♦ helpfully obliged). – Mithical Nov 20 '17 at 8:40

The problem is that when someone encounters a spam post in the "Low Quality" review queue, they have two options for dealing with it:

  1. Scroll down, find the tiny little "Link" link, right-click and select "open in new tab", switch to the new tab, click "flag", select "spam", click "Flag answer", close the tab, and click "Skip" in the review queue.

  2. Click "Delete" from the review queue.

Guess which is the lower-friction option?

Until we can manage to train spammers to only post high-quality spam, people will keep taking the easy route and use regular deletion on it.

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    Until we can manage to train spammers to only post high-quality spam I have now found my purpose in life! – Möoz Jan 18 '18 at 21:32
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    Genius. Words have never seemed so simple. – Edlothiad Jan 18 '18 at 22:13
  • @Möoz: see xkcd.com/810 – b_jonas May 25 at 21:09

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