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With popularity comes spam, and Stack Exchange is popular. It sometimes takes a few repeats before you start to recognize the same URL or product name, and blacklisting frequently spammed URLs is a non-trivial process which moderators can't even do ourselves.

For one-time drive-by spammers, the community tends to be pretty good about dispatching bad posts. Repeat offenders though are not always easy to catch, and result in a lot of work for both moderators and the community at large. We need better tools to combat this.

I would like to request the following tools, kind of in order of complexity to implement:

The relatively easy to add things...

  • A search function for posts marked and deleted as spam, similar to deleted:1. Something like spam:1 would do. This would help in finding trends.

  • A listing in the moderator tools of posts recently marked as spam. (This could probably even be a 10k or 20k tool). Recently deleted posts are already listed, but a lot of deleted posts aren't spam. Having this tool would help us to find repeat offenders, enabling a more appropriate response.

  • Automatic listing of URLs found in posts flagged and deleted as spam. Any URL appearing in more than 3-5 spam-flagged posts (perhaps have a menu, or just filter by # occurances) would show up on the list, with a link to view all posts with that URL.

The more complicated things...

  • Automated blocking of repeatedly spammed URLs. If a given URL is present in more than, say, 15 posts marked as spam, it will automatically be added to the blacklist. To avoid false positives, perhaps there should be an exception for URLs that appear at least twice as many times in non-spam posts with positive vote counts.

  • Auto-flag from Community when the same URL gets posted x or more times in n or fewer days, if the URL has never previously been seen on the site. This would help to raise attention for URLs which are being spammed but might not be caught right away by the community.

There are probably other things that would be helpful too, these are just some of my initial ideas of things that would help us to catch and stop spam more easily. Feel free to add other suggestions in the comments.

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9  
A fresh account, first two posts, both with the same URL, usually a spammer –  random May 17 '12 at 6:44
2  
Yes please!!! One word of caution though: excessive blacklisting only results in spammers using no URLs at all, which in turn makes it harder for the community to identify those posts as spam. I'd rather see them posting the same URLs again than making up new ones or including none at all. I'm really not talking about Botox spam or so, but the not-so-obvious one. Like KVMSwitchTech, if you know what I mean. –  slhck May 17 '12 at 9:01
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Maybe also a "reject as spam" reason for suggested edits? And make those edits be searchable by spam:1 too? (Or: such edits often seem to be using things like BBCode which might be easily detectable.) –  Arjan May 17 '12 at 13:26
    
I like the idea of auto-flagging suspicious patterns. As far as auto-blacklisting goes I think you'd need to add URL de-shortening to circumvent it. I think I've seen a few instances of spammers using URL shortening services. A spam search tool would also need to search older revisions of posts which have been edited to removed the spammy links to be truly useful. –  Flexo May 17 '12 at 14:25
    
On the other hand, @awoodland, some shorteners provide nice insight, like by adding a "+" after a goo.gl URL. (This needs you to be logged in to some Google account, but then the data is public.) –  Arjan May 17 '12 at 15:23

3 Answers 3

It would be nice if a user get's deleted or suspended for something like spam elsewhere on the network, to have his latest posts on other sites automatically be flagged.

Simply put them in the queue of the moderator flags like you do with low quality posts or put them there on /review. So in a way, it's just another trigger for an already existing mechanism. If the post(s) look suspicious, users can flag the user for moderator attention and they can be dealt with like any other problem user.

Like you said, it doesn't happen that frequently, so having some peer review would be good to prevent nasty side effects. But being deleted/suspended elsewhere on the network seems a pretty good marker for being a problem user

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To avoid confusion: please only upvote if you think automatic deletion of associated accounts is helpful, and downvote if you think it's making things worse... I know how voting works here.


Yesterday I was about to post the following as a question, but while typing I realized that automatic removal of associated accounts might also delete valuable content or might be problematic for hacked accounts, and hence be a bad idea. Or is it?

A spam account was deleted from Stack Overflow (at least 5 spam posts from May 8th to May 16th), while its associated account on Super User was involved in the same spamming too (at least one spam post, but also a nice non-spam answer).

Some time later, the Super User moderators also deleted the spam, and warned:

If you spam this product again, you will be suspended.

That's fine with me, but still just curious: would it make life easier for moderators to automatically delete associated accounts (and their content), if an account is deleted for spamming on one site?

(That would also remove any subscriptions such spammer might have configured to find future spammable posts, but I guess such subscriptions could also be maintained using a puppet, so not a lot we can do there. Also note that this specific user has associated a new SE account to their remaining other accounts. But I don't think that having a few "old" associated accounts would fool other users into giving a spammer the benefit of the doubt if spamming again.)

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Also curious, nhinkle, did my upvote for the other non-spam answer have anything to do with you preserving that Super User account? –  Arjan May 17 '12 at 8:32
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Well it would help if these accounts or their posts would get flagged for moderator attention (or /review) when he get's banned elsewhere –  Ivo Flipse May 17 '12 at 11:21
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@IvoFlipse That's a good enough suggestion to make it a real answer to increase visibility. –  Daniel Beck May 17 '12 at 14:22
    
@Arjan if I see that they have some valuable content, I'm willing to give them a 2nd chance. If they blow it though (which he did), it's the banhammer. –  nhinkle May 17 '12 at 19:20
    
@nhinkle, I very much agree with your decision. (Just to be sure you don't think I was criticizing that. I admire the patience moderators show.) –  Arjan May 17 '12 at 19:51
    
(And new spam using their new SO account too. I wonder if the user ever got to read the comments. They don't seem to try to hide their activity.) –  Arjan May 17 '12 at 19:58
    
IDK. They should automatically get a notification even if the post was deleted, and they should be able to see their own deleted posts. Anyways, suspended now. –  nhinkle May 17 '12 at 20:04

Note: most of the following tools are currently available to our developers; not as moderator tools.

Yes, indeed... if only we could look over all sites, checking all posts flagged as spam/offensive that have been deleted and marked as successfully resolved, extract the links, and aggregate those by domain... if only those tools already existed (cough)

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I'm a bit reluctant to do too much by way of automated blacklisting, as without sanity checks it could perhaps be exploited in nefarious ways - maybe that's overly paranoid. However! We also have other more manual tools available to developers, including:

  • manual blacklisting of content
  • automated analysis of posts by a user and blacklisting of common hosts

I'm open to thoughts on how much of a common problem it is when we get a spate of spam for a single host that we should take prompt action on. From what I've seen, it hasn't usually been big enough (except for very rare and isolated events) to get too excited about. Open to thoughts, though.

Finally, yes, we could perhaps do better with better network-wide rather than per-site blacklisting. That said, I don't want the blacklist to be enormous...

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1  
There are problems with excessive blacklisting in my opinion, see the comment on nhinkle's question above. –  slhck May 17 '12 at 9:03
    
It's great that these things exist... so can we get more access to them? –  nhinkle May 21 '12 at 23:52
    
So what, there are such tools, but moderators are not going to get access to them? There is no need for blacklisting if you have a large enough pool of moderators ready to deal with such things. But actually give them the tools to work with it. On SU, there was a Deposit user, created exactly for this purpose, agglomerating this information. It is now discouraged, from what I heard. Then give the mods the means to deal with that, the proper way. (cc @nhinkle) –  Gnoupi Aug 24 '12 at 16:02
    
Thank you @Gnoupi for your supportive comments. I agree, it's frustrating to be told that these tools exist but we can't use them. It would be nice if they could make some more of this available. –  nhinkle Aug 24 '12 at 16:06
    
@marc has the team reconsidered (or would they be willing to reconsider) making some more of the pre-existing tools you mention available to moderators? –  nhinkle Apr 12 '13 at 6:04
    
@nhinkle there would need to be a clear reason to do so - currently, I can't say that there is such; am I mistaken? –  Marc Gravell Apr 12 '13 at 6:22

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