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The definition of spam is indiscriminately bulk advertising a product, company, website or similar.

However many of our users use a very different definition of spam; somewhere along the lines of "a stupid post" or "something I don't like". In fact, I've seen many people here on meta claiming to have flagged as spam or who suggested to flag as spam posts such as:

  • Gibberish (for example a question that contains "gfdgniujk3gij3")
  • Asking a different question with an answer
  • Not explaining what the problem is but just pasting code
  • A very misleading answer
  • Off topic questions

None of the above qualifies to be flagged as spam, since it's definitely not advertising. In fact, if someone with access to this decides to search all posts deleted because they were flagged sufficiently as spam, I bet over 75% were flagged inappropriately.

I think the fault for this is the poor choice of the word "spam" rather than the abuse of the system by our users. Spam is a very overloaded word that can mean just about anything, therefore I request it to be changed to "Advertisement" so its purpose is crystal clear.

Here you can find a post by Jeff stating indeed that flag should be used only for advertisement:

And by "spam" I mean it in the strict traditional internet definition not as shorthand for "I don't like this post."

If we see a pattern of this sort of behavior from users, we will consider it abuse.

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advertisement != unsolicited bulk messages - Advertisement is the thing which keeps the site running. –  Ladybug Killer Jul 25 '10 at 22:32
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@Ladybug: but since you can't flag an ad but only a question or an answer, and since no advertisement is allowed in either, I don't see the problem with that –  Andreas Bonini Jul 25 '10 at 22:33
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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The problem is, the

strict traditional internet definition

...is not very strict at all. Wikipedia has sub-articles for spam on email, IM, newsgroup / forum, phone, online gaming, SEO, blog/wiki/guestbook, and video sharing. Other sites list far more varieties of the stuff.

'Truth is, folks have been arguing about what constitutes spam since the term was coined...

I say, if you can get six passing viewers to agree that a single post is "spam", then you're doing pretty well. Best not push your luck...

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  • Gibberish (for example a question that contains "gfdgniujk3gij3")

I definitely mark them as spam. There is no mark as stupid nonsense button.

By the way, why do you think that this is misuse of the flag system?

  • Asking a different question with an answer
  • Not explaining what the problem is but just pasting code
  • A very misleading answer
  • Off topic questions

That's what downvotes are for. Some people realised that flags didn't cost rep to the flagger, in stark contrast to downvotes, so The SystemTM is encouraging that behaviour.

If they are comments, and I really think that I should say something, I just add another comment.

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1  
I definitely mark them as spam. => Doing so is considered abuse according to Jeff's post, unless I misunderstood something. –  Andreas Bonini Jul 25 '10 at 23:26
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Gibberish often is the test for future spam from the same account. So it looks like a valid use. –  random Jul 25 '10 at 23:48
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@random: then wait until the actual spam to mark it as spam. As a moderator you should give a good example! –  Andreas Bonini Jul 25 '10 at 23:53

There are, I think, two categories of legitimate targets for spam tags.

  1. 'Frank' or acute spam. It has nothing to do with the subject at hand. It is just advertising or promotion injected into the site. Links to naked ladies, whatever.

  2. Material that fails a subjective ratio test, where the ratio is (relevance+honesty) / (promotion^2).

If someone posts an answer where a description of something (might be commercial, might be open source) is a truly relevant response to the OP's question, and the someone is honest about his or her relationship to it, fine. If someone behaves like Ira Baxter and uses any remote pretext to launch off into a description of their baby, 'Spam!'. If someone is cute about their link to the thing being promoted (= negative honesty), they are also likely to get flagged.

Thus, all sorts of things that get appropriate flags under #2 are not advertising under any normal definition of the term.

One might ask, do #2 items really need a flag system to flush them, or are ordinary downvotes good enough? Some of the #2 flags are from rather Stallman-esque persons who get altogether too wound up about the remote possibility of making a living selling software. I wouldn't object to a campaign of terror attempting to convince people to just downvote -- plus flagging for mod attention when you see Baxter-level chronic flogging.

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All things under #2 are not spam under the normal definition of the term either, but I see what you're trying to say and I agree. But I really think "spam" should be changed to something else, otherwise people will keep using it to flag posts they just don't like. –  Andreas Bonini Jul 25 '10 at 22:56
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@Kop: what is the problem with allowing people to mark as spam? Generally it won't get enough people to make a dent on the post, and a mod can always delete the flags. –  perbert Jul 25 '10 at 22:59
    
@perbert: the problem is that as Jeff said flagging post "you don't like" that don't contain a link is abuse, and it's not clear from the definition of the term –  Andreas Bonini Jul 25 '10 at 23:25
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@Kop I'm not attached to the term spam, but 'advertising' is no improvement at all. Mostly, it seems to me that downvotes are sufficient. –  Rosinante Jul 26 '10 at 0:14
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@Kop: one thing is I don't agree/you challenged me so I'll flag in a vindictive way and one completely different is flagging this comment as noise, offensive or spam. A single comment whose only contents consist of "gfdgniujk3gij3" is noise to me, wouldn't you agree? –  perbert Jul 26 '10 at 0:39
    
@perbert: we are not talking about comments, we are talking about posts. For posts there is no "noise" flag. –  Andreas Bonini Jul 26 '10 at 0:45
    
@Rosinante: Thanks for the slam. You could have at least posted a link to the discussion, that shows there are many other people with opinions other than yours: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/57497/… –  Ira Baxter Aug 15 '10 at 4:13
    
@Ira it goes with all the spam flags I've attached. And, as you say, you have been a subject of your very own questions here on Meta, so there's no need in my opinion to rereference them here. Based on what happens on the spam flags, I think that there is a pretty clear consensus that some of your answers are OK, and many cross the line. –  Rosinante Aug 15 '10 at 11:16
    
@Rosinante: Based on the 600+ answers I have provided, and the some apparant twenty that have been spam clicked out [estimating from my rep damage], one might interpret the data to say that the vast majority of my answers are judged OK, and that a tiny percentage have been judged to cross the line. Based on the other discussion, I believe that of those that have been spam clicked out, "many" were done so inappropriately. –  Ira Baxter Aug 19 '10 at 1:55
    
I don't flag all of your answers automatically. I also don't care that you create some number of inoffensive answers. That doesn't change your status as the single most prolific producer of answers that deserve, in my opinion, spam tags. –  Rosinante Aug 19 '10 at 11:28

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