On many Stack Exchange sites, particularly during the hours when Europe and America are asleep, spam can survive for hours. This gives a bad impression.

What can we do to allow the community to handle spam quicker?

Stack Overflowers, please note that this discussion is about spam on low-traffic Stack Exchange sites. I don't know where exactly to draw the boundary, beta sites and most Stack Exchange 2.0 should qualify, but Stack Overflow is a completely different beast and I do not solicit or propose anything that is meant to apply to Stack Overflow.

Stack Exchange is actively working on better automated filters to keep spammers out, but spammers always find a way around blocks. This thread is about dealing with the spam that makes it through. Involving moderators network-wide has been proposed, but it doesn't help when spammers create separate accounts on each site.

Besides raising awareness to flag as spam, here are a few proposals to start with.

  • As soon as a post gets a spam flag, move it off the front page for anonymous visitors and users with less than 15 reputation (who wouldn't be able to flag it). This improves the experience for casual visitors. This could even be client-side filtering, although server-side would be better to keep the spam posts off search engines.

  • Reduce the privilege to access first posts queue. This would make more users able to locate potential spam and flag it. The reputation to access that queue was recently raised for the sole reason of having a privilege at the 350/500 reputation level — let's just undo that.

  • Show spam flags to users with the “moderator tools” privilege. This used to be the case, but was removed because moderators don't need help to deal with spam flags. Well, that's true enough when moderators are around, but most sites don't have moderators round the clock, and we do need community involvement to kill spam faster.

Allowing the community to handle spam wouldn't just make the site nicer for casual visitors, it would also be nicer to moderators. I can think of nicer ways to start the day than destroy a handful of accounts on CS.

  • 1
    This has also been raised on Web Apps - meta.webapps.stackexchange.com/questions/2450/…
    – ChrisF Mod
    Aug 15, 2013 at 12:11
  • 7
    I don't understand why involving moderators network-wide wouldn't work. You say "it doesn't help when spammers create separate accounts on each site", but I don't think that's true. The suggestion was to allow moderators from any Stack Exchange site to handle spam flags on all Stack Exchange sites. The spammer's account wouldn't matter. Aug 15, 2013 at 12:13
  • 1
    @CodyGray And how would moderators from other sites notice the spam in the first place? I don't notice many other-site-mods hanging around Computer Science or French Language. Aug 15, 2013 at 12:15
  • 5
    @Gilles I think/guess the idea is to have spam flags be visible across the network.
    – Bart
    Aug 15, 2013 at 12:15
  • 1
    @Bart Ah, yes, I see. That would work, but it's a hassle technically and sociologically. There's a good chance that the mod seeing the spam flag wouldn't have an account on the spammed site. Aug 15, 2013 at 12:19
  • 1
    @Gilles Rather than needing an account and dealing with the spam in traditional means they can be shown the text of the spam post and approve/reject deletion through Community, or at least quietly file it away until one of the site's mods show up to formally address it Aug 15, 2013 at 12:25
  • 2
    I smell a statistical fallacy. If it survives longer because of low traffic then it also creates less of a bad impression. Aug 15, 2013 at 18:58
  • 8
    @UphillLuge It's not proportional. Low-traffic, lesser-known sites are the ones that most need to make a good impression. Also seeing that the last 5 questions are spam makes a worse impression than seeing that 5 of the last 50 questions are spam. Aug 15, 2013 at 19:04
  • 2
    @UphillLuge Lower volume sites still get crawled by Google at a high rate, and spam has been indexed and sites penalized.
    – mpdonadio
    Aug 17, 2013 at 21:34
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    @UphillLuge On Web Applications (the site that was hardest hit, I think), there were 10 legitimate questions in the last 24 hours and about 70 spams. That's a 7/8 spam ratio. On SO, the same number of spams would be about 1/50 of the questions in that same period. A site where 87% of the traffic is spam requires very efficient moderation in order not to be overwhelmed. At 2%, spam is just a minor annoyance. Aug 17, 2013 at 21:47
  • 1
    Another idea: Once a post has been flagged as spam (e.g. from the "first post" queue), ask the flagging user to check other recent posts by the same user (and list these, obviously).
    – Raphael
    Aug 20, 2013 at 15:53
  • Most of the spam is an similar or exact copy of the same material posted to different SE sites. I dont understand why we cant auto flag spam for mods with a bayes filter. If the same spammy content is posted across multiple SE sites, that in itself should be a huge red flag that can quickly be identified via bayes filtering. Aug 25, 2013 at 18:43
  • @MikePennington Auto-flagging isn't really the problem: what if there's no mod around? Auto-removing doesn't work, as email spam filters have taught us: spammers very quickly learn to work around them. Aug 25, 2013 at 19:03
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    A properly-trained Bayesian filter is a very effective tool for identifying spam. I would argue that flagging is part of the problem... it's dead-simple to spot the spam before it hits the site... at that point, put it in a penalty box before anyone can see it as a real question. Mods would be responsible for removing from the penalty box, which means a very tiny percentage of questions might get mis-flagged; however, it prevents the issue we currently have on some SE 2.0 sites. Aug 25, 2013 at 19:46
  • 1
    If some of the webapps spam got flagged then there are useful datapoints already. If 10% of the questions on the front page are spam then it's a problem. If this much gets flagged why not raise notifications all over the place? You could even bring back the notification bar for everyone who has a webapps account. Dear webapps user; your site is currently undergoing a spam attack. Can you help please? One person flagging may not be enough but if you get two then get the community to help out. They were very effective network wide once the word got out that something was happening. Aug 25, 2013 at 22:43


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