Flem has 5 pages of 1 character edits (including an edit to one of my posts), apparently in a massive attempt to earn the Copy Editor badge.

Should Copy Editor, etc., ignore 1 character whitespace-only edits?

If we still want to count minor edits (which may be useful), could we at least detect edit abuse via some secret algorithm? ~20+ one character whitespace-only edits in the course of an hour should at least raise a flag of some sort.

If whitespace character are too hard to count, can we at least assume that 20 non-tag edits in 20 minutes (less than a minute per edit) is a good signal of abuse? The specific algorithm should be secret, obviously, but I think these sorts of edit abuses shouldn't be too difficult to detect.

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    Forget the badge, if the description of the edit has to be 15 characters then the edit should have a minimum length too! – Johnny Bones Sep 8 '13 at 14:18
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    Definitely seems like an abuse of edit abilities. A quick sampling shows that the edits just add a random space in the posts. Perhaps an edit ban for this particular user? – chue x Sep 8 '13 at 14:19
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    I think such user should be suspended for abusing his power. Flagging now. Flagged, hope to see him suspended soon. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Sep 8 '13 at 14:20
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    @Sha Wiz Dow Ard: I actually responded to him while he was spamming edits, but it looks like he's summarily ignored me. Fine then. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 8 '13 at 14:26
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    To answer the question here: no, I don't think it should ignore minor edits, sometimes one character is important and does help to improve the post. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Sep 8 '13 at 14:26
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    @Bolt cheers, strike him with a bolt of lightning! :-) – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Sep 8 '13 at 14:27
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    Adding trailing whitespace to a post should never be considered a valid edit. Actually, it would make sense to strip trailing whitespace (and leading whitespace unless it's part of a code block) from posts when saving them. – ThiefMaster Sep 8 '13 at 14:48
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    @ThiefMaster true but it's insane to try enforcing it with filters. User can add the whitespace in the middle of the post, he can also add some zero width unicode character if space alone would be blocked. Suspending those who misuse the privilege should be the way to deter them. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Sep 8 '13 at 14:50
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    Can we please make a special exception and revoke his Copy Editor badge? ;) – Ry- Sep 8 '13 at 15:07
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    @animuson: So… win-win? – Ry- Sep 8 '13 at 16:29
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    Maybe we ought to focus a bit on the real problem. After Flem was done, my entire home page was filled with old question that didn't need any attention. This amounts to a DoS attack. This is not the first time it happened, tag edit sessions do this as well. Ideally, questions would only get bumped back to the front page when the edit is "untrivial". – Uphill Luge Sep 8 '13 at 18:52
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    @animuson you might have better tools to check this, but I spot checked a few of this bad edits, and every single one involves a post of his own (either a question of his, or one of the answers was his). Is it possible he is trying to bump posts for extra views/votes without editing his own post? Or maybe he was tactically downvoting and is now undoing the downvotes? – psubsee2003 Sep 8 '13 at 18:59
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    @psubsee2003 - s/he edited one of my answers. No other answers were given and someone else had posted the question. interestingly, a long-standing downvote was removed. I wondered if it was flem's (thus explaining the trivial edit) which was when I discovered the edit history. – JDB still remembers Monica Sep 8 '13 at 19:52
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    @Michael the gamification of the site is one of the reasons the site is as popular as it is. People love the little pixel circles and will stop at nothing to get one. Look at what those freaking little hats did at Christmas last year. – psubsee2003 Sep 8 '13 at 22:19
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    @jeb - Perhaps the downvotes were given on his way toward Electorate and the cleanup was for Copy Editor? Of course, that is much harder to prove. – JDB still remembers Monica Sep 9 '13 at 4:22

I made a one character change earlier today that was critical. The post had a handful of foreign language words in it and was specifically a discussion of the language structures used. A one character typo in one of these had the unfortunate effect of saying something embarrassing. I was about to leave and didn't have time to review the post to find other fixes to make (although I'm sure there were plenty of possibilities) but I could use the 60 seconds I had to fix the issue that jumped out at me.

Other examples I remember seeing are fixing a closure in code incompletely pasted into somebodies answer (note if this was a question that would be pointed out in an answer but for an answer that's a valid reason to edit)

One cannot programatically determine whether a 1 character change is an improvement or not. Blocking them would cause unwanted hassle for trusted users. Which brings us to another point.

One character edits are already blocked for low reputation users. I believe six is the minimum. This helps new users understand that editing has consequences (such as bumping posts) and should not be used for trivial purposes. Once they learn that, then they are trusted with both smaller edits and bigger ones without review. The problem here is that you've got a trusted user who should know better (they've earned those latter privileges) who is gaming the system.

If they are that deliberate at gaming the system, do you think a character limit change would stop them? If one didn't work why couldn't they just put     in somewhere and presto. They could still do it en-masse and collect their badge. If the limit was 100, it still wouldn't stop them.

The solution is to fix the problem: they need to be warned by a mod message or somehow blocked from the privileged until they are willing to stop abusing it.

If you want to do detection, you need to detect and flag a pattern of abuse, not any one infraction of a filter that might not actually be an infraction. While one or two or a handful of single character or whitespace only edits might not be an issue, a series of them is a clear pattern of abuse. A series or high percentage of such edits might be something automatically detectable.

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    Could we at least detect a significant series of whitespace only edits made in some time frame and flag those posts for moderator review? I happened to find the edits accidentally and because I had a little time to kill. I imagine these sorts of abuses would generally go unnoticed. – JDB still remembers Monica Sep 8 '13 at 17:51
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    I've also done a significant 1 character edit before, if I recall it was on a .htaccess answer a user had written [R=3.1] instead of [R=301] – Prix Sep 8 '13 at 18:08

Can we at least assume that 20 non-tag edits in 20 minutes (less than a minute per edit) is a good signal of abuse? The specific algorithm should be secret, obviously, but I think these sorts of edit abuses shouldn't be too difficult to detect.

Instead of an algorithm which can always be outsmarted by someone who is determined enough, I propose something else. I propose doing something that already works well today - letting the community judge whether edits are valid.

My proposal is that edits that are made by high rep users be reviewed (similarly to how low rep user submissions are reviewed). There is one difference: frequency of review. Edit submissions by high rep users would only be reviewed randomly, and a very low percentage of the time (e.g. 3% - 5%, exact percentages to be determined).

By doing random auditing like this, it allows the community to catch abuse. If an editor fails too many audits, the mods (or the system) can take a look at the situation and act accordingly.

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  • There are legitimate reasons for 1 character edits which have no formatting effect - such as removing a downvote. You'd need to see the editor's history to determine something is amiss, same as vote abuse/fraud. – JDB still remembers Monica Sep 9 '13 at 4:08
  • @Cyborgx37 Maybe I'm missing your point, but I don't really see "invisible" edits as being legitimate. It seems to me more of a workaround, a hack if you will, to get around the voting retraction restriction. – chue x Sep 9 '13 at 13:42
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    It's a sanctioned hack for dealing with edits within the grace period. – JDB still remembers Monica Sep 9 '13 at 14:26

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