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I've been an elected moderator for about a month or so, and I'm still a bit confused about the correct way to handle spam that others have already flagged as spam, but that hasn't got to six flags yet.

Note that I'm talking about cases where I've decided it definitely is spam. If I don't think it is spam then I would explicitly clear the spam flags to make sure the user doesn't get hit by the relevant penalties.

I'm aware that if I come across spam that isn't flagged as spam at all, then I should flag it to make sure that the system does treat it as spam rather than something deleted for another reason.

But if it has already been flagged as spam, does it make any practical difference if I just delete it rather than adding a (binding) spam flag myself? I've heard other moderators say that the right thing to do is to add the spam flag, but I haven't heard a definitive explanation as to why.

I've noticed that when I delete then I get marked in the mod dashboard as having handled the existing flags, but when I spam flag I don't. In both cases the previous spam flags do get marked as helpful and are dismissed.

I also know that I can destroy a user if the only thing they've done is post spam, which is the common case. But I don't always want to do that immediately because I may want to check the user out a bit more carefully first but in the meantime I want to get the spam removed.

So, is one approach preferred, and if so why?

I know there are at least a couple of concrete consequences from a post being treated as spam:

  • The IP/user are treated as spammers for the purposes of blocking future posts

  • The post itself is "scrubbed" so that 10K+ users who can view deleted posts don't see the text by default, but instead see:

This answer was marked as spam or offensive and is therefore not shown - you can see the revision history for details.

I want to know if the route I choose makes any difference to those or any other consequences.

22

If this is a clear spam post from someone who only ever posted spam (so, something that has only been posted in order to sell a product or try to use Stack Exchange as a link farm), the correct thing is to destroy the user. This is under the mod menu of the user page - use the first destroy reason (user only used for spam).

By all means, also flag the post as spam, as this would ensure +10k users will not be exposed to the spam on the deleted post (it gets replaced with "This question was marked as spam or offensive and is therefore not shown - you can see the revision history for details."). Destroying the user before the post has been flag-deleted as spam means the original spam will be visible on the page to these users (not usually a big problem, given one needs the URL to access the page, which isn't linked anywhere once deleted).

The reason for that is that this flag reason feeds our anti-spam measures and is instrumental in ensuring we get less of the same across the network. Destroying a user in this manner will also delete their posts - this is the fastest and most effective way to minimize damage from spammers.


In less clear cut cases, you need to use your judgment. This is why you were elected moderator.

If this is a user who simply overly self promotes, you can mod message them about their behavior and escalate to suspension as needed.

I suggest you read through the different moderator only help center articles - in this case, the spam moderator abilities article (moderator only link - you need to be a moderator on the site to see it) seems most relevant.

  • Lol, I didn't think about the user-destroying option :D I've heard that destroying also nukes posts, eh... – nicael Jun 21 '15 at 13:12
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    @GaneshSittampalam - personally, if it is clear cut, I go to the user page, if there is nothing redeeming there (for example - that's their only post), I will destroy the user as that also takes care of the post. – Oded Jun 21 '15 at 13:15
  • I'm mainly talking about clear-cut spam here - after handling the specific post, I generally do destroy the user after checking for other posts, other accounts using the IP, etc. But the article you link to does say "Don't feel obligated to do so in every case", so I had assumed that dealing with the post itself was the most important thing. – GS - Apologise to Monica Jun 21 '15 at 13:16
  • OK, thanks (sorry for the out-of-order comments, I deleted my original one while trying to word it more clearly). – GS - Apologise to Monica Jun 21 '15 at 13:16
  • @Oded That link is a 404! – Universal Electricity Jun 21 '15 at 13:50
  • @Uni only for mods. – nicael Jun 21 '15 at 14:08
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    I don't think you quite answered the question. In the Teachers Lounge there is a pinned message from Robert Cartaino that asks us to flag spam for SpamRam; I've been doing that in addition to destroying the spam accounts. – Martijn Pieters Jun 21 '15 at 14:09
  • Then there is the post scrub functionality, where the 10k+ visible post is replaced with a spam or offensive message and only the post revision history shows the full post, and that requires a minimum number of spam flags before that is applied. The moderator binding flag helps ensure that that is applied. – Martijn Pieters Jun 21 '15 at 14:10
  • @MartijnPieters - both fair points, though AFAIK, destroying a user will feed SpamRam too. – Oded Jun 21 '15 at 15:13
  • @Oded: a confirmation either way would help clarity here. I'll continue to flag, if only for the post body clearing. – Martijn Pieters Jun 21 '15 at 19:31
  • @Martijn - agreed, but not in front of code right now (think Tim Post will know off the top of his head). – Oded Jun 21 '15 at 19:34
  • Would it be hard to make destroying the user as a spammer also replace the post's contents? This wouldn't be very important for questions since they need the URL to be found, but for spam answers, it might be neat. – terdon - stop harming Monica Jul 8 '16 at 14:40
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When we rolled out the spam system, we were putting a huge amount of faith in folks to flag things appropriately. Spam flags are often misused to say "I don't like this for some reason that wasn't presented in the list", so the system was built around a graduated set of weights.

Something getting spam-flag deleted increased a weight, a user being destroyed for spamming increased a weight, someone hitting a honeypot increased a weight - it was built so that no single action would (in theory) trigger a block.

Thus, when a mod saw a blatant spammer, the spam-flag-then-destroy combo assured a blocking weight.

Turns out, people really got this right, and continue to get it right. Now that I have a whole lot of data saying that it's safe to train the system faster if:

  • A post is spam-flag deleted
  • A mod destroys a user for spamming

... moderators now don't need to spam-flag something to add extra weight, destroying the account alone will deal a blocking weight in the system. Likewise, if the community spam-flag deletes something, it's an instant blocking weight.

Note, this doesn't prevent anyone from reading the site, it just prevents 'new-ish' accounts with not much history from posting until the block expires (which happens not long after we stop seeing abuse from their location).

I need to get some other knobs turned and tuned for that system to make it easier to manage and 'ramp up' when we see globlal activity, so this change will go out tomorrow.

  • Just to confirm, does the new workflow also do the right thing with "post body clearing"? It's hard for me to check as it's only relevant for non-mod 10K+ users! – GS - Apologise to Monica Jun 22 '15 at 13:04
  • I'm not sure what you mean by "post body clearing?" Destroying an account deletes all posts it contributed, so yeah - no need for extra steps. – Tim Post Jun 22 '15 at 13:07
  • I mean that the post body isn't visible by default even to 10K users who can normally see deleted posts. – GS - Apologise to Monica Jun 22 '15 at 13:11
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    @GaneshSittampalam That's correct. Destroying an account means deletion of all posts and comments associated with it. It's actually the fastest (by # of clicks) ways to get rid of a spammer. What I've got to buckle down and seriously think about are ways we can let per-site mods better handle network spammers as they see them. – Tim Post Jun 22 '15 at 13:17
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    @Tim - he means that when a post is deleted due to spam flags, the contents of the post is replaced when +10k users see it, so they are not exposed to spam. Not sure that happens when a user is destroyed whether the post has not been deleted yet. – Oded Jun 22 '15 at 13:21
  • I've edited my question to hopefully make this point clearer. – GS - Apologise to Monica Jun 22 '15 at 21:38

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