23

I quite doubt the effectiveness of the -100 penalty to spammers (per post) because I've never seen spammers with 6+ reputation, not even 100. So -100 makes hardly any difference from -10, -1k or -1M. I think there's nothing to stop them except by preventing them to spam more.

Is the -100 just a "warning sign" to put rookie spammers in fear?

I hope someone can help me write a query in SEDE to illustrate my guess. What is the highest reputation ever recorded of a user when one of his posts was deleted for spam?


What I've seen so far:

Deliberate spams are always straightforward and obvious. When one sees a blatantly off-topic post talking about the advantages of a unrelated product, he will immediately give a spam flag.

Unaware spams are usually not so obvious, and can often show the author's intention to provide a reasonable answer. I have once seen a moderately good answer with a bottom line navigating readers to an advertising page, with a comment below

Remove that link or get a downvote and a flag

You see, the community can well identify intentional spam and careless spam, so it's very rare that a careless user receives the penalty. I deduce that 99% of the times such penalty is applied to hit-and-run spammers, resuling in no effect. That's why I think its greatest value is to frighten rookie or hesitating spammers.

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    Even if the punishment is effective for 1% of the users, it is more effective than a system without it – Ferrybig Sep 25 '17 at 6:10
  • @Ferrybig I believe what you say is right, but can you compose an SEDE query? – iBug Sep 25 '17 at 6:29
  • I don't have enough skill to compose a good query, but I know from experience that I have flagged a few users that had more than 100 reputation, because they embedded spam links inside their posts – Ferrybig Sep 25 '17 at 6:30
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    Sometimes its better to have a kind word and a waterpistol, than just a kind word. Comments don't have the same weight as -100 – Journeyman Geek Sep 25 '17 at 6:39
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    @JourneymanGeek We can allow one spam post every time they successfully parse an HTML page with Regular Expressions :) A magic parser is more effective than a waterpistol. – iBug Sep 25 '17 at 6:45
  • Mods can simply delete an account below a fixed reputation, and they probably don't hesitate too much if there is an intentional, bad-faith spammer. In the lighter or more amateur cases, I think the -100 and maybe some warning/suspension is enough. – peterh Sep 25 '17 at 8:09
  • You can search on Metasmoke for spam posts by users with a certain amount of reputation. For example, here is a search for all spam posts posted by users with more than 1k reputation. – Donald Duck Sep 25 '17 at 11:05
  • Thanks to Metasmoke, I was able to find that the highest reputation ever recorded of a user when one of his posts was deleted for spam was 753 045, and it was by this user (Stack Overflow's user with the 3rd most reputation) for this answer (probably self-vandalism). – Donald Duck Sep 25 '17 at 11:55
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    Well worth asking; as Jan Dvorak said, "what's the point of a -100 rep penalty on a flag that should only be used for users that haven't had the chance to get 100 rep?" – Josh Caswell Sep 25 '17 at 12:28
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    There's a related discussion over on Meta.SO. As I state there, I wonder if this isn't a historical artifact that maybe doesn't apply with the modern SE systems. – Brad Larson Sep 25 '17 at 16:57
15

I think you got it backwards. The very reason why you don't see spammers with reputation is that 100 points penalty makes gaining it highly impractical for them. If there was no penalty these would likely be more (much more) frequent.


Primary purpose of 100 rep penalty seems to be to tame possible abuse when spam is combined with (or, less probable but still, with hijacking some higher rep user account).

Sufficient reputation lets one hop over multiple new user restrictions such as various rate limits, IP level blocks, posting links and images, commenting everywhere etc.

Spammer owning an account with sufficient reputation can (and will!) do much more harm. If there was no penalty then the only way to stop such a spammer would be manual suspension or account destruction by a moderator - it might take quite a bit of time for this to happen, especially at smaller sites or in smaller tags at Stack Overflow.

100 rep penalty makes it possible for regular users to quickly stop or throttle a spammer even in case if they have got some fraudulent reputation by bringing them down to rep level managed by new user restrictions.


PS. I saw people committing voting fraud for much smaller reasons, like attempts to circumvent question ban. I bet spammers would also be happy to use tricks like that but harsh and quick rep penalty just makes it not worth the effort (particularly if you take into account ).

34

Its worth remembering there's two (and half) types of spammers.

There's the big commercial operations - your garden variety rx spam (probably automated) and manual (mostly software). These are beyond redemption. We nuke em from orbit. We destroy them on sight. Their fields lie fallow, salted, a wasteland, forgotten of misbegotten posts. 100 rep penalty? Foo.

But SE sometimes gets people who don't know better. They figure "hey, I can drive traffic to my blog!". They don't spend the time to get to know the neighbours and annoy them with bright neon signs.

These folks, well might have a hope. They might be good users eventually. They go "Oh, my, all these negative imaginary internet points! Mod messages! Oh my!"

While its rare, the hope is they go "Hey, yanno. I messed up. I'll take down my neon signs, and plant some good answers instead" and we go "yanno? We can clear that spam flag" (i.e. we can undo the penalty).

Its really rare - I admit. If they don't, it stops them from doing much and if they keep at it, they get smacked down anyway.

There's no downside to the 100 rep penalty as far as I see- in fact, many users think hard about spam flags cause of it, and may choose to fix things in other ways.

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    What's the half? – Wildcard Sep 25 '17 at 7:39
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    Well, organic commercial spammers, as opposed to the silicon sort I suppose. Or you could consider them like 1 1/2 together and dividing them, hopefully painfully, however ;) – Journeyman Geek Sep 25 '17 at 7:41
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    Note that the 100 rep penalty was created for the first type of spammer, not the second. It's there to ensure that the spammers end up being limited to 1 rep, limiting the types of actions that they can perform until a mod comes and nukes the account. – Servy Sep 25 '17 at 13:32
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    @Servy with the second sort, in theory, we can undo the penalty. I've never actually done it, but its an option. – Journeyman Geek Sep 25 '17 at 13:34
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    @JourneymanGeek I'm aware that all types of spammers are affected by it, because it's so rarely reversed, but the point is that it was originally created to deal with the first type of spammer you describe, and that's it's main reason for existing, and the effect on the second type is more accidental (but not necessarily undesirable either). – Servy Sep 25 '17 at 13:37
12

I've seen spam from users with some rep, actually. Sometimes spammers make a legit post or two first -- maybe to test the waters, maybe to get some rep so they can vote for their socks, or maybe to create posts to later edit spam into. (I've seen all of those.) Moderators will destroy spammer accounts on sight, but meanwhile the penalty lets the community apply the brakes.

Most of the time the penalty doesn't matter. Occasionally it helps. It does no harm.

Finally, I have seen high-rep users get penalized for offensive posts, and it seems weird that spam wouldn't have a comparable penalty. We should be consistent with the red flags, and we don't want to remove the penalty for offensive posts.

4

I agree that it's probably no more than a minor inconvenience for the "hit and run" spammers who systematically abuse the system, and don't care why we don't want them here. They'll just register new anonymous accounts to be able to continue what they are doing.

For those who do at least try to play by the rules, it seems like a reasonable deterrent.

I don't think it's possible to query SEDE for this because many deleted posts are not visible there. However, there is a spam dump which has been shared with some members of the Charcoal chat room. If you're interested in getting a copy, drop by and have a chat.

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