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In this answer on the merits of the -100 reputation penalty for spamming, Journeyman Geek ♦ comments,

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

There's the big commercial operations....These are beyond redemption. We nuke em from orbit....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!"

Have there been any actual cases of someone coming to Stack Exchange for the purpose of spamming, getting some sense knocked in to them, and then remaining and becoming a contributing member? I'm open to any reasonable definition of "repenting and reforming", but would propose the following as a usable model:

  • A user's first post was shredded as spam.
  • At some point later, the user performed some action that resulted in the gaining of some amount of reputation (an upvoted answer, upvoted question, accepted answer, accepted suggested edit, etc.), and this action has not been deleted or rejected.

I'm not talking about ordinary users who might occasionally get a little extra self-promotional, get set back in line, and continue contributing (possibly with a minor penalty). I'm talking about users who arrived with no apparent purpose other than to promote a product or service, and then became real contributors.

  • We've had some users at Arqade that were posting answers just to redirect to their site. In some instances, we've had users ask questions, and then use the resulting answers in articles on their site, without attribution. Generally, I find most users that are here to promote themselves will either just walk away when their organic spam gets edited or removed, or just taper off involvement when it doesn't garner the response they're looking for. Reformation? None that I know of. – fbueckert Jan 22 at 17:36
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    "Has X ever happened on Stack Exchange?" Almost certainly yes. – Rand al'Thor Jan 22 at 17:36
  • I would guess that some new users aren't aware that spamming is bad. I'm sure some of them became valuable contributors once they learn that. – Pikachu the Parenthesis Wizard Jan 22 at 17:44
  • @pizzastaticvoidmain right, that's what the question is about. We can guess all we like - this question is asking whether it really is true. Moderators have access to data on past spam flags, and a user who themselves fits the criteria ("yeah, I came to shill my JavaBean and got five posts shredded, but then I got a life and earned 500 rep providing real, non-spammy Java answers") could reveal themselves. – Robert Columbia Jan 22 at 17:45
  • "I'm not talking about ordinary users who might occasionally get a little extra self-promotional, get set back in line, and continue contributing (possibly with a minor penalty)." Well that's what the second type of user in the quote you posted is talking about... – Servy Jan 22 at 18:07
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    Somewhere I've read here, that yes, it happened. It was in a question with similar topic (why the spammers don't get a punishment of total deletion + lifelong ban, why do they survive with a -100 rep + possible suspension by mods). I think really hard spams - massive, automatized account creation & spam posting - is dealt on a technical level (mainly, IP ban list), these cases are for amateur tries. – peterh Jan 22 at 18:07
  • @Randal'Thor has someone ever posted a "get rich quick" scheme that actually works on Stack Exchange? Could I get a link? – Robert Columbia Jan 22 at 20:30
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    I've only been here a few years. Ask Shog. – Rand al'Thor Jan 22 at 20:36
  • Just to add - I don't really keep statistics but I think art and Tim's answer cover it. An actual human has some possibility of realising what they are doing is dumb. I like a good redemption story. Bots won't ever. – Journeyman Geek Jan 23 at 0:20
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    Do people who spam multiple sites as their job and likely don't even know they're spamming Stack Exchange in particular but who later create a (real) account count? – forest Jan 23 at 7:46
  • @forest I'd leave that to your judgment. – Robert Columbia Jan 24 at 15:26
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Yes, but the intent has always turned out to be different than how it appeared on the surface. Is that person breaking into the bank vault to steal the money, or rescue the kitten they can hear meowing inside?

"Kitten" cases turn out to be stuff like:

  • Actively promoting something with the intent of being helpful and just not understanding how things work. Some folks think because something isn't for-profit, people won't see links to it as spammy. Links to code repositories are quite common here.

  • Links to things that are very much related where someone was trying to avoid just wholesale copying something over. Mods sometimes pick up on this and help people salvage the post by showing how to use citations, attribution, etc.

  • Links (it's always links) to commercial stuff, sometimes written by representatives of companies that are just trying to support their customers on one of our sites. Often, they just paste the canned responses they send via email, which goes horribly.

In a lot of cases that turn out to be benign, the person has invested enough time into writing the post that they end up contacting us to find out what went wrong, and sometimes follow our guidance to try again (or, guidance to not try again, in some cases).

As you see and process more and more of these cases, you develop a sense for kitten rescuers and some of them respond well to guidance. But they are increasingly rare, especially in an age where "spam" also describes stuff that links to propaganda. We don't see near the levels of political trolling that other platforms do, but we do see a bit of it.

But Journeyman Geek's observations are accurate, especially on smaller sites. Nothing says "Welcome!" like a backpack proton cannon pointed right at your account when there's pretty strong evidence that you simply didn't know any better. When we can spot strong evidence of a good-natured rational person, we try to work with them.

We've yet to have someone knowingly breaking the rules in a manner one could describe as chronic suddenly find divine guidance and turn away from the dark side, at least not to my knowledge.

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    "Some folks think because something isn't for-profit, people won't see links to it as spammy" Which is pretty darn reasonable. The rules about self-promotion were formulated in response to someone who was -- constantly -- talking about a commercial product. I don't like the scope creep that we've had to include people sharing freely-available work they happen to have done elsewhere under the definition of "spam". Carpet-bombing bare links across dozens of questions still ain't good, of course, but if you have a solution to a problem that predates the question, providing it should be okay. – Josh Caswell Jan 22 at 18:26
  • @JoshCaswell And generally, I don't think many people have issues with answers that point out their own product that solves the problem, so long as there's more than just a bare link to said product. Something like, "This product can solve your problem!" is junk. An answer that says, "Hey, I wrote this thing, here, here's how you use it to achieve your objective" would be awesome. – fbueckert Jan 22 at 18:40
  • @JoshCaswell Yeah, that kicked it off, but the flood of the more blatant stuff combined with many more using similar tactics would have resulted in nearly the same discussion with a lot more context and evidence to point to. I'm not sure we would have ended up in the same place, but I suspect we would have. That said, I don't disagree - if a good answer was written in detectable good-faith, every effort should be made to find a way to keep it, but there's some differences of opinion into what "good faith" looks like. – Tim Post Jan 22 at 18:40
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    In the case of something free to use in a code repo, I welcome it, as long as there's something more than a link and whatever else passes the minimum quality checks (which try to tell you something). But, that's (unfortunately, depending on how you see it) out of the range of effort quite a few people want to make, mostly because not many places are like us and ask / require more from contributors. More to the point that we should make that clearer all around, but I digress. – Tim Post Jan 22 at 18:44
  • @fbueckert I'm not so sure. There's a lot of material on Meta(s) that damns posts simply because of "affiliation" and at least one noteworthy case of a straight-up commercial post being let off the hook because of a lack of it. – Josh Caswell Jan 22 at 19:15
  • @JoshCaswell Eh. Your second link kinda reinforce my points; it's deleted, and the most upvoted answer says it definitely is spam. The first link is less clear, and I don't think it's a good answer in any sense. Meta seems to be undecided if it's a good answer, just that it probably isn't spam. – fbueckert Jan 22 at 20:04
  • That's not a kitten ... (I literally just watched a trailer for that episode now ... spoilers) – Rand al'Thor Jan 22 at 20:40
  • Just one example, but an example nonetheless of what I'm concerned about: one of SO's top contributors getting dinged for linking to their own open-source repo without "declaring affiliation". – Josh Caswell Mar 11 at 1:38
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Yes, and it's more common than you think.

I don't have any examples to hand, but I've certainly seen that case happen before (though it's not a daily or even weekly thing) We get plenty of users who come here aiming to promote (or support... which looks promotion-y) their product/software, and get their posts spam-flag-deleted. From time to time, one of these users reforms after being told that's not how we do things here, and go on to post useful content as well as support their stuff.

The 100-rep penalty alone probably isn't the reason for this. The vast majority of these users start off from nothing, at 1 rep - they mostly don't feel the penalty at all, and if they do then they don't feel its full weight. What I suspect is more effective is other users letting them know how things are done, and in some cases mod messages to reinforce that.

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