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This post is more of a “heads up” post than anything else since this recent spam trend I have seen seems quite novel and interesting.

I noticed this post on Super User (now deleted and flagged as spam, so check edit history or look at the screenshot below) that superficially seems like a legitimate post about hard drive failures.

But two odd things: It described a failing SSD as making noise (?) and then went on to referring the storage device as a hard drive. But the text “SSD” linked to some computer parts site. This was the only link in the post; nothing else.

Since there was no rhyme or reason to the post and the link seemed spammy, I believed it was spam and stand by the assertion.

Especially after seeing this other post by the same user on Lifehacks that followed the same pattern: Seemingly legit question with one link that was to the same shopping site and linked to a word that made little sense in the context of the question. Mind you the question was off-topic since it was about PC hardware and not a “life hack” at all.

To me it seems the pattern in these spam posts are:

  • Seemingly valid question is posted.
  • One item in the text — seemingly arbitrarily — is linked to a sales (e-commerce) site of some sort.

I seem to recall a question on Super User a week or so ago where a comma (,) was linked to a spam site as well.

Is this a known new kind of targeted spam on Stack Exchange sites? Has anyone else seen similar things on other Stack Exchange sites and not just Super User or Lifehacks?

Note, as per a comment request, here is a screenshot of the supposed SSD-related post on Super User.

Screenshot of a deleted spam post on Super User.

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  • 6
    There is not really new spam, it just got a serious up-tick in the flood of posts. CharcoalHQ is dealing with it pretty effectively.
    – rene
    May 6 at 20:12
  • 1
    This tactic reminds me of social media posts where there's some wrong information or flawed stance (or even just a typo) put into the post on purpose to drive engagement; the fact that it's wrong makes people more likely to interact.
    – zcoop98
    May 6 at 20:14
  • 2
    Was the the post plagiarized? That's usually how these spam posts are created.
    – Laurel
    May 6 at 20:18
  • 2
    Not to promote spam but since I don't have 10k on any of those sites it'd be interesting to have a screenshot so we can see what the spam actually looked like.
    – bad_coder
    May 6 at 20:23
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    As for the where a comma was linked that is a detection reason: Linked punctuation (in some variants)
    – rene
    May 6 at 20:25
  • @bad_coder I linked to the two MS reports that have the markdown. I assume you can copy it and then paste in an answer or question to see what it looks like? No need for +10k-ers to grab screenshots.
    – rene
    May 6 at 20:27
  • @rene Good point, I wasn't aware that Markdown held the whole post (other readers are also likely to overlook it).
    – bad_coder
    May 6 at 20:33
  • @rene Thanks! This is all good info about detection processes I was unaware of before. Really useful. May 6 at 20:54
  • @bad_coder Valid request. I just posted a screenshot of the Super User question that was spam. May 6 at 23:12

1 Answer 1

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This type of spam is reasonably common across the Stack Exchange network. It's harder to spot than the ones advertising drugs or spellcasters, but you were right, it's definitely spam. Sometimes, users really have those kind of problems, but then they'd link to a detail page of the model they have, not a list page or (more commonly) a review of the top x best models on a blog site.

Luckily, those websites share some characteristics which makes them easy to spot, and we have a lot of volunteers in the Charcoal project who keep an eye on these posts. You're welcome to drop in at Charcoal HQ whenever you have a doubt about a potential spam post.

Both of your examples were detected:

and with additional thanks to local moderators / users such posts are swiftly dealt with.

I seem to recall a question on SuperUser a week or so ago where a comma (,) was linked to a spam site as well.

Yes, that happens quite often as well, and we have two spam detection reasons for those cases:

  • Linked punctuation in answer
  • Linked punctuation in body (for questions)

Especially the latter is not a very reliable way to detect spam; new users sometimes get confused by Markdown and produce badly formatted posts. Well, the least we can do then is try to fix them :)

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  • Is it really a good idea to publicize the details of the detection reasons? I know they're public anyway, but why spell them out so clearly in a place with more traffic?
    – terdon
    May 7 at 14:08
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    @terdon thanks for your concern. Charcoal rule #1 is spammers are dumb - they don't care about detection, as long as they can post a screenshot proving they did their work to their employers. The few smart ones, those that cross the line between spamming and trolling, they already analyze SmokeDetector's source code and Metasmoke, so this answer here doesn't really matter.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    May 7 at 14:17
  • @terdon It’s like telemarketing calls or junk mail. Spammers operate on the concept of quantity over quality. A gajillion sites get spammed all the time. Much of it is detected and removed. But the stuff that stays, stays. May 7 at 15:54
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    @Giacomo1968 yes, thank you, I am intimately familiar with spamming in general and on SE in particular :).
    – terdon
    May 7 at 15:55

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