62

A few days back, I got this email:

Dear Ein,

I see that you are an active member of multiple Stack Exchange communities. We are looking for content creators. The task is very simple and pays well. We want anyone who can submit an answer to each of these communities that can get at least 6 upvotes, and for each answer, we pay $100. The answer must in an organic way provide a link to our site. 

If you are interested, please respond in a timely manner as we only have one position available.

Thank you

The author was someone named Sam or Sean Thomas, [email protected].

I was quite offended by the low price Mr. Thomas had suggest for giving up my integrity as a community member :-P ... more seriously, though - WTF is up with that? Do people really manage to get away with these kinds of elaborate SE spamming operations? How can this be even remotely profitable?


Edit: The saga continues in Pt. II!

16
  • 9
    Does the LinkedIn you linked in your profile have that e-mail address you got this mail on somewhere?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 29, 2023 at 19:07
  • 15
    @Tinkeringbell easy to get his email address by searching for his full display name, the one before the strike. But I'm not sure that's the point of this question, i.e. he's not asking how the spammer got his email address. Rather, looks like he's checking if others had this happening to them as well. Jun 29, 2023 at 19:39
  • 2
    @Tinkeringbell: My email is rather public. It's on GitHub for example. Possibly on LinkedIn too, I'm not sure.
    – einpoklum
    Jun 29, 2023 at 20:15
  • 22
    I mentioned your post to our Trust & Safety team.
    – Slate StaffMod
    Jun 29, 2023 at 22:49
  • 17
    Question - what do you think is a fair rate? 😁 Jun 29, 2023 at 23:08
  • 12
    Add the link into this post and get cash lol
    – Laurel
    Jun 29, 2023 at 23:21
  • 1
    Are "each of these communities" other stack exchange sites?
    – user13267
    Jun 29, 2023 at 23:47
  • 2
    Honestly, I'd ping a CM and ask for permission to catfish the spammer :D Jun 30, 2023 at 6:12
  • So who is going to be the first person to email this guy and get the backstory? Jun 30, 2023 at 8:31
  • 1
    @JourneymanGeekOnStrike: At least $102 for sure! :-P
    – einpoklum
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:08
  • @ShadowWizardStrikesBack Just making sure there's nothing 'serious' like e-mails leaking that needs escalating :) Though to be honest that works better if you wait for the answer instead of going to sleep...
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:10
  • 3
  • 5
    Umm yeah $600 for posting spam. They are totally going to pay you that money, it's not a scam or anything.
    – Lundin
    Jun 30, 2023 at 13:28
  • 1
    @Lundin: Just $100 per answer actually.
    – einpoklum
    Jun 30, 2023 at 15:06
  • 3
    $100?! Really!? Wow what a kick right in the discount gucci bags.
    – user50049
    Jun 30, 2023 at 17:56

2 Answers 2

25

How is any spam profitable? Because the cost of posting it is cheap.

So - my guess is that the spammer doesn't plan on actually paying you. They'll post a question, make you answer, then accept the answer. After the answer is accepted, you can't easily remove it anymore.

And you? You wouldn't have a leg to stand on. You never entered into any legally binding agreement with them. Meanwhile, the spammer gets the exposure of their product being "well-regarded" (6 or more upvotes) on Stack Overflow.

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  • 3
    Re "the spammer doesn't plan on actually paying you": Yes, the spammer also being a scammer is likely. Jun 30, 2023 at 8:36
  • 1
    The amount of work the spammer would need to put in, to get a single 6-upvote linking to their buy-viagra or whatever scam website, is so large, that just paying the person who does that work regardless of the question author themselves ensures non-profitability - if it ever gets that far. IMHO.
    – einpoklum
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:11
  • 3
    @einsupportsModeratorStrike The spammer needs to ask a decent question. YOU would be the one doing the work: writing a well-received answer that "organically" links to their product or service. They could even have ChatGPT write the question for them... Jun 30, 2023 at 9:19
  • So, this brings up an interesting question. Let's assume the 'spammer' doesn't engineer the upvotes. Now, if their question is legitimate on its own,, and people visit it and possibly upvote; and if an answer organically including a link to their question is also considered legitimate and gets upvotes from the community, then - perhaps it is at least somewhat legitimate for that pair of question-and-answer to exist on SE? i.e. perhaps that could be merited even without the financial incentive? ... 1/2
    – einpoklum
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:25
  • ... And would it be that different from, say, a tech company hiring people to answer questions, with the answers linking to information on that company's website? Not that I would actually do this kind of thing for anybody, but I'm asking as a thought experiment 2/2
    – einpoklum
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:25
  • 3
    The spammer didn't say anything about questions. I assume that they don't care about the details of the question, it just has to be on one of the nominated sites. Of course, the question (probably) needs to be of decent quality (or on the HNQ) for an answer to get 6+ upvotes.
    – PM 2Ring
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:52
  • 4
    "You wouldn't have a leg to stand on" You could just... remove the link? State that his software is not the right solution?
    – Cerbrus
    Jun 30, 2023 at 10:18
  • @einsupportsModeratorStrike Interesting thought experiment. I think the difference is that you could not honestly vouch for the product you'd be promoting. If you were to post the answer to an existing question (not one posted by the spammer) and the product did help... it would have some value. That's assuming the product isn't some form of malware, but a genuine product. But if the product really was a solution for an existing question... then the spammer could just post it themselves and disclose their affiliation. Jun 30, 2023 at 10:24
  • @S.L.Barthsupportsmodstrike: It doesn't have to be a product promotion. Well, not necessarily. Still, like you said, if it were a real solution to something, a post saying "You can use XYZ, which is a product we are offering. While I am of course biased in its favor, the product was designed with the intent of solving this specific problem blah blah blah." - could well be legitimate.
    – einpoklum
    Jun 30, 2023 at 12:36
  • 9
    That's not correct. Spam is profitable because Google has a high trust in Stack Overflow and, even with nofollow links, there's some benefit to getting linked to your site from Stack Overflow. Once it's been indexed (which happens pretty fast), the link remaining is irrelevant. Search engines like Google will have it cached for months or years. The risk to you personally as a user is high, as once the pattern is established (and users are good at spotting them) you can expect a moderator to take action against your account
    – Machavity
    Jun 30, 2023 at 12:44
  • 4
    The goal of this is pretty obviously to make it more likely the link survives until it is indexed. You will get suspended in the process, but that's what the payment is for: your forced week+ hiatus from the network.
    – Machavity
    Jun 30, 2023 at 13:23
  • Or perhaps the spammer assumes that it's cheaper to outsource the "answering" to someone who actually understands how the site works and how to phrase an answer so that it has chances of being tolerated and upvoted. I would guess they don't necessarily understand the repercussions for getting caught.
    – tripleee
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:54
  • 1
    @tripleee In fact, it's very well possible they make the same offer to high-ranking Redditors or Quora users. The spammer doesn't need to understand how any of these sites work. The spammer only needs to get their links posted by users who are respected by the audience. Jun 30, 2023 at 17:02
-21

Actually it can be profitable. Consider this:

  1. What the person might be offering

    • A product with paid membership to access (PaaS)
    • A dependency that will get added to your project (SaaS)
  2. The marketing cost can be...

    • A percentage, like 2% of the transaction cost
    • A fixed cost; let's say $20
  3. Balance

    • Expense $100 per answer with at least 6 votes
    • Income (at least) $20*6 = $120
    • Overall income of $20 in just a month + (marketing cost recovered)

This economics seem viable for the advertisement. You get organic growth, while supporting developers. However, locking someone into your ecosystem seems evil.

Suggestion: As a developer, what can you do? Make sure that you provide the "alternative" as an option, not as the "only" solution.

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  • 21
    Uhh, this isn't what the question is about... Jun 30, 2023 at 3:55
  • 1
    @JourneymanGeekOnStrike technically it does answer the last part: "How can this be even remotely profitable?" I would still probably DV if I weren't on strike, but this is technically an answer.
    – Someone
    Jun 30, 2023 at 4:15
  • 3
    @Someone-OnStrike - Votes (on any Meta site) are not related to the strike or site moderation/curation.
    – Ken White
    Jun 30, 2023 at 4:34
  • 1
    @KenWhite so most users on strike are continuing to vote as usual on Meta sites?
    – Someone
    Jun 30, 2023 at 4:49
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    @Someone-OnStrike - I've seen many striking mods voting on Meta posts and commenting relating to their votes. I've also seen many striking mods writing answers to Meta posts on both Meta SO and Meta SE.
    – Ken White
    Jun 30, 2023 at 4:53
  • I tried to clean up the formatting, but I have no idea what the final paragraph is supposed to mean. It was originally formatted as a quote, which I don't think it is.
    – tripleee
    Jun 30, 2023 at 6:19
  • @JourneymanGeekOnStrike: The question is partly about this, actually. But - I don't buy these numbers at all.
    – einpoklum
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:12

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