The definition of spam is indiscriminately bulk advertising a product, company, website or similar.

However many of our users use a very different definition of spam; somewhere along the lines of "a stupid post" or "something I don't like". In fact, I've seen many people here on meta claiming to have flagged as spam or who suggested to flag as spam posts such as:

  • Gibberish (for example a question that contains "gfdgniujk3gij3")
  • Asking a different question with an answer
  • Not explaining what the problem is but just pasting code
  • A very misleading answer
  • Off topic questions

None of the above qualifies to be flagged as spam, since it's definitely not advertising. In fact, if someone with access to this decides to search all posts deleted because they were flagged sufficiently as spam, I bet over 75% were flagged inappropriately.

I think the fault for this is the poor choice of the word "spam" rather than the abuse of the system by our users. Spam is a very overloaded word that can mean just about anything, therefore I request it to be changed to "Advertisement" so its purpose is crystal clear.

Here you can find a post by Jeff stating indeed that flag should be used only for advertisement:

And by "spam" I mean it in the strict traditional internet definition not as shorthand for "I don't like this post."

If we see a pattern of this sort of behavior from users, we will consider it abuse.


4 Answers 4


The problem is, the

strict traditional internet definition

...is not very strict at all. Wikipedia has sub-articles for spam on email, IM, newsgroup / forum, phone, online gaming, SEO, blog/wiki/guestbook, and video sharing. Other sites list far more varieties of the stuff.

'Truth is, folks have been arguing about what constitutes spam since the term was coined...

I say, if you can get six passing viewers to agree that a single post is "spam", then you're doing pretty well. Best not push your luck...

  • Gibberish (for example a question that contains "gfdgniujk3gij3")

I definitely mark them as spam. There is no mark as stupid nonsense button.

By the way, why do you think that this is misuse of the flag system?

  • Asking a different question with an answer
  • Not explaining what the problem is but just pasting code
  • A very misleading answer
  • Off topic questions

That's what downvotes are for. Some people realised that flags didn't cost rep to the flagger, in stark contrast to downvotes, so The SystemTM is encouraging that behaviour.

If they are comments, and I really think that I should say something, I just add another comment.

  • 3
    I definitely mark them as spam. => Doing so is considered abuse according to Jeff's post, unless I misunderstood something. Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 23:26
  • 5
    Gibberish often is the test for future spam from the same account. So it looks like a valid use.
    – random
    Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 23:48
  • 2
    @random: then wait until the actual spam to mark it as spam. As a moderator you should give a good example! Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 23:53

There are, I think, two categories of legitimate targets for spam tags.

  1. 'Frank' or acute spam. It has nothing to do with the subject at hand. It is just advertising or promotion injected into the site. Links to naked ladies, whatever.

  2. Material that fails a subjective ratio test, where the ratio is (relevance+honesty) / (promotion^2).

If someone posts an answer where a description of something (might be commercial, might be open source) is a truly relevant response to the OP's question, and the someone is honest about his or her relationship to it, fine. If someone behaves like Ira Baxter and uses any remote pretext to launch off into a description of their baby, 'Spam!'. If someone is cute about their link to the thing being promoted (= negative honesty), they are also likely to get flagged.

Thus, all sorts of things that get appropriate flags under #2 are not advertising under any normal definition of the term.

One might ask, do #2 items really need a flag system to flush them, or are ordinary downvotes good enough? Some of the #2 flags are from rather Stallman-esque persons who get altogether too wound up about the remote possibility of making a living selling software. I wouldn't object to a campaign of terror attempting to convince people to just downvote -- plus flagging for mod attention when you see Baxter-level chronic flogging.

  • All things under #2 are not spam under the normal definition of the term either, but I see what you're trying to say and I agree. But I really think "spam" should be changed to something else, otherwise people will keep using it to flag posts they just don't like. Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 22:56
  • 3
    @Kop: what is the problem with allowing people to mark as spam? Generally it won't get enough people to make a dent on the post, and a mod can always delete the flags.
    – perbert
    Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 22:59
  • @perbert: the problem is that as Jeff said flagging post "you don't like" that don't contain a link is abuse, and it's not clear from the definition of the term Commented Jul 25, 2010 at 23:25
  • 2
    @Kop I'm not attached to the term spam, but 'advertising' is no improvement at all. Mostly, it seems to me that downvotes are sufficient.
    – Rosinante
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 0:14
  • 1
    @Kop: one thing is I don't agree/you challenged me so I'll flag in a vindictive way and one completely different is flagging this comment as noise, offensive or spam. A single comment whose only contents consist of "gfdgniujk3gij3" is noise to me, wouldn't you agree?
    – perbert
    Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 0:39
  • @perbert: we are not talking about comments, we are talking about posts. For posts there is no "noise" flag. Commented Jul 26, 2010 at 0:45
  • @Rosinante: Thanks for the slam. You could have at least posted a link to the discussion, that shows there are many other people with opinions other than yours: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/57497/…
    – Ira Baxter
    Commented Aug 15, 2010 at 4:13
  • @Ira it goes with all the spam flags I've attached. And, as you say, you have been a subject of your very own questions here on Meta, so there's no need in my opinion to rereference them here. Based on what happens on the spam flags, I think that there is a pretty clear consensus that some of your answers are OK, and many cross the line.
    – Rosinante
    Commented Aug 15, 2010 at 11:16
  • @Rosinante: Based on the 600+ answers I have provided, and the some apparant twenty that have been spam clicked out [estimating from my rep damage], one might interpret the data to say that the vast majority of my answers are judged OK, and that a tiny percentage have been judged to cross the line. Based on the other discussion, I believe that of those that have been spam clicked out, "many" were done so inappropriately.
    – Ira Baxter
    Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 1:55
  • I don't flag all of your answers automatically. I also don't care that you create some number of inoffensive answers. That doesn't change your status as the single most prolific producer of answers that deserve, in my opinion, spam tags.
    – Rosinante
    Commented Aug 19, 2010 at 11:28

I've seen a trend on the site that seems to indicate Stack Exchange defines spam as "self-advertisement". However, I don't think that's the definition anyone else on the internet uses. Spam has famously been known as an acronym for Short/Stupid Pointless Annoying Messages. If it those things, it qualifies.

Spam on this network includes:

  • unsolicited advertisements (if you're leaving a comment, asking a question, or giving an answer that exists solely to promote products, regardless of whether they're your own products or not)
  • garbled text that isn't meant to be an answer or a question
  • repeatedly entering the same comment or chat message, especially after being asked to stop by a moderator or chat room owner
  • Probably some other stuff that I didn't think of

However, it's clear that Stack Exchange doesn't view "spam" this way. They only view spam as self-advertisements, as I mentioned previously. For this reason, I support changing the "spam" flag to "self-advertisement" or "advertisement". (Or better yet, changing the spam flag to include all spam reasons, but that's a separate request)

  • Any of those who've downvoted so far please feel free to explain your disagreements in the comments. I'd love to hear them.
    – TylerH
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 18:53
  • I don't think there's any way to quantify how often which definition is used, but saying that no one else uses the bulk-advertising definition exclusively is kind of a stretch. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 18:55
  • @BoltClock'saUnicorn I didn't say it as scientific fact, I said "I don't think anyone else uses" which is true for me because I've never seen (or heard of) anyone else having such a narrow view of what constitutes spam.
    – TylerH
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:02
  • 2
    I was gonna write something here, then realized I already answered this question 4+ years ago. So, go read that.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:08
  • @Shog9 I did, and I think it does a great job of not answering the question at all. If I were to make a new request, it would just be closed and I would be pointed to this one.
    – TylerH
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:10
  • @Shog9 'if you can get six passing viewers to agree that a single post is "spam"' is a very weak definition which does not help us better qualify what we should be flagging as spam vs [other reason]. if we want stricter flag reasons then shouldn't the definitions be well defined?
    – rlemon
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:26
  • You could always flag as NAA, but I see where you are coming from. Though if Shog said it was answered 4+ years ago, I doubt anything will happen. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:39
  • Your supposedly famous acronym doesn't appear anywhere in the relevant WP article. Nor does it (or any other acronym form) appear in any of the ten WP articles devoted to more-specific categories of spam, or in the relevant ELU Q&A.
    – Air
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:41
  • @Air And yet when you look at the text in the question, there it is. I forget the term for it, but it's when something that isn't an acronym is given words for each of its letters.
    – TylerH
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:43
  • This isn't a question, it's a feature-request - so no, I didn't "answer it" I explained why it wasn't necessary. Perhaps you'd like to explain why you think it is necessary?
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:45
  • @Air: The accepted answer addresses the original definition exclusively, but it is interesting that the link contains an entire appendix devoted to the "stupid pointless annoying message" definition - it calls it a backronym, as well. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:45
  • 2
    That's a Backronym, @TylerH.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 19:47
  • 1
    Aside from that, @rlemon and Tyler: if you're basing this on a chat discussion (which I assume is public) and presumably also moderator action in a specific instance on a specific site... Feel free to raise a discussion on that site's meta that references the chat conversation in order to clarify the problem you're hoping to address. Bumping a five-year-old discussion with seemingly-arbitrary claims of a problem isn't likely to accomplish much if you can't back it up.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 20:02
  • 1
    If you want to have your discussion elsewhere & then come back with data to back up what you're saying here, great. But right now, you're directly contradicting my answer, other answers, and seemingly the voting on the question itself... and presenting your claims as self-evident. That's pretty hard to swallow.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 20:08
  • 1
    @Shog9 I don't think that's an accurate assessment. Your answer just lists a difficulty you have with defining spam and then hand-waves the request. The other two (non-moderator or developer) answers describe other uses of spam that are not included in the definition of spam as the question explains. They indicate a deeper need for the spam flag description to be re-written to be more inclusive of other types of spam, which my answer also reinforces (though I admitted that's really a separate request). The question above asks for the flag reason name to be re-aligned to the flag reason.
    – TylerH
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 20:14

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