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The Great Spam Storm Of 13-14 July 2012


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#18 Felasco

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 02:49 PM

There is a solution that is guaranteed to end all spam on any forum, and probably raise the overall content quality of a forum as well.

Moderators review posts before they are published instead of after.

This assumes the mods of a forum are already reviewing the content, and simply moves the time when they do that job from the back end of the process to the front end.

Most of the significant problems forums face are a direct result of the open "almost anybody can say almost anything" publishing model in use on almost all forums. Spam, personal arguments, off topic comments, low quality junk posts, empty one line clever quip posts and so on. All of that can be solved by using the same publishing model that almost all publications have been using for hundreds of years.

Somebody reviews the content before publishing it.

This would probably be overkill on say, a Britney Spears fan forum. But any intellectual forum could be considerably enhanced by this one change.

#19 arKane

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 03:34 PM

I'm sure everybodies been to those sites that make you enter a combination of deformed letters and numbers to submit a request or response. I know it would be a nuisance for posters, but it could be limited to the first 20 post of any new member, and it sure beats having to ask permission to post links and pictures for all concerned.

#20 hypervalent_iodine

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 03:38 PM

There is a solution that is guaranteed to end all spam on any forum, and probably raise the overall content quality of a forum as well.

Moderators review posts before they are published instead of after.

This assumes the mods of a forum are already reviewing the content, and simply moves the time when they do that job from the back end of the process to the front end.

Most of the significant problems forums face are a direct result of the open "almost anybody can say almost anything" publishing model in use on almost all forums. Spam, personal arguments, off topic comments, low quality junk posts, empty one line clever quip posts and so on. All of that can be solved by using the same publishing model that almost all publications have been using for hundreds of years.

Somebody reviews the content before publishing it.

This would probably be overkill on say, a Britney Spears fan forum. But any intellectual forum could be considerably enhanced by this one change.



Moderators do their job on their own free time. They are not always around all the time and quite often, posts get missed. It's why forums have report features. Most mod staff I know would be quite happy if they didn't have to moderate at all as it takes away from the normal joys of a forum that a member would otherwise experience. But, someone's gotta do it. Asking mods to review every single post before it is allowed to be viewed is perhaps (at a stretch) a good hypothetical, but it is completely unfeasible in the reality of a site such as this. It puts far too much strain on staff to the point of being impossible to enact and the forum would start to move incredibly slowly as you wait for them to come online and read through hundreds of posts.

As well, it leaves them open for accusations of censorship. Now while I believe that this and most other science forums I've encountered carry themselves with a decent amount of integrity in how they are run, there are always people who will claim that staff are censoring them or acting rogue, etc. Most forums I know of go to great lengths to avoid these accusations, however unfounded. The sort of idea you've proposed only leaves you more open to them. Especially if you're using the feature to judge 'quality'. Exactly what standard would you measure that by, anyway?

Edited by hypervalent_iodine, 20 July 2012 - 03:41 PM.


#21 hypervalent_iodine

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 03:40 PM

I'm sure everybodies been to those sites that make you enter a combination of deformed letters and numbers to submit a request or response. I know it would be a nuisance for posters, but it could be limited to the first 20 post of any new member, and it sure beats having to ask permission to post links and pictures for all concerned.



Sadly, CAPTCHA's are becoming rather trivial for your average spam bot. A newer method I've seen is to combine that with some random question, such as 'what colour is Mars'. I don't recall if this forum uses that, but it's a nice idea.

#22 arKane

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 04:21 PM

Sadly, CAPTCHA's are becoming rather trivial for your average spam bot. A newer method I've seen is to combine that with some random question, such as 'what colour is Mars'. I don't recall if this forum uses that, but it's a nice idea.


Welcome to the forum, you seem quite knowledgeable about forum operation. Almost like you've moderated in another forum? Anyway, your input is appreciated as spam is very annoying to all of us. I agree that anything that slows the action of the forum is not a good idea. This forum is a bit slower than I like, but it's hard not to like some of the regular members here and I want to be a part of their growth effort. I think to put a reading and approval of all posts by moderators would cause moderators to quit and new moderator volunteers hard to find and a active member decline due to vary slow response times. Ideas to fix this problem should not cause a lot of extra work for anybody. Has anybody done research about how other less bothered forums are dealing with the problem?

#23 arKane

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 04:27 PM

Found a site that deals with forum spam. Some good Info. here.

http://spam-ip.com/h...-forum-spam.php

#24 Felasco

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 06:52 PM

Hi there, thanks for your reply.

First, I should emphasize I'm talking about forums in general, and have no opinion on what this forum should do. I have a longstanding interest in this issue, regarding forums in general.

Moderators do their job on their own free time.


Understood. My proposal assume mods are already reading the content their forum. If this is the case, it's no more work to read the posts before publication instead of after.

Most mod staff I know would be quite happy if they didn't have to moderate at all as it takes away from the normal joys of a forum that a member would otherwise experience.


Sure, of course. If there was a fully automated solution that would prevent all spam and enhance overall content quality, that'd be great.

It puts far too much strain on staff to the point of being impossible to enact and the forum would start to move incredibly slowly as you wait for them to come online and read through hundreds of posts.


A forum using this solution would move no more slowly than any other forum, there would just be a delay between when a post is written and when it is read. So what? We readers aren't on a forum 24 hours a day either, right? We almost always experience a delay now, with the current model most forums use.


As well, it leaves them open for accusations of censorship.



Censorship refers to the government limiting speech, not a private publication. We don't accuse a magazine or newspaper of censorship if they don't print anything anybody submits. Forums aren't a democracy, they are private property.

Instead of censorship, think editing. Editing is a very valuable service. Any publication that prints anything anybody submits is not going to be a quality reading experience.

Now while I believe that this and most other science forums I've encountered carry themselves with a decent amount of integrity in how they are run, there are always people who will claim that staff are censoring them or acting rogue, etc.


Somebody will always be mad no matter what the system is.

Especially if you're using the feature to judge 'quality'. Exactly what standard would you measure that by, anyway?


Each moderating team would decide that for themselves, just as the editors of any other publication do.

Anyway, like I said, I have no opinion on what this forum should do. I'm just saying, if any forum wants to finally once and for all leave the spam era, and improve their quality too, a free solution that involves no more work is readily available.

#25 hypervalent_iodine

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 12:42 AM

Welcome to the forum, you seem quite knowledgeable about forum operation. Almost like you've moderated in another forum?


Well spotted! I am currently a moderator at another science forum. I've been staff there for about a year now, but moderatorship only came to me about 3 or 4 months ago.

Anyway, your input is appreciated as spam is very annoying to all of us. I agree that anything that slows the action of the forum is not a good idea. This forum is a bit slower than I like, but it's hard not to like some of the regular members here and I want to be a part of their growth effort. I think to put a reading and approval of all posts by moderators would cause moderators to quit and new moderator volunteers hard to find and a active member decline due to vary slow response times. Ideas to fix this problem should not cause a lot of extra work for anybody. Has anybody done research about how other less bothered forums are dealing with the problem?


Yes, in fact this forum software I think has a forum itself where users compile various things related to it, codes, etc. A lot of that is dedicated to bugs and how to avoid spammers. It's been a while since I've looked at it to see what's there, though.

Hi there, thanks for your reply.

First, I should emphasize I'm talking about forums in general, and have no opinion on what this forum should do. I have a longstanding interest in this issue, regarding forums in general.


And in general, I don't think it's something that would work (for reasons stated).

Understood. My proposal assume mods are already reading the content their forum. If this is the case, it's no more work to read the posts before publication instead of after.


Sure, but moderators don't read everything and requiring that they do is, as I said, more work than they would likely be able to cope with.

Sure, of course. If there was a fully automated solution that would prevent all spam and enhance overall content quality, that'd be great.


If you can find such a thing or make it, a lot of people would suddenly love you. :P

A forum using this solution would move no more slowly than any other forum, there would just be a delay between when a post is written and when it is read. So what? We readers aren't on a forum 24 hours a day either, right? We almost always experience a delay now, with the current model most forums use.


I really don't think that's the case. You might not be one 24 hours a day, but there are time zones to consider. I live in Australia, so I'm often on when people in the US and UK are sleeping. If I had to wait until some mods woke up and had the time to read through and approve everything, this place probably wouldn't hold any interest for me. It would be sluggish. Really, it takes long enough for mods to even get to reports in the report centre, of which there are considerably fewer compared to posts.

Censorship refers to the government limiting speech, not a private publication. We don't accuse a magazine or newspaper of censorship if they don't print anything anybody submits. Forums aren't a democracy, they are private property.

Instead of censorship, think editing. Editing is a very valuable service. Any publication that prints anything anybody submits is not going to be a quality reading experience.


Couldn't agree more on the first part. That doesn't stop people claiming otherwise and it's something most forums try to avoid being accused of. I really don't like the idea of editing the visible content of a forum like this for 'quality'.

#26 Felasco

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 08:40 AM

Thanks again for your replies.

Sure, but moderators don't read everything and requiring that they do is, as I said, more work than they would likely be able to cope with.


The solution here is to create a forum the mods and forum owner would actually like to read, by raising the content quality standards, which can only be accomplished with prior review of content. Less content, better content. This is exactly what just about every print publication over the last few hundred years already does. Only in forum land is this considered a radical wacky unworkable idea.

If you can find such a thing or make it, a lot of people would suddenly love you. :P


Um, well, no they wouldn't. I'm a forum software developer. What would happen is that everybody would immediately focus on why anything that's new and different is wrong, wrong, wrong, because it's new and different, and not part of the group consensus routine. :-)

This is the challenge any software developer faces. Folks want improvements, but they also want everything to stay the same way they're already used to.

If I had to wait until some mods woke up and had the time to read through and approve everything, this place probably wouldn't hold any interest for me.


The new posts that appear on the forum would be posts approved a day or two ago, instead of posts that were written and posted a few hours ago. There'd still be plenty of things to read, and it wouldn't matter when they were written, as it doesn't matter already the vast majority of time. Do you read the publish date on every post you respond to, or do you just hit reply?

What difference would it make if you read and reply to this post on Tuesday instead of Sunday? In the meantime you could be reading and replying to the posts I wrote a few days ago, which would have been approved today. If we simply removed the publication date from posts, few people would probably even notice.

That doesn't stop people claiming otherwise and it's something most forums try to avoid being accused of.


But there's no way to prevent people from complaining, no matter what a forum owner does. We could hand out free money to every new member, and it'd be only a matter of time before someone was asking why the amount is X instead of a larger number.

How about this? Simply limit the forum to those members who understand what the word "censorship" actually means. If somebody yells "Censorship!" don't publish that post, and let them decide for themselves whether they wish to continue. Now we have a more intelligent and educated membership, and the quality of the conversations is enhanced for all. A more intelligent and educated membership would attract more intelligent and educated members.

I really don't like the idea of editing the visible content of a forum like this for 'quality'.


Yes, I understand, you are not alone, this is a quite unpopular proposal.

I have a different vision of the challenge facing forums. To me, the main challenge is that on most forums (those using the "almost anybody can join and say almost anything" model) the majority of the posts aren't worth reading. To me, this problem dwarfs the spam problem.

The result of this problem being ignored is that those members a forum would most like to have are discouraged by a low signal to noise ratio. They never even join, let alone complain. They scroll around for a few minutes on the first visit, and then vanish, never to be seen again. Or they've given up on forums altogether.

A forum that was serious about attracting such members would have much less moderating to do.

Just a point of view, that's all. I think it's useful to remind mods that if they really want to leave the spam era behind once and for all, that option is available.

#27 C1ay

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 01:07 PM

There is a solution that is guaranteed to end all spam on any forum, and probably raise the overall content quality of a forum as well.

Moderators review posts before they are published instead of after.

This assumes the mods of a forum are already reviewing the content, and simply moves the time when they do that job from the back end of the process to the front end.

Most of the significant problems forums face are a direct result of the open "almost anybody can say almost anything" publishing model in use on almost all forums. Spam, personal arguments, off topic comments, low quality junk posts, empty one line clever quip posts and so on. All of that can be solved by using the same publishing model that almost all publications have been using for hundreds of years.

Somebody reviews the content before publishing it.

This would probably be overkill on say, a Britney Spears fan forum. But any intellectual forum could be considerably enhanced by this one change.

Those forums already exist for their purposes. They are restricted to concise discussion by design. Some even employ paid moderators.

This does not fit the average discussion model very well though. You need enough active moderators to screen everything and they're all volunteers just giving what time they can fit in. Sure there's lots of people willing to volunteer but that willingness in and of itself does not make them a quality moderator. If you just let anyone volunteer you'll end up with spammers doing the moderation for their peers. It's hard to build a staff of quality volunteers to do what you suggest for the average discussion forum. Right not it would be hard for the staff here to provide a reasonable approval time just for membership activation but it is an idea on my mind these days. It would prevent that first post from everyone that hasn't been screened first. I frequently encounter that at other forums now.

#28 Felasco

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 01:41 PM

Hi Clay, thanks for joining in. I hope you read the part that none of my comments are about this forum specifically, but about forums in general.

Those forums already exist for their purposes. They are restricted to concise discussion by design. Some even employ paid moderators.


Where are such forums? Intellectual forums that pre-approve all content. This isn't an argument, but a sincere question.

This does not fit the average discussion model very well though.


Well, one way to look at it could be to not be the average discussion forum, of which there are already way too many. I'm not really arguing that all "anybody can join and say anything" forums should vanish, but that the net would be enhanced if there was more variety.

You need enough active moderators to screen everything and they're all volunteers just giving what time they can fit in.


I do understand this. As it stands, on most forums, the mods have the job of basically being junior high school hall monitors, dealing with spam and the juvenile behaviors of some members etc. Not a very satisfying job perhaps. If the mod job was elevated to something more interesting, perhaps there would be more volunteers. And, if the content standard was set higher, there'd be less junk and problem members to deal with.

Sure there's lots of people willing to volunteer but that willingness in and of itself does not make them a quality moderator.


I would agree with this good point. In reply I'd suggest the way to get more skilled mods is to serve a more skilled audience, which requires some method of keeping the signal to noise ratio high.

It's hard to build a staff of quality volunteers to do what you suggest for the average discussion forum.


Again, I'm talking about forums in general, almost all of which are run on the "almost anybody can join and say almost anything" model. There's little incentive for the best thinker/writers in any niche to invest time in such a system.

What I see all across the net is that the more skilled posters are gradually crowded out by the more numerous less skilled posters, leading to a slow but steady decline in the content quality. It seems to be a process that accelerates as it unfolds.

As a reader, this concerns me more than spam. Just one old forum blowhard casting his one little vote, that's all.

#29 Turtle

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 06:28 PM

damned if we do & damned if we don't. seems like the block banning is a big help. :thumbs_up bangle-a-douche & rustia be damned. for those spammers who slip through the cracks, the members at large need to report, report, report. (note: everyone gets the report error message; it's a glitch.)

as to previewing & approving every post i think it's not for us...or at least not for me. if i had to wait a day or two to carry on my math threads i'd be of an even nastier temperament than i already am inclined to. :rant: :rant: mind you i have little to no patience with the nitwits, trolls, and one-liner postings and i'm none too pleased with the amount of rope they are given to hang themselves with here, but forums is as forums does i suppose. again; report, report, report. the cost of freedom is constant vigilance. :slingshot:

in that vein, there is in my humble opinion no valid comparison between an internet forum and print media. this territory is every bit as novel as the printing press & the telegraph to name just two communication bombshells and many of the old rules, methods, and styles simply don't apply.

the laws haven't caught up yet fo shizzle, but make no mistake that these spammers are criminals. not only are they stealing space for the ads, many of the ads are for pirated products from clothing to movies, music and games. then too there are the viruses associated with the links in the spam. the losses to the legitimate copyright and trademark owners must run in the billions of dollars. if time was money to the staff, the costs of riding herd over spammers would run into the 10's of thousands of dollars.

this is war, and to quote our good & artful warrior friend sun-tzu,

"When doing battle, seek a quick victory.

A protracted battle will blunt weapons and dampen ardor."

#30 Felasco

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 07:58 PM

in that vein, there is in my humble opinion no valid comparison between an internet forum and print media. this territory is every bit as novel as the printing press & the telegraph to name just two communication bombshells and many of the old rules, methods, and styles simply don't apply.


The constant that remains the same is a reader's desire for a quality reading experience.

To me, just one view, there's no fundamental difference between spam and low quality junk content. To me, just one view, it's all just stuff that I don't want to deal with.

I don't quite see the logic of a universal adamant passionate consensus against spam, combined with a casual and largely unexamined "almost anything goes" relationship with the rest of the content.

#31 Turtle

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 08:37 PM

[quote name='Felasco' timestamp='1342922282' post='320799'][quotename='turple']in that vein, there is in my humble opinion no valid comparison between an internet forum and print media. this territory is every bit as novel as the printing press & the telegraph to name just two communication bombshells and many of the old rules, methods, and styles simply don't apply.[/quote]

The constant that remains the same is a reader's desire for a quality reading experience. [/quote]

that is an assessment for the reader to make, that is, whether or not what they are reading is "quality" or not. since our headline "motto" is Science for Everyone the reader has some indication of what to expect. a reader interested in more restrictive science writing may well go to physorg or some such a matter.

[quote name='Felasco'] To me, just one view, there's no fundamental difference between spam and low quality junk content. To me, just one view, it's all just stuff that I don't want to deal with.

I don't quite see the logic of a universal adamant passionate consensus against spam, combined with a casual and largely unexamined "almost anything goes" relationship with the rest of the content.
[/quote]

i get it, i got it, good. :shrug: there is no one-size-fits-all on the web anymore than there is -or has been- in print media or oratory before that. generalities aside, if there is content here you think is akin to spam, report it. if you had even an inkling of how much reporting i have done on "anything goes" content you would not think my perspective is either unexamined or casual. i suspect, but can't prove, that the staff long ago quit reading my reports. :P i also suspect but can't prove that many members simply go around the stinking poo rather than call attention to it or take any action to clean it up; aint human nature a *****? no shortage of times i have come within a frog's hair of leaving the whole mess, but i have far too much invested in good content here and i have more or less resolved to say my piece(s) directly & often in no uncertain terms and then move on... to saying my next piece. :soapbox: :lol:

#32 C1ay

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 02:57 AM

Where are such forums? Intellectual forums that pre-approve all content. This isn't an argument, but a sincere question.

Most of these that I'm aware of are discussion group remnants of the old usenet system. Most do not moderate every post but screen all new members like sci.physics.research. Others are mailing list type discussion groups like the gnumeric-list for discussing gnumeric. After becoming an approved member you can post messages at will or as a guest you can post messages that are screened by a moderator before going to the list. I'm a member of this particular list and I see no spam there ever, just a concise, on topic discussion of gnumeric. It's also the only heavily moderated discussion I'm a member of. The PharmWeb Discussion Forums are a collection of both types discussions related to pharmacy and medicine that are post moderated. Use google to seek out others you are interested in. I find a particularly good signal to noise ratio at moderated Google Groups for topic oriented discussions.
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#33 Tormod

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Posted 22 July 2012 - 04:14 PM

While approving every single post is always an option, I'd say it makes forums like these impossible to run. Nobody wants to have to do it.

Spam has been a problem since we launched the forums back in 2002. It's not going away. I think it's fantastic that people like C1ay and CraigD take upon them to keep the site as clean as possible.
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#34 Turtle

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Posted 24 July 2012 - 12:44 PM

...
Spam has been a problem since we launched the forums back in 2002. It's not going away. I think it's fantastic that people like C1ay and CraigD take upon them to keep the site as clean as possible.


in truth, a thing worth doing is worth doing well. ~unattested proverb

while the spam problem is getting some well-deserved attention now, getting to this point has been like pulling teeth. definatelydstrb[sp] complained back in february about the spammers in the status update section, and you said:

I suggest turning off status comments, at least.


status comments remain up and so does the spam there. in my estimation the blog section should be eliminated as well. it's never been a hot feature for members and anymore its mostly a spam target. there is no shortage of blog services out there and legit members can put a link to their blog in their profile.

i have recommended too many times to count that these accounts be deleted, and yet they remain. as long as the spammer profiles stay up, regardless of whether they are banned or put in the Spammers group, the spammers are getting paid and they win. (check the profile view counts on some of these spammers and see they are in the hundreds. they get paid for these views.) the spammers seem to understand doing things well; i don't think its asking too much that we do.
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