22

This new user https://english.stackexchange.com/users/324324/airport-chariot-car-and-limo has a user ID that nakedly promotes a car-hire service. In the last day or so they've posted a dozen or more answers and edits of very modest quality, a result of which is their product has been conspicuously displayed on multiple pages on our site.

I raised a mod flag for this as follows, but my flag was declined:

This user has posted a half-dozen answers in the last 5 hours but they've created their user ID to promote a product so all their answers are spam. – Chappo 16 hours ago declined - a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it

I don't understand. So we're vigilant in rejecting questions and answers that promote a commercial product, but it's ok to create a user ID that could be interpreted as a Trojan horse for getting your product promoted on every question, answer and edit that you post?


EDIT

I want to add some additional information and clarifications in light of the many answers and comments here.

  1. I had searched on the SE Meta site for guidance on this issue but failed to come up with anything meaningful, no doubt because my search for spam user ID wasn't precise enough. ColleenV found the following relevant links:

  2. I posted on EL&U Meta in the first instance because, in the first instance, this was a question about how my flag was handled. As it turns out, I think here was the right place to post it. If I'd had more time, I might instead have ping'd a mod on Chat and received similar advice, but ultimately that would have had a more limited audience. The information here is more easily found than on a historic Chat thread.

  3. If - as appears to be the case - there is no SE prohibition on creating a personal profile that includes your business name (as username), business description and business contact details - then so be it. I'm not entirely comfortable with such a policy, but there are plenty of other things about Stack Exchange our user community has expressed discomfort about as well. It takes more than the odd shard of glass to create a broken window effect. Move on; nothing to see here.

  4. This was a question about site policy, and was not intended as a personal attack on the individual user. I've edited my question to remove any unintended suggestion of motive on the users's part. I certainly welcome any user who shares with me a delight in the English language and an enthusiasm for building the value of our site.

  5. In this comment, the user asked "Will you stop chasing me all over Stack sites now?" This is an unfounded slur: I have not targeted the user on any other site and had not even been aware of their activity on other sites until I'd read the answers here. My actions towards the user on EL&U have consisted of voting to delete some system-identified posts on the LQP queue, rejecting a spurious edit in the Suggested Edits queue, raising a spam flag (which was accepted!) on an answer, posting a general mod flag when it appeared there were multiple similar posts (see above flag rejection) and posting this question.

  • 1
    This is probably best posted on Meta Stack Exchange. Have you looked in their archives? – Mari-Lou A Nov 16 '18 at 5:21
  • @Mari-LouA I did look but couldn’t find anything straight away. I’m not able to follow up but happy if a mod migrates my question. – Chappo Nov 16 '18 at 6:12
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    @AirportChariotCarandLimo You are welcome here. – MetaEd Nov 16 '18 at 17:45
16

I noticed this user yesterday and I will be keeping an eye on them.

With regard to profiles, self promotion is acceptable there. Profile links are "nofollow"ed, so shouldn't be indexed by search engines, so the only people who see it are people who visit it deliberately.

I have been in two minds about the user name, as that is clearly advertising, but, at the same time, it's not a link to anything and it's not offensive. I consulted other moderators and there wasn't a clear consensus about resetting the name.

Rules on user names have been discussed on meta meta here and here. (Thanks to ColleenV.)

Basically I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt for now.

  • Can we say there is a difference between self-promotion, e.g. someone who promotes an answer they have written on SE or an article in a paper and someone who is advertising a service or promoting a product that is on sale? – Mari-Lou A Nov 16 '18 at 12:40
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    @Mari-LouA I don’t agree. I think the only difference is because you are interested in one thing and not the other so you tolerate one form of promotion and not the other. Some folks on Travel appreciated knowing the poster was in that line of business. It’s no different from an extended business card as long as the promotion stays out of their answers IMO. – ColleenV Nov 16 '18 at 14:10
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    It is not a link to anything”? This following link is clearly visible from the main prifile page of the use in question: airportchariotcarservice.com – user240918 Nov 17 '18 at 6:48
  • @user240918: Matt's answer says "the user name [is] not a link to anything". The previous paragraph describes why it is supposed to be OK to have a link on the profile page: " Profile links are "nofollow"ed, so shouldn't be indexed by search engines, so the only people who see it are people who visit it deliberately." – sumelic Nov 17 '18 at 7:17
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    @sumelic - yes, and advertising billboards along busy streets are seen only by those who walk along those streets...nonetheless the pay big money to place them. – user240918 Nov 17 '18 at 7:32
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    @user240918: I think that's a poor analogy that misses the point of that paragraph. People walk along busy streets for various reasons: usually they are trying to get from place to place, not trying to see what billboards have to say. People visit profile pages only for the purpose of seeing what the associated users have to say about themselves. – sumelic Nov 20 '18 at 0:56
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    @sumelic -the purpose of an advertiser is to have visibility for their products. And the only difference with the street analogy is that on ELU they do it for free. Personally I have nothing against using SE site for free adverstiding, but I don’t see why we should not call things for what they are. – user240918 Nov 20 '18 at 5:57
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    My main issue with this is that the product so advertised is pretty much irrelevant to the topic of the site. I can see self-promotion of a user that, for example, wrote a book about English structure or history or something, but this is just weird and kind of out of the blue. – htmlcoderexe Nov 25 '18 at 20:58
11

This is nothing new, really. Across the network there have been similar users time and time again, and I think there's a consensus: unless there is spam (or some other serious misbehavior) outside the username/profile, it is OK.

As far as I've seen, the user is acting just like a regular user. I haven't seen any "covert spam" (which would include sneaky links that only link one character, or answers that are plagiarism + link to website). I would attribute the "very modest quality" of the content to newb mistakes (as all new users are wont to do), but the user has been good responding to feedback so far.

My favorite justification so far for allowing this type of username/profile is Robert Cartaino's. In order for a user to get their name out there, they have to actually do good things for the site. When we "trick" people into writing great answers to questions and such that's just mission f—ing accomplished.

(It might be different if the product being sold were lewd or illegal or if it was offensive in some way, but that's not what's happening here.)

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    So, it's not spam if a user's profile page or their username unashamedly promotes a product but it is if they manage to weasel its name or link in an answer. Good tip for aspiring would-be-spammers. – Mari-Lou A Nov 16 '18 at 7:33
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    [Misread covert for overt ] Unless Stack Exchange is receiving some form of payment, which I wouldn't put pass them, this is blatant free advertising. – Mari-Lou A Nov 16 '18 at 11:02
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    I think it’s worth pulling out a quote from Robert's post: “So, we provide two places that allow you to establish your self-identity: Your username and 'about me' profile.“ It is free advertising, but for it to work the user has to participate positively, otherwise they’re hurting their business not helping it. – ColleenV Nov 16 '18 at 14:15
8

This has sort of rubbed me the wrong way, too.

Even if there isn't a policy prohibiting advertising in profiles, I would at least hope that there would more effort put into answers on the exchange than into details included in the advertisement.

Many of the answers posted by this user thus far have seemed hastily put-together, often consisting of nothing more a couple short examples or a single sentence, without any corroborating research:

  • "Fly-on-the-wall observation is an observation technique where you can place yourself in a non-obtrusive position and observe from a distance. ..." - loft.io

  • The word you are seeking does not exist, it's just a noun phrase.

  • You were advised that your prescription would be ready by 12 noon and asked if it would be okay for it to be delivered, you agreed.

  • That place was a legend! That place was a tradition!

    1. "I will be out of the office starting tomorrow until 20th Nov,2018"
    2. "I will be out of the office from Nov. 16th to Nov 20th, 2018"
  • A comma would be not be completely out of place if the sentence was worded: Dr. John Smith, of the University of Chicago, is the visiting professor.

  • Plunged into darkness. Plunged into night. The city was plunged into darkness. The planet was plunged into night.

That's a grand total of 147 words in seven answers, compared to over 150 words in the profile-advertisement.

I think if the answers had been more substantial and detailed, this would have been less of an issue. It's hard not to question one's motives when the ad is so thick compared to the answers.

I'd suggest beefing up the answers and toning down the ad for the time being, but that's merely a suggestion. If nothing else, it might show that the person is truly interested in helping the community rather than coming on board primarily to get some free advertising.

  • 7
    +1. One element that seems to have been overlooked in the broader discussion is the additional posts that have been edited by the user. The superfluous nature of at least one edit suggested to me that the intent may not have been improvement of the post so much as another means of getting the user's username/icon displayed. As others have noted, it could also be the misplaced enthusiasm of a new user, so motive can't be ascribed - but it certainly raises a question. – Chappo Nov 18 '18 at 0:10
4

Our help center policies regarding how How Not to Be A Spamer are somewhat lenient since it actually allows limited certain cases of self-promotion, and actually prefers a disclosure of affiliation in cases where it is relevant to the question. The main restrictions are for the posts to be germane, to not mention your product in every post and to disclose your affiliation when it is relevant to the answer. The poster seems to be honoring that.

It is probably also worth noting that the username is neither a permanent nor a unique identifier, so its purpose is merely ornamental. Your permanent and unique identifier is your user I.D. number, which you can not select yourself. Asking questions and getting answers with no nonsense on the other hand, is the very core purpose of this website, so it is important to keep them relevant. You could argue that the username and web-avatar are distracting, but I doubt they are really any more distracting than any other user name or web-avatar.

The user is proliferating answers which are just answers, rather than being fact or reference based but this is a common mistake for new users, and the help center has no requirement that answers actually be fact or reference based. It specifies that questions should solicit answers that are fact or reference based. If the answers are just bad, vote against them as you would against any other user (don't serial vote) and if the community deems that too many are rated negatively then an automatic answer ban will be imposed. The ornamental value is of comparatively lesser importance compared to other websites, because we are not a social internet forum.

If a user is determined to be making an overall positive contribution to the website, then I see little to no practical reason to take special measures against usernames that seem to be fiscally motivated. This very same proliferation of answers would actually be a very much desirable outcome because first and foremost we aim to provide good answers to unanswered questions to help everybody learn.

Imagine for a moment that this was not an obscure limousine service, but it was instead Oxford University Press trying to make a coporate identifier so that they could contribute the fruits of highly esteemable research as a teaser for the sort of information you might want to find within the pages of their books? I doubt many of us would object to that with adequate verification, and it would be very similar in nature.

Similarly, if a large corporation like Coca~Cola or Pepsi wanted to sponsor a full time expert to answer questions in order to proliferate their brand name for a relatively low cost, then I see very little reason to see that as much other than a mutually beneficial arrangement, provided that other policies were obeyed.

That is not to say there is no reason. I remember earning the reduced ads privilege in the past and allowing advertising to show up kind of betrays the people who have earned it and would rather not see any advertising, but I do not see it listed in our local help center for some reason, so I am unsure of its direct relevance to English Language & Usage. Also, I could see why corporate might decide that they would not want to allow it for fiscal reasons, but corporate can tell us if they want to disallow it for that reason. I would also be concerned that scammers might pose as a legitimate business to defraud our users in some way, which calls for some moderator scrutiny over the profile.

Otherwise, if a user is not causing active harm by violating our other policies, then I see no real point in prohibiting sponsored user I.D. and profile information. This is especially the case for the profile page in particular, which is meant to be a place where a user can post whatever they want , provided that it does not violate the code of conduct (note the higher rated answer). Also, if you are clicking on a username which identifies the user as a limousine service, then I doubt the profile information found there would come as any sort of real surprise.

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    Indeed, if the user answers questions about limo and car service (e.g. this), then the answer seems more credible. – Ooker Nov 22 '18 at 3:54
  • @Ooker Oh! That's a good find. I guess he means to primarily to be a Travel S.E. contributor, and just so happens to be answering questions about English with the same profile. We probably don't want to be implementing any policies which bar contributors from other S.E. websites from using their profiles here. However, most of the time the limo and car service posts should be limited to his Travel S.E. contributions, unless say he is doing such a thing as answering a linguistic question about the cant of chauffeurs, if such a thing exists. – Tonepoet Nov 22 '18 at 11:23
3

It seems this has been raised several times over the years, such as in Flag offensive user profile [duplicate]. But they mostly get closed as duplicates of Flag abusive users.

There are at least a couple that weren't marked as duplicates, however, such as Spam Profiles are getting my goat. Could we have better tools for mods to deal with profile spam? and What is the policy on destroying users with very spammy profiles but have not posted spam yet?

The consensus seems to be that it's only a problem if a post contains spam. And if you go to the trouble of bringing up such a profile, it may or may not be dealt with. The impression I get is that it's not really a big deal if it's only in the profile itself.


For what it's worth, I just used this basic query. I also didn't look at every result. (If this question is migrated, it will likely get closed as a duplicate.)

2

A user name is not expected to be educational or unbiased. Putting a product name in that space, rather than some other handle or arbitrary string of numbers, doesn't detract from the informational content of this site. There is no implication that Stack Exchange endorses or recommends things mentioned in user names (outside of the very general principle that users with offensive names might be forced to change them).

I also don't see any sign of deceptive behavior here, which is something else that is particularly emphasized as unacceptable in the Stack Exchange page on "How to not be a spammer". Putting your product in your username seems like a particularly obvious form of promotion and disclosure of affiliation; I don't see how it could be described as "Trojan horse"-like or "covert".

For comparison, using your real name as a username could be seen as a way of "promoting" your own personal brand, but this is certainly not forbidden behavior.

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    Possible future scenario: superuser.com/… thoughts? – Mari-Lou A Nov 16 '18 at 11:14
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    @Mari-LouA There's a big difference between spamming by making tons of users and one user who is participating in a number of sites promoting their business in their profile. After that incident, the links in user profiles were changed so they weren't useful to spammers I think. – ColleenV Nov 16 '18 at 12:42
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    @ColleenV There's no difference in my view between someone whose username is the same service and product they are freely advertising on their profile page and someone who posts a link to their site which sells proofreading or college essays. – Mari-Lou A Nov 16 '18 at 12:52
  • I think the point in your last paragraph is really key. On a lot of Stack Exchange's sites, people could absolutely be promoting their personal product, which is their expertise. It actually seems quite a bit more likely to me that some programmer or cyber-security expert might hope to score a contract by using their real name as a handle on the relevant SE sites and having contact info in their profile than that a local limo service would expect to see an uptick in business from participating and "advertising" on EL&U. – 1006a Nov 16 '18 at 15:44
  • @Mari-LouA I guess it's better to have (too much) insurance and not need it than to need it and not have it. ;) – JJJ Nov 16 '18 at 15:48
  • I'm sorry to be the cause of this wrangle. I use the Airport Chariot name in all my internet accounts. For Stack, my thinking was that using my company's name would add credibility and weight to my answers on the Travel site, especially questions pertaining to transportation. – Airport Chariot Car and Limo Nov 19 '18 at 20:17
  • @AirportChariotCarandLimo It's clear that on Travel.SE your industry knowledge is greatly valued, and as others have pointed out, you're being transparent and you've posted genuine answers. I wasn't targeting you personally; it was simply the appearance of a business username that created the concern, especially in the context of managing a daily flood of posts that don't belong here. – Chappo Nov 20 '18 at 1:19

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