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With our recent spate of spam, a few reminders on how best to deal with it:

  • First and foremost, please flag as spam. That's the first option when you open up the spam dialog, and that will delete the post once six spam flags are reached. This means that spam can be dealt even when moderators are not online.

  • While there is no prohibition against closing spam as off-topic, it's not really necessary, so to speak, since the post should be disposed of through flagging.

  • There is no need to edit the spam. Stack Exchange has an algorithm that automatically learns which posts are flagged as spam and tries to block those, and editing the spam can decrease the efficacy of the filter.

  • If you see it in the review queue, again, please flag. Do not click "No Action Needed" or "Leave Open".

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    You might want to also suggest that people not downvote spam since that gets it off the 1st page and, therefore, might make it last longer since fewer people will see it and flag it. – terdon Feb 5 '14 at 0:12
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    You might want to pin this in the community bulletin, two spam post got edited (one of them throughly) by high reputation users. Further guidance may be necessary. – Braiam Apr 27 '14 at 4:53
  • I bumped this question because users were downvoting, rather than spam-flagging, this spam question about ebooks. – Dan Bron Jun 8 '16 at 20:58
  • How many spam flags are needed to delete a post? Three or six? And do comments slow the elimination process? – Mari-Lou A Jun 8 '16 at 21:21
  • @Mari-LouA Six. My comment on that (now deleted) post was incorrect. And no, comments do not delay the process. – Dan Bron Jun 8 '16 at 22:11
  • @DanBron I thought they did, as if comments confirmed the Q is genuine and not spam. It's registered as activity by SE servers or whatever, and that delays the automatic deletion process. I'm sure I read it somewhere. – Mari-Lou A Jun 9 '16 at 11:01
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There were several obviously spam posts in the "recent questions" list when I just logged on to ELU.

I know users who've been around as long as me should know the drill by now, but the fact of the matter is I hadn't noticed this meta post before, and I didn't know what I should do.

What I actually did to all 5 spam posts was downvote them and cast a closevote citing "Off Topic because it is about... SPAM" as the reason. And on one of them I editing the post to replace the spam text with the text "(spam deleted)".


I now realise that what I should have done was simply flag each post as spam and leave it at that.

After reading this meta post and thinking it through, I now feel the only justification for editing spam question text would be if it was grossly offensive. It also seems that comments, downvotes, and closevotes are at best pointless, and may actually be counterproductive.

I'm posting this answer here mainly to admit that I've seen the error of my ways. If any other users are in my position, they might be more likely to do the same if they read this when the question moves to the top of the "Active" Meta questions list.


EDIT: It may be worth noting that I've just followed my own advice on two spam postings. They both had several comments and downvotes, plus one or two closevotes, and on one the question text had been edited to explicitly say it was spam.

They also both had two "spam" flags. All I did was add a third "spam" flag, and in each case the automated system "user" Community immediately locked and deleted the post.

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    I would suggest we do need to leave a comment, inviting users to flag the spammer. I know that I wouldn't have known my first days on ELU how to deal with spam posts. I'd have felt there was bound to be someone whose job it was to delete these type of posts. (This is less true for those who have previous experience with online communities) – Mari-Lou A May 11 '14 at 6:10
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    I would like to hear a confirmation as to whether leaving a comment for users to flag spammers slows down SE spam filters. I don't think comments affect a posts visibility, and it certainly doesn't make it appear in the review queue. However, flagging a post as VLQ does--this morning I had three spam posts --one of which, I mistakenly marked it as looks good (I had already flagged it as spam) because I didn't know what was the procedure. – Mari-Lou A May 11 '14 at 11:28
  • @Mari-Lou: Obviously I don't know exactly how SE spam filters work, but your "like to hear a confirmation" implies you think I've suggested they're affected by comments. I actually have no opinion on that specific point. My thinking is many spammers and trolls are encouraged by getting a reaction, so hostile comments to the spammer may well be counterproductive. – FumbleFingers May 11 '14 at 11:45
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    ...I accept your point that it might well be worth us getting into the habit of posting a single "standard format" comment along the lines of "This looks like spam. If you agree, please flag it as such but don't add more comments that might encourage the spammer. Downvotes, closevotes, and editing of the question text are unnecessary". That one-and-only comment could usefully include a link to this meta question, obviously. – FumbleFingers May 11 '14 at 11:47
  • I think it's easy to forget that the tools which we have available to us, are not obvious to the first-time user, especially if that person is a more "mature" user, and his/her first language is not English. I'm sure for the first few weeks I was too wary and nervous to touch any of those tiny links below a question because I didn't know how to use them. I had to find out for myself. – Mari-Lou A May 11 '14 at 11:56
  • @Mari-Lou: As I said, I don't know how the relevant spam-detectors work. But it's easy to imagine they might count comments as "human activity". In which case the filters might "reason" that since real live users are obviously reacting to the question, any automated processes can reasonably adopt a more "hands-off" approach. No matter how good the logic and coding, automated system can make mistakes that people simply wouldn't, so any filter might well be biased to look for reasons not to get involved in any given posting. – FumbleFingers May 11 '14 at 11:58
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    Well in that case my asking if comments do interfere in some way, is a valid one. Perhaps we should ask @waiwai933 to enlighten us? If it is the case that even downvoting interferes, then perhaps SE ought to tweak the system a bit. Human nature is such that we want to leave a mark i.e. an invite, a downvote etc. – Mari-Lou A May 11 '14 at 12:04
  • @Mari-Lou: Perhaps. But regardless of what if any effect comments might have on SE's automated process logic, my position is still what I set out in my first comment. A single comment either is already ignored by that logic, or reasonably could be ignored if they want to tweak the algorithm. What we want to avoid is "threads" of "discussion" comments (which the spammer/troll might or might not actively participate in). So a single standard-format comment might be good, but comments in general are probably bad. – FumbleFingers May 11 '14 at 12:12
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My approach to dealing with spam is:

1) Respond quickly, so the spam message is visible both to site visitors and web crawlers for as short a time as possible. (That of course includes flagging the message as spam.)

2) If one cannot instantly delete the spam, nullify the message by editing it to eliminate phone numbers and web links.

3) Replace the spammer's text with sufficient markers to identify it as still having been a spam message, so that other SE members can downvote it and automatically delete it once it reaches the deletion threshold.

4) I see no reason not to insult the spammer. I don't see how a spammer is encouraged by having their message modified -- quite the opposite.

I've had considerable experience of dealing with spam attacks on another forum on which I am an administrator, and I have seen no evidence that making any concessions whatever to spammers is at all useful.

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    But a spam posting should not be edited because that thwarts the automated filters. Phone numbers in particular may well be useful to filters. What we really need is more moderators active early in the morning European time. – Andrew Leach May 12 '14 at 7:54
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    @Andrew Leach - Can the spam filters be set to scan the original version of the spam message, regardless of subsequent edits? That way we can have the best of both worlds -- the spam filters can still be trained to recognize and trap subsequent spams, and the current spam message can be edited to strip it of any content that is of value to the spammer. – Erik Kowal May 12 '14 at 7:58
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    That would be good, but I'm not from SE. All the advice I've ever seen has been not to edit unless it's grossly offensive and actually needs it. – Andrew Leach May 12 '14 at 8:00
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    @Andrew Leach - Very well, I'll refrain from editing the spams if it upsets the consensus on the board and/or frustrates the filters. Meanwhile, I'll hope to hear from whoever has the ability to tweak the algorithms that the filters can be set to look at the very first version of the spam, as I suggested in my comment above, in order to also be able to achieve the objective stated under point 2) in my posting. – Erik Kowal May 12 '14 at 8:07
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    @AndrewLeach Don't worry, edits won't keep the filter from working. The arguments against editing are (1) it makes it harder to identify it as spam and (2) it allows the OP to rollback the edit, clearing any spam flags since the edit was made. (I'm not sure either of these are real problems, though.) – snailcar May 12 '14 at 13:09
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    I also don't see the point in adding insults. The spammer will not read them. Spammers don't look back, even in the cases where they're not automatic scripts posting the spam. All it does is encourage other users of the site to turn the spam message into a mudpit. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan May 13 '14 at 8:24

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