There's been a lot of spam and nonsense posted lately, everything from love connections to kids struggling through puberty demanding to be made moderators.

What is being done about this, and what can I do to help?


1 Answer 1


For those that don't know me, I work for Stack Exchange.

We've been on top of this since it started. We noticed some abnormal spam activity going on here which your moderators quickly confirmed.

We've taken the following steps to keep it out:

  • Registration is now (temporarily) required to post a question
  • Spam originating from Ask Ubuntu is dealt a much harsher penalty score in our network-wide spam fighting system. This means spamming AU is going to get you blocked very fast

The problem has been that some of the people / bots doing this have been cycling through Tor nodes, some so distant from where we suspect the abuse is originating from that we're amazed the sites were even functional for them.

The system works on a level that's lower than individual I.P. addresses, so it's not terribly difficult to keep these people out. In fact, there's a very good chance that the spammer that wrote whatever you just found has probably already been, or will very shortly be blocked. However, the increased volume leaves more artifacts of why they were blocked around to be cleaned up.

The good news is, we're still rejecting significantly more than we're flagging, and more granular tuning should make this even more effective. Here's what it looks like now:

enter image description here

I've got some tweaks and changes in the hopper that I want to experiment with briefly on Monday, and quite possibly push if they look promising. I hope to bring this back to where it was around January 5 - 7. Part of the reason for this is one of these fools keeps cycling through Tor nodes like some people cycle through Pringles. This is easily and quickly dealt with (I anticipated this when I designed the system), but it does leave some more artifacts of the carnage lying around, which is what you've noticed.

I'm also considering doing something to delete any zero or worse scored post contributed by something the system (through the signals you send it) determined to be evil - this will help minimize the amount of crap you have to see in order to keep it out effectively through flagging - but it's also kind of dangerous. I'm just trying to be as transparent as I can when it comes to what I'm thinking about doing next.

Now, more importantly, what can you do to stop it?

Exactly what you've been doing: flag the post as spam and move on. Don't interact with it via comments. If it's a bot you're just wasting seconds of your life; if it's a moron then you're wasting seconds of your life and encouraging them even more. Burning this stuff should be devoid of any sort of ceremony, just like picking up litter.

There are rare cases where you might find the need to leave a comment as a beacon to other users that the post is spam, such as someone impersonating a high reputation user or moderator to try to confuse folks. However, engage your fellow community members, not the person that wrote the junk.

It should go without saying that you should definitely not flag something as spam that is not a blatant advertisement or purely nonsensical trolling attempt of some sort, and not flag something as offensive unless a reasonable, non-technical person would find it offensive as well. These flags carry serious weight, so use them wisely.

I'm going to be continuing to monitor how effective the system is being, and making additional changes to the configuration for AU. You can take some comfort in the fact that the work you're doing by flagging is helping to stop it, and that we're closely monitoring this and doing things on our end to help.

Thank you, to all that have worked tirelessly to keep the site clean. You've been doing an awesome job, and I hope to see the end of this soon.

  • 7
    Well played sirs, well played. You're doing an awesome job. Jan 12, 2014 at 13:56
  • 3
    @EliahKagan I wasn't aware of them using that tactic, I updated my post accordingly. Thank you for pointing that out, and you should definitely comment in that sort of situation. You aren't engaging the troll, but rather leaving a beacon for others in the community.
    – Tim Post
    Jan 12, 2014 at 14:12
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    Don't interact with it via comments - if it's a bot you're just wasting seconds of your life, if it's a moron then you're wasting seconds of your life and encouraging them even more. Burning this stuff should be devoid of any sort of ceremony, just like picking up litter. Could not agree more. Cheers for this. Jan 12, 2014 at 14:13
  • 2
    Lesson learned, spamming Australia is going to get me blocked very fast. I just love it when site acronyms correlate to actual countries.
    – Tim Post
    Jan 12, 2014 at 14:16
  • This looks like the same trolling spammer. I have flagged the answers as "Not An Answer", however, should I flag posts from such users as "Spam"?
    – Aditya
    Jan 12, 2014 at 15:39
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    @Aditya That takes a bit of a keen eye, if you see a post that just copies the UI that they see, then you're probably looking at a bot. If you think it might be spam but don't feel confident enough to flag it as such, use the 'other' flag, mods will quickly have a look at it.
    – Tim Post
    Jan 12, 2014 at 16:30
  • Registration is now (temporarily) required to post a question and so they've moved to answers and comments.
    – user25656
    Jan 13, 2014 at 14:04
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    @vasa1 Comments? That just reveals any established accounts (50+ rep needed to write one) that they have, which is great :)
    – Tim Post
    Jan 13, 2014 at 15:34
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    Well actually comments for their own answers... ;)
    – Braiam
    Jan 13, 2014 at 16:03
  • @Braiam, Thanks for the backing. Tim's selective response was making me feel quite mentally insecure because I was pretty sure I was dealing with comments from unregistered posters too.
    – user25656
    Jan 14, 2014 at 2:44
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    @vasa1 Nah, they can only comment on their own posts. Which they are doing. Couple day old screenshot: i.stack.imgur.com/4Nwqn.png
    – Seth
    Jan 14, 2014 at 2:55
  • There are determined ones creating account(or maybe bot registrations?) to post their spam as a question...here is an example user...
    – TrailRider
    Jan 14, 2014 at 3:26
  • @Seth, Comments are comments and these were being made by unregistered users. That was my point: nothing more or less. So I was confused to read "Comments? That just reveals any established accounts". Thanks for the image.
    – user25656
    Jan 14, 2014 at 3:31
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    @TrailRider, it's true that some do register but allowing unregistered users just makes it even easier. When the questions route required registration much traffic moved to answers and comments. I'm not implying that registration is the solution but, IMHO, it would help.
    – user25656
    Jan 14, 2014 at 3:36
  • @vasa1 I agree that registration does not stop it, my timing was just bad, I was not actually butting into your and Seth's back and forth, it just seemed that way, Mine was just a general comment in regards to the OP's Q&A. in the last few hours it seems that the spammers have read the OP's post and have taken it as a challenge....I have seen 3 or 4 spam post in the last 2 hours....{sigh}
    – TrailRider
    Jan 14, 2014 at 3:46

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