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I would like to invite active GD users to help combat spam on this site. Towards that end, I have created a dedicated chat room called The Spam Blot where I have been posting links to recent spam.

My concrete question for you here and now is

Can we enable automated Smoke Detector reports in this dedicated room?

I'll add some background below, but the TL;DR is

  • I'd like to raise awareness by documenting what is done about spam; and
  • I'd like to improve coordination between GD and Charcoal HQ.

The following is optional background; think of it as sidebars, only below the text instead of next to it.

What Can Users Do About Spam?

We generally see that spam posts receive a good number of downvotes before it is deleted. Just to be explicit, the best way to react to spam is to flag it as spam (next to the "share" and "edit" links below a post, there is a "flag" link where the first option is "Spam"). A post which accrues a significant number of spam flags will be deleted from the site, and the network admins will receive a notification. (Details about the inner workings are available from this Meta.SE post: What are the “spam” and “rude or abusive” (offensive) flags, and how do they work?)

What's Charcoal?

The Charcoal HQ chat room is a stackexchange.com network-wide volunteer effort for flagging spam from the network's member sites.

The Stack Exchange admins already block a significant amount of spam, but every once in a while, spam still slips through. By coordinating and automating flagging, we hope to help improve the overall experience for regular users who don't want their visits on our sites to be disrupted by unwelcome, off-topic, and potentially disturbing spam posts.

The following recently featured meta.SE post describes the system in more detail: Can a machine be taught to flag spam automatically?

So just to reiterate, the bulk of spam is fended off quietly behind the scenes by the Stack Exchange personnel. Charcoal is completely based on volunteer users who teamed up to take care of what little still slips through.

What's Smoke Detector?

Smoke Detector is the software which identifies probable spam and alerts the Charcoal chat room when it finds some.

Many sites in the Stack Exchange network already have dedicated rooms for this, or have requested Smoke Detector reports to be posted to their regular chat room.

What Kind of Numbers are We Talking About?

Recently, Graphic Design has received on the order of half a dozen to a dozen identified spam posts per day (typically, less on weekends). The vast majority of these spam posts are from a single spam operation, by the looks of it. The (manual, for now) posts in the Spam Blot room should provide you with details if you want to look at them in more detail.

On average, recent spam on GD that was registered by Smoke Detector was deleted within a few minutes.

So Just Get On With It, Then?

The intent is, on one hand, to collect spam notices for those who want to see what's happening in this field (and maybe flag spam which otherwise has not yet received enough flags), and on the other, to improve feedback between the site's moderators and the network-wide anti-spam volunteer squad from Charcoal HQ.

While discussing this in the regular GD chat room The Ink Spot I discovered that our efforts to remove spam are obscuring spam accounts from the site's moderators. They encouraged me to post here for feedback from the GD community before proceeding to enable automatic spam notices in the chat room I created.

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    Charcoal HQ visitors, please abstain from voting, we want the vote to reflect the genuine opinion of the GD community. Thanks. – tripleee Mar 30 '17 at 10:57
  • @ArtOfCode created a Metasmoke tool to help mods review (ostensible) spam accounts, ping him or me if you'd like a link to that. – tripleee Mar 30 '17 at 11:30
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    /me is now pingable – ArtOfCode Mar 30 '17 at 11:31
  • As its been a few weeks I removed the featured tag. – Ryan Apr 18 '17 at 14:38
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From recent chat I think the main concern was that posts being flagged and destroyed via Smoke Detector (which never happens without some human interaction btw; I believe there's only ever a max of 3 auto flags?) is obscuring the spam from moderators, and doesn't destroy the user posting the spam; which moderators will do if they see the spam.

A few points on that...

  • Spam flagged by regular users has exactly the same problem. Leaving spam to be exclusively dealt with by mods isn't a great idea (you guys are busy enough as it is right?)

  • Having a GDSE specific place where we can be notified and it be explicitly logged makes it easier if mods want to go and destroy these spam users and see what spam has been caught.

  • Smoke Detector is going to do its thing regardless; nothing proposed here is going to affect what's already happening; it's only increasing its visibility to us.

Concerns about Smoke Detector clogging up chat with notifications are valid, so setting up a dedicated room is a good idea. I personally don't see any downsides to having SD notify that room... if people aren't interested they can just ignore the room.

...and just to add some visuals to your numbers (we're visual people here)...

enter image description here

Taken from https://metasmoke.erwaysoftware.com/graphs

That is (assuming I've understood these correctly?) the amount of spam posts Smoke Detector caught in the last month. GDSE has seen 302. Which is close enough to being joint 3rd and not far behind second worst on the whole network at very roughly ~10 per day.

You can also check the list of caught spam posts here:

https://metasmoke.erwaysoftware.com/search?site=68

Personally, I think that is a problem. I don't see a problem with how we (GDSE) are handling the spam and I don't see a problem with Smoke Detector catching this spam... but the spam itself is a problem. Now, I don't know if setting up notifications to let us know what Smoke Detector is catching will help at all, maybe it won't, but it certainly won't hurt anything and it is at least a step in the right direction...

TL;DR... my vote; set up Smoke Detector notification in the dedicated chat room and see how it goes. If it can give us even the smallest insight in how to better combat spam here then that is a good thing.

  • (At least) in theory, Charcoal could abstain from autoflagging and/or reporting spam on GD if that's what the mods here would prefer. – tripleee Mar 30 '17 at 11:52
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    On the technical side, I can confirm that Smoke Detector autoflagging will not currently post more than 3 flags, though it's possible that we could raise the max on the type of sure-fire spam we see a lot, if SO/SE admins agree that this is a good idea etc. – tripleee Mar 30 '17 at 11:56
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    And sorry for having a pie chart, I'll try to see if we could so something better based on Tufte or perhaps some synthesis ... but that's a separate topic (-: – tripleee Mar 30 '17 at 12:02
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    As tripleee said in a comment on the question earlier, I've developed a tool that's available to moderators to list not-yet-destroyed spam accounts, but it's off-site and not totally accurate, so it's not entirely ideal. Other than that, you're right that moderators have no visibility of these posts/users, but also that there's no change in that behaviour from regular users flagging. – ArtOfCode Mar 30 '17 at 12:29
  • @Art do you have any stats on how many of these accounts actually go on to post more spam? I suspect it's negligible but I'd be interested in some actual numbers. – Cai Mar 30 '17 at 12:34
  • For the latest 100, all unique. This only goes back just a bit over a week, but at least it's a tiny data point. – tripleee Mar 30 '17 at 12:42
  • @Cai Network-wide, over the last two years (minus the last 2-3 weeks), 6767 users who had a confirmed spam post went on to post more. 93 of those users were on Graphic Design; the maximum number of posts by a single spammer on GD is 5. – ArtOfCode Mar 30 '17 at 12:47
  • @Art thanks... that's actually significantly more than I was expecting and seems like a bit of a problem to me :/ – Cai Mar 30 '17 at 12:49
  • Bear in mind the timescale, @Cai - that's an average of 2.7 posts for a multi-spammer, at one multi-spammer a week - that accounts for 27% of spam here. More than I expected, too, but the majority of your spam still comes from individual accounts. – ArtOfCode Mar 30 '17 at 12:53
  • @Art true. Still more than I was expecting – Cai Mar 30 '17 at 12:56
  • Are any of those still alive? – tripleee Mar 30 '17 at 12:59
  • Within GD (latest 1400 spam reports), I found 36 accounts which had more than one spam post in Metasmoke. About half of them are still active, though many have (unregistered) in grey on their profile. At least one seems completely legit, and one has clear spam indicators in the profile. It could be that my query captured some false postives, of course - I'll still look into that. – tripleee Mar 31 '17 at 10:58
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No, do not set up this chat room. We don't want it.

This answer exists just so those opposed can explicitly vote against the issue.

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    there's no need to downvote this answer. Either upvote CAI's answer if you're for the chat room or upvote this one if you're against it. If you don't care, don't vote. – PieBie Mar 30 '17 at 13:25
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    Why does the "Nay" need a separate answer, though? One could also downvote the question, as well as Cai's answer. – Cerbrus Mar 30 '17 at 13:53
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    For clarity. A downvote can mean many things. An explicit upvote is less ambiguous. – PieBie Mar 30 '17 at 13:55
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I really don't see the point in it. I'd rather you all handle it on your end if that's what you enjoy doing and if any of our members also enjoy it they can always go to your Charcoal HQ.

If something comes up like a sudden spike, or longer deletion times, I'd rather you all make a meta post. I don't see why I would ever want to go into a room dedicated to spam notifications though.

For example at work I get a daily firewall report of all the attempts people have made to break into our website. I have no idea why but the owner of the company decided it was important I get this. I throw it away every day unopened. The chatroom for me will be the same. Its just unnecessary noise. If something important happens, then let me know. Otherwise I really don't care or anticipate ever going in there.

Could you all instead just let us know of certain changes? Or maybe a weekly or monthly report of some kind? That would be far more useful than a constant stream of spam in my opinion.

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    If you or anyone else doesn't care about it, that's fine... but why limit those who do? Most spam is gone pretty quick but some of it sits around for a while and anything that helps with that's gotta be a good thing surely? – Cai Apr 3 '17 at 18:16
  • @cai I don't really care if they make it or not. My answer is more to ask if there are other options that would achieve the same goal more effectively – Ryan Apr 3 '17 at 20:15
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    I'm a bit confused. Wasn't it you who complained that user-deleted spam obscures the spammers' accounts so they don't get deleted? This is a simple and straightforward way to collect the evidence in one place for you to review at your leisure, or ignore if you wish. If you want a weekly report I'm sure that could be discussed as well but to my mind that does not preclude posting to a chat room for immediate attention (and the chat room would be a good place to collect the data for a report, though I suppose Metasmoke would be the most natural source). – tripleee Apr 4 '17 at 4:50
  • "Or maybe a weekly or monthly report of some kind?" - Just don't throw it away unopened ;-) – Cerbrus Apr 4 '17 at 6:31
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    @tripleee You keep changing the reasoning which is why I'm confused about what this chat is trying to solve. If you want us to be aware that we're slow to delete compared to other sites, this doesn't do that at all. If you want more of our users aware of and helping your efforts, a chat doesn't do that as few users engage in chat. If you want moderators aware of names to destroy then a weekly list of names would be far more effective. If you want to get a few of our members that are interested to help flagging then making a meta inviting them to Charcoal seems better. – Ryan Apr 4 '17 at 9:34
  • And I'm not complaining at all nor have I ever. I'm trying to discuss and help you all achieve whatever goal it is you're after. When the goal keeps changing that's very hard to do. – Ryan Apr 4 '17 at 9:36
  • I don't think I'm moving any goal posts here. Coordination and visibility are both served by a chat room so it seems to me like a good way to improve both. I don't particularly want to lure more of your users to Charcoal, just offer a way to see what's being done for those who occasionally worry about it. However, the fact that we seem to be missing a nontrivial amount of your spam is also interesting and possibly actionable via a dedicated chat room. – tripleee Apr 4 '17 at 9:40
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    @Ryan it's not about having a monthly report, you can get that already, it's about having real-time notifications that there is spam, that we can do something about... this isn't for anyones benefit except for ours... – Cai Apr 4 '17 at 9:42
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    @tripleee you started by saying we're slow. We aren't. Then it became about communicating with our members, a meta is the better place for that. Then I asked how mods can see it because you all were under the wrong impression that mods already see it - ArtOfCode is working on that. I just don't see how this improves anything. If you want to do it, be my guest. I just don't know what you think will change from it. – Ryan Apr 4 '17 at 10:21
  • I asked about the perceived slowness when I approached the chat room, yes, but that's tangential at best for this discussion. Regardless of slow or fast, improving visibility and coordination is what this question is about. If some of your users like the offer and it doesn't distract your duties as a moderator, and potentially even improve the moderation experience, I don't see how it makes sense to oppose it, even if you don't personally think you will find it useful. – tripleee Apr 6 '17 at 7:00
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Dedicated chat rooms have small audiences and tend to wither and die. What does a dedicated chat room do that wouldn't be better served by leveraging The Ink Spot and its existing users for the same purpose?

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    It was suggested by @tripleee in chat that the many automated spam notifications might clog up the regular chat room, especially during an incoming wave, so it might be better to set up a separate room. – PieBie May 2 '17 at 7:10
  • Indeed, I would personally be fine with using the existing room, but the proposal to create a separate room was borne out of concerns that posting in the regular room would be too disruptive. A dedicated room has the additional benefit that you know pretty well what to expect there. As long as there are spam notices to post, the bot will keep the room alive, and human presence in the room is neither required nor necessarily even useful. – tripleee May 2 '17 at 8:26
  • That'd be something to include in the pitch, then, so people who weren't there for the chat discussion have the whole picture. – BESW May 2 '17 at 9:05
  • It's in @Cai's answer: "Concerns about Smoke Detector clogging up chat with notifications are valid, so setting up a dedicated room is a good idea. I personally don't see any downsides to having SD notify that room... if people aren't interested they can just ignore the room." – PieBie May 2 '17 at 9:59
  • I feel like a better alternative would be to use the temporary notifications in the top left of the chatroom in addition to a custom chatroom – Zach Saucier May 3 '17 at 3:31

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