5

We get a fair amount of spam here, ranging from people trying to promote their apps, to spammers posting links for specific products. We even get fairly frequent spam for spell-casters for hire (yes, I'm serious!).

The obvious spam that doesn't provide useful content is easy to handle. It just gets deleted as soon as a moderator or users with sufficient reputation notice it (don't forget to flag if you see posts like this!).

However, some of the posts are less obviously spam, in that they could be well-intentioned posts by new visitors who happen to have experience with a product that they feel may be helpful.

As an example, our question about How can I help my kids to sleep comfortably (and safely) on an overnight drive? received an answer almost 3 years later (which isn't unusual by itself). The answer is, however, recommending a specific product:

I can't imagine to tell you the countless trips I took with my kids, only to find them in the most uncomfortable positions while they fell asleep during the ride. I would use anything and everything I could find to wedge in between their heads and the seat belt or the chair in hopes of keeping them from slouching over. Nothing worked or only provided a temporary solution to this epidemic that is occurring.

There is a new product out called redacted which keeps that from happening. It has magnetic paws that attach comfortably around the neck and is self-supporting. It comes with a front pocket to store things or hands. It can be used with or without a booster seat & does not need to be attached to anything. Its for ages 3 & up. I saw some other links posted here to possible solutions so I figured to post one myself.

I know this post is old but maybe it will still link to some of the users. Hopes this helps in your search, that is if you haven't already found something.

Cheers

(I have removed the name of the product, and the links, from this answer in case the decision is to delete the post altogether; I have also gone ahead and removed the links from the actual answer, in case it is spam)

Do we consider this spam, or do we trust that the poster had good intentions? Should answers like this be deleted? Left alone? Or edited to remove links and/or specific product names?

  • Note that the answer I cited was, in retrospect, clearly spam, since they also posted the same answer as a question. However, there have been ambiguous answers like this that were not as clearly spam, so the question remains valid. – user420 Feb 26 '14 at 14:27
  • 2
    My answer primarily focused around 'what to do', but I'd suggest as important is going to be, 'why do we want to remove it'. I don't like spam, and am happy to wipe out anything anywhere. However, weighing the harm of spam versus the harm of deleting useful posts (and thus irritating posters) is a consideration as well that is worth discussing. If there were no harm in deleting probable spam, it would be a lot easier to delete it. – Joe Feb 26 '14 at 15:14
6

By definition, spam is unsolicited. I think if it comes as an answer to a relevant question, that qualifies as not being unsolicited. I sort of see the problem as like this xkcd comic (language warning). Who cares if their intent is advertising if they're writing helpful and constructive answers? I think that's why you saw the answer as okay-to-leave and the question as not. The answer was solicited, but the question wasn't.

What I don't want to get into is having a mother sincerely post about a product that was extremely useful to her, and have it get deleted because we can't tell she wasn't a spammer, then she never visits again. If we judge a post on the merits of if it actually answers the question, and if it is truly helpful, then I don't really mind if a few spammers get through with constructive answers.

The pattern, though, is that real spammers post once, say, "Wow! It worked!" then go hog wild. I don't think they can help themselves. In those cases, I have no problems deleting all copies of the spam, even those I originally thought were helpful. And I think we've done a pretty good job of keeping an eye on those cases and catching them. I don't think we need any changes in that regard.

  • My very first post on SE was in response to a question with what was an honestly relevant link to my blog. I think the fact that it was left made me feel invited to come back again. Thankfully, Beofett and Torben gave me the benefit of the doubt on that after seeing the link was, in fact relevant (I'm sure). In the example case, even my first gut response was that the post needed deleting, but I don't want to be "delete happy" either so I was reluctant to. For these reasons, I'm inclined to vote for this answer, but also know, sometimes listening to instinct is good too. – balanced mama Feb 26 '14 at 22:14
  • +1. This. Products that solve problems can be lifesavers for parents. Helpful answers are... helpful. Spam is unhelpful. It's not always a bright line, but if an answer clearly matches the specific question, we should assume it's okay until we have evidence to the contrary. – Jaydles Mar 6 '14 at 15:23
2

The sum of all fears on our Software Recommendations site is that guerrilla marketers will follow the quality guidelines to the letter and contribute good content while doing their evil deed.

To that, I basically say, mission accomplished (as XKCD did).

If you want to relax a little and allow these, I'm mostly for it, especially when it comes to keeping new users engaged. You just have to use a modicum of common sense and be a little .. curious - not really wary, just curious.

Curiosity makes you do things like look through someone's past contributions to see how many times they might have linked to something. It also helps you to notice things like particular users frequently interacting with one another resulting in questionable content receiving an inordinate amount of up-votes. In our highly transparent system with so many active sets of eyes on things, it's very difficult to conduct clandestine marketing campaigns without being noticed.

If:

  • It looks like an honest testimonial or someone genuinely trying to be helpful
  • It meets or exceeds our quality standards
  • It doesn't appear in questionable repetition

... then it's probably benign. Just keep your eyes open and things should be fine. While Parenting doesn't see a lot of questions every day, it does see a lot of seasoned users visiting the site typically several times every day - I'm not really worried about this place becoming a seedy spot on the net.

1

In my opinion, that is spam unless proven otherwise - specifically, unless coming from a user with multiple on-topic non-recommending posts. Two specific reasons:

  1. That is a link recommendation from a user with no past history. That suggests spam already, and is why many forums have rules requiring, say, 20 posts before a link is allowed. I like that rule; while you might lose a few useful posts, a legitimate user can still explain enough to be able to google something, but a spammer isn't willing to lose the SEO. While SE doesn't have that rule explicitly, implicitly enforcing it is not a bad idea - at minimum, redacting links on sight for any new user that even remotely smell like spam.
  2. The text of the post smells like spam. This is somewhat a feeling more than something I can really explain; but I've done this sort of moderating long enough to be able to tell on sight. The pattern of is pretty much the norm for spam; I imagine there is a website somewhere training spammers, and it says to follow that pattern. The marketing-like text is in particular phrases like "There is a new product", more specific details than a normal parent would provide, lists of features not really relevant to the question.

At the end of the day, as long as we allow anyone to post links, we're going to get some spam. And some of that spam turns into good posters eventually - one of the moderator candidates for SO's recent election was one-time spammer. That's why I'd suggest the policy be oriented around the user's length of contributions: if they have been around for a while, more than, say, 5 posts (spammers often post a few vaguely-relevant posts prior to the actual spam to protect them from being first-time posters), then allow it unless it's clearly spam - and if it is, remove the link and comment suggesting they follow the attribution policy. If they have less than 5 posts, and it's clearly not spam, allow it; if it's probably or definitely spam, delete it; and if it's really borderline, remove the link and comment, and if they don't follow up, delete it after a day or two.

You must log in to answer this question.