Author Topic: The spam problem, and what to do about it?  (Read 409 times)

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Offline Findecanor

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The spam problem, and what to do about it?
« on: Thu, 14 September 2023, 05:19:30 »
We have got a ridiculous amount of spam from spambots on the forum this past year.
I often report a bot-account every other day by now, and I'm sure that other members do too. The moderators must have got swamped with reports.

Most of these spam-posts have been reposts of posts harvested from various forums (most often Reddit, but also here). After a week or so, the bot has gone back and edited the post with an added link.

Many post have been possible to identify by them having a combination of one or more of:
 - first post being a new topic, or a comment in a zombie thread
 - the account having a generic username
 - references to the original forum it was posted on (e.g. calling the forum a "subreddit", or referring to a specific game or product that had been relevant to the subforum where the original post was)
 - not being on topic for a thread or subforum
 - or being terse and context-free, void of any usefulness, sometimes referring to previous posts as "content"
... apart from the payload the link to their product.
Often, it has been possible to google for a phrase (in quotes) in the post to find the original post, and expose the spammer that way.
Once, I recognised the post as one that I had made myself a couple years earlier.

But I'm afraid that these spambots are getting smarter, with better language processing. There are many spam-comments that have actually been on topic for a thread, or posted in the right subforum.
Sometimes members that have been active here for a long time have not noticed that a post was spam, and have commented to it.
A post could be processed to have the same meaning but different words than the original, thus making it impossible to track on Google.

What should we do about it?
One idea would be to require new members to introduce themselves by posting a thread in the "New members" subforum before being approved to post elsewhere.
- An introduction often has a certain format, so a repost would need to be of a previous introduction or it would often be obvious that it isn't valid.
- The spammer would be limited to one post, and they would be collected in that subforum instead of spread about on the forum.

What do you think?

What other measures do you think the forum could take to counter spambots?
« Last Edit: Thu, 14 September 2023, 05:22:46 by Findecanor »
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Offline Rhienfo

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Re: The spam problem, and what to do about it?
« Reply #1 on: Thu, 14 September 2023, 18:03:55 »
Yeah the spam bots are getting a bit much. Recently one of them took my question that I asked a while ago about the pingmaster and just reposted it lol.

Why even spam like this, I can understand like the essay spammers but some of them are so random and just do not amount to anything.

Maybe a system where a post gets scanned through geekhack and reddit before it's approved to post to see if they copied it, but not sure how that would be implemented and it wouldn't completely fix the problem, especially with AI prompts that some of these bots use. That new members idea would also be a good one I feel, at least a temporary solution to minimize it.

Hopefully this issue gets fixed, but I think the best thing atm is just to encourage more reporting, since the mods do handle the bots quick, but I agree that we do need to prevent the bots as much as possible and hopefully that happens.

Offline HoffmanMyster

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Re: The spam problem, and what to do about it?
« Reply #2 on: Wed, 20 September 2023, 12:26:13 »
Y'all (the two of you here plus all the others doing the dirty work out there, you know who you are) are so appreciated for reporting these spammers and helping the mod team stay on top of it as best we can. Thank you so much for that.

I've made some small adjustments to the anti-spam system after this post was made, which might result in a minor improvement but I'm not holding my breath.

What I am optimistic about is some improved anti-spam mods that can be added to SMF. I need to work with the backend team to make sure that installing these doesn't break anything (complicated server infrastructure that is above my head). But if we can implement a more modern anti-spam system I think that will go a long way to helping. Fingers crossed we can do this in the very near future.