Spam in the discussion area

by grouchymusicologist1 min read31st Dec 201024 comments

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Spam (curiously enough, always for jewelry) accounts for maybe two-thirds of what comes through the LW Discussion area's RSS feed these days.  So although the moderators have been doing a great job of quickly removing it from the site itself, it remains a substantial annoyance for those of us who keep track of LW through a feed.

I think it's time to revisit the possibility of making it harder for people to post in the discussion area.  Clearly it would suffice to limit posting privileges to those who have a positive karma balance.  If that seems too draconian, as it did to some people in the previous thread, it would probably be enough to limit posting privileges to those who have ever received a single upvote on any comment they have ever posted.

Would any administrator care to undertake this?  If so, many thanks.

(My apologies if an unfinished version of this post briefly appeared on the site some hours ago.)

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I've recently created a ticket in LW issue tracker, that suggests two possible solutions:

  • Prohibit users with negative Karma from creating discussion topics. (Spammers get downvoted faster than their posts get banned.)
  • Require 1 positive Karma point to create a discussion topic. (Spammers are unlikely to earn it, and 1 point can be easily obtained by anyone who wishes to post.)

I prefer the second option. The ticket was accepted, but with no information on which variant will be implemented.

If the attacker is willing to put work into spamming this specific site, which is possible, then neither of these gets us anywhere, since you don't need karma to give karma. To be an effective barrier, you would also need to limit voting to those with positive karma. I'd support that.

EDIT: Admins would then have to track down and delete those accounts which gave positive karma to spammers.

If the attacker is willing to put work into spamming this specific site [...]

Which is far from being certain, and so worth testing in this obvious way.

Agreed.

I think it's probably a good idea to limit voting to those with positive karma anyway, but it's worth doing one without the other.

I think the second option is preferable. Is anyone currently working on this? If not, I'm going to try to implement the change myself, seeing as I suggested something like this months ago to no avail.

I also like the second idea.

Thanks for doing that. I think either one would be an improvement.

Or use captchas for submitting posts.

These days integrating recaptcha is trivial, and if it's only for new stories, not comments, it won't be that bad. Even 4chan has captchas these days.

How about captchas for submitting posts before you reach a karma score of 5.

That way it does not waste the time of members who have contributed.

A captcha is now presented when submitting an article with less than 1 karma.

see http://code.google.com/p/lesswrong/issues/detail?id=233

Will see, but I expect this won't be air-tight, since the spammers manage to register anyway, and there is already a captcha on registration. There are tools for solving captchas cheaply, but not for posting good comments.

This was easy to do.

We figured that some spammers would sweatshop registration then hand over the accounts to bots. If true, this should increase the cost of spam to LW.

This was easy to do.

More spam today. Prohibiting posting by users with Karma<1 can't be that difficult to implement - we even have the 20 Karma cutoff on the main site...

"X can't be that difficult to implement": something one probably shouldn't say about an open source project unless one is about to give it a go themselves.

There's are at least two opportunities to suffer motivation drain in your comment :)

"X can't be that difficult to implement": something one probably shouldn't say about an open source project unless one is about to give it a go themselves.

By writing that captcha was implemented because it was easy to implement, you suggest that easy-to-implement property has nontrivial explanatory power. I disagree, since I believe this property also holds for other alternatives, so can't explain the choice, and shouldn't be used as an argument. It's just a matter of rationalist nitpicking.

(It's more difficult for me, because I don't know the project (or python, for that matter), but must be trivial for people who do. In any case, the intended meaning, as applied to Karma limit, is the same as with captcha in the sentence that originated the exchange, so it refers to how difficult it would be to implement the Karma limit (instead) for the person who implemented captcha.)

I accept your criticism and will stop nitpicking. What we did was particularly "easy" because we only turned that captcha on and styled it. Captcha-on-submit was already there in the Reddit code.

We'll try something else to reduce the impact of spam soon.

Just seconding this. Still more spam today, so CAPTCHA is ineffective.

Or just block posts that contain the word "Pandora".

Yeah, but that approach just opens up a huge... um.... container filled with unpleasant and unpredictable consequences.

I hate to say it, but if you grant posting privileges to anyone that's ever received a single upvote, you've just given an easy-to-use and powerfully obnoxious weapon to anyone who feels like trolling the site. From what I remember, the offending accounts aren't removed anywhere near as quickly as the threads they spawn are.

I do prefer requiring positive total karma, but either would be an improvement on the status quo. If you go with the weaker option and it gets abused, then the other one can be easily implemented.

I think the idea was to limit new article creation in the discussion area, not for the main site. Right now, anyone can post articles to the discussion area regardless of karma score.

Right. My concern is that anyone who's aware of the policy and bored or disgruntled enough to bother could easily reenable spam submissions by upvoting any of the existing posts.

Although I suppose that might not be an issue if they're scrubbed effectively enough from the site.

Even a small karma requirement seems like it would be better than no karma requirement at all. Spam and trolling aren't quite the same thing.