Took me a while to locate it, but unless there's some CV specific-benefit, perhaps this one should be closed?

I've just flagged, voted for deletion and downvoted a blatant spam post. No doubt it will be taken care of in short order - a few hours at most (US moderators will probably be asleep right now).

But I don't like the idea that it gets to sit there as is for even one hour.

While it would be possible to replace the text with 'This was spam, I have edited it out', for example, that would cause people to have to take an extra click to check and see that it really was spam.

Would it be okay to say Strike through all the text and attempt to render any links inoperative (in the sense that you can't accidentally click on them, but would have to copy paste the address, say)?

The idea of even slightly mangling spam withing minutes of its appearance seems fair to me - but on the other hand I don't want to just do something like that unilaterally - there may be some consequence I am unaware of. I don't want to make anyone but the spammers less effective.

Should I just leave it as is?

Edit 11 April 2015:

It has been brought to my attention on a moderator forum (with information I am not at liberty to quote, as useful as that would be) that there's a problem with mangling spam -- even textifying the links -- in that it interferes with bots/scripts designed to help find spammers and consequently for StackExchange to deal with them. Just wanted to mention it before I forgot -- it's something perhaps we should be mindful of.

  • $\begingroup$ Give me a couple minutes and I'll take care of the immediate issue then come back around to the more general question. :-) $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 4 '13 at 11:37
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    $\begingroup$ I already deleted this one. But you raise a good question. I don't know the answer though $\endgroup$ – Peter Flom Oct 4 '13 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, @Peter. You're quick! Glen, at the very least, I see no problem at all with posting a comment saying something to the effect of "This is spam. Please downvote so that it gets hidden on the main page." I'm a little leery of "defacing" any post for several reasons, but it's worth giving some extra thought to what to do in these instances. Thanks for posting this question! $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 4 '13 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ I see the post now. Unfortunately, spam answers can't be downvoted into invisibility the way spam questions can. They will get greyed out after three downvotes, though, which is not quite as handy. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 4 '13 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, that was quick. Thanks for the suggestion @cardinal; a good one. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Oct 4 '13 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ I say it's a great idea. It's hardly permanent. You've flagged it, so the moderators will see it soon enough. If they disagree w/ you / or think you are being abusive (I'm not worried about this, I'm only discussing it for completeness), they could undo the action very quickly & easily by rolling back the edits. Moreover, any other CV user w/ editing privileges could also. I say, hack the spam. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '13 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ @gung: In spirit, I tend to lean your way, but I want to put in a word of caution. There can be grey areas. For example, I have witnessed instances where posters have answered with essentially commercial links to products/books/etc. vaguely related to the question at hand. Some users view this as spam and want to edit/downvote/delete/flag/etc. Other users view it as potentially valuable. And the posters themselves are sometimes prospective positive contributors to the site, but just need to be shown the way a little. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 4 '13 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ None of that applies here, of course, but the point is any particular post may not be uniformly classified as spam by all users. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 4 '13 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ Those are fair points, @cardinal. I'll say we should reserve this strategy for out-and-out spam that anyone would recognize as such. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '13 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ A good reason not to edit is given in the meta.SO post I linked, which is effectively a duplicate, I fear. What's the right category for closure? It's not an actual duplicate. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Oct 4 '13 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ Glen, I'm glad you found that meta.SO post, though I think you're advocating something different regarding edits, and an approach that would avoid many of the problems noted in the question and answers there. We also currently have a smaller community where accumulating six spam flags is still quite difficult, especially on certain days and at certain hours. I'm tempted to leave this open at the moment as there might be some useful approaches particular to our circumstances that wouldn't be as relevant on a bigger site like SO or math. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 4 '13 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ @gung Okay, thanks, I hadn't seen that. On the other hand "answer my survey about popcorn" is hardly going to offend. I'll leave it, it's not like one post will make much difference either way $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Jul 31 '15 at 2:19

My practice as moderator has been both to delete all text from a spam post (just leaving it blank or putting in some anodyne text if a character limit is imposed) and delete the post. Deleting the post makes it invisible to most users and the initial edit makes it invisible to all users (including moderators) unless they go to the effort of looking at the edit record.

The initial text deletion accomplishes two things:

  • Any offensive material is viewed only by readers who really, really want to see it.

  • Any links to bad sites will not inadvertently be clicked on.

The first thing anyone should do upon encountering a noxious post is to flag it for moderator attention: mods can do more than delete posts; we can delete entire user accounts (as well as a few other things useful to investigate wider patterns of bad posting). However, I think nobody would object if, upon encountering such material, a thoughtful community member were to do this text editing in order to spare subsequent readers the risk of being offended or accidentally clicking through to a bad site.


As Glen_b recently points out in his answer in this thread, changing spam text can inhibit the performance of bots and other procedures in place to identify and prevent spam. Although that is well worth bearing in mind, I still think the first priority should be to delete any obviously offensive material as soon as possible. (A well-programmed bot should recognize that the OP did not do the editing and it will have full access to the editing history, so in principle our efforts to take such material out of view should only enhance the success of these bots. But who knows what practical barriers there may be to implementing a good online spam-learning algorithm on SE ... .)

  • $\begingroup$ Just to be clear on your position - by 'this text editing' were you referring to the kind of edit suggested in my post or to the stronger form of editing you practice as a moderator that is discussed in your post? I get the sense you meant the first, but I figure its best to be clear on your thoughts. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Oct 4 '13 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ Glen, I meant the stronger form. I don't see much value in using strike-through text, because it's still there and it's still sending the spammer's message or displaying the offensive material. Don't give them any joy. $\endgroup$ – whuber Oct 5 '13 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ What is "anodyne text"? Sounds neat. $\endgroup$ – Ahmed Fasih Oct 8 '13 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Ahmed You can easily look up the definition. More memorable, though, is its etymology, grounded in ancient Greek: "an" = without, "odyne" = pain. (I'm also tempted to misread it as "an" + a meaningless vowel + "dyne" = power or import.) Thus: "anodyne text" = something that won't bother anybody and doesn't say much of anything, either. $\endgroup$ – whuber Oct 8 '13 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ a bunch of   will work as anodyne text, and they are fat enough to satisfy the length requirement rather quickly. $\endgroup$ – StasK Oct 9 '13 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ If it's offensive, flag it as offensive, not as spam. Offensive material is hidden by default, even from 10k users (though they can choose to view it, should they wish to). $\endgroup$ – TRiG Apr 28 '15 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ Just saw your edit. In principle, I'd have thought so too, but apparently they're not yet that sophisticated $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Jul 31 '15 at 2:19

No, don't edit out the spam. Downvote the post. Flag the post as spam. Then let the system do its job.

Editing out the spam text places an unnecessary barrier in the way of other people flagging it as spam, because you're now relying on them to go into the revision history to verify that it's spam, and then flagging it.

The bots use the spam in the version present upon deletion. Deletion happens automatically and quickly once enough people have flagged it as spam. So stop editing out the spam. Just flag it and move on.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @EnergyNumbers -- I recently learned that (i) there was actually a system in place that used bots, and (ii) therefore, to work it needed the spam left alone -- after I became a mod and started hanging out on the moderators' chat room $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Jul 8 '15 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ +1. For most type of spams (advertisements, off topic answers, etc) I agree with your answer. In cases of (very) offensive content I'm with whuber's answer. $\endgroup$ – Andre Silva Jul 8 '15 at 16:31

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