I know the Sarah Palin thread has your attention but AskMe Spam Still Sucks August 29, 2008 8:30 PM   Subscribe

This comment in AskMe is spam and should be deleted.

And while I'm on the topic, the account itself looks pretty iffy. There's the name -- MagicWandShop -- and then there's the track record: two comments in a year, both of which refer to the user's business.

All in all, this doesn't seem like an account that's going to contribute a whole lot to the community.
posted by jason's_planet to Etiquette/Policy at 8:30 PM (56 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

We've been talking about that user this week actually.

On the one hand, I agree with what you're saying. On the other, that user has been legitimately commenting only in appropriate threads with on-topic answers. We need to find a way to explain to people who have products to push that interacting with the site solely to push product is okay but that if you want o be on the site and oh by the way also have something to sell, that's okay. So, we've been thinking about a decent way to put that in the FAQ and in the meantime haven't brought the boom down on that user.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:35 PM on August 29, 2008


If this were another web site (perhaps Fark), this comment would read "this thread is useless without pictures".

However, since this is Metafilter, this comment doesn't say that.
posted by An Infinity Of Monkeys at 8:39 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The only solution for this is an Astro Zombie body massage.

Email me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:45 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The funny thing is, the website link in their profile is broken, but a Google search using the url comes up with their site, which is...okay. God, you would have to (re)sell an awful lot of Hitachi Magic Wands to make a living.

The other thing is, most MeFites would never have found out about this site if not for this callout.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:45 PM on August 29, 2008


So, we've been thinking about a decent way to put that in the FAQ and in the meantime haven't brought the boom down on that user.

I understand where you're coming from.

And thanks for replying so quickly.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:46 PM on August 29, 2008


Jason,
That user is a perfectly legitimate member of the community who has been nothing but useful in helping people determine how they want to spend the portion of their budgets that has been earmarked for device-assisted jackoff products.






It's an interesting dance with the rules, if not totally against the spirit of the site. Do they use like a google news alert for just questions pertaining to their narrow field of expertise, do you think? Or are they just an avid reader of askmefi who is super on message?

I hope the latter. It makes for a better narrative.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:48 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, it's not been spam spam. And as jessamyn says, they are only in appropriate places (and with ad-speak! "appreciative" wives/girlfriends indeed - the product must be excellent...). But it still leaves a bit of a weird taste - it would be nice to see them broaden their repertoire of comment topics.

I think it should be seen in the context of self-linking, rather than sales - and they are declaring that it is a self-link, and aren't FPPing1 away indiscriminately.

1 Not to be confused with b3ta's 'fapping'
posted by djgh at 8:51 PM on August 29, 2008


Well, though it is sketchy that particular user is being completely clear about the self-link nature and is using their experience in the field to give relevant answers.

I don't have a problem with "The Hitachi Magic Wand is such a life-changer for many women, that the employees of our company have chosen to make a living distributing/supporting that one product." Seems fair enough.

I think the problem is the "(for more info, see the web site in our profile)" part.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:54 PM on August 29, 2008


The funny thing is, the website link in their profile is broken,

They left out one w in the address, must have been too much vibration while typing, or not enough?
posted by lee at 8:57 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I flagged that with extreme prejudice. It's hinky as hell.

It would be one thing if the user actually contributed to the site. The user doesn't; they only pop up to advertise their store.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:09 PM on August 29, 2008


... but that if you want o be on the site and oh by the way also have something to sell, that's okay

Oh look, I have two kidneys, but only need one. Whatever should I do with this spare?

Operator's are standing by.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:11 PM on August 29, 2008


Behind the scenes, you guys have no idea how much of this crap goes on. It's A LOT, due I guess to the high search results weird phrases turn up Ask MeFi questions.

So we have an entire elaborate admin system for watching new users, watching new users that use links, and we also have a spammy-looking-when-they-signed-up list that we personally add new users to that seem oddball (anyone with "seo" in their username, homepage, or bio section for instance gets on the list asap).

We catch anywhere from a handful to dozens in any given week. Some days it's several people, while sometimes we can go days between incidents. But it's a constant problem but we've built a crapload of tools to ensure that we can catch them and keep ask mefi clear of fake testimonials ("oh, I found this site selling a product that was great" -- turns out they own the domain, etc) and outright spammy "buy my stuff/use my service/visit my site" comments.

We're super tuned into this stuff and while this user's last comment may send off warning bells, we noticed that they'd only left three comments in a whole year (we often see three in ten minutes after signing up for most spammy accounts). They also *never mention their url* which is something every spammy account looking for traffic/sales/search position does (and keep in mind their URL is on their userpage but there is both a nofollow on it and the page isn't indexed by google). They also comment in just related threads, with some interesting information, and with a bit of sense of humor.

Since they've only posted three comments in one year, it's not quite a bad spammy trend. And if they continue to do it we'll certainly remove repeated transgressions and drop them a line, but compared to the other crackpots we are plucking off the site on a daily basis, they are very mildly mentioning they run a business selling something in a couple threads where it's not off-topic, so I think they're ok for now.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:18 PM on August 29, 2008 [11 favorites]


But it's a constant problem but we've built a crapload of tools to ensure that we can catch them and keep ask mefi clear of fake testimonials ("oh, I found this site selling a product that was great" -- turns out they own the domain, etc) and outright spammy "buy my stuff/use my service/visit my site" comments.

How dsgraceful. I'm outraged.

When looking for ways to soothe my outrage, I found a great site about hot naked colourful swan sex that really does the trick. Check it out, you'll like it!
posted by orange swan at 9:26 PM on August 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh man, after I wrote the above comment, I thought about someone I added to the spammy list earlier tonight. Their account was something about a law firm that specializes in driving cases and my spidey sense was tingling.

So I checked their account and they followed the classic patterns I described. In about ten minutes they spammed loaded SEO phrases (one doesn't even make sense in english) linking to their site (and acting like they had used them or just happened to find them) on three threads about a topic they want to improve in google on. They were only a member of MeFi for about 90 minutes, and they are now banned and everything they did was removed. We've had two or three others this week that did the same exact thing.

Here's a screenshot of our backend tools in action.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:36 PM on August 29, 2008 [17 favorites]


Behind the scenes, you guys have no idea how much of this crap goes on.

This week on VH1's Behind the Moderation: Metafilter.

In this episode, we speak with mathowie from his life on the run on the rise of the blogging powerhouse, the subsequent rebellion and tragic infighting and surprise takeover by the Quonayntex alliance. We also talk with the former programmer pb on his decision to switch the site from ColdFusion after 25 years and current mods ND¢, jonmc and TPS on what really happened on that cold, winter night when the eastcoast server farm caught fire after one of the annual parties.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:41 PM on August 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


orange swan writes "I found a great site about hot naked colourful swan sex that really does the trick. Check it out, you'll like it!"

Link?????
posted by orthogonality at 9:43 PM on August 29, 2008


> Here's a screenshot of our backend tools in action.

Very cool, i like the predictive aspect of it.

I still vote for someone to publish a tell all guide on how to spam on Metafilter, when in reality it walks them through very specific tasks that will auto ban them.

You could sell it on ebay, and make some extra cash also.

(btw, should you nuke his IP from that screenshot?)
posted by mrzarquon at 9:50 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


How about nofollow on askme links?
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:51 PM on August 29, 2008


Hah! mathowie, thank you for the inside look screenshot. I love how sneaky that user was trying to be. I'm curious as to how he would have continued to try and work his pitch in.

"DTMFA - Your boyfriend sounds like a jerk. I think you should ditch him like this Florida traffic ticket attorney helped me ditch my Florida traffic tickets!"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:00 PM on August 29, 2008 [5 favorites]


Here's a screenshot of our backend tools in action.

No thank you.
posted by Pacheco at 10:07 PM on August 29, 2008 [14 favorites]


Let me get this straight, this Hitachi Magic Wand ... it vibrates?
posted by Dave Faris at 10:17 PM on August 29, 2008 [7 favorites]


[obligatory Cleanshaven Potter joke]

I think my favorite stupid jackass askme spam thing was when we discovered an old World of Warcraft question—this must have been before we built the "what's going on in old AskMe threads" tool, and may have been part of what really made that happen—and like six months after it had first gone up, someone had signed up and plugged their gold farming service. And then someone else did the same thing. By the time we found it, there were like five one-comment accounts all shilling, with varying degrees of what you could charitably describe as subtlety, for WoW gold sales, powerleveling, and account sales services.

We started talking about the idea of building intentional honeypots into the askme archives, but that didn't really go anywhere on account of being kind of ridiculous.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:35 PM on August 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Speaking of which, if you're not already on it, make sure to watch those MeFi Music threads. The fact that they never close seems like good reason for concern.
posted by danb at 10:51 PM on August 29, 2008


I know the scale is nowhere near the same, but mefi's tools seem in another, more advanced universe than craigslist's tools, which is cool for mefi but makes me wonder when the next better CL is going to appear.

Yeah, in theory community flagging works on CL, but if you're interested in ads in very specific niches, in a big market you can never get enough flags on something to knock it down. Plus there are several prohibited practices, like "keywording" which wouldn't involve very advanced heuristics to discover, not to mention the telltales of some posting tools that are only used by abusers. It's kinda interesting how actively CL doesn't care about this, actually.
posted by maxwelton at 11:08 PM on August 29, 2008


I mailed the mods (or meant to, don't remember if I got around to it) about MagicWandShop the other day, assuming s/he was dropping comments in preparation for a spam post - didn't notice the account had been here for a whole year.

It's pretty funny that they got the URL wrong for the site they're trying to drive traffic towards. Cute even. Silly little vibrator seller.
posted by jack_mo at 11:14 PM on August 29, 2008


They also *never mention their url*

They would have, but they can't spell "www".
posted by timeistight at 11:49 PM on August 29, 2008


It seems like just deleting the comment and the account isn't enough. The users will simply move on and spam websites with less diligent moderation. The penalty for them is small: 5 wasted bucks.

What would be better is to reverse the incentives for this kind of bullshit: MeFi could keep an astro-turfing shitlist that would list the people and businesses that we catch engaging in unethical promotion. Then instead of getting possible high positive Google placement, spammers would get assured high negative Google placement.

The gamble would make such promotional tactics too risky. Do you think GiveWell would have tried that shit if we warned up front about that kind of cold Texas justice?

Or I dunno, maybe no publicity is bad publicity for certain kinds of commerce. But something in that direction would be nice.
posted by dgaicun at 12:49 AM on August 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


> The gamble would make such promotional tactics too risky. Do you think GiveWell would have tried that shit if we warned up front about that kind of cold Texas justice?

There was talk of this happening "back in the day" but it became more of a hassle and a liability. I remember Mathowie mentioning something about SEO Spammer's sending fraud claims to paypal resulting in the accounts assets being locked up until sorted out.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:34 AM on August 30, 2008


But it's useful spam.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 2:07 AM on August 30, 2008


We need to find a way to explain to people who have products to push that interacting with the site solely to push product is okay...

It is? Since when?
posted by essexjan at 2:32 AM on August 30, 2008


I've noticed this every once in a while. No big deal if they come into town in their covered wagon, roll back the canvas, make their pitch, maybe get a few sales and then leave. The merchandise better be on the up and up though. Catch them selling snake oil in the back alleys and it's a tarring and feathering time.
posted by tellurian at 3:27 AM on August 30, 2008


MeFi could keep an astro-turfing shitlist that would list the people and businesses that we catch engaging in unethical promotion. Then instead of getting possible high positive Google placement, spammers would get assured high negative Google placement.

We would love to do that in some ways. However in reality people who lack the ethics/consideration to engage with an online community preferring the huge spam approach are also real bastards in terms of every last detail of their online existence. We routinely refund spammers' $5 because they make our lives hell if we don't. We get shrill emails about the deleted thread blog because someone over there says something uncharitable about spammers from time to time.

As it is now they tend to leave us alone once we ban them because hey, they clicked a box that said they wouldn't self-link (something you see before your first post) and then did just that [if they're the FPP sort of SEO spammer jerkoff] and for some reason that is enough to make them not back and forth whine about getting banned. Like they'll be shady online and total scam artists but if we catch them in a lie they slink off? I'm surprised that particular tool is as effective as it has been.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:50 AM on August 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


essexjan, I think a "not" was left out in that sentence. As in, "interacting with the site solely to push product is NOT okay."
posted by Four-Eyed Girl at 6:53 AM on August 30, 2008


What if we form some sort of cross-site coalition? If we created a website like Shady Business on the Net.com or some such (astroturfing.com? spamtrolls.com?) and got a lot of other websites to cooperate, we could pool info on all of these dicks trying to abuse Google rankings and web visibility and turn their weapon against them. Meanwhile there wouldn't be any one person they could whine to, because the administration could be anonymous and/or spread over a large number of people.

So if buyawesomesunglasses.com guy drops his self-promoting turds in an Askme thread about child abuse, we take screenshots, ips, domain registry, and related detective work, and send it all over to Shady Business.com. Then they can start a wiki page on sunglasses.com guy and what he got caught doing on this website and other websites. With enough cross-site linkage this would probably pump the Shady business entries to the top of search engine results.

This would drastically alter the incentives to engage in astroturfing. The GiveWell guys wouldn't have even considered doing so, if the web had had well known cooperative enforcements against this kind of website abuse.
posted by dgaicun at 7:30 AM on August 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


This makes me want to sign up a sockpuppet as SeoMagicWandAsbestosMesotheliomaLawyerTrafficSwan55, but it's too hard to type.
posted by theora55 at 8:02 AM on August 30, 2008


As much as the spam-list sounds entertaining, it sounds like a recipe for litigation. Doesn't mean MeFi would be be the right or wrong for publishing a list, but I'd think even the prospect of could cause legal issues and some nasty letters.

I still vote for someone to publish a tell all guide on how to spam on Metafilter, when in reality it walks them through very specific tasks that will auto ban them.

A while back, someone posted a thread asking (I think) how to effectively spam CL. A regular responded with an incredibly convoluted method that defeated the wannabe spammer's purpose.
posted by jmd82 at 9:02 AM on August 30, 2008


Here it is

Also sparked this meta. Which revealed he was in fact someone Metafilter had dealt with before.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:13 AM on August 30, 2008


oooh how fun dgaicun! I'd love to join that.
While my backend tools might not be as impressive as the ones here, it does catch, unpublish and permanently banhammer lots of crap every week. Recently, I've seen that the same of similar sites (likely all owned by the same SEO posse) keep showing up as text recommendations, sig-lines or direct links in comments and I would LOVE To have those particular nasty guys get some negative google rank for messing with me (and I assume, countless other websites)
posted by dabitch at 10:29 AM on August 30, 2008


What if we form some sort of cross-site coalition?

It's really insanely hard to start something and maintain something like this. On the one hand, you have to do a ton of diligence to make sure every spammer report is real and wasn't faked to harm a competitor. Then if you build it and run it with nothing but real reports of actual spam seen on sites, you still have to weather the legal challenges you'll certainly see for sticking your neck out and becoming a blacklist.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:37 AM on August 30, 2008


I represent a consortium of irradiated-meat-product vendors, and I am offended by the use of the word SPAMtm in this post. I also object to using my (Scott Edward Osborne Jr*) initials as well. I'm also white, so I don't like the color of the background on this webpage. Did I mention I speak english too? OFFENDED! When I get over offended, I turn to Advil, it's the only over-the-counter medication that helps me to take the edge off!


* not my actual name
posted by blue_beetle at 11:34 AM on August 30, 2008


speaking of magic wands...

Purely in the interests of science, I have replaced the word "wand" with "wang" in the first Harry Potter Book
Let's see the results...

"Why aren't you supposed to do magic?" asked Harry.
"Oh, well -- I was at Hogwarts meself but I -- er -- got expelled, ter tell yeh the truth. In me third year. They snapped me wang in half an' everything

A magic wang... this was what Harry had been really looking forward to.

"Yes, yes. I thought I'd be seeing you soon. Harry Potter." It wasn't a question. "You have your mother's eyes. It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wang. Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wang for charm work."
"Your father, on the other hand, favored a mahogany wang. Eleven inches. "

Harry took the wang. He felt a sudden warmth in his fingers. He raised the wang above his head, brought it swishing down through the dusty air and a stream of red and gold sparks shot from the end like a firework, throwing dancing spots of light on to the walls

"Oh, move over," Hermione snarled. She grabbed Harry's wang, tapped the lock, and whispered, 'Alohomora!"

The troll couldn't feel Harry hanging there, but even a troll will notice if you stick a long bit of wood up its nose, and Harry's wang had still been in his hand when he'd jumped - it had gone straight up one of the troll's nostrils.

He bent down and pulled his wang out of the troll's nose. It was covered in what looked like lumpy gray glue.

He ran onto the field as you fell, waved his wang, and you sort of slowed down before you hit the ground. Then he whirled his wang at the dementors. Shot silver stuff at them.

Ok
I have found, definitive proof
that J.K Rowling is a dirty DIRTY woman, making a fool of us all
"Yes," Harry said, gripping his wang very tightly, and moving into the middle of the deserted classroom. He tried to keep his mind on flying, but something else kept intruding.... Any second now, he might hear his mother again... but he shouldn't think that, or he would hear her again, and he didn't want to... or did he?
O_______O
Something silver-white, something enormous, erupted from the end of his wang

Then, with a sigh, he raised his wang and prodded the silvery substance with its tip.

'Get - off - me!' Harry gasped. For a few seconds they struggled, Harry pulling at his uncles sausage-like fingers with his left hand, his right maintaining a firm grip on his raised wang.

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:48 PM on July 8, 2007

posted by UbuRoivas at 3:31 PM on August 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


And with a wave of the magic wand... *poof* It's gone.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:43 PM on August 30, 2008


Two things:

First, I loved seeing the "other side" of how the big three (or so) take care of business. Any time you guys want to drop more screenshots, go ahead. I love that the snarkiness penetrates to the tools that the mods use...I found it very interesting, and also revealing, in that I don't think I realized how much bullshit work there is to keep people honest. It's one thing to nod knowingly and smile when I google something and an AskMe thread is the first result, it's a whole other ballgame to sit back for a second and think about what kind of target that exposure represents.

Second, why the hell do spammers get their money back? From a pure business standpoint, this makes no sense. That same back end we got a view of today takes tons of time and effort and mental energy to keep up. Why not just add some boilerplate that says (in effect), "No self-linking. You will be perma-banned, and your money will not be refunded." There has to be some solid way for the high-powered team of MeFi lawyers to work that out, no? There's a solid outlay in terms of time to police this crap; to then fork over the $5 back to the person that caused the problem in the first place....it just burns me bottom.
posted by nevercalm at 4:20 PM on August 30, 2008


why the hell do spammers get their money back?

because the ones that do not get their money back occasionally threaten to sue or cause trouble with PayPal which is a total pain in the ass. If we had an entire enforcement and harassment arm of the mod team this would be my first choice for what they would be doing but realistically responding to legal threats, even baseless ones, is generally more costly than giving a spammer back $5. It pains me, but it's realistic.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:30 PM on August 30, 2008


Second, why the hell do spammers get their money back?

You know how at the end of a movie, the bad guy who has more or less gotten away with making the protagonist's life a living hell throughout ends up in one more confrontation and tries to pull that just one more time, goes one step too far, and the protagonist just hauls off and cracks Mr. Douche across the jaw and everybody goes, "yeah! Fuck yeah!" because it's totally awesome?

In reality, there's an assault charge. In reality, Paypal's approach to triage is utterly unconcerned with what Metafilter's goals are re: not being as big a shithole as the internet at large. It sucks, it's not at all satisfying, but it's pragmatism. I don't think a whole lot of people who care about this place would want to stake the future of this whole community on a righteous hook to some SEO dickbag's jaw, so to speak.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:31 PM on August 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'd pay them back too -- a penny a month. Via Paypal.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:36 PM on August 30, 2008


Metafilter: not as big a shithole as the internet at large
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:41 PM on August 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


^^That should go on the MetaFilter masthead.
posted by Mister_A at 6:33 PM on August 30, 2008


well favourite it then, ya bastard! do you think i do this stuff for fun?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:45 PM on August 30, 2008


Considering how many AskMe threads might be improved by suggesting that the poster direct a giant pulsating wand towards their genitals, MagicWandShop has shown remarkable restraint.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:11 PM on August 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


DTMFA = deploy the magic frottomatic already!
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:18 PM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


It would be cool if regular, solid members got their user page un-no-followed after a couple of years or something so they got some linky-love.
posted by Rumple at 11:38 PM on August 30, 2008


It would be cool if regular, solid members got their user page un-no-followed after a couple of years or something so they got some linky-love.

The no-follow on user pages isn't just to keep spammers away, it's also to allow people to include information they might not want on Google like their real names or location or something else. Having userpages be no-follow means we can tell people to put things there if they're borderline self-linky for an AskMe question and it means we pretty much don't need to pay attention to them in any sort of modlike way.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:39 AM on August 31, 2008


while all aspirin works exactly the same, no other aspirin works faster or better than bayer aspirin. also, no other aspirin has prevented more heart attacks than bayer aspirin has (as bayer has totally cornered the market).

bayer! it gets you here and it gets you right here. bayer bold, yeah! that's what i'm in the mood for.

because to fight the pains of tomorrow, you need the aspirin of today.
posted by punkbitch at 10:03 PM on August 31, 2008


There's a commercial all about how Bayer's is good for heart attacks. A man says, "Bayer's saved my life!"

But, you see, Bayer's sounds a lot like bears.

It makes the commercial so awesome.
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:17 PM on August 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


They should Holly Hunter do that spot and just revel in the phonetic ambiguity.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:09 AM on September 1, 2008


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