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I moderate a forum with a dedicated following of 150-200 users. In general, there are a couple posts an hour throughout the day from my users. There are times that a spambot will find us though and plasters it's filth all over the board. Clean up is easy for a moderator - delete the user and the posts go away. The oldest I recall seeing a spambot's manure sit on the site is about 2 hours.

My problem is that a small subset of my users are expecting immediate responses to their summons to clean up. I certainly am not able to be on call 24/7/365. I don't expect other moderators are able to be either. Other than spam, I don't think we require more moderators. Spam just makes the site ugly for a few hours (at most) and worries users.

I've tried talking with some of the users that complain and do understand their point that it is unsightly to visit the form and see it covered in garbage.

How can I talk with the community to help explain that we can't be around constantly, but also relay that we are all active moderators that have cleaned up after spam attacks? We aren't ignoring the site at all.

Regarding whether I am open to changes in how flags are handled, I am open to such changes and would like to hear feedback on that as well.

  • do you keep per-user statistics on how many their spam flags turned out valid / invalid? Sort of flag weight, indicating how reliable they are in reporting the issues... – gnat Apr 18 '15 at 8:07
  • @gnat, Not really, no. I think it'd be possible to build such a thing, but it'd involve going through old flags and comparing it to what still exists in the database. – Pickle Apr 18 '15 at 14:24
  • Here's a list of mostly technical solutions to spam: webmasters.stackexchange.com/a/25377/6901 – user319 Apr 22 '15 at 16:31
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On managing user expectations, I've seen a related problem on a site I moderate; with three moderators (who are active but all have "day jobs" too), flags can hang around for a few hours. We've had users request more moderators, but that really only shifts the problem -- ok, maybe by adding some moderators you get your spam-handling down from two hours to one, but no human-driven system that's actually managable is going to produce instantaneous results until your community is way bigger. (Stack Overflow can kill spam in seconds to minutes because they have tens of thousands of active users; a small site with 200 users can't react that quickly.)

We said basically that to our users, and the grumbling died down. We also have some pretty good automated spam-response, which helps -- too much spam from the same source results in that source being unable to post.

That said, if you are able to make some changes to your platform, you can enable your users to keep the spam off the front page without making them all full moderators. Consider these approaches:

  • If a threshold number of spam flags is reached, hide the post (don't display it on the front page). Leave the flags for moderator review; you want to make sure the spam really is spam. But in the meantime, you don't need to display it to the world. The cost of a false positive is, from what you've said, a delay of a couple hours before the post is released, and on a site with the traffic patterns you've described, that's no big deal.

  • Auto-moderate first posts. Like in the previous point, posts are held for review before being shown on the front page. Maybe you can enable your established users to do these reviews; this doesn't require a moderator if you have some notion of which users are trusted. (You don't want the spammers approving each others' posts, after all.) This is assuming that most of your spam comes from new users; if your established users are spamming this won't help. I've been on several mailing lists over that auto-moderate first posts from new users and it seems to work well.

  • Use history to make decisions about incoming posts, either by user or by IP address. If you aren't moderating new-user posts, or you have a user whose first post was innocuous, then you might have a policy that any recent spam from that user causes posts to be moderated. Or if you're getting a lot of spam from one IP address or block, maybe you moderate everything coming from there. (If you do that, you'll want to age that history away over time; one spammer from my ISP a year ago shouldn't block me now.) Stack Exchange does something along these lines and it's made a real difference there.

  • Limit velocity of posts from new users. If your problem is that a spambot drops 50 junk posts on your site before anybody sees and then you're never going to hear from that bot again, then using spam history won't help. But should a new user be able to post 50 posts in an hour? Probably not. Consider limiting the velocity of posts, at least for new users. Allow established users who have contributed useful content to bypass this limit.

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