New Users’ Posting Rights
« on: September 02, 2021, 08:37:20 AM »
I see we’ve had a fly by spammer shitting up the board.
I wouldn’t see this is a major problem here but it’s not the first time I’ve seen it.
On other boards I’ve moderated I’ve done things to mitigate this like having to validate new users (often from the email address you can tell if it’s someone serious). Or you can do things like only let new users post in certain sections until they’ve shown they’re not just joining to spam.

For your consideration.
"On a very clear and chilly day it is possible to see Lighthouse Beach from Lovers Point and vice versa...Upon looking into the telescope I can see children running in and out of the water, splashing and playing. I can see people sun bathing at the shore
- An excerpt from the account of the Bishop Experiment. My emphasis

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Offline Pete Svarrior

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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2021, 10:29:15 AM »
[n.b. This isn't me necessarily disagreeing with you, but I think a little bit of context for what we're currently doing (and why we're not manually verifying everyone as it stands) may help inform the discussion. It's mostly a statement of our current approach and reasoning, rather than saying that our current approach is perfect and immutable.]

We use StopForumSpam to identify suspected spammers and send them to manual verification - this, on average, catches about 1 attempted registration a day, and when I review those manually, I'm pretty confident that they'd overwhelmingly be spammers. As an added benefit, we submit our own spam data to StopForumSpam, so other communities get to benefit from our activity. This solution does catch the odd Tor user here and there, which is debatably a bad thing, but hey ho.

I also wrote a (not-so-)clever piece of code which trips up most bots. In essence, the username and password fields have randomly generated IDs, and if you submit a form with the original fields filled in, your registration gets rejected with a cryptic message. We don't keep stats on how much of an impact that has, but back when we rolled it out the difference was drastic. I suspect this still catches most bots, because few people will write custom code to autospam our forum. There are much smarter ways out there to tell bots apart from humans, and we could implement more aggressive browser fingerprinting at the time of registration, but that comes with privacy concerns that would affect real users.

You're obviously right that this approach isn't perfect. We do get spam, and more recently it's been more frequent. But the attack surface is pretty small - you need to be posting from an IP address that is not yet idenified as a suspected spammer, and you need to work around our basic bot detection (I suspect most spammers here are actually humans). I also think it's fair to say that we're pretty quick to act on spam reports and cleaning them up. I worry that if we expand these measures much further, we might be getting close to a cure which would be worse than the disease.

I think three questions need to be asked here:
  • Is the current volume of spam posing a problem for real users? Does it get in the way of using the forum? This is not one I should be answering, so I'm leaving it open-ended.
  • Would the work of manually approving all new members be easier or harder for mods than responding to the occasional spammer, and would we be more reliable than existing solutions? I suspect it would be more work - approving an additional 100 new accounts a month vs. deleting a couple every month. This would also mean that the approval process would have to happen more frequently. Currently, we catch 99% spammers, 1% random college students that want to ask us questions. If we put everyone in the approval queue, we have to pay much more attention to it - we'd have to moderate ~140 users a month in the hope of catching ~40 spammers. This might even cause us to accidentally let more spammers in, not fewer.
  • Would we lose potential new users over this? Our original belief was that stopping legitimate users from being able to post right away would dissuade many of them from engaging. In my experience with the accounts that I do approve after they were thrown in the queue by StopForumSpam, they rarely come back if it takes a few hours to get approved. I mean, they probably weren't planning on being great members of the community anyway, but there is a balancing act to be struck here.

Letting people post in certain sections is similarly risky IMO - for a new legitimate user, this just forces them to make a certain number of posts in a designated zone before they can say what they want to say. We've considered it before, but our worry was that it would encourage people to spam low-quality posts just to access the real forum. Is that really the best thing for newcomers?
« Last Edit: September 02, 2021, 10:47:11 AM by Pete Svarrior »
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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2021, 10:00:09 AM »
Letting people post in certain sections is similarly risky IMO - for a new legitimate user, this just forces them to make a certain number of posts in a designated zone before they can say what they want to say. We've considered it before, but our worry was that it would encourage people to spam low-quality posts just to access the real forum. Is that really the best thing for newcomers?
I've seen some boards where there's an "introduce yourself" board, a person's first post has to be there before they are released in to the wild (that could happen automatically, or manual review).
Doesn't stop the more determined spammers, but creates a bit of mitigation for people who just sign up here to promote things.

]Is the current volume of spam posing a problem for real users? Does it get in the way of using the forum?

I'd suggest this is the key question. Overall I think the answer is probably no. It happens often enough that if I ruled the board I'd consider options - although it sounds like you have. But it happens seldom enough that it can be cleared up when it does without too much negative effect on the overall experience.

Thanks for your response.
"On a very clear and chilly day it is possible to see Lighthouse Beach from Lovers Point and vice versa...Upon looking into the telescope I can see children running in and out of the water, splashing and playing. I can see people sun bathing at the shore
- An excerpt from the account of the Bishop Experiment. My emphasis

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Offline Pete Svarrior

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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2021, 07:10:51 PM »
Yeah, an introduction thread would work well for some people, but it's another expectation people would get upset about, I suspect. You and I have a decent idea of what you do when you join a new forum, but most of our new visitors don't.

There is also the option of trying to do some (not-so-)clever natural language processing to try and identify spam and shadowban the users automatically. A real person who just happens to post like a spambot would experience a slight delay to people replying to their amazing insights, but what they don't know can't hurt them.
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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2021, 11:54:04 PM »
I've seen some boards where there's an "introduce yourself" board, a person's first post has to be there before they are released in to the wild (that could happen automatically, or manual review).
A terrible idea. Instead of making a post asking the thing you want to ask, you now have to dox yourself in a community you know nothing about. You don't know what lurks here when you arrive. The last thing you want to do on a strange forum is start telling everyone else about yourself. Most people dip a toe into the forum. They ask about sunsets or link 100 things someone else thought of because it feels safe not giving anything away about yourself. And with some luck, Tom Bishop or Total Lackey or someone will interact with them, p*** them off and draw a conversation out of them. Welcome to tfes.org.

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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2021, 12:03:11 AM »
I've seen some boards where there's an "introduce yourself" board, a person's first post has to be there before they are released in to the wild (that could happen automatically, or manual review).
A terrible idea. Instead of making a post asking the thing you want to ask, you now have to dox yourself in a community you know nothing about. You don't know what lurks here when you arrive. The last thing you want to do on a strange forum is start telling everyone else about yourself. Most people dip a toe into the forum. They ask about sunsets or link 100 things someone else thought of because it feels safe not giving anything away about yourself. And with some luck, Tom Bishop or Total Lackey or someone will interact with them, p*** them off and draw a conversation out of them. Welcome to tfes.org.

No. The introduce yourself thread, would be like the friendly chat thread where you just break the ice.
Th*rk is the worst person on this website.

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Offline Dr David Thork

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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2021, 12:30:35 AM »
No. The introduce yourself thread, would be like the friendly chat thread where you just break the ice.
Why should anyone be forced to do that? If you went to your local bar, do they ask you to stand on a table and introduce yourself, or can you just go order a beer?
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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2021, 02:08:27 AM »
Why should anyone be forced to do that? If you went to your local bar, do they ask you to stand on a table and introduce yourself, or can you just go order a beer?

I literally saw that happen not even a week ago. Then he took his shirt off and was a bit portly like yourself, but the most important thing was he bought the entire bar a round.

Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2021, 06:43:28 AM »
No. The introduce yourself thread, would be like the friendly chat thread where you just break the ice.
Why should anyone be forced to do that? If you went to your local bar, do they ask you to stand on a table and introduce yourself, or can you just go order a beer?
They might have someone on the door to try and make sure you’re not just there to trash the place…
"On a very clear and chilly day it is possible to see Lighthouse Beach from Lovers Point and vice versa...Upon looking into the telescope I can see children running in and out of the water, splashing and playing. I can see people sun bathing at the shore
- An excerpt from the account of the Bishop Experiment. My emphasis

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Offline Dr David Thork

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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2021, 09:52:10 AM »
They might have someone on the door to try and make sure you’re not just there to trash the place…
You mean like a moderator?

he took his shirt off and was a bit portly like yourself
Now under 11½ stone. Stomach is flat, thank you. There is a glimmer of a six pack there under a generous layer of bacon. I'm working on the bacon now.  >:(
« Last Edit: September 04, 2021, 09:54:22 AM by Toddler Thork »
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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2021, 10:12:20 AM »
They might have someone on the door to try and make sure you’re not just there to trash the place…
You mean like a moderator?
No, I mean like a bouncer.

Moderators in this analogy clean up the place when it has been trashed, and they throw the person out so they can’t do more damage.
Bouncers stop them getting in in the first place.

Whether this place needs the bouncers is the topic of discussion. I don’t have strong opinions either way, but this is a section for suggestions so I suggested it for consideration.
"On a very clear and chilly day it is possible to see Lighthouse Beach from Lovers Point and vice versa...Upon looking into the telescope I can see children running in and out of the water, splashing and playing. I can see people sun bathing at the shore
- An excerpt from the account of the Bishop Experiment. My emphasis

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Offline Dr David Thork

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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2021, 06:32:15 PM »
Moderators in this analogy clean up the place when it has been trashed, and they throw the person out so they can’t do more damage.
Bouncers stop them getting in in the first place.
We're hardly over run. We need those ass hats with the leaflets who promise you free shots if you go into the bar to get more people in, not bouncers keeping people out. Otherwise you'll come into your favourite bar and it'll just be you, me and Tom Bishop nursing a beer.
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Offline Pete Svarrior

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Re: New Users’ Posting Rights
« Reply #12 on: September 04, 2021, 10:03:12 PM »
Thork, I think you're fighting a battle against an army of 0 here. Literally nobody is seriously considering implementing a bouncer system. AATW brought it up as a consideration, which is a good thing, but it seems pretty clear that implementing it would be a net negative at this stage.
Read the FAQ before asking your question - chances are we already addressed it.
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