The spamming of this site is really starting to get out of hand. The pattern is pretty clear. A person or bot joins, spams, and then is removed. Rinse, repeat.

Perhaps it is time for new membership to be moderated. Is that possible?

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I received an email message from a friend asking that I remove him from my group because of the amount of spam he was getting. Closing the group didn't stop the spam. He had to reject future notices from OAC, not a good thing.
Agreed.

OAC is struggling as it is. We get new members daily, but the level of activity growth seems pretty flat to me.
Jacob Lee said:
Agreed.

OAC is struggling as it is. We get new members daily, but the level of activity growth seems pretty flat to me.
I'm not sure that is a fair assumption. People join things and participate when they feel they have something to contribute. If they are not "actively" participating they often lurk in the shadows. Lurking is not a bad thing considering even lurking can allow people to learn.
If you want more active participation then give people something to participate with. Expand the discussions, expand the groups (although from having a quick look at the groups many serve the same purpose as others), make the active discussions (whether blogs or forum threads or group activity) more visible on the front page.

2 months ago I joined another forum and I have tried various times to get in and post, I keep getting a message saying my membership is still waiting approval. I'm not interested now and can see that happening here if we try to moderate membership. I feel the admins are doing a decent job and I think we need to remember they have a life outside of the OAC (you know work, rest, and play). Adding yet another job to their already busy schedules isn't fair, unless that is you are volunteering to moderate new members for them.
I agree with Michael in the sense that having any membership “moderated” would only cause unnecessary work for the administrators. There have been previous discussions on the issue here at the OAC and the usual final consensus tends to be that in order to provide any sort of moderating or regulating would probably result in membership dues of some sort. This in my opinion and I am sure most folks on here would agree, is a bad idea. I believe that most if not all members of the OAC did so on their own accord and not at the direction of the administrators. Since OAC is more or less targeted towards those with an interest in Anthropology and not a broad social network such as Facebook or MySpace, I do not believe there is any real obligation including legal, for them to do anymore than what they already are. Most importantly we must all understand that joining any social network, interest specific or not, comes with risk just as simply logging onto the internet does.

Any form of moderating would not guarantee the absence of spam or ficticious profiles (which I believe is more of an issue than spamming) from the OAC site. If we look at social network giants such as Facebook, you will find hundreds if not thousands of viruses and spamming passed through the site alone. This is not to discourage anyone from using Facebook (I have a profile myself and enjoy the site very much), but as an example to reinforce my point, whatever action OAC may take will not guarantee a safe site. I do feel, as I am sure many of us here at the OAC do, that your concern has merit. Perhaps maybe we could suggest that administrators create a tab or section that gives advice or tips on how to avoid spam, after all it is the individual internet user and not the OAC that is responsible for spamming and other such nuisances.

Having trained in Crime Prevention and worked the Criminal Justice field for over 7 years here is what I can suggest to avoid spamming:
1) Create multiple e-mail accounts. One for general/entertainment use (this would be one you may give your friends, acquaintances or use for non specific social sites like gamming sites), one for personal/professional use, one for use with your financial institution, I’m sure you get the point.
2) Whenever you get an e-mail notification from the OAC, even if it’s from someone you know from OAC, don’t open it up right away. Log off your e-mail, then log onto the OAC and review it first. Are there any complaints about the message or sender? Does it seem legit? And always scan the message, at least with your e-mail anti-virus.
3) Get a good quality e-mail provider. I see a lot of professors will not accept any e-mails unless it comes from Google or Yahoo.
4) Invest in a good anti-virus for your computer and STAY AWAY FROM CYBER CAFES.

I’m sure there are many more tips we can follow. If so, perhaps we can start some type of member input blog with helpful information to prevent spamming and the like. Any moderating I believe would only deter potentially future or presently great Anthropologist from contributing to the OAC, which would be a loss for members and even the field of Anthropology.
The OAC is 17 months old and we have 3,900 members whose activity level varies, to say the least. In other words we attract about 8 new members a day. 80 members have left in that time, about one a week, and 240 members have been suspended for spam, roughly one every two days. In most cases these last distribute some spam to members pages before being deleted by the Admins (but not from members inboxes where they must be deleted by hand). Some members report this illegal activity to us, others don't.

As Steven points out, the Admins probably spend more time writing to new members about the need to observe our naming procedures listed under the About tab. There are other problems with maintaining an open network like this, but some individuals take extreme umbrage at the contamination of their inboxes with spam. One not only resigned, but threatened to report one of the Admins to her university if she didn't do what he demanded. Some people take privacy further than others. Where would encryption and electronic alarm systems be without that impulse? How much of it do we wish to import to the OAC?

We already have a captcha enabled when people join. This does not deter the spammers who get through. We could also ask a question that most people interested in anthropology should know the answer to, but not the average spammer. What would such a question be? Anthropology is a broad church. Our members come from many countries. We want to attract amateurs as well as professionals and students. I would be interested in suggestions. I bet there isn't one question that involves some specialist knowledge and could be answered by all readers of this thread.

Then there is moderation of new members. The Admins are divided on this one. The question has come up before. No-one appointed us to our role. There is no function more powerful than controlling the entrance and exit of members of an organization. How easily would it sit with our ethos as a network?

Jason brings up the level of activity as if it were somehow related. For most of our first year the OAC had around 500 unique visitors a day. This peaked at 600 a day in June-July this year and has fallen to 400 a day over the last two months. In that time, the Admins have introduced new conditions for posting on the main page and we have come up with some guidelines about the function of the different sections: Forum, Blogs, Groups, Events, Offers etc.

We are sensitive to an apparently reduced level of posting and discussion at this time. The Admins hope to improve site design, within the constraints of operating through Ning at present. We will be launching for two weeks, October 1-15, a discussion thread in the main Forum soliciting suggestions from members about how to develop and improve the OAC. But in the end, the life of the place is what its members choose to put into it and that fluctuates in mysterious ways.

I don't know what moderating new members will do to inject life into the OAC. If the spam level is intolerable, I would say leave, but my colleagues might say different.

Oh, four members contributed to the costs of paying Ning when asked; and only a handful voted in the logo competition. So the existing level of participation is not high. In comparison, the level of posting is positively exuberant.
It's important to keep the issue of spam in perspective. The figures suggest that less than 6% of all OAC accounts were spam, and even less (probably 1-2%) of those managed to post any before being suspended.

People have different spam tolerance levels. Those who generally stick to local academic content only (e.g. university networks) seem to have a low threshold, while those who spread themselves around the social web have a higher one and usually know how to best combat it. Beyond that generalization, spam is still annoying. For members who feel that the spam they get in their email inbox is overwhelming, you can either switch off email notifications in Settings or, as Steven suggests, use an email account that's not essential in your professional life. I personally get thousands of spam mails in an email account that I used to join anthropology list-servs a few years ago, rendering it useless for anything else. Live and learn.

As Keith notes, the admin team put in place any available anti-spam measures as soon as Ning offers them. So far, this includes a Captcha code (I agree, it doesn't deter all spammers, obviously), and verifying email addresses before activating accounts. Believe it or not, this weeds out a lot of spam-bots. Also, according to Ning (where we host the OAC), they provide automated spam protection. When someone joins the OAC, they have to create a Ning ID. This universal ID would allow that person to join other Ning networks with the same username. Ning uses this ID to trace spammers. If they get suspended for spam from another network, they'll be removed from ours, too. All of this is to say that we are doing our best.

An additional anti-spam method that Ning offers, but we have not yet enabled, is asking new members to respond to a quiz question when they sign up. We are working out the best way to make a suitable set of questions that will trick spammers, but not valid potential members. Keith's challenge to come up with the perfect specialist knowledge question is a good one. I'm not sure we can. We're thinking of alternatives. Once this is implemented, we can then keep an eye on whether or not it fixes the spam issue.

Finally, I agree with Michael that the assumption that the OAC is struggling is a stretch. I would invite everyone to participate in the upcoming discussion from October 1-15 where we can pool our ideas for animating the site and expanding content and participation.

Keith Hart said:
The OAC is 17 months old and we have 3,900 members whose activity level varies, to say the least. In other words we attract about 8 new members a day. 80 members have left in that time, about one a week, and 240 members have been suspended for spam, roughly one every two days. In most cases these last distribute some spam to members pages before being deleted by the Admins (but not from members inboxes where they must be deleted by hand). Some members report this illegal activity to us, others don't.
I belong to numerous academic and non-academic email list serves and forums, and many of them moderate membership by simply asking a few questions. Here is what I notice about them:
1. There are no membership dues (membership dues, really???)
2. There is little or no spamming of these sites and list serves.
3. I've never been denied admittance. If you are, the list or forum is quite probably simply dead (or your an evil spammer).

It might be that Ning networks are themselves wider targets for spamming than these other sites. It might also be that this simple moderation discourages spammers. Whatever it may be, the simple truth is that the OAC is being targeted by spammers, and spamming messages may linger for days on the site (which, for example, might push a legitimate blog post off the recent blog posts area).

If the community does not think that membership moderation of the sort I was suggesting is the best solution (I am open on this point; that is why I posed it as a question), then some other solution is probably warranted, given how much work our admins do already. I would remove spam from the site if I could. If it were my site, I would do something like the following: I would allow all members to mark posts as spam. If at least 2 or 3 people concur that it is spam, it is removed. If the original poster complains, the case is reviewed by administrators. I don't suppose Ning actually allows something like that though?

On a final note, I find Steven's answer confusing. Yes, using any technology carries risks; there are no guarantees. But that is not a reason to throw your hands in the air and not doing anything to minimize those risks. Also, just what risks are you talking about here? I'm talking about spam on the front page of the OAC's web site. I can avoid being exposed to spam by not visiting the web site or removing my membership. But that's rather drastic, isn't it? Getting a better email provider, and all that jazz that Steven suggests, has absolutely nothing to do (nothing!) with spam on this site.
Two kinds of spammers really. One is the human spammer who signs up and then spams. Slow and laborious, but it might be affordable to spammers based in south east asia paying employees 1-5 cents an hour, or to individual operators. The other kind of spammer is a bot, a program that attempts to register. For these, a quiz doesn't have to require special knowledge of anthropology. Use rhyming words for example. It's orange and tasty and rhymes with parrot.

Francine Barone said:
It's important to keep the issue of spam in perspective. The figures suggest that less than 6% of all OAC accounts were spam, and even less (probably 1-2%) of those managed to post any before being suspended.

People have different spam tolerance levels. Those who generally stick to local academic content only (e.g. university networks) seem to have a low threshold, while those who spread themselves around the social web have a higher one and usually know how to best combat it. Beyond that generalization, spam is still annoying. For members who feel that the spam they get in their email inbox is overwhelming, you can either switch off email notifications in Settings or, as Steven suggests, use an email account that's not essential in your professional life. I personally get thousands of spam mails in an email account that I used to join anthropology list-servs a few years ago, rendering it useless for anything else. Live and learn.

As Keith notes, the admin team put in place any available anti-spam measures as soon as Ning offers them. So far, this includes a Captcha code (I agree, it doesn't deter all spammers, obviously), and verifying email addresses before activating accounts. Believe it or not, this weeds out a lot of spam-bots. Also, according to Ning (where we host the OAC), they provide automated spam protection. When someone joins the OAC, they have to create a Ning ID. This universal ID would allow that person to join other Ning networks with the same username. Ning uses this ID to trace spammers. If they get suspended for spam from another network, they'll be removed from ours, too. All of this is to say that we are doing our best.

An additional anti-spam method that Ning offers, but we have not yet enabled, is asking new members to respond to a quiz question when they sign up. We are working out the best way to make a suitable set of questions that will trick spammers, but not valid potential members. Keith's challenge to come up with the perfect specialist knowledge question is a good one. I'm not sure we can. We're thinking of alternatives. Once this is implemented, we can then keep an eye on whether or not it fixes the spam issue.

Finally, I agree with Michael that the assumption that the OAC is struggling is a stretch. I would invite everyone to participate in the upcoming discussion from October 1-15 where we can pool our ideas for animating the site and expanding content and participation.

Keith Hart said:
The OAC is 17 months old and we have 3,900 members whose activity level varies, to say the least. In other words we attract about 8 new members a day. 80 members have left in that time, about one a week, and 240 members have been suspended for spam, roughly one every two days. In most cases these last distribute some spam to members pages before being deleted by the Admins (but not from members inboxes where they must be deleted by hand). Some members report this illegal activity to us, others don't.
I haven't known any spam to last on the site for more than a matter of hours, perhaps half a day if the timing works out that most admins are asleep at the time.

Re: question types, linguistic questions like rhymes don't work so well when not everyone has the same native language (in this case, English). But it's true that a good question need not require knowledge of anthropology. Those human spammers are the tricky ones.

I'm not sure where membership dues are relevant here. We asked for voluntary donations to fund the cost of maintaining the site, nothing more.
Jacob Lee said:
Two kinds of spammers really. One is the human spammer who signs up and then spams. Slow and laborious, but it might be affordable to spammers based in south east asia paying employees 1-5 cents an hour, or to individual operators. The other kind of spammer is a bot, a program that attempts to register. For these, a quiz doesn't have to require special knowledge of anthropology. Use rhyming words for example. It's orange and tasty and rhymes with parrot.
Jacob Lee said:
Two kinds of spammers really. One is the human spammer who signs up and then spams. Slow and laborious, but it might be affordable to spammers based in south east asia paying employees 1-5 cents an hour, or to individual operators. The other kind of spammer is a bot, a program that attempts to register. For these, a quiz doesn't have to require special knowledge of anthropology. Use rhyming words for example. It's orange and tasty and rhymes with parrot.
Lol, I know this is a serious discussion but this is a huge assumption among many.
The truth is that Ning is the actual target and from my very limited knowledge of Ning they are doing their best to combat it at a higher level with more Ning-wide measures to stop this from happening. As Francine has said if a spammer gets blocked on one Ning site it will be blocked on them all.

I think your suggestion about people marking posts as spam is a good one except for 2 little issues. 1, The Admin group need to be able to sleep and have a life. It is obvious you think their response time is to slow now, adding a spam tag isn't going to make them any quicker. 2, I can think of a couple of posts I have made that some would consider spam and based on your 2 or 3 marking it thus it would have been knocked out yet these posts were not spam. What good would it do to remove legitimate postings? Don't you think it may turn legitimate members away with the feeling that despite its name the OAC is not an OPEN place to be.

Anyway, I acknowledge you feel quite strongly about this and that can be a good thing. The admin group is but a PM away, maybe you could offer (I have suggested this before btw) your help to combat this issue (i.e. don't wait to be asked to help, offer it). ;-)
Obviously such a system would have to be fine tuned. But I think I have been misunderstood, because the proposal addresses these concerns already. If a certain number of persons flagged something as spam, it would be removed automatically. If the poster of the removed content registers a complaint, then it is reviewed by the admins. That way most spam making it through Ning's filters won't have to be dealt with by the admins at all, but by the whole OAC community in a much more egalitarian fashion, relying on the goodwill and desire of OAC participants to make it a better place, while providing a way to minimize mistaken or malicious flagging of content as spam, and a means of rectifying this if does occur.

As for being OPEN, if it is intended to be as open as you are suggesting, then there is no basis for removing spam in the first place. But that is not the case. There *are* (fairly wide) guidelines for content, as Keith noted, and spam is already being removed. What exactly is wrong with handing the whole community responsible for policing spam, instead of a having a few admins wielding that authority and bearing that responsibility on their own? The specter you raise just doesn't seem very realistic to me.

Other communities thrive because of collective moderation (this is hardly groundbreaking stuff, anymore). Slashdot was probably one of the first to introduce that model. But all of this is beside the point really. If Ning does not let such a system be put in place, then this is really a non-starter.

Michael Findlay said:

I think your suggestion about people marking posts as spam is a good one except for 2 little issues. 1, The Admin group need to be able to sleep and have a life. It is obvious you think their response time is to slow now, adding a spam tag isn't going to make them any quicker. 2, I can think of a couple of posts I have made that some would consider spam and based on your 2 or 3 marking it thus it would have been knocked out yet these posts were not spam. What good would it do to remove legitimate postings? Don't you think it may turn legitimate members away with the feeling that despite its name the OAC is not an OPEN place to be.

Anyway, I acknowledge you feel quite strongly about this and that can be a good thing. The admin group is but a PM away, maybe you could offer (I have suggested this before btw) your help to combat this issue (i.e. don't wait to be asked to help, offer it). ;-)
Jacob Lee said:
You answered a couple of things here, so I am not misunderstanding you what particular specter are you referring to?

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