About how Zombie threads come back to life

Right now, there is a thread in Factual Questions titled Snapple “Real Fact”, about brain waves and electric trains. In the list of threads there, it is number 18, with the most recent post 16 hours ago. (That would be around 6 PM Thursday, Eastern Daylight Time)

But when I go into it, the last post is from April 2005.

I very nearly posted something there, but then realized that I’d be waking the zombie. But, no, something happened yesterday and it already got woken. What’s going on? My guess is that someone posted yesterday, and then a mod deleted it. Can anyone offer more info? I’m just trying to undetand how the message board works.

Spammers. It’s always spammers.

That’s almost always what’s happened. In particular, a spammer revives the zombie thread – said spammer’s post is deleted by a mod (as is their account), but Discourse still recognizes that a post has been made in the thread recently (even though the necromantic post is gone now).

Thank you!

Nope, dezombieifier made a Biden jab. My money would be on a troll/trock.

Ah, a witness. That’s terrific.

In that case you’re probably right, a drive-by trock who received summary cornfielding.

This can even happen when the post is never visible to anyone. Sometimes, when Discourse sees a particularly sus post, the system itself flags it and hides it immediately, pending moderator approval (aside: It’s almost always right; this is one thing that Discourse did very well, and it makes our spam-fighting much easier). But even a post like that, that’s never seen by anyone but the Bot that Shall Not be Named and the one moderator who disapproves it, will still bump the thread.

I’ve seen that happen a few times over the past year, usually late in the evening. All of a sudden, several crude (and often racist) posts would start showing up in various threads, all by the same new poster; I’d start reporting them, and by the next morning (since moderators have to sleep, too), all of them, along with the trock, would be gone without a trace.

It’d seem that we have one or more banned posters who get their jollies out of coming back under a different name, and stirring crap up for a bit before they get the banhammer again.

The forum equivalent of getting liquored up and vandalizing the ex’s house.

Sometimes they’re returning jerks, sometimes they’re all-new jerks, and sometimes we strongly suspect that they’re returning jerks but aren’t completely sure, but it quickly becomes irrelevant, because they’re big enough jerks to ban them anyway.

And sometimes they seem to be pure spam. A post that’s tangentially related to some long-forgotten thread and contains a link to a product or service.

A lot of old threads are revived by spambots.

I mentioned the weirdness of this to @codinghorror, and suggested a fix that he seemed really receptive to. I’m curious what happened there.

I reported it and suggested that it be closed. The response said doing so was no longer the standard policy. I must have missed that announcement.

These obsolete threads usually sink fast and get forgotten, true. But they also lure in and waste peoples’ time, especially since nobody’s solved the problem of labeling them old threads.

Personally, I favor closing them after a spammer or troll strikes. If the subject really is of value, anyone can start a new thread and link to the old one.

I know isn’t exactly on topic, but I read this as “walking the zombie”.

Puts a different spin on it.

And I saw that thread as well, but I didn’t read it to the end, so I didn’t even realize there was nothing new, or that the nothing new had gotten zapped.

I don’t think there was an announcement. I don’t know that it was an official rule to close stuff previously. Except when the board was overloaded, and said needed to be closed to keep it from crashing.

I suppose I’m partly responsible for the rule change, though. As a new poster, I’d stumble upon an interesting thread and it would get closed as i was writing a reply. Or there’d be a bunch of weird zombie jokes. I found it very unwelcoming, and shared that with the other mods.

But also, a non-trivial fraction of our new posters find the board because a google search led them here, often to an old thread. Having the board immediately laugh at them and close the thread doesn’t seem like a good way to grow membership.


I’d say, rather, that there is no one set policy about it. If a thread was good the first time around, and after the zombification, there were more good posts, I’m inclined to leave it open. If it’s contentious or likely to cause trouble, or seems to attract more spammers than real posters, I’ll close it. If I never even notice the actual thread, then obviously it stays open (when a flag or the automatic detector points out spam, we don’t have to open the thread itself to see the offending post, and usually seeing the thread itself is unnecessary to recognize “yup, that’s spam”, and hit the nuke button. And sometimes a spammer will hit multiple threads, get flagged in one of them, and get nuked, without anyone seeing the others).

You could kill two birds with one stone (frog you, PETA) if when a mod kills a spammer, they insert a notice that an old thread has been revived. Discourse takes us to the latest post, after post.

This may not be a full solution if spammers revive many simultaneous threads, but it would be a good start.

I don’t think there was one.

There were a lot of complaints in ATMB about zombies automatically being closed and how folks would prefer to leave them open. As @puzzlegal said, one of the big complaints was that it was extremely unfriendly to newbies. Another common complaint was that the topic was interesting, and almost no one would ever take the advice of starting a new thread and linking back to the original.

In answer to those complaints, I (and many other mods) started leaving the zombies open to see what would happen to them. Sometimes no one would care and the thread would just drop off of the main page, so no biggie. Sometimes the thread would take on a new life, which was a good thing. And if the thread was problematic, we could still close it.

Now we hardly ever get complaints. While complaints about closing zombies occurred fairly often, yours is the first complaint about leaving them open that I have seen in a very long time (other than the complaint that Discourse includes the deleted posts in its sorting, which is a valid complaint). Overall it seems to have been a very positive change for the board.

Most people don’t seem to consider this a problem, so it’s extra work for the staff while providing little benefit. If the thread is interesting, reply to it. If not, then don’t. If it’s an old thread, so what? What’s the problem?

You may not get formal complaints, but I’ve seen a number of threads in which people realize after answering a question that they hadn’t realized it was an ancient zombie and grumble about doing the work for nothing. That’s what prompted me to make the suggestion.

What Exit? seems to like labelling things – have him make an “Old Thread” label and attach it as appropriate.