TOC giving misleading information

I’ve just been reading a thread in Cafe Society about Alan Dean Foster’s dispute with Disney over royalties. The title was intriguing when I saw it in the CS Table of Contents, and when I saw the date of the OP (November 18, 2020), I expected that perhaps some headway was being made toward a resolution being reached and announced. But the latest post to the thread was submitted on December 14, 2020.

I circled back to the CS ToC, where the page insists that the 27th of 27 responses was submitted today, February 24, 2021. Is there some reason for me to NOT view this as a foul-up that needs to be addressed?

It’s one that’s already been reported. It happens when a spammer makes a post in the threat, but a mod deletes it. @codinghorror called it a phantom bump.

I’ve already proposed something to fix it—updating the “last post date” automatically when a mod deletes the last post of a thread—and was told such a change would be considered. I haven’t heard back, though.

I’ll see if I can find a link to the old thread.

Thanks, BigT. That makes sense.

Right. It was bumped by a spammer whose post has been deleted, but it still exists so the thread shows that.

When a zombie was bumped by a spammer in vBulletin, if the post was deleted the thread would sink back to the abyss from which it had been summoned. In vBulletin, the post is also still there, but the thread treats it as if it didn’t exist.

Staff can use the wrench button on the topic and select

:anchor: Reset Bump Date

if they wish to reset the bump date on the topic to the last visible non-deleted post.

Thanks. That’s helpful.

Ghost bumps can actually be useful, because the spammers are telling you something: this topic is attractive to spammers. So having those topics enter everyone’s field of view can be helpful in getting to root causes. Something in there is valuable enough as a keyword to merit spam… so I wonder what it is? :thinking: Interestingly, a lot of spam these days is real human beings who are immune to CAPTCHA and other bot checks. Like… a lot.

If you get a lot of ghost bumps in a particular topic over time, I’d close the topic to prevent that from happening in the future – assuming it isn’t an ongoing topic of discussion, etc.

As an example, my blog has a very old blog entry about the ~253 character filename length limit in Windows. There were probably 10 instances where spammers came in and posted links to their “long file names tool”. I eventually closed that discussion topic, though my policy is to leave comments open indefinitely just in case.

Some sites auto close all topics older than (x) days, or after (x) days have elapsed since the last reply. I do think that is a safe thing to enforce long term, but I’d do it on the order of years… say… if it’s been 5 years since the last reply, close the topic, to reduce your attack surface from spammers.

That’s exactly what I do. If a thread is bumped more than a couple of times by spammers, I’ll close it. It’s often something about digital media. Although I recall one about plumbing.

One problem with the switch to Discourse is that all the spam posts we deleted in vBulletin have now become visible. So being able to sink a bumped thread out of sight is great, especially if the thread was spam bait.

I delete 10 or more spammers per day. The spammers caught by the system for typing too fast, and the ones who actually manage to post, are a minority. A large majority of the spammers we get here never even seem to try to post, as far as I can tell. A lot of them are profile spammers who post advertising in their profiles but never post.

But quite a few register, confirm their email, but then don’t try to post. I would think that the first thing a spammer would do would be to post spam, but most don’t. I don’t know why they would delay.

We’ve often had people suggest that old threads should auto-close. We do get newbies bumping very old threads pointlessly, but we do have some informational threads where posters have updated them with new information after many years.

Ah, that’s too bad… :confused: must be an artifact of the migration. Can you point me to a migrated topic where spam posts are visible now? Don’t clean it up quite yet – remember I am a plain vanilla user so I can’t see anything that is only visible to staff.

Don’t worry – we’re definitely aware of profile spammers, which started happening en masse around 2015 or so. This is handled in the background by a task that scans for this odd behavior profile (filling out user profile, but not reading anything). This is, again, 100% humans touching actual keys on an actual keyboard. They even set background images for their profile and everything!

There’s additional levels of protection around user profile spammers. We historically told webcrawlers not to index user profiles at all (though that has changed), and new users are limited in both what they can enter in their profile, and what we will display. You’d need to use your browser’s incognito or anonymous mode to view their profile, to see it as a webcrawler would.

There might be a sanity limit of, say 5 or 10 years where topics auto-close… ? I don’t have any particular opinion on this. I’d say it depends how often you get unwanted spam post bumps to old topics, versus natural conversational bumps to old topics.

Here’s one. Post 11, and the spam report below it would have been deleted too. Made on May 26, before the migration.

However, the last post was by a spammer and deleted. t was made in November, after the move to Discourse.It now shows as a hidden reply.

It’s not so much a problem if we close a bumped thread, but if we leave it open we have to delete the old spam.

The ratio of spam and pointless newbie bumps is probably at least 100 to one. Still, I have seen significant new information posted in our General Questions forum after 10 years at least.

We also have a few long-standing threads that are bumped annually. The one below has been bumped every year in May since 2000.

Very good – screenshot so I have record of it


We can search for the string “spam reported” to see if that captures most of them. It’s an error in the migration, we should have caught it as part of our migration checklist."spam%20reported"

Feel free to delete that one now @Colibri if we are confident this is the text pattern.

Yeah, it’s best to work off the metrics and see. One of my biggest pet peeves (to be clear, I am not saying that we’re doing it here, I mean in general) is taking action based on hypothetical versus actual problems.

That’s how I located that one. We used to ask users to post Spam Reported so others would know not to make multiple reports. We deleted those as well. running_coach was our most prolific spam reporter {still is).

If I see a new registrant who has registered without reading any posts, and they are from a hinky IP in South Asia or the former Soviet Union, I delete them. However, I occasionally get a few posters from the US who appear to have registered without reading any posts but seem to be otherwise normal. I wonder if maybe they read some posts before registering. I don’t delete these.

“User typed too fast” catches mostly spammers. However, on rare occasions I see an apparently normal poster who has been caught this way. I wonder if it is because they pasted their reply from some text document.

Right, I informed our team that we missed these and we’ll patch up the “spam reported” items in the backend.

We have a migration checklist, somehow we missed these posts as a part of that checklist… apologies. It’s on our to-do list now.

It would be great if all deleted items could be hidden, since there are deleted troll posts, personal information, etc.

Where can I go to get immunized against CAPTCHA?

I don’t understand this comment. Why would having regular users see a ghost bump help the moderators figure out why a thread might attract spammers? The mods already had to have seen the spam and hidden it, so they already know the spam was there. So they already can look at the thread and see what about said thread might attract spammers.

I don’t get why we users need to be made aware that a spam post was made after the spam has already been removed. There’s nothing at all we can do after that point. We just get the frustration of clicking to open a thread, thinking it will have new content, but then being disappointed. All the while a thread we might have been interested in has been pushed off.

Ghost bumps seem obviously bad from a user experience perspective.

I would be very sad to lose Coldfire’s May 5 memorial.

Also the annual Rudolph thread by poopah_chalupah.

Not necessarily; if you have absentee mods, users can help. It really depends how many there are.

Squeaky wheels get greased, in my experience.