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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Giving abusers the silent treatment

August 14, 2007

The subject of abuse comes up almost daily at Viddler. Whether we’re flagging videos as violations of copyright law, discovering users who try to distribute full films, etc. were always discussing ways of suppressing abuse.

Turns out that other services have similar problems of dealing with abuse on a daily basis. San Francisco-based Ma.gnolia doesn’t necessarily have to deal with the same issues that Viddler does, but they deal with an entirely different type of abuse. Where Viddler deals with users that upload content they do not own or that contains material that the service was not meant to host, Ma.gnolia deals with spammers that try to use Ma.gnolia as a way to build PageRank.

In both cases, though, the way each company has chosen to deal with abuse is much the same. Both Ma.gnolia and Viddler use a 3-step process: Hide, Wait, Delete.

Viddler flagging options

Viddler’s flagging options

When we find a user on Viddler that has uploaded a video that violates copyright law, we’ll typically flag the video (the same feature available to anyone browsing the site), and hide the video by making it private. Sometimes, if we feel the situation warrants it, we will message the user asking them if they own the copyright or have permission to publish the content. If we do not receive a response we’ll delete the video. However, if we notice the user only uploads “spam”, that are in clear violate of our terms of service, we’ll will quickly flag and delete those videos without even asking the user. Usually these are cases where someone uploads three copies of Harry Potter and four episodes of LOST in one night. And so far, Viddler has done extremely well of warding off this type of abuse.

Ma.gnolia goes one step further. The moment that a spammer is identified their account is flagged as such. This automatically makes the spammer’s content (or bookmarks) disappear for the public Ma.gnolia community. Except, unlike the Viddler user that can see that we’ve make their videos private, Ma.gnolia makes everything appear completely normal from the spammers perspective. This is genius for a few reasons.

When spammers find a way to exploit a system, they’ll typically continue to do so until it doesn’t work anymore (or they’re blocked) and then they try to find a new way. If Ma.gnolia were to simply block that user from posting their content, they’d simply find another way to do so or open a new Ma.gnolia account. Instead, it might be weeks before the spammer sees no dividends from its effort to spam Ma.gnolia. Which cuts down the amount of “spam blocking” efforts Ma.gnolia has to make before moving to the next step!

The next logical step for Ma.gnolia is to delete the spammer’s account. They only do this after the account has been inactive for at least 6-months. When they do this maintenance they end up deleting millions of identified spam bookmarks at a time. Since we’re working on keeping Viddler very clean on a day-to-day basis the amount of data we “delete” each day is relatively low, but obviously we’re spending more time doing this more often.

I could imagine Viddler benefiting in a few ways from incorporating a similar system to Ma.gnolia. The first would be that we’d be able to save some day-to-day resources in marking multiple videos and instead just be able to flag accounts of known abusers. Second would be that we’d be able to quickly remove an enormous amount of content in bulk. And third, it’d probably cut down on the amount of “spam” that our community will have to actually see. This is definitely a note I’ll be dropping into the suggestion box.

Starting a new project where you know there will be abuse? Take note.