Image Spam vs The World! -some advice for

It had to happen sometime. is a wide-open, free access forum that allows image uploads.  And many fractal artists subscribe to the old belief that if you throw enough “stuff” at the wall eventually some of it will stick.

Well, 65 clumps on the wall in one day was just too much for the folks at  Maybe I shouldn’t advertise this, but they’ll still let you get away with hurling three a day.  Frankly, I’d say that even one a year is too much.  Why allow anyone to use a community forum as a personal gallery?  –community space as personal space.

I’ve smiled a few times while following the discussions about this on  The moderators over there are wrestling with the same thorny questions that we did here on Orbit Trap when we finally decided to moderate comments and not grant carte blanche to anyone who wanted to spit on us or preach ad nauseum from the comments section.  Say something relevant or shut up.

Interestingly, the term ad nauseum has been used in the English language since the early 1600s.  It seems that overwhelming and unwanted content is nothing new.  It’s just grown legs and sprouted wings since the internet came along.

Now, in defense of people who want to dump a pile of their artwork right in the middle of everyone’s way…

There is no defense for people who do this.  It’s a deliberate attempt to hijack a venue known for better content and use it, briefly, for the completely futile purpose of showing people stuff that they don’t want to look at.  Nice people don’t do this.Unfortunately it’s the nice people who have to respond to it and come up with a policy to deal with it.  What it really is is unpaid advertising.

So what exactly should be done about image spamming on a place like  Glad you asked.  I’ve been thinking about this, and like I said before, it’s much the same sort of situation as has been encountered here on Orbit Trap with respect to comment moderation.  So I feel like I’ve been through this before.

#1 Don’t punish the innocent

It’s always just a few people who do this.  Try to focus your attention on fixing them.  Forcing everyone to stick to some arbitrary limit in the interests of “fairness” isn’t fair because all those other people are not the problem.  In a similar sense good dogs don’t need to be put on a leash (or muzzled).  You don’t have to treat good members the same as bad ones.  In fact, why would you?

#2 Punish the guilty (with zeal and abandon)

Kick ’em out!  Kick ’em wa—-y out!  And throw rocks at them while they run off.  Get everyone involved and celebrate!  Have a deletion party.  Use blinking text and marquee messages.

#3 Don’t give newcomers a door key

Spammers usually register and dump a load of junk right away.  They’re usually strangers.  They don’t make any attempt to “get to know anyone”, because they’re just there to use the facilities, the web space.

If it’s possible, don’t allow anyone to immediately upload anything.  Give them 30 days or something to show their good behavior and just join in the forum discussions.  The probationary period will pass soon and then they can have full access.  But for spammers, the probationary period will never end because they’ll never stick around that long.

#4 Public forums are not “Public” places

The place belongs to whoever started it up and pays the fees (if any).  If you want it to be a place to discuss fractal software development where images are only posted as examples, illustrations or test-renders… then don’t apologize to people who want it to be an online art gallery.  Suggest they sail away and found a vibrant new online colony, far (far) over the horizon.

Whatever preferences the owner or moderator may have for the site may drive some people away but the one’s who are looking for what you’re attempting to establish and maintain will gladly cooperate with you because they share your vision for the site, too.

You can’t be all things to all people and if you try the whole site will just descend into fiery spamnation.

#5 The New, The Trusted and the Ugly

Three classes of members (if the software allows it).  Don’t set any posting limits, just tell everyone to stop before they post an image and ask “why will anyone on this forum want to look at this?”  If you can think of a reason then go ahead and upload it.

Posting limits turns moderators into policemen and spoils the mood of the forum (for them as well as the others).  They also force moderators to punish members only because they’ve stepped over a (possibly forgotten) line.  It’s all about quality, not quantity.  If someone drops in with some exciting snapshots from their Voyage to the Bottom of the Fractal Sea, then they should govern their uploads by the same principle that everyone else is using: “will it be of interest to other members?”.  Sometimes you need a series of images to make your point.

#6  Keep your list of rules short

The comment policy on Orbit Trap was slowly boiled down to a single sentence: “Comments are moderated, but only to weed out the harassing ones.”  What exactly does “harassing” mean?  Well, for starters it’s a relative thing, but the essence of it is this: irrelevant and unpleasant.

Contrary opinions aren’t irrelevant although they might be unpleasant.  But when people people repeat the same things again and again, they quickly become both irrelevant and unpleasant.  But that’s what “trolls” are all about: they want to irritate you and discourage you from continuing.  To them, freedom of speech means having the freedom to heckle whoever’s giving the speech.  In other words: harassment.

#7 Marked for Destruction!

Image spam is the posting of irrelevant images.  Images that don’t have any connection to what the forum postings or the general theme of the forum is all about.  If a moderator isn’t sure that the images being posted by someone are irrelevant just wait for someone to say so.  In an open community, annoyances are self-limiting things that everyone is eager to “fix”.

News sites allow anyone to flag a comment and then label it for the moderators as: 1) spam; 2) hate speech; or 3) obscenity.  If the software allows this, Fractalforums could include a “Flag this image” as part of the gallery posting template along with the “rate this image” 5-star option.

Anyone can mischievously click on that flag as a prank (sounds like fun) but the news sites don’t say they’re going to remove flagged comments, they just allow you to flag them in order to “alert a moderator”.  What this flagging thing really does it remind commenters that every comment they post can easily be flagged as garbage if someone thinks it is.  When you post stuff that people don’t want to see they’re doubly motivated to alert the moderators and get you punished for it.  But they also know that if there’s nothing wrong with what you’ve posted then it won’t do anything and may even make them look bad.  (Oh no, another form of online vermin to be eradicated: false complainers.)

It’s easy to skip over 65 mediocre images in an online gallery, I do it every day!  But it’s strangely soothing to click on each image, one at a time and flag them.  It’s that vengeful aspect of human nature that makes the task of moderation so much easier.  People like to punish wrong-doers.  That’s what keeps comment sections going: the urge to correct others.

#8 Deep discussions about math and graphical programming…

Deep discussions about math and graphical programming are toxic to image spammers.  I actually think that’s what has kept the art dumpers away from for so long: it shrivels them right down to the roots like a good old systemic herbicide.

Linux forums have the same effect on the link spammers.  They take one look at what’s being discussed and they’re no longer even sure what language the forum is using.  “Who on earth is going to read this stuff?”

I noticed a few months ago a number of unrepentant Deviant Arters dropped in on, posted images and began doing “deviant” things like posting inane comments to make theirs and their friends images stand out.  Surprisingly, these people just drifted back to Deviant Art and abandoned their conquest of Fractalforums (itching skin, headaches, tired all the time…)

One reason was that they didn’t get much attention.  Probably because most members on Fractalforums weren’t interested in images that only look nice and didn’t have some technical relevance, but also I believe because the heavily technical atmosphere of Fractalforums drove them away.  I think they finally found a potential audience that didn’t interest them.

One of the best ways to keep any online site from being hijacked is to simply be so extremely different that outsiders suffer from culture shock.  If you aren’t interested in fractal programming and the optimization of graphical systems then what is there for you at Fractalforums?  Even nerds would call these guys nerds.

#9 Censorship!!!

I almost forgot about this.  Funny, because even today it still comes up.  You block someone from commenting after weeks or months of steadily growing annoyance and within hours they suddenly appear in your referral stats on another site telling everyone in the world how they’ve been “censored”.  I thought censored meant you were prevented from speaking?

But no, to blog trolls it means they’ve been forced to set up a brand new blog!  This kind of New Censorship could the greatest boost to self expression ever seen.

There is no such thing as censorship on the internet.  Users finding themselves “censored” (the Che Guevaras of our time) can go to Blogger (popular), or Deviant Art (even more popular) or (good comment moderation options!).  Add in Google Adsense advertising and they might even make money at being “censored”.

And for the fractal art Che Guevaras who find themselves exiled from, there are even trendier options available from which to “show the world” how they’ve been censored.

Flickr is nice.  Deviant Art is your best bet if you’re looking to recruit a battalion of berets and counter attack (on Deviant Art).  Picasa… Renderosity (does anyone go there anymore?).  They’re all free of charge, but for a few bucks a month you can (literally) own your own domain and expose the evil squelching of anyone (or everyone) who’s blocked you from accessing their site for reasons you may start to better understand if you actually attract an audience and start receiving the same trash you once dished out.

Don’t cry “censorship” online.  It just shows how superficial and phony you are (and probably were all along).


Anyhow, is a special part of the fractal world and I’d like to see it stay exactly the way it is.  Hopefully the moderators will have the conviction to stand by their reason for being and tell people who want to do other things to go to other places.

I believe it was probably that need for a new and special venue that gave birth to in the first place.  That’s how Orbit Trap got started.