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I just found two curious holes in the Stack Exchange definition of spam.

How to not be a spammer is only concerned with answers, not with questions. Neither What types of questions should I avoid asking? nor How do I ask a good question? nor What topics can I ask about here? seem to forbid posting spam questions. (The on-topic page says you shouldn't ask for product recommendation, but it doesn't forbid posting a product recommendation as a question.)

And the spam flag help text gives "does not disclose the author's affiliation" as a criterium.

Now, I just encountered this question:

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/q/412472/1352

To me, this clearly looks like spam, but a) it is not an answer, and b) the author discloses the affiliation in the username, so … it is not spam?

I am confused. Is this spam or isn't it?

The question is clearly off-topic as per the rules, it is in fact not even a question at all. But I can't find anything that would make this question specifically spam, as per the Stack Exchange rules, even though my common sense says it clearly is.

Is there anything I am overlooking? Or is it merely assumed that the definition of spam is "I know it when I see it"?

To be clear, immediately after spotting the question, I downvoted, voted-to-close, and flagged as spam. It was the wording of the help text for the spam flag that caught my eye, because even while it clearly was spam, which is why I flagged it, I found it curious that there is nothing in the help text of the flag nor the explanation on the meta site that would actually make it spam.

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In addition to Glorfindel's answer, there's also something called a "spam seed". This is a question used to elicit spam answers. I treat spam seeds the same way as spam - flag it as spam. As a moderator, that spam flag triggers an automatic deletion that is used to help the anti-spam systems that are in place.

The important thing is that this post (question or answer) only exists to promote a website, product, service, etc. and was made in bad faith. Reading that particular post, it seems like the kind of thing that I see posted on traditional message boards as a thread starter. Likely a spammer who doesn't understand that Stack Exchange is different.

If I ran across this question, I'd do two things. First, I'd vote to close (or close, since I'm a mod here) as "needs detail or clarity". It doesn't ask an answerable question that I see. I'd then flag it as spam (or, since I'm a mod here, nuke it with a spam flag) since it appears to only have been posted for promotional reasons and not a good-faith question.

Also regarding disclosure, I don't consider the user name to be sufficient for disclosure. A user name can be changed at any point in time. I expect the disclosure to be in the body of the question or answer.

I'd have to think about how to address spam questions. Outside of spam seed questions, they are far rarer than spam in answers or comments. There could be some clarity made around Help Center articles or the flag text.

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  • speaking of disclosure I like the way how this requirement is laid out in this canonical answer at MSO, "If you're linking to your own product, site, content, etc., say so, clearly. Don't expect me to infer it by correlating your username with something in the link (or its text). And don't forget that if you change your username, and were relying on that correlation in some answers three years ago, you'll suddenly start breaking the rule on disclosure. So just say so in the text. Simple..." – gnat Jul 8 at 20:44
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Yes, that might be confusing. Even though it does contain disclosure, it's such a textbook "only exists to promote a website" that the second part is waived. The same holds for pharmacy spam or somebody offering hacking services.

Some additional information can be found on Meta Stack Exchange: What are the “spam” and “rude or abusive” (offensive) flags, and how do they work?

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  • I actually found a reference in those links that explicitly excludes usernames from the disclosure requirements. Disclosure needs to be in the post body itself. – Jörg W Mittag Jul 10 at 5:48
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I think this is one of those cases where you really shouldn't be concerned about the letter of the rules. It is very clear what the spirit of the "no spam" rule is. So just do the obvious thing and don't worry about whether there's some specific rule that covers this exactly. We don't need an explicit statement about this exact circumstance to know what spam looks like, so just mark it and move on.

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  • Oh, that's what I did immediately after spotting the question. Downvote, vote-to-close, flag as spam. It was the wording of the help text for the spam flag that caught my eye, because even while it clearly was spam, which is why I flagged it, I found it curious, that there is nothing in the help text of the flag, nor the explanation on the meta site that would actually make it spam. In case you didn't catch the reference, my last sentence is a quote about the definition of hardcore-pornography from a famous US Supreme Court case. – Jörg W Mittag Jul 10 at 5:57

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