Suspicious activity... people are seeing it... It is like whack a mole... What can be done?

in steemit-abuse •  2 years ago

You've seen them. A post with images, no credit, simple possibly plagiarized text yet everything they write is GOLD they get hundreds and even thousands of dollars for cookie cutter posts. Every post is gold.


Source: giphy.com

Someone will call them out and it may slow down, and another soon arises to take it's place. You'll see similar names of "whales" up voting these cookie cutter money machines. I am suspecting this may not be due to the whales themselves. @berniesanders has been one of these whales, but I am actually suspecting this is not due to him. I will explain a hypothesis I have since reading recent posts from whales on how they are addressing curation.

There are three people I follow that found these suspicious activities before me. @klye, @bacchist and @jsteck. Thank you from a fellow steemit community member for the investigations you guys have done.

This post is not so much an exposé and instead will summarize and give some examples of the perceived problem. Then I'll dive into the real heart of the matter. If this is a legit scam, what can be done about it? What could Ned, Dan, or the others coding steem do about it? As beta testers we can see problems, that doesn't mean there is an obvious solution unless we can help with that.

Are you up to helping?

What we are seeing


There are accounts that seem to come out of nowhere. They often are about cooking. They use stock photos from sites on the internet without citing their source. They provide some simple text which in some cases may be plagiarized as well.

They make over $1000 on their first post as they are whale rushed. Then their next post does the same, and the next, and the next. Until someone like the three individuals I mentioned notices, takes advantage of the transparency of the blockchain and starts investigating.


What does this look like?


It looks very much like some very steem powerful individuals have found a way to farm the system. It looks like the creation of placeholder accounts (@bacchist called sock puppet) that they can then vote up with their very valuable power. This is a lot of money.

I had people in steemit.chat mentioning @honeyscribe as being another one of these. Sure enough there is a humus recipe, very simple, with a stock photo I found on google and no citation. $400+ when I looked at it, and it wasn't the only one.

What does this do to steem?


Well if they are voting on these fake posts they certainly cannot be spending time doing very much good curating. Their voting power would be diluted here. This sends very negative messages.

How do we know they are fake?


All you need to do is look at the quality of the post, and do a reverse image look up on the uncited images. It quickly reveals how put together these are. I briefly considered making a satirical Ramen Noodle recipe post copying their technique just to show how truly ridiculous this is.

They'll get smarter.


Even if we use these techniques they'll get smarter. If they are making this kind of money they certainly can change to taking some photos if that is what it takes. They will become more difficult to detect. However, we know the names of the whales that tend to be flocking to these posts. Keep monitoring them and they will likely lead you to future sock puppets.

I stated it may not actually be the whales doing this


They have stated that curation is becoming difficult to keep up with so they have hired people to curate. These people must follow certain criteria. What is to stop these proxy curators from creating bogus accounts, or getting family members to create bogus accounts and then voting those up? Suddenly it goes from a job they were hired to do into a gold mine.

What can whales do?


Think about how you can keep an eye on those you are hiring to proxy curate for you. If Dan or Ned can add a way to add an ID to a proxy vote then perhaps you could narrow down who is casting such votes in your behalf for these sock puppets. Just another step towards improving the transparency.

What can Steem Developers Do?


For tracking down things like this more transparency is the key. Transparency is already great, but if people are given proxy power to vote for a whale then there needs to be a way for those individuals to be identified so the whale can take an appropriate course of action if they are abusing or taking advantage of the situation.

I am giving the whales involved in this the benefit of the doubt. That is why I have come up with an alternative explanation.

Disclaimer


I have been reading these and remaining silent. I thought maybe it was coincidence. There seems to be something to this. @jsteck's post I linked above has other potential accounts that could be like these as well.

Tags I chose were ones I've seen in the past. I am 100% behind steem. I do not think it is a scam, or a Ponzi scheme. We do however, need to do something about the scams that we are seeing with accounts like @mrron, @msgivings, and @honeyscribe.

EDIT: A new post relevant to this was posted @msgivings Frequent Trending Authors has been exposed for plagiarism the question is this what steemit wants to be

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Honestly, it is like playing whack-a-mole. If you haven't done so already check out the stats for last week from @steemcleaners.

There are those that have been trying to outsmart cheetah and her human helpers, but eventually, I think they will get them. There's also some new "scams" we are seeing that I won't men​tion.

I think users have to look at a person's history before voting. My vote isn't worth a penny yet, but if something looks "off" I do look at their comment, voting, and post history before voting.

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Yes. I understand this. I made it onto some early reports people were making thinking I might be a bot just because of how much I post, and comment. Yet, I think people quickly realized I'm just a weird guy that likes to talk a lot.

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I think that's how I ended up following you! :)

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Very possible. I didn't even know I was on reports until earlier this week when I was testing out the newest search results from steemshovel.com and it does a good enough job now that searching my ID came up with posts by other people that referenced me. So I saw those reports for the first time. I had no idea that for awhile people thought I might be a bot.

Thx for sharing
I was not aware this was happening
I come in with a 25 score
And do a lot of commenting all week
Yet, Some of these other steemians are coming in and getting high scores
I think it is weird
I saw one post get hundreds
I try to investigate
Only because I do not want to time and
have had problems posting blog posts
The comments work just fine tho
I have to be sure this is right for Me
I have met nice People here

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Yes, don't let this discourage you. Steem and steemit are great. It is in beta, so this post is about me essentially filing a bug report in the hopes that the developers, community, or both can find a way to address this. Steemit is great, even with stuff like this. It is not completely about the money... for some of us we'd post for $0.00. Some of my personal favorite posts I made I was lucky if I made $0.20. I've had posts I wrote that I thought were of lesser quality do really well.

It is like fishing... sit back and enjoy the environment while you cast out your line.

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True,
So True!!
Lots of Fun,
Especially when You meet People
that share Your interests, hobbies, and skills!!

Possibly they have a personal friendship with a whale? I wish I knew a whale!!!!

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That is possible. I also hinted at that with the family member reference. Still unethical. So when I get enough power I should just vote on my family and friends whether their posts are worth it or not for thousands of dollars while ignoring lots of other amazing posts. (I know you are not saying this... I was just being sarcastic)

thanks for the daylight

This is frightening!
Excellent post based on outstanding research - very important read!

For the little guy trying their best to generate worthy, hopefully thought-inspiring material, from their own noggins , there's nothing more frustrating than seeing a bread-pudding recipe make hundreds of dollars, and you forced to find comfort in 5 cents. :-) On top of that to think there may be some shenanigans on both the author's 'and' curator's part, is rather sickening.

For example your "Alpha Game" post - brilliant, very creative, and fun to read - community building potential .. much more valuable than some chick talking about whether or not it is a good idea to give someone head on their first date.

I mean seriously!

what do you think about @healthyrecipes ?

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I haven't had a look at them. I will. Then do some reverse image look ups.

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I am pretty sure they are legit. They have been around for quite some time and the images seem to be theirs. I guess I need to start working on recipes or easier stuff.

NAH...

I post what I like. If I make money great, if not... so be it.

Still those are some high payouts for some pretty quick posts. People like to EAT though so I can see recipes exciting some people.

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If it would be that easy. Smoothie brings money not to all steemers. e.g. https://steemit.com/smoothie/@margot/blueberry-smoothie
and there are many others I checked. I was also impressed that first post with healthy recipes brought for more than 1500$. Also thought about family relations. And I really hope it is not like that. I don't want to disappoint in this platform that much.
And thank you for writing that!

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I've been told there may have been some family or friends situations in some of these cases. This sucks, but it is human nature. We are teaching each other how to police these things. There will be other whales in the future, they will be the dedicated people slowly working their way up through the ranks here. I don't know a software solution to all of these problems, and I don't know if there is a 100% solution to all of them either as con men, frauds, and scams still exist outside of steem. Yet we as a community can observe them, and teach other people to observe them, and then teach the community not to vote for them. They might still get hit by a few whales but there is more than just a digital reputation system here. There is also the reputation with how the community perceives each of us.

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probably you already know but @msgivings was caught. congratulations.

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Yeah I read @bacchist post about @msgivings being caught.

Thanks for sharing- I'm pretty sure I upvoted a honeyscribe post before- I had no idea

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Me too.

This has been going on since I been here ( more than a month now ), it just has been evolving and changing quickly. One thing I have noticed is this kind of accounts never or I haven't seen any of them actually respond and interact in their comment sections.

If I had a post hit the 1k mark, I'd piss myself with joy and be giddy as all hell responding and interacting with the people leaving me comments.

One thing I do want to point out, and maybe this is why most of my post haven't done as well as I hoped is, I am not a sock puppet account, but most of the images I have used all have come from free stock photo sites like pixaby etc.

It comes down to I prefer being a writer than a photographer. However, I did currently pick myself up a new Nikon 5330 to start taking some of my own photos to use in my posts, like I said I have a hunch stock photos may have hurt some of my earlier posts that I felt were deserving of at least some attention. The problem now for me is like I said I am not a photographer and I need to learn how in the F to use this camera

I defiantly wouldn't want to call out or accuse of any whales of creating the accounts themselves, but I could defiantly see how lucrative it would be to do so, in reality, there are no "rules" per say that they couldn't do it, it is more of a moral and ethics debate as Steemit doesn't seem to have set rules, just unwritten rules by individuals and what the community sees as fit for Steemit.

I think you could be on to something about hired individuals having friends, family etc making puppet accounts to vote on, but I would think the hiring whale would catch onto this quite quickly, though.

In reality, in platforms and systems where revenue is involved, you will always have gamers trying to game the system to their advantage, and there will always be some kind of loophole. Not saying we need accept the fact of how things currently on the platform, merely saying it will be a never ending battle for @dan and @ned and the rest of us @steemians who plan to stick around.

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You can use other people's images... I do too. I make some of my own as well, but when I use someone's image I'll do like I did in my post. I'll post the image and below it I'll add a line that says "Source: what website it is from"

I am then not giving people the impression it is my image. I didn't always do this, but I do it all the time now unless it is something I made.

As to posts not doing well... it is really hard to predict what will do well. Some of my posts do pretty good, but most don't do great. I just keep on working at it, and writing things I am interested in.

Some posts of mine I don't expect to do well do good.

Some posts I am really proud of and worked really hard on don't do well at all. One of my personal favorite posts I made I think earned $0.58.

EDIT: It made $0.39, but it is still one of my favorite posts that I've made.

This is not a simple problem to solve because there are so many issues at stake most of which cannot be uncovered by simply examining the blockchain.
When you have millions of dollars at stake, everything gets exponentially complicated.
If enough people take the time and trouble to vote on posts where they feel a connection, this will go a long way towards a solution.
Without that kind of concerted action, it will be a platform that only works for the bots which will definitely not be sustainable.
We do have power to change things but we have to use it. My 2 cents!!

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Yes not a simple problem.

Trust me, you guys aren't the only ones noticing this cookie-cutter, copy-and-paste nonsense. Most of us know that it's happening. The question is - what can we actually do about it? The whales are obviously oblivious to this, they don't care about it, or they're in on it.

It's frustrating to watch these $1000 posts getting paid out to users that are likely plagiarists or other scammers abusing the platform. As long as nothing is done to get the whales to curate better, it'll continue - and that will simply continue to tarnish the platform for users and non-users alike.

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I have heard some rumblings that there are initiatives by people like @donkeypong to try to help with this problem. I also wrote this post because I do know that occasionally @dantheman reads my material. Not that reading this material will give him a clue on how to solve this. It's a tricky problem. How do you enforce it?

This also partially why I suggested a tag or ID to identify a proxy voter so that IF it is being done by someone paid to curate for a whale then that whale can find out who is abusing that. If you're going to report a bug in a beta it helps to try to be constructive...

Though really I'm not sure they'll be able to do too much about this problem. Solutions to this might have to evolve naturally within the community with the understanding that sometimes it's going to slip through the cracks.

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Well, one thing Dan and Ned could do is flag the user's posts. For example: @msgivings has a recent post that has 107 flags, but the reputation is still at 62, even with a few whale flags. It needs more. They can start with that.

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Or convince stellabelle she has the highest reputation out of anyone. Even higher than Dan.

It's also funny that @justinlaak came to the defense of @mrron when he was questioned about the content - because justinlaak had an identical track record: Barely informational posts with a bunch of images that had no attribution, which I had mentioned in chat, but was told that he had "checked out." Is it surprising that neither account has had a new blog post since last week when @klye posted about this?

Edit: Based on the posts and images of the two users, I would argue that it's quite possible that @justinlaak could very well be @honeyscribe.

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Yeah I noticed it. It was @klye that awakened me to this issue with that post of his. I've simply seen that others are finding and researching others since then.

Bingo. It's obvious just from the titles. I'm not sure how to describe or characterize them, but there is a typical-sounding sort of title you see, like on the Yahoo! homepage or in a Facebook page. They're designed to be kind of benign, yet clickbait for mindless, shallow internet users.

There are images that go along with this, the kind you see in MicroSoft adds or on their website--a couple dressed in completely inoffensive colors leaning over looking at the computer and holding a cup of coffee. Another one is someone jumping in the air on the beach at sunset.

These aren't the kind of titles and images you expect to see in a community populated by nerds, anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, fiercely independent self-starters and so on.

Recognizing those accounts is easy, obvious. I came here to get away from titles, images and articles like that. Thank you for pointing it out.

The cheetah bot seems to be missing a lot of plagiarized copy.

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It can only detect certain things. If you know what you are doing and rearrange things or tweak some things here and there you can foil such detection. Cheetah is actually doing a pretty damn good job. I remember what it looked like before that bot existed. It could be difficult to curate at times due to the tons of crap and spam.

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Good to know. I've been on the site for just a few weeks.

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On the other hand, take a look at this one: https://steemit.com/design/@monattalent/the-psychic-curry-t-shirt-is-a-realistic-print-of-japanese-curry
It's copy-and-paste plagiarism, and hasn't been marked by cheetah.

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When you find such a piece do what you did, but also consider going into steemit.chat and the steemitabuse-classic channel and tell them about this post or others like it. @anyx the author of cheetah bot and others that have been fighting this problem monitor that channel.

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Thanks--good ideas. I'm just dipping my toe into steemit.chat and haven't been to steemitabuse-classic; there's so much to find and learn, and I put a lot of time into each blog I write. The link I posted earned its money the first day and I didn't stumble on it until later, but I also spend a lot of time in the 'new' section and try to spot plagiarism there. I'll start posting those in the two places you mentioned. Because I used to be a reporter, I particularly notice and check ones that are written in a journalistic style.

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I've also now followed @anyx. Thanks for that info as well.

i have seen unnecessary flagging. anyone think these bad actors could be doing this as well?

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It is hard to say. I have heard there has been retaliatory flagging by some but against people that had higher reputations than them so it didn't actually do anything.

@dwinblood I always enjoy reading your quality articles, thank you. Hopefully measures to deal with these plagiarists will come into effect soon. It annoys me no end to see the payouts that your posts (for example) receive, when I know the time it takes to craft a quality blog, get cents, and accounts such as those you mentioned get thousands for no work.

@kyriacos had some proposals: https://steemit.com/steemit/@kyriacos/last-night-i-dreamt-about-steemit-10-suggestions-to-make-the-platform-grow

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I went ahead and replied to his proposals. Some of them I liked. Some I didn't think would fly. I provided a lengthy response explaining why.

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I'll take a look :)

Perhaps the answer to solving the problem lies not in finding after it has been posted but building a system into steemit to stop it in it's tracks.
If we where to utalise a program like cheetahbot that checks and rejects any posts that are plagerised before publication.
Although users who wish to publish material from their own blogs would need a way to have this verified and passed perhaps through voulentary members such as the steemclean team.

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Too easy to foil. These things work from patterns. It is a balancing act. If you're not careful it would also be flagging legit posts. PEople learn to defeat systems designed to stop them. Cheetah helps a great deal, but the idea of a bot that can stop all of this. Not likely to happen and attempts that tried to keep up with them would undoubtedly have collateral damage.

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ah I see thanks dwinblood. not entierly sure what else the whales can do they clearly don't have time to manually check everypost the upvote.

good post up voted and followed