Stop users from adding "Body must be at least 30 characters" as only edit

by Cody Gray   Last Updated June 30, 2020 01:24 AM

Looking at an answer that was "bumped" by a recent edit, I saw that a user with full editing privileges attempted to work around the 30 character minimum by adding the following text:

Body must be at least 30 characters

What a horrible edit! We would be better off just having the short, likely low-quality answer than adding in noise like this. So I removed this line and added in some additional text to lengthen the answer. You can see the full revision history here.

Then I started looking at that user's edit history, and I found that this isn't the first time he's done this. Within the past 2 days, I found the following edits:

Obviously I could go through and edit them out, but that doesn't stop the problem from occurring. There are several issues that spring immediately to mind:

  1. How do we stop this particular user from doing this? And more generally, how do we stop any user who is trusted with full editing privileges from continuing to make obviously bad edits?

    I could leave a non-authoritative comment using the @-reply system to inform him, but this just adds even more noise to someone else's post (and their inbox). It also may not persuade him, since I don't have one of those diamond thingies after my user name.

    Or I could flag one of the edits for a moderator's attention, describe the problem as I have here, and ask one of them to deal with it.

  2. If we're going to enforce character minimums for posts (which, by the way, I think is a fantastic idea), then we need to make it more difficult to trivially work around. We already seem to ignore characters inside of HTML comments, but maybe we also need to block self-referential mentions of the 30 character minimum.

    I'm not actually sure if this is possible, though. If not, we might need to reconsider ignoring HTML comments. That's how people used to work around the minimum length, and it seems to me like it was preferable to adding noise that appears in the body of the post itself.

  3. Why is this user finding these old posts and making these edits in the first place? He's not changing anything else, so he's not hitting the character minimum when he goes to submit an edit. I suppose he's finding them using one of the Review pages. If that's the case, we seriously need to improve the Review interface. There needs to be an obvious way to indicate that a post is OK and make it disappear from the Review page without forcing a useless edit.



Answers 1


While this is certainly a terrible edit that at best is a passive-aggressive (and therefore wasted) attempt to show other users the error of their ways... I think putting in an actual block for the exact phrase "Body must be at least 30 characters" is rather silly.

What next? Blocking "please make your answer longer"? Or any other possible way to say the same thing?

This is just one user who made a less-than-noble attempt at vandalizing a few posts. The edits have been reverted. The system, such as it is, is working exactly as intended where one person is unable to do a lot of harm without getting noticed.

How do we stop this particular user from doing this?

Flag for moderator attention. I sent the user a message telling him to stop. If he persists, a suspension would not be out of line.

And more generally, how do we stop any user who is trusted with full editing privileges from continuing to make obviously bad edits?

You can't. This is the risk we take by granting certain privileges to users based on reputation. There are major pros to this such as enabling the community to police and govern itself, but there are also cons - such as sometimes people who shouldn't have the power end up having it.

The best we can do make sure there is oversight on as many of these actions as possible. Every edit bumps the question, or other users will just come across the posts organically. Other users can revert edits. Moderators can be summoned to deal with particularly egregious cases.

Why is this user finding these old posts and making these edits in the first place?

Beats me. Far as I can tell, these were not in any review queues when the edits were made. Maybe he did a search for "use sed" or something like that? Still not sure about the motivation for that, but hey, stranger things have happened. :)

Adam Lear
Adam Lear
May 11, 2013 16:51 PM

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