After making some changes to our software and firewall settings, we quietly reopened submissions at Clarkesworld on March 12th. The second submission received resulted in a ban over the use of machine-generated content. This wasn’t a surprise.

Our goals are:

  • Acquire more legitimate submissions in hopes of building up our inventory.
  • Test some simple deterrents in hopes of reducing the quantity of spam submissions. This buys time for the first goal.
  • Collect data and identify patterns in spam submissions.

As of a few minutes ago, we had received 576 submissions and processed 474 of them. 93 have resulted in bans and 7 have been marked as suspicious (a new category meaning they might have used those tools). The overall percentage of spam is down, but the effectiveness of our changes is slightly masked by the natural boom in submissions that follows being closed. There’s also an element of “submit while you can” in there as it is entirely likely we’ll have to close if prior trends are still in effect. (It’s too early to say.) We have data to show that we are cutting off at least 10% of the attempts before they reach the submission page. It’s a trick we don’t expect to last, but at least provides us with some amusement and more time.

Do we have a solution?

No, but we do have an idea that will take some time to implement and we’re happy enough being able to see at least one step on the path ahead. That first step is resembles a spam filter, but it’s not exactly the same. That should help us prioritize incoming submissions and avoid having to adopt some of the solutions that would have disproportionately impacted new and international writers. This will create extra work that none of us want, but it beats some of the more draconian alternatives. Hopefully this can hold until we can see the next step. Continued growth could overwhelm this model too.

And because, inevitably, there is someone in the crowd who is blinded by the tech and screaming “judge it for the quality” … No, that would be a waste of time. For starters, those stories are absolutely terrible right now. Sure, it might get better, but maybe you should go read this excellent article by Ted Chiang before you romanticize it too much. There’s also the matter of rights, specifically a lack of clear ownership of these works. I simply can’t sign a contract without those. Or perhaps I’m just angry and lashing out over these companies gleefully using the copyrighted works of others as part of their training. (Before you even start the “but that’s how humans learn” argument, I suggest you find out how humans really learn first.)

The fact of the matter is that we have rules. Every publication has rules. Our rules say we don’t want generated content. They also say that we don’t want horror. If someone submits horror, you wouldn’t have a problem with me completely ignoring them, so what’s the problem here? I’m sure you have house rules too. Like… don’t throw the silverware in the garbage. How would you feel if someone did it anyway? What if half of your visitors did it? Wouldn’t you complain? Take action to keep it from happening?

Use these tools if you like. I’m not saying you can’t. Just don’t do it in my house.