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There have been a few review audits that have been failed recently because the post, on the surface, seems relatively okay. Following the links, though, shows that the post is copied verbatim without any attribution and so can be considered spam (I'm not really wanting to get into semantics of definitions here, but it doesn't seem particularly helpful, at any rate).

So the question is this: when we do reviews, should we follow the links in the posts or just assume that the links are genuine and if we fail an audit, then we just fail?

I feel like this is a question worth raising due to malicious software, etc., that the links could lead to.

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What you describe seems not to be detection of spam, but rather use of copied content with improper attribution.

It is encouraged to quote "verbatim" the most relevant part of the material to be found by following a link, where attribution is provided and the quoting does not (by its extensiveness and lack of authorization) infringe on copyright or constitute plagiarism. Alternatively the OP may prefer to restate the ideas in summary form using their own wording. See here under Provide context for links.

If the (absence of) markup blurs the line between copied and original exposition (perhaps by omitting any original exposition), then this could be a problem with improper attribution.

As a first step I'd probably leave a Comment for the OP, suggesting they highlight what material is copied and thus distinguish it from original exposition. E.g. "Please edit your otherwise useful Answer to delineate between the words you are contributing and those you've found in the linked content."

If that does not result in suitable improvement, and the difficulty in supplying an appropriate "friendly" edit is significant, then it would be worth flagging for moderator attention (IMHO).

I had the occasion today to revise an Answer posted in 2012 on sister site SciComp.SE to supply better indication (for casual Readers) of the content to be found by following the link I gave.

On the other hand when I review items in the queue for content, this typically includes assessing the validity of the links provided (so that spam or unacknowledged self-promotion can be detected). If this causes me to fail the review audit, it seems worth the "price".

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  • $\begingroup$ I definitely see where you're coming from as far as the original post is concerned, but I'm trying to look at the case in general, rather than these specific examples. When reviewing items, do you recommend following a link/investigating a link in a post for the sake of being thorough, or do you suggest skipping the review item when you're on the fence about how acceptable it is (without further investigation). $\endgroup$ – Clayton May 10 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, in the last paragraph I mention following the links of the review item to be thorough. Of course I also "skip" some review items when I feel the issue of closing isn't yet ripe, such as when I or another user has left a comment asking for a clarification and only a small time has passed. $\endgroup$ – hardmath May 11 at 0:13
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You ask:

So the question is this: when we do reviews, should we follow the links in the posts or just assume that the links are genuine and if we fail an audit, then we just fail?

I think it can make sense to turn this question around:

There is a post that contains a link that looks suspicious enough that I am not comfortable following it. Should I tell others that the post is "okay"?

I'd say the answer to this question is that no you should not do this. Of course, you are under no obligation whatsoever to act as mine sweeper for potentially hazardous links if you don't feel comfortable to do so. You are even under no obligation whatsoever to do reviews at all. But if you do take this upon yourself, you should not say the post is "okay" if you did not make a reasonable effort to ascertain that this is indeed the case.

What you can do in such a case is "skip." If it looks massively suspect it could be nice to raise a mod-flag and/or leave a warning comment in addition.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think there are a couple of sides to consider: (1) if I find it suspicious, of course I'd vote to close/delete/etc. but if it looks like a non-native English speaker has written it, I'm more likely to be lenient in how the answer is written, and (2) I'm not asking about the case in general, not an exact replica of a few of the most recent disputed audit reviews. In particular, if I come across a post that is asking for a book recommendation and I see a reasonable answer with a link to what I presume is an Amazon page for the book (or Wikipedia, Springer, etc.), how thoroughly [cont'd]... $\endgroup$ – Clayton May 10 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ ...[cont'd] how obligated should I feel to "check" on the link? (I realize the word obligation might be too strong; feel free to replace it with something else that conveys a mild sense of duty.) Or is it your recommendation that I simply click "skip" in cases where I'm on the fence about whether something is acceptable (without further investigation)? $\endgroup$ – Clayton May 10 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ "I'm not asking about the case in general, not an exact replica of a few of the most recent disputed audit reviews" There seems to be one "not" too much. I am not certain what you mean to ask. $\endgroup$ – quid May 11 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ Haha, sorry about that, quid. I just mean a generic scenario: you're reviewing a queue and come across a post that has a link in it. The post looks like it could be okay, maybe awkwardly worded but nothing that sends up any immediate or obvious red flags. Is the correct action to say that the post looks okay, skip it, investigate further (perhaps checking the link, or at least where it directs users to), or some other action entirely? $\endgroup$ – Clayton May 11 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ If the content behind the link is important to the post I think one should better check it to be sure the post even makes sense as is. If the link is is more an aside and seems plausibly legit (say, something like "For a proof for the above mentioned result see for example Theorem 2.3 in these lectures notes" and the link goes to some pdf on what seems to be a webserver of a university), then I'd assume it's legit and might not inspect further. But then the reason for not checking is rather convenience than concern for it being malicious. Generally, in doubt it's often good to skip. $\endgroup$ – quid May 11 at 0:25

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