Vandalism is wrecking the Duolingo experience. Vandals insert nonsense translations into articles, often overloading browsers or preventing the site from being accessible.

There needs to be an administrative mechanism for reverting everything that a vandal does, in a global fashion, so that all traces of every change they have made can be wiped out, their usernames released for re-use and their IP blocked.

Is there hope of this coming soon? Save Duolingo, please.

April 13, 2013


I've encountered this as well, and have reported it via the support tab. Hopefully it gets some attention soon. Until there's a fix (proper input validation would be a good place to start), I've been able to replace the offending text with the following steps:

  1. Click edit button for the offending sentence.
  2. Select all text in the text box with ctrl-a.
  3. Replace the offending text with a single character (I used x).
  4. Click an empty spot somewhere in the web page that is not in the edit panel - don't click a link! This hides the edit panel.
  5. Click the edit button again to restore the panel with your unsaved correction, and edit it as appropriate.
  6. Click save.

I've had to use these steps in Firefox and Chrome browsers because the large blocks of text resulted in the "save" button being inaccessible otherwise.

Duolingo could easily stop this type of vandalism (people inserting very large blocks of text) by having a maximum character limit. Something like the length of the original sentence x3, so that nobody translating seriously will ever run into it.

«Something like the original sentence x3» is good, what it's better, why don't we fall back on the old trustable system, I know it sounds boring and all, but hey... It works!, (or at least make the changes optional, not forced)

That's a good procedure that at least makes it possible to edit the sentences. But still, the vandals can hide a good translation in a couple of seconds or even by automation, and it will take multiple steps to revert each sentence. Doing the right thing is harder than doing the malicious thing.

Yes, there's still a big exposure to abuse until fixed, but at least users have some ability to combat it while the devs get a fix into production. There was just one article with a 64KB block of text pasted into the translation of the title that caused the index page to load slowly, and made the article's page virtually unusable. Imagine if a group of miscreants (or one with some relatively easy to write scripts) decided to make sure that every article had this problem.

Thank you for reporting this! We'll be working on fixing it.

Please block this user: He has been spamming so many translations!

Same for the user salpiccone, who spammed the Dyrhólaey article.

I worry that it could be a threat to the fantastic social experiment you've set up and the free language instruction you've supplied to people around the world. (Thank you!) One motivation for some of these vandals seems to be false documentation of knowledge of English. An example is thanhnguyen21, who seems to have earned himself a level of about 23 in English by inserting inconspicuous extra periods and removing isolated letters in thousands of translations. Down-votes are ineffective, because these folks don't seem to be motivated by getting to a higher translation tier. One solution would be to remove the incentive by deactivating the accounts of people who engage en egregious abuse, giving the benefit of the doubt to people who might be sincere but misguided. They could return as sock puppets, but they might lose interest if they have to start over repeatedly at level 1. Another possibility is to have a crawler automatically revert revisions made by people who have been confirmed as bad actors. Trying to undo their damage by hand would be an overwhelming task for translators who are trying to put out work that will be a credit to Duolingo.

Another possibility would be to deliberately provide a "hack" that allows these folks to cheat to get points without them having to resort to damaging other people's work. Many people get into high translation tiers by doing nothing other than transcribing numbers in tables. These scores are a cheat in some sense, but nobody cares. Here's another hack that nobody cares about, though it could compromise Duolingo's acceptance in schools:

You can hit Save without seeing it by using the keyboard. Steps 1-3 and then press shift-tab twice to move the focus to the Save button. Then you just press enter and the translation is saved.

True, but I didn't include that in my instructions because doing it that way actually saves a nonsense edit (or one that you can't see to ensure that there are no errors) which just clutters up the edit history even more. Using the method I outlined gets a workable edit window back and allows you to make progress without first having to submit a bogus translation of your own.

Tried your procedure exactly, but it didn't work, as I only got this message: "Translation does not seem correct." Instead of the character "x", "À faire." did the trick (for a French article).

If you follow the procedure exactly, you won't get any messages regarding the validity (or lack thereof) of your text because it's not submitted. I just confirmed this to ensure that something hasn't changed in the days since my original post - I had no problems. The procedure I outlined takes extra steps to keep extra garbage from being submitted into the text's revision history (as noted in the exchange above between myself and lynxlynxlynx). You'll only get a message like "Translation does not seem correct" if you click save, so I'm guessing you did that, whether consciously or not.

On the bright side, the fact that an error condition like you describe was raised indicates that there's some new input validation occurring that wasn't happening prior to the reports of vandalism, so that's good news.

i don't think the IPs should be blocked because they could use a public computer or a shared computer at home and they could be being hacked so i don't think that is really fair just delete the nonsense vandalism

The block should expire, or be easy to appeal. The most important piece is to somehow not just block vandals but to revert all their damage. Detection of vandalism would also be helpful. Edits that are far too big to be legitimate would be a good place to start.

You should do something like what Wikipedia does, allow some users to have special powers to administrate/moderate on the site. On wikipedia, some users can easily undo ("rollback") what other users have done. You have to apply to get this right and if you misuse it you will lose it.

Read more:

I agree with all of this but the IP blocking as this does not work and just wastes resources.

I do not understand the motivation for such an act

Some people are just stupid and don't care. They don't give a hoot if they're messing up something that other people have spent time and effort on.

(Making other people upset,Fun...)

Yes, I've seen a couple documents where someone inserted random letters and spaces into every sentence, completely ruining the translations. And I have two choices: spend my valuable time going through every sentence and fixing it; or just leaving it, knowing that either someone else will be forced to fix it, or the final translation will just be totally messed up.

This is happening to me too. On one of my sentences, one person just added a random period in the middle of the sentence. I think it is silly.

Perhaps there should be a way to report a translation, claim it is completally vandal

I just encountered this. Totally agree.

Speaking only intuitively as I do not have the technical expertise, it seems that it would be fairly "easy" to track by time and username where this vandalism is coming from--and hopefully, no one is pretending to be someone else and the blame lands on innocent people. I know that I can look back to see where corrections have been done on my offerings and I can see the last person doing corrections. So far this vandalism has not occurred to my knowledge in translations that I have done. If some of you are accessing by mobile devices through social networks, then that could add another dimension to solving the problem.

Another issue is, that many people do not enter "already translated" pages, so vandalized translation remain there untouched. I think this is because one gets very little "coins" by verifying other people's translation (even when those are completely incorrect, and you have to re-write the sentence – you still get only one point).

Maybe it will be useful to encourage more people to verify previous translations somehow.

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