In the past few weeks, this site has seen a drastic increase of comment spam.
Well, there’s always a lot of spam, most of which gets filtered well by Akismet. However, this recent round is insidious. In fact, it successfully blurs the line between spam and legitimate comments.
Here’s the characteristics I’ve noticed:
- It’s targetted at WordPress development blogs.
- It’s almost certainly posted by humans, not bots.
- Usually there is a semi-intelligent reference to the post in question. Sometimes you can see that a quotation from the post’s content may have been automated (or semi-automated), but sometimes it seems there must have been some human input. There may be all sorts of smart scripting going on here—e.g. pulling out names of previous commenters to make it seem like there’s a “conversation” going on. But knowing that incredibly cheap human labour is out there for this sort of thing makes it hard to know the real source.
- The comment author’s URL is almost always some blatantly commercial site. Sometimes it’s a WordPress-driven site, sometimes not.
- Sometimes there’s a spam link to the site in the comment body, but usually included in a legitimate-looking way, e.g. some webmaster “signature”.
- The content is designed to induce approval from the blogger, e.g. it’s very flattering, or sycophantically asking for help.
As you can see, most of these points indicate a severely hazy distinction between legit comments and spam.
The thing is, even if a comment is posted by a human, an actual webmaster of an actual WordPress-driven site, I think it can still be spam. I guess you’d call it Grey Hat comment spam. WP developers getting links for their clients on WP developer blogs.
I’m strongly in favour of the open and reciprocal nature of the web; I’m even more strongly against any form of spam. These two attitudes do not sit well together!
So, while I am genuinely happy to give link juice to other developers whose engagement with the WP world brings them to my blog, I’m starting to err on the side of my anti-spam nature. Here’s where I’m heading:
- I’ve removed the URL field from my comment form.
- I’ll spam any comment with a link to a commercial site.
- When the comment isn’t really saying anything useful, I’ll err on the side of spamming it.
I apologize to any legitimate commenters who fall foul of this.
Everyone else, watch this:
And yes, I realize that the current economic climate means that the “Grey” area of marketing encroaches ever closer on what used to be considered “Black”. But in the end this is no excuse. It just exposes the problems with our economy, whether it’s going up or down. The spam mentality is a symptom of a sick business culture that is less and less based on providing good services.
So, while I acknowledge that if burglary and theft may rise in tough times, an increase in Grey Hat spam is hardly shocking, I’m still no more tolerant of it. Stop wasting time and generate some genuine value.
UPDATE 4/5/11: I’ve decided to reinstate the URL field on the comment form. I want to give genuine commenters link juice, and they’re the only ones that will get approved—plus, seeing the URL entered usually helps determine if the comment is spam or not.
UPDATE 30/4/11: Yet another new tactic, which I sensed the approach of. I’ve removed the URL field, so I get some comments that seem innocuous—thanks, or simple questions, with no spam links and a normal-seeming email. I approve it. Then, because I allow comments to be approved straight away if I’ve already approved one from that email, they post again, quickly, with a spam link in the comment. Solution: all comments now require approval, and I’m spamming most comments that don’t actually contribute to the conversation. Message to the spammers: you will never win, you’re just wasting your life. Shame…