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One Year Anniversary Review: Comments on Comment Spam

Comment spam is one of the biggest blights on the Internet. As far as I’m concerned, comment spam is the single most despicable and destructive force on the Internet today. Yes, we have problems with censorship, government infringement, copyright infringement, and other abusive issues, but comment spam is a plague that infests everyone.

Part of the reason blogging is such a powerful phenomenon is the interactive nature of blogs. It’s all about the comments. We live every day for those precious comments, those responses back to our written words and visual images. And then scum-sucking evil fills our comment “inbox”, clogging up the Internet airwaves.

It saps our enthusiasm, energy, wastes our time, and, I honestly believe it stops many from blogging or continuing to blog. Glorified sexual positions and partners, popular writing or news stories packed with links to porn or casinos, solicitations for drugs, prescription meds, cell phone ringtones, financial beggars, and just plain crap wear us down. It’s not fun finding them. It’s not fun dealing with them. And it makes blogging not fun. It becomes work.

Because dealing with comment spam is now work, and it impacts our blogging in so many ways, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about comment spam over the past year. What really gets me is that they don’t get it. For the most part, over 98% of all comment spam is caught and put out of its misery, usually before it ever sees the light of day. It’s a lost battle, and yet the idiots keep fighting. I’m beginning to think of comment and email spammers as a terrorist group. They believe resistance is not futile.

Comment spam is insulting. It is insulting to our hard work. It is insulting to our intelligence. And most of all, it is insulting to the human race. Are people so bored or desperate that they honestly think that creating comment spam is a worthy occupation? Especially when they continue to do so against overwhelming failure due to powerful comment spam fighting tools?

I guess comment spammers must have the intellectual level of a two year old who still giggles hysterically after the 48th time they’ve rammed their tricycle into the garage door. It ain’t going to open the door, and it isn’t going to help the door. Nor the tricycle. You say “no” and the kid giggles harder. After the 56th time, it still isn’t funny and no one except the kid is laughing.

With the spread of scum-sucking comment spammers, blogging software had to become more defensive and more responsive in controlling comment spam. Blog administrators started managing comments rather than just enjoying them.

As the comment spam fighting tools got more sophisticated, comment spammers got more creative. Early last year we started getting “nice comments” that said “thank you” and lovely compliments about our blogs. A closer inspection found that their domain addresses/URLs were not to kind and nice bloggers, but porn, casinos, drugs, credit cards, mortgage companies, and banks.

Since many people understood the value of a link, they commented on blogs in order to get link backs to their own blogs. Comment spammers understood the value of this even better, so many blog products, like , decided to put a rel="nofollow" relationship in comment links. This instructs search engines not to follow the link, killing the power of the links in comments. Many thought that this would be a hard enough slap on the wrist of comment spammers and slow them down if not stop them, but they completely ignored it. I guess they thought bloggers were dumb enough to leave comment spam on their blogs and readers were dumb enough to click the links manually.

Unfortunately, they were right. Comment spammers continue to bring in loads of money. Which is why they keep doing it.

So we started paying more attention to the details in comment spam, getting out our magnifying glasses, as did the comment spam fighting tools. Blacklists were created to filter out any known comment spammers by their IP address. Comment spammers came up with clever ways to quickly change or hide their IP and identifying addresses. They also started hammering the same post over and over again, hunting for a response time lag in comment fighting tools to slip a couple in. Fighting comment spam became a war, not an assault.

Still, at least in the WordPress community, comment spam fighting tools have continued to beat comment spammers into the ground, yet they aren’t getting the hint. Yesterday, I woke up to find over 300 comment spams caught by Akismet, and five still managed to get through. This is rare. Akismet continues to capture over 99% of all my comment spam. In my Comments panel, I marked the five as spam and then went to the Akismet tab and deleted all of those. When the page reloaded, there were 11 more. I deleted all those, and 3 new ones appeared. I deleted all those, and there was one that snuck in – caught. I returned a few minutes later and found 68 more comment spams caught. Indeed, this is a war. Luckily for us, Akismet is winning.

Discussing this in a program I presented last year on blogging and writing on the Internet, a participant asked me how I knew it was a spam bot (computer program) not a person leaving all those “nice” spam comments. As I explained to my audience the clues, such as the same comment posted 49 times, or the URL linking to a casino or porn site, I also had to consider the issue of cheap labor turning away from telemarketing to comment spamming. There may come a time when the spam bot is replaced by a human, making this a much more complex issue.

Last year we were attacked by a spam bot that grabbed content from our posts and inserted it into the comments, looking like they were talking about what we were talking about. What if humans took over the job? Imagine a hot and sweaty room stuffed with tons of computers and tired workers connected to the blogosphere. The workers poke and prod blogrolls, take a second or two to get the gist of your blog post’s content, and then tap in something that honestly sounds legit, including using your name and a reference or two about the content. During the recent Blogathon, I was able to quickly peruse more than 30 blogs an hour. How many could 50-100 workers do an hour? With software that hides or changes IP addresses randomly and automatically, how to do fight sweat shop comment spamming.

I’m glad I’m in the business of promoting comment spam fighting tools and methods and not writing the programs that fight comment spam. I have incredible admiration and respect for these folks. They are making the world a better and safer place to blog.

Why not write a “hug a comment spam fighter” post today. The brilliant folks who put so much time, effort, and ingenuity into fighting comment spam and making the blogosphere a safe place to blog deserve our thanks and appreciation. Hug a comment spam fighter today. ;-)

As for the rest of you who battle with comment spam on your blogs every day, keep up the fight. Just as we should not let a few people caught planning an airline terrorist event who were not in an airport, nor near an airport, and not even with purchased airline tickets in their possession, change the rules for millions of airline travelers, allowing terrorists to win again – do not let comment spammers win. Keep blogging. It’s worth it. They are not.

As you can tell, I’ve had plenty to say about comment spam this year, helping you understand what it is, how to avoid it, and how to spot it. Here are some highlights:

Articles on Comment Spam


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

Member of the 9Rules Blogging Network

15 Comments

  1. Posted August 19, 2006 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Great post. In this sense, the fact that my blog has a small percentage of the numbers of visitors yours gets makes my job is far easier than yours – if I see a post by someone I dodn’t recognise, it’s a trivial piece of work to notice and remove them. Not so easy for you :)

    I use Bad Behaviour and Spam Karma and can honestly say that I have only had one false positive since I started using them. Those and Akismet are great pieces of software and I am grateful for them every time I see the lists of hundreds of comments caught.

  2. Posted August 19, 2006 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Great post – i know that i have blogs that the comment spam stopped is several times that of the number of posts and it irks me no end. But like spam email, until the other 2% of people stop following the link its going to keep on coming. Unfortunately.

  3. Posted August 19, 2006 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Greg: You inspired me to do some math. Comment spam caught on this blog since Akismet was installed: 32,079 divided by 800 posts equals about 40 comment spams per post.

    Now, this isn’t a trustworthy statistic, but an average. I’ve had a single post hit hundreds and hundreds of time by comment spammer bots forcing their way through. Some posts never get hit.

    Still, that’s a lot of manure shoveling.

  4. Posted August 19, 2006 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Great post as usual. Thank goodness my blog is not popular enough to get that much spam but Akismet does catch them and from time to time, I do a few slipping through. It’s just as annoying as getting spam emails which makes my blood boil.

    Maybe making spammers pay is probably the only way to stop them.

  5. Posted August 19, 2006 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    My full-version WP blogs do not contain a “spam” option on the coments page. In other words, if a spam comment *was* to get past Askimet and Bad Behavior, my only option is to delete it rather than mark the comment as spam to train the filters. Is this standard or am I missing an option somewhere?

  6. Posted August 19, 2006 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Roberrt: Askimet has the training spam button. Spam Karma also learns as they go. You would use the Spam Karma tab to deal with those, not the Comments tab.

  7. Posted August 19, 2006 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see a training button anywhere for Askimet (1.15), but upon further digging, I assume that I must go to the edit page for a comment and tick “spam” next to comment status or “unapprove” from a post’s comments page and that will put it into Askimet queue.

    I wouldn’t know since nothing has slipped by Askimet or Bad Behavior (yet – hopefully I didn’t just jinx myself.)

  8. Posted August 19, 2006 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Roberrt: Instructions specific to using Akismet are here that should help.

  9. Posted August 19, 2006 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    I was refering to the WP full version, sorry for the confusion :)

  10. Posted August 20, 2006 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Roberrt: So was I. I thought it worked the same for both versions, but now I see it doesn’t. I’ll look into this more. Thanks for catching it.

  11. Posted August 22, 2006 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Roberrt:

    I did some checking. In the current version, when you EDIT A COMMENT you are offered the chance to change it from approved, moderated, or SPAM. That is where Akismet “learns” which comments are spam and which are not. They are planning to move the “mark at spam” to the Comment Panel in an up coming release, from what I’ve been told.

  12. Posted August 23, 2006 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    So my assumption above was correct, it just seemed like a lot of extra steps. Thanks for digging into it :)

  13. Posted October 14, 2006 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle, thanks for the good article! I like your writing style, very sympatico :) Well, I only have a small private weblog but I did some maths, too: Yet I got about 22 spam comments on each post. *shocked*
    I use Akismet and Spam Karma and since a while I added the did.you.pass.math plugin to combine it with my comments from. Nothing is coming through :) but I can marvel at my spam blacklist stats every day. I can’t feel sorry for those stupid spammers, they just waste their time filling up my blacklist :P

  14. Posted February 20, 2007 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Lorelle you write very well thanks !


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