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Battling Comment Spam: Human Versus Human


When I first brought up the issue of humans manually comment spamming, a lot of people were skeptical, but those in the know were very worried. According to Abhijit Nadgouda of ifacethoughts and The Guardian, comment spammers are now hiring cheap labor to break through captchas and registrations to spread comment spam all over your blogs.

Though a single spammer cannot be as fast as a machine, thousands of them together than spell a lot of trouble. Captchas force you to identify certain characters and enter them, which machines cannot follow. This works fine assuming that humans, for whom captchas are built, do not spam. The outsourcing trend will overcome this.

I’ve been telling you for a couple years now that captchas and comment registration don’t work. Simple captchas can be easily bypassed by comment spamming bots that crawl the web on their bellies, looking for bloggers with a false sense of security.

Either way, with comment spamming becoming the next telemarketers of the cheap labor force, and taking advantage or “third world” and low income areas, I fear comment spamming has reached a new phase.

When I encountered by first batch of human comment spammers, using phrases from my article and even my name, I was really nervous. How do you fight against such evil?

Nadgouda recommends search engines penalize comment spamming websites with a blacklist, but this is not as easy as it appears. is the only comment spam fighting tool working overtime to fight off comment spam successfully, though Spam Karma and Bad Behavior WordPress Plugins have long been at the top of the pack. In combination, little gets through. Still…

As I recently proclaimed, I’m winning the battle against comment spam, but when it comes to human generated comment spam, that’s going to be a tougher battle to fight and win. Humans can come up with a wide variety of phrases and random things to say that appear to continue the conversation.

In a recent article on my family history blog about Bringing the Past Alive in Historical Gardens, the comment spammer wrote how historical gardens in the far east rarely used plants but often used other natural elements in their gardens, a clear reference to the many gardens mentioned in the article which represent a time and place in history. The link to the spammer’s feed riping “information site” was wrapped around the period at the end of the sentence. I wouldn’t have even noticed it but for the fact that they used microsoft.com as their URL and I won’t allow such idiocy. By editing the comment to change that, I discovered the hidden link around the period. Buggers!

Luckily, WordPress uses “nofollow” tags in all comments by default, so the link didn’t get the comment spammer much, except for search engines who visit my site and don’t recognize the nofollow tag. I killed the comment anyway.

How do you fight against that kind of comment spam? You tell me.

Either way, you are warned.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

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21 Comments

  1. Posted December 2, 2006 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got all my comments from new users moderated.

    I’ve found that most comment spammers are a fresh visit to my site.
    When they post, I verify their site. I see the Karma from SK2, also check if it is recognized as Spam by akismet.

    If I doubt their email I reply thanking the user for their comment. A good many times it has bounced here.

    Users who like to provide incorrect email addresses are a big nono for my blog. I delete their comments immediately, even if it was perfect and highly relevant.

  2. Posted December 2, 2006 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    And personally, I see this method as time consuming for the blogger, and definitely a hindrance to a smooth conversation.

    Captchas and registrations don’t work. Good comment spam fighting tools do.

    And there is no reason why comment spammers can create “valid” URLs or emails that work, even change them constantly, to outwit your manual effort.

    Comment spam fighting tools just have to be 6% smarter than the comment spammers. And battling humans is going to be interesting.

    Too bad moral fiber goes south when feeding your family comes first.

  3. Posted December 2, 2006 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Comment spam becomes a big problem as search engines begin to crawl your blog. My new URL is not even a month old and I got my first comment spam today, although it didn’t appear on my blog because WordPress held it for moderation. So far I’ve been happy with Akismet because things for me were pretty bad before that. The “nofollow” tag is good too. I think the best way would be to create awareness that comment spamming is nothing but pure waste of money.

  4. Posted December 2, 2006 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Just for information, I’ve found a direct correlation between the number of incoming links and the volume of comment spam. I believe comment spammer bots follow links from one blog to another. The more incoming links, the more attacks. It wasn’t until I created a link from here to my genealogy blog that I started getting comment spam on that blog. Same holds true for other blogs I’ve started.

    As for your last comment, how can we convince comment spammers their efforts are a waste of money? Someone is making them tons of money. We’re spreading the word but obviously not smacking them hard enough in the wallet.

    Still, how do we technologically prevent human produced comment spam?

  5. Posted December 2, 2006 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Your post really hits the nail right on the head. Over the past few days I’ve been experiencing some comments from people I know being casted into the spam box just because they are short pieces of comments, and on the other hand, I have a little spam running through because they sound really like real comments.

    Sometimes I even had to follow through to their website to make sure that they are genuine bloggers or people.

    I guess, as discussed – the only way to stop human comment spam is to re-educate. Unfortunately I think that journey of re-education is not going to be easy, simply because there are simply too many money making schemes out there that are set up by not-so-tech-savvy people, who simply want to get their objective of getting another inbound link. These people don’t care about the quality of the content at all.

  6. Posted December 2, 2006 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Still, how do we technologically prevent human produced comment spam?

    For WordPress users, enable the oft ignored feature ‘Comment author must have a previously approved comment’ under discussion options, set the URI count to one (yes, just one, not two – the URI counter doesn’t include the posters URI in the count) and use a good spam engine such as Akismet.

    In my case I have the URI count buttoned down to one and Akismet active.

    I still regularly see popular blogs filled to the brim with comment spam where the author is just not making time to keep it spam free. It’s pretty irrelevant how spammers target blogs – making the time to check comments, regular Akismet checks (akismet doesn’t actually learn anything till one bothers to delete or unmark comments as spam).

    Comments are to my mind vitally important – they often present differing or challenging views and imho it’s bad form to ignore that kind of blog feature by letting it grow a little ‘wild’ with weeds.

    As for no-follow, that’s really not an ‘anti-spam’ tool. It reduces links having an artificially heightened value in (some) search engines (particularly pagerank – which Google uses as one of the adsense pricing markers) but it does not prevent spammers gaining anything from the increased reader exposure, link backs, etc.

    Spammers have never been aiming for (specifically) ‘quality’ links – it’s always been about pure quantity.. get enough links in, irrespective of quality and various metrics (like alexia) will report an improved rating.. and that’s something no-follow won’t help people with ..and for that matter never has.

    Personally I have no-follow disabled. I prefer that those who leave a comment are not held in check by no-follow — by keeping the site 100% spam free, no-follow really is about as pointless as it gets.

  7. Posted December 2, 2006 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Wow, hiring cheap labor to comment spam our sites. It’s the next level of telemarketers. Blogomarketers. Except you can’t play games with them on the phone.

  8. Posted December 2, 2006 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    The oft ignored option is another way of comment moderation and bad form in my book, though an option others may take.

    I agree with the nofollow, though I go up and down with my opinion of it, especially as it becomes more and more obsolete.

  9. Posted December 2, 2006 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I have Bad Behavour (recently installed) AND Spam Karma 2 on my WordPress blogs and had 1 spam comment in one year. This could mean that both plugins are working great or nobody visits. (Spam Karma blocked

    Re-educate someone mentioned. It is way too late people think Oh good deal and get greedy. They need to get the spa^^mers , fine them and put them to jail!

  10. Kat
    Posted December 2, 2006 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Why do they do this? Seriously. These are people. They have a mind, they have feelings. Why do it?

  11. Posted December 3, 2006 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Even in very low wage countries, people that can use PCs and speak English are not that cheap to hire. In fact people like that are usually scarce and in high demand for many other jobs.

    Then factor in that whatever the spammer hopes to make out of the spam comment has to be worth more money to them than it costs to generate the spam.

    So given the miniscule worth of an individual spam, is it really going to be worth even paying a few cents to someone to manually generate a spam?

    Reasons to hope that this will not get to be a big problem.

    On another note, I see that one person said here that they treat comments without an email address in them as spam, even if the content of the comment is perfectly sensible.

    Ironic – because I don’t like to leave my email address all over the place for fear of email spam.

  12. me
    Posted December 3, 2006 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Shame them? or at least their sponsors?

    What if search engines and spam fighters banded together to create a “list of shame”: companies on whose behalf comment spammers do the dirty deed?

    Imagine a website that:
    1. lists companies who use comment spammers
    2. blacklists the companies for search engines
    3. publicizes the identity of known spammers
    4. provides a portal to prosecute spammers

    #2 would be particularly effective. Remember the German luxury car maker (don’t recall which one) that filled up their homepage with invisible “key words” to game the search engines and got banned by Google? Ban lasted about 2 weeks or something but it got their attention.

  13. Posted December 3, 2006 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree with Brendan.

    The only reason to use no-follow on blogs for comments is to horde pagerank. However, if you carefully cultivate pagerank on your blog, as in not waste it, you can happily give your visitors and regular readers a share by removing nofollow.

    I find SK2 highly effective at picking up anything posted by robot. Combined with a clear comments policy for manual posters I rarely get manual spam that infringes what I allow, and I am probably more tolerant than most.

    The added incentive… subscribers, the lifeblood of any blog.

    Am I going to comment on Brenan’s blog?

    You bet, but only if I find something highly relevant or I am extremely interested in.

    Am I going to subscribe to his RSS feed… sure am

    Whilst nofollow was introduced in 2005, it has a very anti-community aspect to it.

    I don’t use nofollow on any of my blogs where I have the opportunity to remove it.

  14. Posted December 3, 2006 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what the solution is. Over the weekend I took a flame-thrower to one of my sites with an EE blog. I hadn’t looked at the site in a couple of months, and there were thousands (around 10K in total) of items of comment spam. It wasn’t worth it to try and clean it up, so I deleted everything.

    WordPress ONLY for me from now on, WP blogs are easier to leave for a month or two without them becoming over-run with spam.

    Shaming them sounds great to me. :-)

  15. Posted December 25, 2006 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    As much as I hate human comment spammers, I know firsthand that they’re just poor slobs in a third-world countryside trying to feed their families. The expats escaping developed countries to exploit such people — those are the true evils.

  16. Posted March 28, 2007 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    I discovered this post of your just now… although I came to the same conclusion around the same time (December last year) about the human spammers, see this post I wrote about it.

  17. Posted March 28, 2007 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Great article, Moshu! Thanks for pointing that out. How did I miss it?

    We just a couple of “missing” fools. ;-)

  18. Chris
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    The best way to fight spam is to use ReCaptcha. It uses words that have failed OCR and the output is being used to digitize books. No bot can ORC that because it can’t be done.

  19. Posted April 14, 2008 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    @ Chris:

    Actually, CAPTCHAs, no matter which kind, continue to not work. However, paying close attention to comments, especially human spammers and those commenting totally out of self interest rather than a sincere desire to continue the conversation – combined with solid blog comment spam fighting tools like Akismet and Defensio, which do not interfere with a reader and their comments – CAPTCHAs are old hat and dead. Bot and human spammers can break them, no matter how pretty the little letters and numbers are.

  20. Posted April 23, 2008 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    My wordpress blog has come to it’s knees from comment spam. I’m going to install Spam Karma and Bad Behavior tonight. Last might I marked 1500 comments as spam in one day. There has to be a way to report these google groups, Yahoo! 360 and blogger fake pages to the engines for removal. It’s obvious these pages aren’t websites and there is no name or contact. Oh wait, some of them do have names like Julie567. Thanks for the blog post!

  21. Posted April 23, 2008 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    @ Anne Haynes:

    Depending upon your version of WordPress, do not install these Plugins, at least not Bad Behavior. They no longer work with the latest versions of WordPress. Please use Akismet instead or Defensio. I can’t believe you have gotten this far without using anything.

    There are many ways of reporting comment spam, but these Plugins do the job for you in many respects. You become a part of the community of bloggers fighting against comment spam by marking and identifying it as such. I recommend you check out my article, WordCamp Israel WordPress Tips Talk, with more specifics on these and using some other tools to make life easier on you and not the comment spammer.


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