Monday, October 19, 2009

New ‘comment spam’?

Comment spam is the bane of any interactive site, like a blog, and most have strategies to deal with it. Sometimes it’s simply word verification, other times it’s comment moderation and sometimes it’s software filters.

But there’s another kind I’m seeing with greater frequency. It’s not susceptible to most normal screening techniques—in fact, I’m not entirely sure it even qualifies as comment spam.

Broadly, “comment spam” is any unwanted attempt to hijack a comments thread to drive traffic to a commercial website, probably one of dubious merit. Such sites may include ones purporting to sell porn or prescription drugs, or they may be some sort of phishing scam. Generally, the comment is irrelevant or unintelligible, so it’s pretty clear what it is.

Lately I’ve been getting some comments that seem, on the face of it, to be legitimate, but instead of a link to a profile or personal website, they link to a commercial site where the commenter isn’t mentioned (and it’s probably irrelevant to this blog or the topic of the post). As long as the comment is about the topic of the post or other comments, I leave them alone. If they make what I think is a valid point or at least seem to have read the post, then I often reply to the comment as I would any other.

I’m a believer in open discussion of issues, and so I generally don’t delete any comments except comment spam, as I defined it above. While I reserve the right to delete any comment that I, at my sole discretion, believe to be racist, sexist, homophobic or some combination, in fact I seldom have. Spam comments, however, get the boot.

I understand why some organisations would engage in comment spamming as part of an astroturfing exercise against opponents, but quite frankly the only gain I can see a company gaining from having comments from blog posts completely unrelated to their business linking back to them is the sheer number of links. But, as I understand it, Google changed their algorithms to preclude this sort of thing skewing rankings for search results.

When I read comments on a blog (including this one) and I want to know more about a commenter, I hover the mouse over their profile link. I always right-click those links to open them in a new window anyway, but if the address seems odd in any way, I “copy link location” and paste the address into the new window. I do this so that if it’s an irrelevant commercial site, its statistics will show it as a direct arrival, and not coming from the site where the link was left. To open it directly from the site only encourages them to leave more commercial comments, something I don’t want to do until I decide what I think about the whole thing.

I’d love to hear the opinions of other bloggers: What do you do? Also, has Google changed their algorithms to make this tactic pointless?


Nik said...

Hi there nice blog keep up the great work!

;) Just kidding. I've been seeing a lot of this too and find it very annoying, I've deleted the obvious spam but it is tricky to know when to draw the line, sometimes it does seem to be someone legit who just has a link to their site which is fine. The spammers just get more and more clever I guess.

Arthur Schenck said...

Yeah, they do indeed get more clever—and obscure. Today on one of my other sites I got a Russian spammer saying, "How much money should a 14 year old have in their bank account?" Like *I* would know?! Another asked about jobs in Belgium or somewhere (the links, I suspect, were to Russian porn sites).

Anyway, the comments here—the ones I allowed to remain—have mainly been reasonably legitimate comments, despite the odd links. So far, that's enough—but that could change…

Roger Owen Green said...


Now THAT'S a comment I've been getting a lot. If they can't write American, out they go!

Nik said...

I have thought of switching from haloscan comments to blogger, where they have to do word verification, but it sounds messy and involves lots of mucking with templates....

Arthur Schenck said...

Roger: Google tells me that says "I want to love like you in the heart of the world cry. Yui話Masen banner or have a hunger for love with love? Who care about it so I will get contact addy Nokke", which makes no more sense to me than what you posted.

I don't get many comments in Asian languages anymore, but I do get some in English so bad it may as well be another language.

Nik: I don't know about switching, but I've used the Blogger system from the beginning, and for the most part it's been pretty good. My other sites are self-hosted Wordpress, and once I installed Akismet filtering, all comments have been caught. So much so, I'm considering turning off comment moderation.