Are You Torturing Your Blog Commenters? Help Stop Comment Spam
Are you still torturing your blog readers, making them jump through hoops, spell out bizarre graffiti words, do math tests, or ask them stupid questions like “My name is Fred. What is my name?” and other ridiculous torture tests?
TechCrunch reported that they have stopped the torture tests for comments, relying upon Akismet and a WordPress commercial Plugin that closes comments after a cut-off date, similar to the Comment Timeout WordPress Plugin:
The number of blocked spam comments is now two million, just ten weeks later. That works out to about 15,000 spam comments hitting TechCrunch every day.
If we did not have Akismet, we couldn’t allow anonymous commenting here on TechCrunch. We used to go through all spam comments to pick out the occasional false positive and accept it. Now, there are just too many to go through. All comments marked by Akismet as spam get deleted almost immediately.
In the comments, Mike Arrington explained why TechCrunch will not use CAPTCHAs and other gate keepers:
To everyone recommending a CAPTCHA: I highly disagree. CAPTCHAs have been shown to be highly ineffective, especially on a website to the scale of TC. The idea of asking questions (like the color of the ocean or how to add 2 and 4) is also a really bad idea. Even with 200 questions (which would take a while to create), it wouldn’t be long before all of the questions were harvested and the bots could spit out the answers.
…Akismet is REALLY good and TechCrunch is a great example of how well it works.
One mistake that Arrington made came in this assumption in the post regarding turning off comments after two weeks:
This will significantly reduce the overall amount of spam that hits the blog, so I don’t expect to see this total spam number continue to increase exponentially.
There are two things wrong with that statement.
First, comment spam can arrive within seconds of a new post publishing. It is not exclusive to “old posts”. I’ve witnessed it many times on big blogs I work with that are hammered constantly. On the Blog Herald and Lorelle on WordPress, I’ve hit published, clicked the comments tab, and there were two comment spams waiting for me in the time it took for the two pages to load.
Second, while old posts can get hammered, why punish them and your readers? Comment spammers have learned that many bloggers turn off comments on old posts in an effort to stop them. Now they are attacking posts right out of the publishing gate.
By turning off comments, you are possibly hurting your readers by not allowing them to comment on posts older than 2 weeks. They might have something of value to add to the conversation. I’ve had many old posts come alive again after a year or more, with people commenting and linking as if I’d just published it. The value of timeless posts can last a long time.
Sorry, Mike. As you have learned, expect the total number of comment spams to increase exponentially every day. I used to get 3-10 comment spam a day. Now I get thousands. I know Mike’s been around long enough to remember a day when blogs were free of comment spam. It’s a growing monster on the web, getting bigger every day.
There is no known method to currently stop comment spam with your blogs. You can only prevent comment spam from appearing in the public eye.
Some comment spam will get through Akismet, and other defensive measures. Don’t plan on an absolute zero result. Akismet allows you to mark comment spam that gets through and the information is sent to the database so all Akismet users benefit. Comment spammers are determined to figure out how to jump across all the various stoppers, and their cunningness allows their evil spam to slip through until the comment spam fighting program catches up.
Help Stop Comment Spam Now
What you can do is join with the rest of the blogosphere with a call to action to get to the root of the problem and quit putting bandages on it. I’ve put out a call to action for all bloggers to stop comment spam, asking bloggers to come up with ideas on how to stop comment spammers from spamming.
I want you to close your eyes for a moment and think back, if you can, to a time before comment spam. When the bandwidth waters ran freely, overloaded with bad jokes and stupid human tricks. To a time when you could sift through all the things people wanted to tell you and not through porn and casino ads. To a time when the most important task in the day ahead of you was writing in your blog, not digging through comment spam for false/positives.
We can have that time back if we work together to eliminate the virus that infects all bloggers around the world. No matter what you blog about, all bloggers have comment spam in common.
We bloggers are creative and resourceful folks. Look at all the fabulous ways we’ve come up with to filter out and stop comment spam from being published on our blogs? Why not turn that creative resourcefulness into identifying comment spammer businesses and splogs and find ways to put them out of business.
Will you join in the fight?
Do you have any ideas on how to stop comment spammers at the root? How can we fight back?
Lorelle VanFossen blogs about blogging and WordPress on Lorelle on WordPress.
The author of Lorelle on WordPress and the fast-selling book, Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging, as well as several other blogs, Lorelle VanFossen has been blogging for over 15 years, covering blogging, WordPress, travel, nature and travel photography, web design, web theory and development extensively as web technologies developed.
I disagree with the anti-CAPTCHA’s movement.
Tech Crunch is right about the “questionaire” solution. Bots are becoming smarter all the time, and I’ve had them crack through virtually any question I put out.
Also, the CAPTCHA’s (aka Word Verification) prevents not only bot spammers, but also hinders human spammers (basically people paid to spam your blog).
Human spammers have become a larger problem recently, and having the CAPTCHA’s actually has kept more of them at bay as it takes more energy to comment on the post. (thus discouraging them to repost the entry)
Word Verification may be more annoying, but it does (IMHO) ensure that those who comment on your post, really have something worthwhile to say.
Unless we can find a way to penalize spammers instead of just hinder them, I really don’t know how we can stop comment spam. Spamming is obviously very profitable, so why stop?
If we could find a way to eat into their profits, then maybe they’ll get discouraged. I’m not very hopeful about that though.
In South Africa, as well as around the world, mass action has been an effective tool for change. Just as memes like Thinking Blogger Awards can start small, and snowball around the blogging world amazingly fast, so could a similar setup to expose spammers, and boycott their products. If the company or link is listed and publicised, and bloggers agree to actively boycott any such supplier, and pass on the list to as many of their contacts as possible, wouldn’t that hit spammers in the pocket, which is the only place they seem to hurt?
Luis is right. The only thing that will discourage spammers is to come up with some way to hit them in their bank account. As long as the cost to the spammers stays so incredibly low they will keep filling up the available bandwidth at a profit.
I’m loathe to have governments get in the mix because they tend toward heavy handed solutions that have negative consequences for the innocent too.
Until we can come up with a market way to increase spammer’s cost the best approach I can think if is to play defense like we are doing with programs like Akismet.
I made a relatively simple change to my comment form that has reduced my spam to a trickly. For non-A-list bloggers this will be all they need, for sure.
There is otherwise no simple solution to comment spam, for the same reason there is no simple solution to email spam. Spammers are commercially motivated (and well paid) to be one step ahead of the latest counter-measures.
Unfortunately the simplicity of IP communications is something we both love and hate. It has democratized communication, levelled the playing field for bloggers and everyone else, but it has also made it very hard for us to root out the spammers, hackers and other malfaisants.
You can’t have all that good without some bad. The virtual world mirrors the real :)