We all know what a traditional Spammer looks and smells like. They overload your blog with links to diet pills and fat creams and breast enhancers and penis extenders. You can smell their nastiness permeating across the universe.
But how do you recognize another — sometimes more subtle form of Spamming — done with vested interest and obvious coordination? When do you pull the plug on that kind of Spam effort and should you let any of that Spam through your blog door if, later, you put together the posting patterns to discover your blog has been Spammed, Slammed and left Ham-less?
Now most coordinated attempts to Spam a blog are loud and obvious, but recently here we had a more insidious attack that taught us interesting lessons in outside manipulation of this blog’s core purpose: A free and unfettered discussion about the human condition in the urban core. How do you know if your blog is being manipulated by special interests? Here’s a quick checklist:
1. Dead posts are suddenly and inexplicably resurrected. Blog articles actively get comments for a day or so and then they wither away until someone does a search and finds that post again. If an article you wrote four months ago gets 10 comments from new commenters in two hours, alarms should go off inside you that something strange is happening. Old articles can get comments — but usually only one or two at a time — and when you get flooded you know something is wrong and you need to take fast action to protect the intellectual integrity of your blog.
2. Comments are angled one way. When an old or new article gets a flood of comments that all make the same “talking points” or hammer home similar ideas you know you’re being Spammed. You know this because the internet is a wide and deep place with lots of different perspectives. When everyone starts commenting with the same tone and intent — and even the same vocabulary — you know that is not the usual, organic way a conversation grows on the web and you need to clip the comments and, perhaps, even prune back previously published comments if you believe they are in violation of your Spam posting policy. With this kind of coordinated Spam attack a few early comments get posted because you haven’t yet been able to discern the posting pattern. You need at least a few pieces to see if they perfectly fit together to form a larger puzzle of self-interest.
3. Regional posting. There’s an old saying “all politics are local” and that’s true of the internet as well. We’re all members of a virtual community but we’re all grounded by wires somewhere to a specific location someplace on this earth. Regions stick together. When you begin to see a lot of postings from one part of the country or one part of the world you know there has been a coordinated notification effort between vested interests to post on your blog “to set you straight.” Those notifications are made via phone calls, mailing lists, other blogs, and by word-of-mouth. Keep an eye on the IP Addresses of those you suspect of Spamming your blog and look for regional patterns that suggest a narrow interest framed by geography in trying moving public opinion their way against the better neutral interests of your blog.
4. Fake Names. When new commenters with a legitimate vested interest post a serious message on your blog they use their real name. They want to be on-the-record and they want to share facts and not opinion. When a flood of new commenters use cute names or names that happen to support their position you should being to smell suspicious activity is starting to take over your blog.
5. Identical Email Domains. If you get a slew of new suspicious comments, look at the email addresses. Most Spammers are smart enough not to use their personal email address so they’ll go get a throwaway email address. People who have legitimate email addresses
— even those who want to protect their personal or work email address
— are still vested in the email address they choose and it has some personal meaning for them. When you see lots of, let’s say, Yahoo.com email domains popping up with a gang of numbers for the email address @yahoo.com you immediately know that is a throwaway email address because there was no thought or personal satisfaction used to create that address and that is yet another clue something may be wrong on your blog.
6. No Homepage. Most people with blogs or websites post on other blogs and websites to get traffic and visitors from other sites to their site and they do that by providing a URL. Coordinated Spammers who are out to influence public opinion never put a valid URL in their comments because they are either new to the web and came online just to Spam you or they want to hide their real persona. Homepage-less comments are always suspicious because not having a home on the web goes so keenly against the idea of self-preservation and self-promotion on the internet.
7. New commenters agree with new commenters. Once the initial seeds of the Spam attack have been meticulously planted on your blog by new commenters you will soon see other brand-new comments mentioning other new commenters and how much they agree with that position. When you see new people agreeing with new people who have never posted on your blog before you know you’re in the midst of a Spam attack and you need to either moderate comments, require registration, or close that post to new comments. If you decide to close comments for that article, leave a final comment explaining why you are closing comments so the Spammers know they’ve been caught, confiscated, and controlled. That clarification will help the casual reader identify precisely what happened and why you had to take action.
8. Spammers Spin You. When you finally become aware of the Spam flood and you put an end to it you will always hear from those you caught if you have an active email address or a Contact Form on your blog. Their claims of innocence are their last gasp to cover their tracks and to spin their Spamming from their behavior onto your decision to stop them. You’ll get lots of arguments concerning “free speech…” and “I only did a Google search to find you…” and “I’ve never posted on a blog before today…” and other weak arguments that might hold some merit if 10 other people weren’t using exactly the same nasty tone and transparent, identical, phrasing to strike home their final points. My advice is not to engage them in email because you’ll never be rid of them unless and until your make it clear you agree with them and you concur they are brilliant, non-Spammers, who were just floating by and happened to see your blog. Put their email in the trash where it belongs: That’s why we have a Delete key!
9. Own your blog. If you start to see this kind of Spam takeover of your blog by coordinated comments, my suggestion is you stop the Spam attack by cutting them off. If you don’t want to permanently close comments for a post then just close the comments for a day or two so the Spammers will lurk away defeated. Those kinds of attacks come fast and angry because they’re trying to get out ahead of the curve to influence public opinion. By slowing them down and restricting their ability to post, you cool the heat they need to spread their position. Your blog is your blog and no one has the right to use your bandwidth and your platform to celebrate their narrow self-interest at your expense. Sometimes, however, it can be good to leave a few of the Spammers’ comments in place along with your commentary pointing out why those comments are Spam. That teaches others how to recognize a similar attack. When you help others see the pattern in a keen Spam flood, you blunt future attacks elsewhere.
10. Don’t Play. Some of those Spammers are professional. They know how to push your buttons. Do not engage them on your blog or in email unless you want even more “new commenters” banging on your blog door. They will tempt your idea of fair play and access to information. Don’t play with them. They wouldn’t be pushing you so hard unless they’d done something beyond the normal ebb and flow of your blog. Time and tide wait for no one and you should not spend a moment of your time defending your turning of the tide. Spammers are trespassers of the mind and shoving them away and ignoring them is the best remedy to resurrecting the good spirit and organic intent of your blog.