Something about Forum Spam

Troll Thing It is definitely amazing how many people respond to spam (to be defined as any unsolicited contribution) on forums and on community mailing lists. Many people respond with “intelligent” statements like “hey you [sub-classification of human species], don’t [pollute|disgrace|other supposedly unpleasant activity] this forum!”, while some people don’t even realise they’re replying to a message that has been deliberately posted as spam and try to write a genuine answer.

Unfortunately, by responding, these people attract more views and more replies and hence even more views to the spam message. Consequently, the spam message gets a lot of exposure and the spammer has achieved his or her goal. Even if nobody clicks the link in the spam message, the brand name or domain name has been seen by people and people might remember it later, just like those annoying T.V.-commercials that announce stuff you don’t need.

How to avoid this? First, you need to be able to recognise spam, which isn’t always easy. Second, both forum administrators and forum members need to follow a set of rules.

Here are some possible clues that may help you to recognise spam:
– the post may contain a quote from elsewhere in the forum
– the spammer didn’t write anything clever about the main subject of the forum (e.g. “Hi, can it do this?”)
– the spammer wrote about something that has nothing to do with the subject of the forum (e.g. shoes instead of programming if it is a forum about programming)
– there is a link in the signature or in the post
– the spammer has written less than 10 messages
– all messages were written on the same day
– your first impression of the post is “huh?!”
– sometimes you can find the user name here
– the spammer keeps annoying people and doesn’t seem to mind being beaten up continuously

Here are some simple rules that you might want to follow:
– if 2 or more of above items apply, assume the poster/registrant is a spammer
– approve all registrants manually, because ultimately this will save you a lot of work
– don’t approve a registrant if you’re not 100% sure that s/he isn’t a spammer
– never ever reply to spam and warn and ultimately ban people who do
– require registrants to write at least 500 characters when they apply and check that this text makes sense (most forums have a feature for this)
– don’t allow people to post links until they have made a dozen of sensible posts
– don’t hesitate to ban people, but only if they violate forum rules, not because they annoy you personally

One remark about manually approving people. I receive two or three requests for subscription to one particular forum each day. The forum software sends these requests automatically by e-mail. Usually, the user name already tells me I’m dealing with a spammer. Genuine users use genuine names. Spammers don’t. I save myself a lot of time simply by looking at the user names and ignoring fake requests.

Usually, I only attend forums about very specific subjects, such as programming with tool A or about… well, programming with tool B. I tried to attend fora about history, economics and politics, but usually those fora are completely cluttered with obscure (conspiracy) theories, false facts and persistent hobby subjects. These forums are often full with flame wars, which is another type of spam, more difficult to tackle.

Have a look at this fun website. If you recognise yourself and don’t like what you see, maybe you’re doing something wrong.

If you have any additions to the rules, please make a comment. I’ll add the really, really good suggestions to the main text.

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