(Digital Collections) Hot and Bot-hered: The Joys of Moderating Spam Comments

The Eternal Struggle for Bloggers

One of the unexpected joys of writing this blog is filtering out the spam comments we receive on almost every post. Many are garden variety garbage gathered by spambots and spit back out as “comments.” These get caught by the spam filters and deleted routinely. Others are from people hoping to use the blog as a launchpad for their own interests: “Play my music on your blog!” or “Check out my book on this subject!” That sort of thing.

But there is a truly special kind of spam comment that I call the “almost reads like it was written by a human being – but not quite” comment. We received four such comments in a row (on four different posts) from an IP address based in Germany whose spambots used commenter names related to payday loans. Let’s read them together and laugh, shall we?

Contact One: Short and Sweet

Excellent article! We are linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the great writing. <URL redacted>

Well, that makes this author feel all warm and fuzzy! Too bad this same comment was probably posted to every possible blog post in the United States.

Contact Two: More Effusive Praise

I was extremely pleased to discover this web site. I need to to thank you
for ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every
little bit of it and i also have you book marked to check out new things in your web site. <Same URL, redacted>

The ego boost from this “commenter” was marred somewhat by the poor grammar. Then I remembered it was generated by a German spambot, and I cut it some slack.

Contact Three: Attempts at Lingo and Self-Disclosed Amnesia

Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve visited your blog before but after looking at a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking it and checking back often! <Same URL, redacted again>

Nothing gets a Texan’s attention like the use of a prime piece of regional vernacular, and the lead-off “Howdy!” here sure grabs the eye. But the admission that the writing on this site wasn’t interesting enough for the spambot to remember it fully takes some of the bloom off the rose, so to speak.

Contact Four: The Honeymoon is Definitely Over

Next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t disappoint me just as much as this one. After all, I know it was my choice to read through, nonetheless I genuinely thought you would probably have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could possibly fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention. <Same URL, redacted – probably for the last time>

Oh. Oh, my. It seems we’ve done something to upset our semi-sentient German friend. This comment was submitted for the post related to the Browning Letters Project, a post which I thought was uniformly happy and positive, given its focus on love poems. I guess the hive mind behind the commenting spambot has little care for the creative works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning!

Of Robots and Social Media

Sure, these comments are funny, but what’s the harm? So what if some chunk of code from a Germanic website is blasting our inbox with semi-coherent “responses” to our blog’s output? For the end user, it’s probably not a big deal; if we don’t approve the comment, you’ll never see it. And the Word Press platform (administered by Edublogs) catches all of them, so there’s no real possibility that one will slip out into the general populace to wreak havoc.

The problem is this: these unending automated attacks will only get more sophisticated, and they are not going away. There are plenty of people who would use tactics like this to entice the unwary to click on a link that looks legitimate, enter in their personal information, and find themselves swindled out of the contents of their bank accounts. And while an academic blog related to digital collections may seem like a strange choice for such an attack, it is indicative of the no-holds-barred approach taken by unscrupulous people in their quest for ill-gotten gains.

The unfortunate side effect for archives, libraries and museums (especially small ones) is that these hassles can have a chilling effect on their efforts to use social media to promote their collections to the world. If an institution with little to no Web presence believes these kinds of spam attacks can do real harm to their institution’s computers (to say nothing of its reputation), how many will choose to forgo blogging, Facebook, Twitter and the rest simply out of fear? And ultimately, how many amazing pieces of our cultural heritage will remain unseen online as a result? While we may chuckle about these blatant forgeries, can the time be far off when they become so sophisticated that even major institutions fall prey to their wiles?

A Plea for Human Contact

While these robotic missives may be entertaining (and/or potentially destructive), they are no substitute from well-formed, enlightening, written-by-humans comments. So if you find a post on our blog interesting, informative, enlightening, even enraging, please don’t hesitate to comment. Your voice helps us make this blog – and by extension our digital collections – better every day.

 

 

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