Forum spam is boring at best, the ruination of forums at worst. And it's utterly pointless. Forums that allow linking through signatures or blatent advertisements carry no page rank; any decent forum will protect itself by anti-spam defences at registration, and removal of spammers once identified. Many now report spammers to spam databases too.
While many might argue that categorising spammers is a waste of time, it can influence how you deal with them. And it can make you smile as you identify the latest slime to hit your pages. Just to undermine this article further, many spammers fit neatly into one category, while others extend themselves across several.
And, of course, they all need treating much the same; banning, removal of their posts from the visible site, and where possible, removing their profiles too. I recommend reporting all confirmed spammers to Stop Forum Spam, and using their database to check suspicious characters. Their forums are also useful in keeping up to date with defence techniques.
These join a forum to place advertising links in their signatures. Easy to spot, and easy to prevent - don't allow signature links, even with nofollow. Not the brightest stars in the sky, by any means.
These register with a name that is an advert in itself - such as loser.com or [email protected]. Again, easy to identify - not the sharpest knife in the draw.
These furnish their posts with stolen comments from other sites, other threads or even the same thread. Often very easy to spot - they tend to be some permutation of bland, repetitive, over familiar - or my favourite - inconsistent. For example, take these two examples, the first and second from a spammer who is clearly one card short of a pack:
- Hi, I'm new to SEO ...
- I'm an experienced SEO ...
If you see a bland cliche, just Google "a sentence"; some show up many thousands of times, word for word identical. This isn't just laziness and stupidity, it's often because English is not the spammer's first language.
These smug spammers will link to a trusted source, and just have the last couple of letters linking their site, eg Flayme Forums - invisible at first glance, but if your site changes the character of a visited link, it'll soon show; alternatively a mouseover will spot it.
Image / Smilie Linkers
Much as above; some pictures can neatly hide a link, if it's sympathetic to your forum formatting.
These spammers are so confident that everyone will check out their profile, that they register simply to fill their profile with self promotion; some then post one episode of pointless drivel hoping that the post link to their profile will induce Google to put their site at Number One. Some don't bother. It's best to routinely delete moribund accounts; if someone registered a month ago, and never posted (or posted once or twice immediately), then never came back, then I suggest that member is no asset and may later come back just to add an extra link or two - but not for the forum's benefit.
Some forum software is really sweet and cuddly, and gives members the opportunity to post their birthdays. This is then displayed in the form of a front page link to the spammer's profile. If they want cuddly, let them go to MyFace or SpaceBook - disable the feature. Never help a spammer.
Spammers who join and do nothing, or maybe post in the new members area, or one relevant post; they plan to return later to fill their profile with rubbish, edit their posts, or alter their signature file - so don't allow signature files, monitor fly-by-night members, and spring clean occasionally.
Tag Team Link Droppers
Some spammers, who think they are really clever, open two accounts; the first member asks a question - often quite a reasonable one - then the other account follows to post an appropriate answer, which by some amazing coincidence calls for a link to the spammer's site. With practice, you see them coming - it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop. The key is to delete both accounts. It's usually easy, as most use the same IP address, and often a related email address.
Brain Dead Spammers
Some just have nothing to say, but say it anyway. Often they don't promote anything, they just bore your visitors to death. More seriously, if you allow them, they act as camoflage for sleepers and profile spammers. You could delete all of these, but if that seems harsh ("They may learn enough to contribute one day" / "we all started that way"), then give them a warning; For example, I give them a warning infraction (three strikes and they're out - spammers get no warning):
Don't Be Boring
If you have something to say, you are most welcome to say it.
- But help us to make this a great forum:
- Copying and pasting other people's thoughts and work is not acceptable here.
- Nor is crossposting mindless rubbish that has appeared on countless sites across the web.
- Neither are one-liners that say nothing at all.
- Re-opening old threads just to say 'I agree' is silly
- Don't state the obvious, unless it NEEDS stating.
- Don't ask questions that could be answered with a simple search - it makes you look like an idiot.
And, of course, we do NOT tolerate advertising or link drops.
Thanks! [and link to forum guidelines]
If you are slightly less generous (but slightly more practical), rember that the first unwritten rule of visitor participation is "If you have nothing useful to say, don't say it" - so by deleting the brain dead, you are either removing a potential spammer, or providing a much needed dose of higer education. Feel no guilt.
There's a lot of fear and helplessness in the face of automated spamming, much of it misplaced.
- However automated, someone is controlling the software. Almost invariably, that person is an idiot. They've overpaid for a programme that may well get them many value-free links on dead or poorly run forums, but wiser use of the cash would have got them a much better return on their investment.
- The pattern is easy to identify; within hours, a search for [profile + username] will reveal a pattern of tripe, either too many in one niche to be rational - or covering unrelated niches. Or search the SFS database for the email address.
- A spammer is a spammer; automation is never a class of its own; the spam will invariably fall into at least one of the categories above, as well.
What can a moderator do?
- Take spam seriously; spam in your forum is like dog poo in the lounge. Distracting to guests, off-putting to potential new members.
- Never enagae with a spammer. Responding to spammers is like placeing a silk handkerchief over the dog poo; it makes you look stupid.
- Operate a zero tolerance policy not just to spam posts, but to spammers. Remove ALL their posts. If one was a good point in a discussion, consider placing it as a quote (without a profile link), in the following post.
- If you can remove spammers' profiles, then always do so.
- Don't give the benefit of the doubt - your loyalty has to be to your members and potential members, rather than to one suspicious character. Who will survive without you!
- Always report confirmed spam to the database. This can be automated.
- If you have the choice, do not delete spam, but move it to a non-public forum. You never know when you might need the evidence.
- Disable as many gimmicks as you can; forum designers fall over each other to offer 'groups', birthday announcements and more - all this gimmickry will be mercilessly exploited by spammers, and add nothing to the central function of your forum.
What can a member do?
- Never post a response to a spammer. It makes more work for moderators cleaning up the mess - and the spammer will almost certainly never read it.
- Report spam, if the forum has a 'report spam' / 'flag abuse' button.
- Recognise that moderators are often doing much more than they appear to doing!
In Conclusion ...
This article is intended as an introduction to forum spam, not a complete answer. The advice above is, hopefully, a start. If you value your forum, and you feel it is under threat, then search for more of the wealth of anti-slime information available.
Thanks to SEFL, Wizzle, CMB for useful suggestions
Further contributions to this article are welcome (and will be acknowledged)
© Andrew Heenan February 2011