Your comments are starting to stink (moderate ’em!)

By Steve Outing

When comments come into this blog, I moderate them before they are published. Like most blogs (or any web publishing platform that accepts user comments), this one receives far more comment spam than legitimate comments. Comment anti-spam program Askimet catches, I’d guess, more than 99% of my incoming comment spam.

In the last few months, I’ve noticed an increasing number of comment spammers getting past Askimet and into my comment approval queue. What’s both annoying and amusing is that the way these spammers are getting past my anti-spam measure is that they are writing personalized notes, which also include a link to some spammy website.

Here’s an example I ran across in my web travels today, on another site:

The spam that got through

That one is of the generic “That was a terrific post! I’ve bookmarked your blog!” variety. Comment spam filters catch most of those, though not that one.

The ones that do get through to my moderation queue on this blog actually refer to what I was writing about. Someone (I’m imagining a low-paid Nigerian with at least rudimentary English skills working in a comment-spam sweatshop) is banging out inane comments but actually reading bloggers’ posts, or at least headlines, and tayloring the spam comment to the blog post it’s aimed at.

I’d post an example, but I usually click the “spam” button to delete them. I decided to write about this after twice today coming across on other sites these kinds of spam comments that got through to publication — because those site owners don’t moderate or vet comments before they’re published online, relying solely on a comment spam filter to catch this crap. But if the spammers are personalizing the comments to what you’re writing about, it’s unlikely that a filter will catch those.

So here’s my plea: Start moderating your user comments before publication. It’s a real turn-off to visit a blog or website and see that the owner is letting this happen.

At an increasing number of websites, this latest form of comment spam is adding to the chaos that’s already rampant in comment threads when site owners don’t require commenters to user their real names. So you end up with, as New York Times media reporter David Carr describes them, lots of stupid, often disgusting comments from the “low sloping forehead” crowd.

Here’s a second suggestion, and this one is aimed especially at newspaper websites, many of which are guilty of letting their user comments turn into online cesspools: It’s high time to start demanding that those who wish to comment on a story presented on a website or blog to use their real names and register their personal data (i.e., name and confirmed e-mail address). Those who abide by this rule can have their comments posted immediately and unmoderated.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons sometimes for an online user to post a comment anonymously. But that’s easy to handle, in different ways:

  • Set up a “post anonymously” comment form, but have an editor moderate those comments
  • Allow pseudonyms instead of real names on user accounts, but always moderate those comments

Too many untended user-comment threads, especially on news sites which are of course filled with controversial content and issues, are starting to really stink. It well past the time to start cleaning out the stench and saying goodbye to the anonymous trolls.

Face it, for many of you right now, your user comments suck. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

5 Responses to "Your comments are starting to stink (moderate ’em!)"

  1. Mala Bhargava
    Mala Bhargava 7 years ago .Reply

    Like “Hello! I read all your posts. Please keep them coming”. A huge nuisance. But spammers are getting cleverer by the minute. I like the way these comments pander to your ego. Each time before you delete them you say…maybe, could it just be…

  2. Andrew Gordon
    Andrew Gordon 7 years ago .Reply

    How can you differentiate between someone who signed up with a pseudonym and someone who used their real name?

  3. Steve Outing
    Steve Outing 7 years ago .Reply

    Andrew: You can’t. There will always be people who sign up with fake names, and if their comments prove to be a problem they can be dealt with after the fact. But with a confirmed e-mail (double opt-in, I believe is the term), you know that you have a legit e-mail address and can block it, or communicate with the person about etiquette and what your site allows.

    With psuedonyms, there’s also the option of moderating the first few from that account, and if there are no problems with the posts, then set the account to unmoderated.

    To be clear, I’m not advocating censorship. But if we encourage people to post comments using their real names (because we can never demand that and expect everyone to comply), then I believe that will go a long way to making user comments more useful and educational, and less filled with adolescent chatter by adults.

    I also don’t mean to get too simplistic. It’s a complex issue, and throughout Internet history some website publishers have come up with good techniques to keep comment-thread conversation on track and valuable — often involving crowd rating of others’ comments, which can get them deleted or downgraded so that no one sees them unless expressly requesting to see all the “crap.”

  4. Andrew Gordon
    Andrew Gordon 7 years ago .Reply

    I really like the way YouTube has recently overhauled their comments, making it so that comments from the video uploader and the most highly rated comments appear at the top.

  5. Bill Peregoy
    Bill Peregoy 7 years ago .Reply

    I totally agree that this is a real problem with many blogs and legitimate news sites. I’ve always been really surprised that major newspapers allow the article comments to be cesspools of hate. I think it really devalues their brand in a big way.

    I do question whether crowd sourcing would really work for newspapers with an out of control comment community. I think for the most part, people looking for legitimate comments have been scared away and the audience looking to spread a certain ideology has taken over. I think that audience will just crowd source their views to the top of the heap.

    The boston.com site has a “recommend” link on comments but I’ve seen the most hateful, uninformed comments getting high rankings here so I’m not convince that crowd sourcing alone can solve this problem.

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