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!