The Strange World of Spam

I am not a prolific blogger, journalist, or social media person. In fact, it’s one of the least favorite things for me to do. To the point where I simply don’t do it (shocking, I know). You have to engage with an audience consistently and perfectly, or they’ll forget about you and move on — the worst thing that can happen when you’re dependent on selling entertainment to people! Some might believe the worst thing to happen would be to get cancelled; I would argue that’s the second worst thing to happen. If you irritate enough people for that to be a possibility, then it means you’re at least generating attention, and enough can bleed over into an audience that will buy your product regardless. There is a reason the Streisand Effect is a thing. And there’s my evil deed for the day: you are now spinning down the evil hell that is TVTropes! MUHAHAHA!

Anyway, as it relates to the title of this post: I recently checked the comment section on my website here. Why would I have comments enabled? Am I a glutton for punishment? Do I want to see shady pornographic videos, dirt cheap pharmaceuticals, cheap knock-off shoes from this totally legit seller in the comments section, or maybe Russian, Asian, older women really are desperate for dating options? Well, no, not really. The fact is this website is pretty small, with little real attention, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon (see the previous paragraph about social media). I don’t get that many spam comments per day, so I figure what few may come through I can easily filter out. That works well, if you can do regular upkeep and cleaning.

I did not do regular upkeep and cleaning, so I had a whopping 300 some odd spam comments waiting for permission (I’m not a total dunce and maybe those ladies might actually be legit; hope springs eternal). What I found curious about the vast majority of the comments was they had nothing at all to do with the subject matter of the post. All of them looked like they were farmed elsewhere across the web, from baking advice to writing advice to discussions on physics. Seriously, what the hell? Lowest effort I’ve seen in a while. Complete with the last three names, right in the comment body! I can’t even seem to get the important, tailor-made spam messages. Talk about a slap in the face!

One of the things about being a former IT worker is you never really lose your curiosity on the subject. The job and the tech are usually interesting, otherwise there would be little incentive to do it (I guarantee you it’s not the people, neither fellow IT workers or the customers). So when I look through spam comments, I like to see the patterns that emerge, and one of the key patterns was almost always the exact same mechanism for the comment body, with the actual spam payload held elsewhere — the username and user URL in this case. WordPress, probably for reasons owing to its community and origins as blogging software, includes a field for the commenter’s site URL. Presumably this was so bloggers would be able to connect with one another and thus increase their chances of building an audience and being noticed (remember, this predates big social media platforms like Facebook by a few years and came about in the post-AOL years). It is still there today because… Reasons? I suppose WordPress blogging is social media itself, so it has some utility there. Regardless, it seems rather pointless for those not linked to the whole system.

For our brave spammers, only a few put actual URLs inside the comment field, and those were mostly older spambots. The more recent ones stuck to a comment + first name + middle name + last name format. Their usernames however, contained the usual spam stuff like “videos,” “drugs,” and so on. The user URL field was utilized for the actual spam site location. I guess too many anti-spam systems became good at parsing the comment field for this kind of nonsense, so shifting to user names and user URLs became the spam meta. No doubt that will eventually change, as while the internet may be forever, it is never forever unchanged.

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