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MeFi: SEO spammer early warning system
January 30, 2008 4:48 PM   Subscribe

So it turns out that not only were we being spammed (1, 2, 3, 4) by the Times, a whole lot of other people were too. We should have a Most Wanted page for webmasters to consult or something, since MeFi does such a good job at being the canary in the coal mine. Nice catch, Jess/Matt.
posted by bonaldi to MetaFilter-Related at 4:48 PM (76 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Yeah, we were wondering what the hell was up with this guy, and kind of waiting for him to try and spam some chintzy on-line gem-sales site based on his listed website. The fact that he just kept making these meh posts linking the Times Online was really kind of boggling until Matt figured the Sitelynx angle.

Best part: we actually banned the guy before, with a different account, for actually spamming the goddam gems site. He'd also thrown in a Times link back then, too.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:53 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


How did matt figure out that he was a Times employee and not just a shitty, boring poster?
posted by item at 4:56 PM on January 30, 2008


A hop and a skip.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:58 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


We have found a handful of people like this -- clearly joining mefi just to up pagerank for their company. In the end they get banned and we delete every instance of links to their sites (we deleted half a dozen comments by this Times UK guy), so they don't get any benefit from their time here.

It sucks though, because in one instance, someone asked two fake questions on Ask MeFi that people answered sincerely and it totally pissed me off that someone would do such a thing with community goodwill just to boost their fucking e-store ranking in google.

I've had pb build me a bunch of tools to watch suspect users and new users in general, and I sweep through the tools every day. So far, we've found about one person a week spamming ask mefi with links to web stores.

SEO is the biggest waste of energy on the web today.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 4:58 PM on January 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


Never mind - searching for his username did it.
posted by item at 4:59 PM on January 30, 2008


So, you're saying that this Peter Wyspianski, who claims to be one of the UK's premier experts on "natural and paid search techniques," actually needs to resort to sleazy SEO spamming - and by hiring Sitelynx, a company won't be getting "top brand positioning" but actually, "heaps and piles of terrible publicity for its deceptive practices"?

Looks like hiring Peter Wyspianski or Sitelynx would be brand suicide.

But that's just my opinion, and I'm just one person.
posted by pineapple at 5:06 PM on January 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


Nuts, I was hoping someone would post this in the blue. :)
posted by waxpancake at 5:07 PM on January 30, 2008


Metafilter appears to be the only community that identified Peter as a spammer and removed his account.

Good job!
posted by jason's_planet at 5:12 PM on January 30, 2008


Nuts, I was hoping someone would post this in the blue.

I've heard of a great service that will do this for you, for the right price.
posted by grouse at 5:13 PM on January 30, 2008


Christ, what an idiot. Didn't he realise that we're all dedicated Guardian readers?

The Times is a Murdoch rag, which is enough to damn it to the lowest circle of hell.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:14 PM on January 30, 2008


Stonings are underrated.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:16 PM on January 30, 2008


Metafilter appears to be the only community that identified Peter as a spammer and removed his account.

Which probably makes us the only community to be called out on our "annoying, a little bit creepy emails" by the offended offending party. Class act, Pete.

Though, in his defense, he hadn't been getting a lot of sleep.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:17 PM on January 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


to watch suspect users and new users in general

Big Matt is watching you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:23 PM on January 30, 2008


Thank you, bonaldi. That guy made my shit detector light up instantly but I could ever find any evidence to prove anything. I mean I knew the guy was a shill, I just couldn't prove it. I'll take him off the watch list. And yes, I have a watch list.
posted by puke & cry at 5:23 PM on January 30, 2008


and ceiling cat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:23 PM on January 30, 2008


I was only joking in the post, but if Matt's seeing one a week of these chumps, maybe there is value in some sort of clearing-house for these bell-tollers, like those ones for spammers.
posted by bonaldi at 5:24 PM on January 30, 2008


Well, I'll never read the times again, as had been my policy from the start.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:25 PM on January 30, 2008


I see now that I did a pretty shitty job looking around for this guy. Oh well.
posted by puke & cry at 5:43 PM on January 30, 2008


cortex: I'm assuming the hope was initially in his user profile? I think it's pretty awesome his stuff was deleted for being lame, even before the SEO part seems to have come to light.
posted by garlic at 5:46 PM on January 30, 2008


No, the hop was from googling his listed last name; the website listed in his profile was the jewelry store thing, which is why the Times-spamming angle was such a double-take.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:48 PM on January 30, 2008


I've had pb build me a bunch of tools to watch suspect users and new users in general, and I sweep through the tools every day

So, pb is the Harold to your Batman?

[this would mean that cortex is Robin and jessamyn is Batgirl, but I can't bring them up without making reference to The Killing Joke and I like jess too much to allude to that sort of thing happening to her.]
posted by heeeraldo at 6:05 PM on January 30, 2008


and, yes, before you ask, it's a slow night in the bookstore and I have DC's Summer 2008 Graphic Novel catalogue in front of me.
posted by heeeraldo at 6:05 PM on January 30, 2008


this would mean that cortex is Robin

Oh god. Well, as long as I can be Carrie Kelley instead of Dick Grayson, I guess.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:07 PM on January 30, 2008


Cholernik.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:16 PM on January 30, 2008


This would never have happened under George Earle Buckle.
posted by WPW at 6:22 PM on January 30, 2008


Man, if I believed in hell, I'd like to think there was a special place reserved there for people who do stuff like this.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:31 PM on January 30, 2008


I've always had my suspicions about most of you. It's good to have them partially vindicated.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:34 PM on January 30, 2008


Matt is Han Solo, PB is Chewie, and Metafilter is the Millennium Falcon (especially before the latest server upgrades). Jess is an X-wing and Cortex is a Jawa.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:43 PM on January 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


Good work, mods! I'm picturing you all as the characters in Scooby Doo... mathowie is Fred, cortex is obviously Shaggy, and jessamyn is Velma... I don't know much about pb, but I guess he can be Daphne (or maybe he can be Scooby?).
posted by amyms at 6:50 PM on January 30, 2008


I was only joking in the post, but if Matt's seeing one a week of these chumps, maybe there is value in some sort of clearing-house for these bell-tollers, like those ones for spammers.

I've removed an advertiser from one of my sites after seeing them spamming on MeFi. I'd definitely use such an early warning system. But it may not be ideal for the mods to start second-guessing identification of spam due to the knowledge that other people would be making decisions largely based on those identifications. It would be kind of like the TSA watchlist, only with people who actually care managing it.
posted by scottreynen at 6:58 PM on January 30, 2008


I assume something like Akismet is too rudimentary for this sort of thing?
posted by Dave Faris at 7:16 PM on January 30, 2008


I think the most important thing we can take from this post is that waxpancake is blogging regularly again, which is cool.
posted by eyeballkid at 7:19 PM on January 30, 2008


If you edit a blog, and it's appropriate to do so, I strongly suggest you link to this thread, and Waxy's, so we can perhaps give Peter Wyspianski a little taste of his own medicine.
posted by Dave Faris at 7:27 PM on January 30, 2008


Big Matt is watching you.

and ceiling cat.


Oh, great. Don't tell me I've had my webcam switched on all this time...?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:11 PM on January 30, 2008


Maybe the known-spammers list could be put on the Mefi Wiki, just like the whole GiveWell saga.
posted by divabat at 8:18 PM on January 30, 2008


It would be nice if we only allowed a link to a site once a year. Yes, that includes the NY Times, LA Times, WaPo, etc. Oh, and especially the New Yorker.
posted by Eideteker at 8:34 PM on January 30, 2008


You forgot YouTube.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:41 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I swear I didn't get paid for my timesonline link, I swear!

Why're you asking about my new car? I bought using my hard-earned money.

No, that's not me on those photos you have going into the offices of The Times and collecting a humorously oversized check. That's photoshopped, clearly.

Step away from that banhammer, now... just step away... oh no don't swin
posted by Kattullus at 9:04 PM on January 30, 2008


Looks like hiring Peter Wyspianski or Sitelynx would be brand suicide.

It would be great if the people who pay for this kind of shit realized how harmful and counterproductive SEO is, but they never do.
posted by timeistight at 9:08 PM on January 30, 2008


Good work, mods! I'm picturing you all as the characters in Scooby Doo... mathowie is Fred, cortex is obviously Shaggy, and jessamyn is Velma... I don't know much about pb, but I guess he can be Daphne (or maybe he can be Scooby?).

Well, I know where I fit in here.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:50 PM on January 30, 2008


Matt is Han Solo, PB is Chewie, and Metafilter is the Millennium Falcon (especially before the latest server upgrades). Jess is an X-wing and Cortex is a Jawa.

You missed Miko aka Obi-Wan Kenobi.
posted by Devils Slide at 9:51 PM on January 30, 2008


SEO isn't all about doing what this guy did; for instance, I work for a company with a dedicated SEO team (who may be doing questionable things, I would have no idea) that provided us with a set of sitebuilding guidelines for improving site engine rankings without resorting to dirty tricks.

I certainly can't share them with you without jeopardizing my employment, but I've used those techniques for my personal non-profit sites, and have been flat-out startled by how quickly I could achieve strong rankings in the major search engines (provided I was trying to improve my ranking for something my sites were legitimately related to.)

Trouble is, SEO without morals and guidelines leads to this kind of nonsense, and while the line between "put a meta tag here" and "astroturf" is an easy one to see when you're looking at it, it's not so easy when you're looking at a monthly report of success without breakdown of methods.
posted by davejay at 9:54 PM on January 30, 2008


Astro Zombie (shaking fist):

"...and I would've gotten away with my self-linking, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:10 PM on January 30, 2008


What say that from hereon out all links that begin with http://www.timesonline.co.uk/... are automatically rerouted to a tasteful page explaining that links to that URL are not welcome here owing to their sleazy business practices?
Just think of the headlines: "Scrappy Web Site Takes Stand Against Murdoch's Marketing Machinations" "Drawing A Digital Line In The Digital Sand" "Web 2 Point Oh No You Din't!" etc.!

Actually, pb could probably whip up a l'il bit of something that would work like the FPP preview/double detector and prevent such sliminess from ever occurring in the first place, but my first idea is more fun and alliterative.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:28 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is why I love MeFi. Go Go Gadget Go!
posted by Phire at 11:24 PM on January 30, 2008


16 Mar 2007 03:21 AM

Dear Peter.Wyspianski,

I'd just like to drop by and say hello. You have not heard from me in a while and that is because I value our friendship and do not want to bombard you with my advertising info. At the same time, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on my new product called an EZTOWEL. As of February 21, 2007 our first shipment arrived and we completely sold out! Isn't that great? (We have more in stock now.)

I encourage you to take a close look at this product! I have found that it is great for fundraising and also a great way to make money! WE ARE LOOKING FOR DEALERS!!!

As a special offer to you to get you started, I will send you a free bag of eztowels for demonstration purposes with each case you order. Furthermore, Shipping is only $5.00 to anywhere in the USA.

Anyway, I hope things are going well for you and I'll talk to you soon.

Sincerely yours,
Allan

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=150216072
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:13 AM on January 31, 2008


I definitely think that the best way to deal with this is to shine a light on these b@stards like Andy is doing at Waxy.org.

Matt- if there's some way you can share with us who is banned each week and why, so we can make a clearinghouse of unethical SEOs, and figure out a way to report them to the search engines so they lose their ranking, that'd be ideal.
posted by gen at 2:12 AM on January 31, 2008


Looks as if Sitelynx are getting some unwanted publicity out of this.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 6:12 AM on January 31, 2008


Ceiling Matt is watching you.
posted by srboisvert at 6:21 AM on January 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


The reason that this is going to keep happening (and happen more and more) is that there is a fundamental disconnect between the SEO spammers and the self-linkers and the members of the metafilter community, an in group and an out group, the barbarians at the gate, we want to fuck and fight and do our thing (metaphorically or whatever) and enjoy our sandbox, they want to monetize it (the infamous shitbirds).

Now that we've got the obvious out of the way I suggest that we have two options:

1) We can make them part of the community, like missionaries do, we can go to them and bring them in and help them understand that monetizing the community is self-defeating act, because if all we have is links to underpants sites and dumbass times online op-ed garbage, we cease to be this big community of eyeballs that seems so attractive and it's poor old Cortex pushing his broom and doing big DB greps to see how many times Spammer X has linked to boner.com as opposed to some poorly spelt coupon page. We can, through great effort, humanize these poor robotic ghouls and make new friends, possibly saving lives in the process.

OR

2) We can rig the netting and sharpen the boarding axes and cutlasses, send the Marines into the foretop, double shot the carronades with grape and cannister, thump em briskly with two broadsides and board in the smoke, no quarter asked or given. Nuke 'em from orbit. Chop off their heads, eat their livers and salt the ground. Seduce their mothers and give them a half-sister or brother that they know will always be loved more than them. Nerve gas, bullwhips, waterboarding, sound trucks blasting rabbits being skinned alive and Nancy Sinatra and may God have mercy on their souls because we sure won't. EXTERMINATE EVERY LAST ONE OF THE MOTHERFUCKERS.


I've already stripped down, painted myself blue, oiled my claymore and taken a double fistful of mushrooms in anticipation that the vote will go with number two, so let's please hurry and get this resolved.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:48 AM on January 31, 2008 [6 favorites]


From an update on the Guardian piece Busy Old Fool linked:

Sitelynx has officially apologised to Times Online, I was just told by editor-in-chief Anne Spackman. "What happened what as much of a surprise to us as it was to the Sitelynx guys," she said.

"They apologised straight away. [Piotr Wyspianski] was working on the Times account but not on link building, and he had no authority to do this. And we don't do link spamming anyway."

posted by cortex (staff) at 8:30 AM on January 31, 2008


Which reminds me: would it be worthwhile to add a banning reason to the banned accounts (e.g. 'this account is disabled: spammer' or "this account is disabled: settle down a bit and try this again.")?
posted by Tuwa at 8:55 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wait a minute. From the Waxy update:
Tom Whitwell, Times Online's Communities Editor (and author of the outstanding Music Thing blog), contacted me this morning. Apparently, Sitelynx fired Piotr Wyspianski. "We didn't realize Sitelynx were doing this kind of linkspamming," he said. "They were paid to do link building, not just dropping bulk links.
You mean this Tom Whitwell, who was banned in December for linkspamming Times Online? Classy.
posted by Partial Law at 9:30 AM on January 31, 2008 [5 favorites]


I've already stripped down, painted myself blue, oiled my claymore and taken a double fistful of mushrooms in anticipation that the vote will go with number two, so let's please hurry and get this resolved.

In other words, it's Thursday.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:31 AM on January 31, 2008


Here's Tom Whitwell's self-linking on Reddit.
posted by grouse at 10:09 AM on January 31, 2008


"We didn't realize Sitelynx were doing this kind of linkspamming," he said. "They were paid to do link building, not just dropping bulk links.

What the fuck is "link building" if not dropping links in as many places possible in an effort to spam search engines with your stuff? I'm not up on whatever is considered "white hat SEO" these days, but why does a reputable organization like the Times UK, with centuries of journalistic ethics and a goal of serving the public interest even hire some douchebags to spam search engines on their behalf?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:40 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Deniability.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:41 AM on January 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


You mean this Tom Whitwell, who was banned in December for linkspamming Times Online?

*horks*
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:45 AM on January 31, 2008


Hork?

Hork is not a word.
posted by Kattullus at 11:12 AM on January 31, 2008


Tom Whitwell does not GiveWell.
posted by ericb at 11:42 AM on January 31, 2008


So, we've discovered that anything that ends "well" does not end well?
posted by team lowkey at 12:05 PM on January 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well...
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:13 PM on January 31, 2008


So, we've discovered that anything that ends "well" does not end well wendell?

Fixed that for - *runs away from the pitchforks and torches of doom*
posted by Phire at 1:44 PM on January 31, 2008


*runs away from the pitchforks and torches of doom*

Too late, my friend. Divine_Wino has already stripped down, painted himself blue, oiled his claymore, and taken a double fistful of mushrooms. It was nice knowing you!
posted by languagehat at 2:15 PM on January 31, 2008


Portobello mushrooms?
posted by Phire at 2:44 PM on January 31, 2008


Portobello mushrooms?
AND HOW. SOMEONE POINT ME AT THAT DUDE, I'M FEELING HELLA DISEMBOWELLY!
posted by Divine_Wino at 3:04 PM on January 31, 2008


Between this, GiveWell, and the by-comparison yawn-worthy 'blooming teas!!' stuff... I wouldn't be opposed to the idea of some sort of sneaky-ass Terms Of Use agreement, with a single line about SEO spam buried deep in the boilerplate. Something about a fine. Or being contractually obliged to present themselves in the flesh, at their own expense, to have skewers driven under their toenails.
posted by CKmtl at 6:26 PM on January 31, 2008


Tom Whitwell on linkspamming MetaFilter:
I want to ask Matt a question: I was banned from Metafilter, quite correctly. I was posting under false pretences, and I deliberately ignored the terms of service. I'd have liked to apologise for that, but I didn't get a chance, because I was banned.

Anyway, of the 15 or so posts I put up, the majority got significant numbers of positive comments, a handful of favourites and in a few cases compliments in the comments. I posted them because I read Metafilter, and I thought that people would enjoy the stories.
Is that so bad?
Hey, he'd like to apologize, but since he was banned, no apology for us! Instead we only get self-serving justification.
posted by grouse at 3:09 AM on February 1, 2008


Now, all links to Times Online have become suspect.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:59 AM on February 1, 2008


Right now the penalty for self-linking is banning the self-linker. But in the long run this benefits persistent linkspammers like Times Online. They can roll the dice every once in a while on getting some extra advertising revenue by shilling. If they don't get caught, it's good for them, and if they do get caught, they only lose £2.50, and unconnected people will keep posting links for them.

So what about a lifetime ban not only of the self-linkers, but also the sites they link to? Automatically reject any posts that link to timesonline.co.uk, and set any previous links NOFOLLOW? New comments could be NOFOLLOW too. That way there is a penalty to gaming the system like this—they immediately erase any of the organically grown reputation they had been accruing and could accrue in the future.
posted by grouse at 5:12 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


So what about a lifetime ban not only of the self-linkers, but also the sites they link to?

Then people start paying $5 to linkspam sites they hate seeing on the blue.
posted by Tuwa at 5:20 AM on February 1, 2008


Maybe. But that sort of hypothetical isn't at issue here, since we know pretty well that both their employees and their agents have been spamming all over the web.
posted by grouse at 6:13 AM on February 1, 2008


Has anyone introduced this guy to the givewell board yet?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:50 AM on February 1, 2008


Wow, wish I'd read this thread yesterday.
posted by NinjaTadpole at 10:59 AM on February 1, 2008


Wow, wish I'd read this thread yesterday.

Which is an anagram for "Times Online Is Best Newspaper Evar". I'm on to you, buddy.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on February 1, 2008


no, the thing to do is for a few dozen of the most powerful community sites to call various well connected tech lawyers and get them to write a set of terms and conditions that make spamming ACTIONABLE.

Then you get the lawyers set up a database of lawyers who are ready to go get the spammers in every jurisdiction.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:07 PM on February 1, 2008


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