Self-link = TEH BANHAMMER! September 25, 2010 3:13 PM   Subscribe

How do we detect self-links? Interested in the mechanics and rules.

Given that there have been several self-linking/spammy FPPs in the past few days that were deleted within a few hours:
http://www.metafilter.com/96019/
http://www.metafilter.com/95930/
http://www.metafilter.com/95908/
I was interested in both the mechanics of, and tools used to detect self-linkers / SEO people.

I can see how a couple factors might clue the mods in to the more intentional forms of spamming and self-linking. Usually, it's a new user with minimal interaction with the site, and the posts don't seem to have much of a point other than directing the user to a given site. They also tend to use language like "I came across this interesting post" that distance themselves from the content they're linking to.

I'm guessing that spammers tend to post similar things on other sites, like this deleted post from the other day http://www.metafilter.com/96019/, which was also posted on engadget (this was originally was worded exactly like the deleted metafilter post, as of yesterday but it’s been changed). Do you typically Google suspicious posts manually, or do you have some sort of system to do this automatically

Do moderators across sites let each other know about spammers they find so that they can also delete the posts? And are all new users who self-link in an FPP automatically banned?
posted by stratastar to MetaFilter-Related at 3:13 PM (102 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

The mods have talked about this before. They have a few persistent queries that alert them when new users make their first FPP. Warning signs include making two or three short comments then immediately posting a single-link FPP.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:15 PM on September 25, 2010


Answering these questions would help the spammers.
posted by ColdChef at 3:15 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


We have some basic things we do that aren't that secret.

Brand new users with spammy sounding URLs or usernames can get flagged on our side. Sometimes other users alert us to people leaving what seem like totally non-sequitor comments which seems like a prelude for a self-link. We can flag them as well. We already see everyone's first post [comes to us in email] and the first posts from the people who are flagged on our side come specially marked. That said, we don't specifically see flagged people's second posts but we're often just keeping an eye on them at that rate.

Determining the self-link after we've seen a bunch of shady behavior usually is just a pretty standard investigation. Checking who owns their domain, doing a lot of googling, tracking vague location via IP, checking out who they are friends with on social media. We've seen some odd cases where people were pimping their spouse's stuff or people they knew from school or whathaveyou. We've probably made the odd mistake, but I'm not sure if we've ever made a "omg we totally fucked up" level of mistake [more like "we banned your SEO douchebag brother and you're telling us that your totally crappy looking post from someone with the same paypal address is a new person and thus not the same SEO douchebag even though the post looked really SEO douchebaggy? Hmmmm."]

We don't coordinate with other sites at all though if we see someone who seems to be posting links to the same thing across other sites that definitely gets on our radar. Most of this isn't really secret, though we usually don't outline the entire path through which we ban any one user just to not help them be less banned somewhere else. I have no idea how other sites do this sort of thing.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:21 PM on September 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Arne Treholt ble fulgt nøye, bevisene var fabrikkerte.
posted by Dumsnill at 3:23 PM on September 25, 2010


It's a complicated process, combining several of these techniques. Sure, the mods sometimes fight over the fine points of acultomancy vs. acutomanzia. But it's sure better than the early days on the site, when mathowie had to rely exclusively on pastromancy.
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:23 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Er... I meant plastromancy. But for all I know pastromancy is a proprietary thing y'all have come up with recently -- a sort of divination via spaghetti. You do that too, right?
c'mon, don't make a liar out of me here
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:25 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


pastromancy involves reading the flakes that come off croissants and other flaky pastries.
posted by atrazine at 3:29 PM on September 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


blah sorry about those random 160's; Windows Live Writer's WYSIWYG html editor throws those in for some reason...
posted by stratastar at 3:31 PM on September 25, 2010


pastromancy involves reading the flakes that come off croissants and other flaky pastries.

That works for me.

Also, the thing that delights me the most about that list I've linked to above is that it includes "pseudomancy: by false means." I find it's presence reassuring and hilarious.
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:32 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


plastronmancy involves reading the flakes that comes off the undersides of tortoises, and is far less tasty.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:36 PM on September 25, 2010


Answering these questions would help the spammers.

There's a bit of truth to that, but honestly by and far most of the spammers and self-linkers we ban are defined by their cluelessness. If someone is paying close enough attention to pick up a foolproof gameplan by attending closely to back-room discussions in Metatalk, they're far outside the norm. The post-ban email exchange, when we hear from them at all, is usually characterized by some mix of playing dumb and actually being dumb. I am not always exactly polite when that happens.

Mostly self-linkers stand out like a sore thumb from comment number one. (Or, notably, comments number one through three.) Most of their posts smell bad right away—framing feels stilted or not mefi style, reads as more of a sales pitch or push than an organic "here's a thing that's interesting" find, borks the posting process somewhat, etc.

The watchlist we maintain, which is basically a process of us (mostly me, it's a daily morning routine for me so I get to most of these people before Matt and Jess get a chance to) going through the signups from the previous day as well as comments from new users and keeping an eye out for anything flagged for looking sketchy if we didn't catch it upfront, makes it pretty easy for us to catch almost all of these self-link/spam posts (and, less visibly to the average reader, spammy askme comments in old threads) really, really quickly. Whereas a few years ago self-links might hang around on the front page for an hour or even several hours, they tend to die within minutes now because we get emails about first posts and posts from watchlisted users as they happen, and on a typical day at least one of us will be near an email client pretty much every minute.

And are all new users who self-link in an FPP automatically banned?

Basically, yeah. Zero investment in the community + major violation of basically the one rule about posting that there is = not worth our effort to give you a second chance. I can think of a couple times when it seemed more like genuine cluelessness in a non-shill sort of situation that we might have given someone the thin-ice treatment with a really stern warning, but that's very rare.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:38 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also the pattern of shitty post plus aggressively clueless email right afterwards is another predictable trend. There may have been times where people seemed to truly not grok the place, or were confused about friendslinking and we've swapped some totally polite emails and given them a second chance [not recently that I can recall, and NEVER about self-linking that I can recall] and then watched them like hawks, but basically anyone who self-links is immediately banned and we don't allow them to sign up again.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:43 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Answering these questions would help the spammers.

If this is the case, our spammers would seem to put a hell of a lot of effort into spamming.

Steps:
1. Register spam domain
2. Trawl Metafilter for information on how mods detect spammers
3. Legally change name to Schrodinger's Eager Ogler
4. Set up Paypal account under new name
5. Pay $5 of hard-earned spammy money
6. Post an FPP that's all OMG I/P to throw 'em off
7. Reply to 404 FPPs with critical analyses of the content
8. Write SEO post
9. Delete all Facebook friends
10. Drive out of state
11. Post SEO post
12. ???
13. Profit
posted by emilyd22222 at 3:46 PM on September 25, 2010 [14 favorites]


Their pattern is pretty laughable: 3 random comments less than 100 chars each on the same day as sign-up, then nothing for 10 days, then a FPP shilling something.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:48 PM on September 25, 2010


My very first post, was about an acquaintance who did music, plays, novels etc., an annoyingly creative fella that i wanted to share with folks. Got my ass handed to me in comments, and learned my lesson.

Seems to be a lot of people with mod issues of late, and i don't get it. I've had a few comments deleted, and one post, that was a double that never turned up on the preview link thing, and I've never taken it personally.

I can't imagine a day in the life of these guys, not just from the spammers etc, but for the obvious nightmares that come from anything I/P, or the guy who cant live on 250K, or anything equally inflammatory.

How many damned emails do you need to send to tell someone to chill out, or give them a time out, or ban them? And how many followups do you need to deal with to say sorry but this is a final decision.

I dont envy them, no sir, not one bit.
posted by timsteil at 3:56 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


There was a weird one a month or so ago. Dude pointed out in his post that it was a self link. I read it like 10 times to see if I could parse it any other way. They I mailed the mods and it was nuked. He'd been on the site like 3 or 4 years too, so it's not like he couldn't have known. I kind of viewed it as one of those people who point an unloaded gun at the police. cortex shot him.

I think I've sent email on 2 or 3 suspected spammers over the years. I'm guessing a goodly percentage are found this way.

Also, as to the idea that discussing these things help the spammers...do you really think they don;t know these things?
posted by cjorgensen at 3:59 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, one of the weird rejoinders we get sometimes from banned spammers is that there are other people who are totally astroturfing or otherwise undermining the integrity of our fine website and the fact that we're banning them for above-board spamming is such fucking bullshit bla bla bla. We're sometimes curious if this is in fact true, if there are long time members who are sekritly working for some sort of underground street team that is posting crappy links here [in posts or comments] totally under the radar. We have never, to our knowledge, found one though we have seen people [like the one cjorgensen mentions] who come back after being members for a while intent on shitty spamminess and it's always a little mysterious.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:05 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Most spammers aren't really doing a lot of planning and research. They hear about Metafilter one way or another, show up here and try to post. The posting page says they have to be logged in as a member. So they join. Then they try to post.

The posting page says, "You have to have made three comments before you can post." So they go make three rather inconsequential comments in close succession. THEN they post their spam.

Nearly always the time stamps alone are enough to figure it out. Sometimes the membership comes days or weeks (or even a year or two) before, but the pattern of three comments and then a shifty-sounding FPP within about a half-hour period is like a sign that says "Ban me! Ban me!"
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:07 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think I've sent email on 2 or 3 suspected spammers over the years. I'm guessing a goodly percentage are found this way.

I do find this a peculiar sort of bragging.
posted by Dumsnill at 4:12 PM on September 25, 2010


Or do you think they'd actually learn something from the mods' comments if they were already as dumb as the "Casualty 3" spammer? GYOB-style personalized blurb from a complete stranger? Duplicating the entire post in the "more inside" complete with a non-sequitur "x" at the end?
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:14 PM on September 25, 2010


Sure?
posted by Dumsnill at 4:18 PM on September 25, 2010


And here I was, after all my years at the 'Filter, hesitating at posting about the Blort Birthday, wondering if it was maybe semi-improper... (since way long ago, before the rules had fully congealed, quonsar did a FFP of one of my projects, as a 'favor' to me?)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:21 PM on September 25, 2010


yeah, i saw some weird comments pop up on old posts - guy had been a member for a long damn time (but didn't post), and suddenly his first 2 comments link to a merchant website. i emailed the mods, it was taken care of in literally 3 minutes. as strange as the details are, it seems pretty obvious usually when something is a spam post.
posted by nadawi at 4:22 PM on September 25, 2010


Jeg tøyset bare med jørgensen, for å være klar. God natt!
posted by Dumsnill at 4:28 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do find this a peculiar sort of bragging.

It didn't strike me as bragging at all-- simply a statement of fact. You may need to recalibrate your bragometer.
posted by dersins at 4:29 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


We're sometimes curious if this is in fact true, if there are long time members who are sekritly working for some sort of underground street team that is posting crappy links here [in posts or comments] totally under the radar.

Hah, this totally reminds me of a youtube video. Do you like youtube? Have you checked youtube today? You really should look at youtube.

It's 6:30PM -- do you know what's on youtube right now?
posted by Think_Long at 4:30 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


if there are long time members who are sekritly working for some sort of underground street team that is posting crappy links here

You mean other than netbros?
posted by dersins at 4:32 PM on September 25, 2010


It didn't strike me as bragging at all

No, it didn't particularly - hence my "Jeg tøyset bare med jørgensen, for å være klar." (I was just kidding with Jorgensen, to be clear.)
posted by Dumsnill at 4:40 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You mean other than netbros?

I hear you, but who does he work for and what is his deal? Having a history of a lot of lackluster seemingly mainstream links doesn't narrow it down enough.

wondering if it was maybe semi-improper

It falls solidly into friendlinking for me, but maybe the other mods feel differently.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:40 PM on September 25, 2010



I think I've sent email on 2 or 3 suspected spammers over the years. I'm guessing a goodly percentage are found this way.



Oh yeah? I've sent e-mail on 3 or 5.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:41 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pastamancery?

I also don't envy the mods. I've been a mod elsewhere and my boyfriend also heads an online community, and the things some people try to get away with and the assumption that they make that they're pulling the wool over your eyes never fails to either pile up or amuse.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:44 PM on September 25, 2010


"there are long time members who are sekritly working for some sort of underground street team that is posting crappy links here"

You're on to me. I was going to start tomorrow, but now my plan is foiled. Damn you!
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:49 PM on September 25, 2010


I'm a deep-cover sleeper agent. 81 non-spam FPPs to lull you into a false sense of security, and then, whammo, I'm linking to my site selling acai berry-flavored Viagra.

The fools, they'll never see it coming.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:55 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, I guess they kind of will now, Mods, pls delete?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:58 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


You're on to me. I was going to start tomorrow, but now my plan is foiled. Damn you! --- Pffft, amateur.
posted by crunchland at 5:37 PM on September 25, 2010


My entire metafilter career, up to and including this comment, is just an exhaustively long con which will one day culminate in the mother of all self-links. You know, on the day I actually do something worth linking to.

Ideally it will be something totally rad involving lasers and unicorns. Maybe cake.
posted by elizardbits at 6:12 PM on September 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


not a self-link
posted by clavdivs at 6:22 PM on September 25, 2010


It's amazing to me how many spammers use variations on the openner "I stumbled upon something and decided to share" which is rarely, if ever, used my non spammers. Also posts written from a very first person point of view though there is some over lap with legit content. Both of those stick out like a sore thumb.

I caught a few spammers commenting in old AskMes via recent activity (on one memorable occasion Matt banned their ass preemptively) but that is a rare occurrence now that pb has developed a tool to do automatically what I used to do manually.
posted by Mitheral at 6:55 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If there are spammers who are long time members and consistently make front page posts that don't get deleted, then I guess more power to them, and they've earned every penny they've made from it. because that takes a lot of creativity and dedication to both this website and their job.

I wonder how much a metafilter reputation is worth? Have any of the 'big name' mefi posters been approached by spammers to post stuff for them?
posted by empath at 7:13 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know if it'd be a lot more work for the mods, but I'd love to see the 3 throwaway comments get deleted too. They kind of piss on the community by posting 3 one-liners followed by a self link, and having the comments survive feels a little icky.
posted by knave at 7:24 PM on September 25, 2010


Sometimes I imagine the Mods as a combination of the Precogs from Minority Report and the Hybrids from Battlestar Galatica.

"New User"

"Emerald Rose"

"Smell of cordite "

"&2"

"SEO"

"Shade Of Midnight"

"Doesn't fit."

"Only 3"

"Goodbye."

I am a serikit undercover agent for my brain
posted by The Whelk at 7:42 PM on September 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's amazing to me how many spammers use variations on the openner "I stumbled upon something and decided to share" which is rarely, if ever, used my non spammers.

This is a good point. Spammers (not just on Mefi) feel the need to justify their content in a way that normal people don't.
posted by John Cohen at 8:01 PM on September 25, 2010


pb has developed a tool to do automatically what I used to do manually.

I'm interested. Go on...
posted by ODiV at 8:05 PM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ideally it will be something totally rad involving lasers and unicorns.

HELLS YEAH!

Uh huh!

Wait, what? NSFW
posted by nomadicink at 8:09 PM on September 25, 2010




My favorite bragging on MeTa ever is graventy's response to someone who was searching for a Metafilter comment about the importance of the internet.
posted by John Cohen at 8:29 PM on September 25, 2010


Hey netbros, I have your back, man.
posted by maxwelton at 8:30 PM on September 25, 2010


This raises a question I've mentioned before in threads, but never got a definitive answer to.

Sometimes in discussions, I put a self-link to some on-topic blog post I wrote. I only do that because I'd probably write the same comments, but it's easier just to refer to my previously written comments rather than typing them all over again.

I assume this is not going to bring down the banhammer. I'm not sure if it's even technically against the rules. Does the self-link ban apply to the original posts only? Or does it also apply to comments? I can see where spammers could definitely infest comments and there would be reasons for bans. But I'm obviously not spamming as my self-links don't contain anything that could be financially advantageous (I don't even have ads on my blog).
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:32 PM on September 25, 2010


My understanding is that it doesn't apply to comments, just posts. That said, a self-link in a comment is supposed to be relevant to the conversation at hand and not spammy.
posted by zarq at 9:37 PM on September 25, 2010


It's ok to self link in comments, especially if you indicate that it is a self link. But if you keep doing that frequently it might get problematic.
posted by dhruva at 9:38 PM on September 25, 2010


Exactly what those guys said, as long as you're generally participating in the site otherwise, a few occasional links to your blog in the comments if they're indicated ["hey I wrote this thing"] and if they're not SEO spammy seeming stuff are fine. We see some people in AskMe occasionally making a rash of sort of on-topic comments that all link to the same blog with the same SEO words and that's much less okay.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:44 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're sometimes curious if this is in fact true, if there are long time members who are sekritly working for some sort of underground street team that is posting crappy links here [in posts or comments] totally under the radar.

THERE IS NO CABAL....
posted by zarq at 9:47 PM on September 25, 2010


Yeah, I keep the link relevant (at least I think it's relevant) and I believe I've always indicated a self-link. I haven't done this lately, but I recall doing it a few (2? 3?) times in close enough succession that I wondered if there was a limit I was approaching.

In any case, from the nature of the links, it would be obvious that the link was meant as an "investment in the community" (as cortex put it) rather than an exploitation of it. But this can be a perilous way to judge spam. I was an early activist in the "spam cabal" on Usenet, they always made it clear that nuking spam was "content blind." This way nobody could be accused of nuking spam for personal reasons, if they just didn't like the content. I have seen some posts on MeFi that seemed (to me) to be worthwhile but were nuked as self-links. There is some content-blindness here, I guess.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:47 PM on September 25, 2010


Yeah, I can think of maybe a half dozen times total that I've had to write to someone specifically to say "once in a while is fine but if every fourth comment you make is Here's A Link To My Blog then it's a serious problem". It's very rare to see someone do that on a regular basis in an otherwise non-spammy way; occassional is just fine, selfpromotional is not, and mostly the twain don't meet.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:52 PM on September 25, 2010


ODiV i writes "I'm interested. Go on..."
  1. See new comment in old AskMe (via recent comments) from someone I don't recognize.
  2. Click on username to see what else they've posted.
  3. If it's less than a few dozen comments read other comments.
    • If all the comments are links to a web site then alert Mods.
    • If all of the comments are on the same topic (IE: AskMe selection appears to be driven by google search) watch for post by that user about that subject, invariably it's a self link. Alert Mods.It was one of these that I mailed Matt about and he punted the user before they could make a FPP.
  4. If the user has only made a few comments watch for a post from them on their one week anniversary date; 99% of the time it's a self link.
pb wrote up a script that alerts the mods to comments on non-current threads. Because the mods are now aware of these comments in real time as opposed to as requested Recent Activity they can squash these users before we even see them. Too bad; I loved that "Gotcha" feeling.
posted by Mitheral at 10:23 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much a metafilter reputation is worth? Have any of the 'big name' mefi posters been approached by spammers to post stuff for them?

Well, I'm not a 'big name' poster, but every once in a while I'll get an email from someone saying something along the lines of "What do you think of this? Would you consider making a post about it?" I think I've only created a post based on that kind of suggestion once. Usually I just encourage them to make those posts themselves. But in every one of those cases those emails were from long-term members who were just gun-shy about making an FPP. They all have extensive comment histories.

Amusingly enough, I actually (stupidly) congratulated a spammer via MeMail for making his first FPP a few months ago. He'd posted this MeTa, so I thought it would be nice to say, "congrats."

That's reason #6,000,000,000 why I'd make a shitty mod. :P
posted by zarq at 10:47 PM on September 25, 2010


the things some people try to get away with and the assumption that they make that they're pulling the wool over your eyes never fails to either pile up or amuse.

What's surprising is how common this behavior is. I expect almost anyone posting here has some story of seeing people's ham-handed efforts to "sneak around the system" in their work or personal life. When I notice it, it's usually in situations where just doing the work would be less effort than the "trick."

I teach a course at a university where the students have to read (skim, really) and summarize articles. I warn them repeatedly about plagiarism and using material only available in abstract. Every semester, I catch students doing these things -- usually about 10% of the class. Neither the fact that both are easy to discover nor the rather extreme penalties deter these students. Every semester, I am mildly shocked by this, but I imagine that I shouldn't be.

Perhaps some evolutionary psychologist can tell us if 10% of the population has a "spamming gene."
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:21 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


My first post was a self link. This was back in 2000 when either Matt was working alone and moderation was patchy or the community guidelines hadn't solidified yet - possibly both. Anyway, it was never deleted and I was never banned.

It's to my eternal shame that I did it and everytime this subject comes up my penance is to mention it shamefacedly yet again.

Sigh.
posted by Jofus at 6:23 AM on September 26, 2010


Sometimes I wonder if some (not most) of the spamming is coming from innocently naive self-promotion rather than scummy scummers. But frankly I'm not even sure what is so scummy or morally reprehensible about SEO or self-promotion. Everyone wants their projects to be popular, whether because they are being paid to promote them or because they think they have a great [band/website/dildonic invention] and they just want to spread the word. Why is wrong to want to try and make sure it gets more attention than things that possibly are less deserving? Serious question, I have no knowledge of how SEO works at all so I may be missing something unfair about their efforts--it seems like they're either clumsy and ineffective or honest and useful. "Buy these shoes!" = ignore or delete. "I wrote a book about shoes!" = interesting or not, it's worth checking out. I say this as someone who gets 10-20 PR emails a day--it doesn't hurt me in any way, and the ones from people who I trust I read and sometimes am thankful I did.

Metafilter is specifically not for this kind of thing of course, but we're not the norm on the web, and it takes some practice to understand this fact. My last boss really wanted me to make FFPs about our website, and she just didn't get that A. it would be obviously found out. and B. it would be a breach of the community's trust even if I could somehow get away with it. To her, MF is no different than StumbleUpon or Twitter or something. Partially she just doesn't understand how IP addresses work, but also the idea that a Metafilter account is more than the T&C is confusing (particularly to people more used to social networks than forums)...most websites don't require an honest communal effort to adhere to the ethics of the group: there are just rules and ways around them. To her, if I was a member in good-standing, I should use that influence to advertise my labors, and surely everyone would turn a blind eye to the minor breach of etiquette. It was just impossible to explain why that was not only futile, but deeply uncool.

Anyway, I get that they're annoying, and I don't mean that we should all have Sympathy for the Spammerdevils, nor lenience, but whenever I hear mods and others being gleeful about banning these folks, I think that some % of them must be just clueless or trying to do a job like anyone else. Maybe it's cuz I used to get really sad when my pop cursed out telemarketers for calling during dinner. "But Dad," I'd say, "That's when we're home!"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:05 AM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


so, one of the weird rejoinders we get sometimes from banned spammers is that there are other people who are totally astroturfing or otherwise undermining the integrity of our fine website and the fact that we're banning them for above-board spamming is such fucking bullshit bla bla bla. We're sometimes curious if this is in fact true, if there are long time members who are sekritly working for some sort of underground street team that is posting crappy links here [in posts or comments] totally under the radar.

Any sufficiently interesting spam is indistinguishable from content.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:06 AM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's cuz I used to get really sad when my pop cursed out telemarketers for calling during dinner. "But Dad," I'd say, "That's when we're home!"

"Why do you rob banks?"
"That's where the money is."
posted by Trochanter at 7:22 AM on September 26, 2010


I think that some % of them must be just clueless or trying to do a job like anyone else.

I think there's some genuine cluelessness in the mix, yes, on a couple different fronts. That said, it literally takes serious effort from a first time poster to avoid being aware that self-linking and promotional stuff is not okay: they're presented with a reiteration of the "do not do this or you will be banned" concept on the posting page itself and are required to check a box before they can move on to actual posting.

So at that point, they know. Unless they surgically remove the part of their brain responsible for having read that little paragraph and checked the box after they read it and check it, they unambiguously know. At that point, whatever strain of "oh, I see you just misunderstood" sympathy I may have for them pretty much goes out the window.

To whatever degree this is people who are just trying to do a job, I believe their job is a shitty one that makes things worse for other people. That's the core of my objection: self-promotion as priority one is the reason why we evaluate email clients/services first and foremost on their ability to block spam, why Akismet is among the (if not the) most installed wordpress plugin in history, why any blog not carefully attended by its owner becomes a beshitted wasteland of astroturf and farmed links, why well-meaning people hire snake-oil salesmen to try and use the same dirty short-lived tricks as the rest of the snake-oil salesmen to jockey for position on a google results page.

It's why we here have to put in a fair amount of work, and deal with a certain amount of emailed bullshit and verbal abuse, on a weekly basis just to keep Metafilter's front page and archive from being defined by whatever the fuck some dude feels like promoting of his own or on behalf of his employer or his client in defiance the really clearly stated site guidelines.

It's a bad job. Not an unpleasant but important one: it's a job that is bad. If that job just ceased to exist tomorrow, the world would improve; the only reason that doesn't happen is there's money in it.

Maybe it's cuz I used to get really sad when my pop cursed out telemarketers for calling during dinner. "But Dad," I'd say, "That's when we're home!"

For what it's worth, I've been on both sides of the phone; I was cursed out by the people I called, and I've never cursed out someone calling me because that seems like a shitty thing to do.

Telemarketing coldcalling is a bad job; there's other phone work that's not so bad even if it still leads to annoying phone calls at dinner. It's kind of crappy that the shittiness of the worst sort of dinner-time callers has led to people in general taking out their frustration on anyone who happens to call them unsolicited, and that's a bit of a return to the theme above: making crap worse for everybody else in service of an expedient buck.

In a shitty economy I have sympathy for anyone who feels like they're stuck with the choice between a bad job and no job, but that doesn't make a bad job not a bad job. My objection tends to be more to the defense of it as something other than a bad job, because, no, fuck that. Do What You Got To Do is one thing; I Do It Ergo It Must Be A Good Thing is another entirely.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:42 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But frankly I'm not even sure what is so scummy or morally reprehensible about SEO or self-promotion.

With SEO in particular, I don't think there's anything fundamentally scummy about it in a general sense. It's the particular tactics we tend to see here that are scummy. There's nothing wrong with people trying to get their site placed higher in search results by organizing their site and setting up their content so that search engines can do a better job indexing it and understanding what's there. That increases the utility of search engines for all of us, so if it results in higher placement for sites that have done the work vs. those that haven't, so much the better.

Where it veers into scummy territory is when people either mis-represent the content of their site to get it highly placed in searches where the site's content is actually irrelevant, or where they try to sneak links onto popular sites like MetaFilter that don't allow this kind of self-linking, just to get search engines to rank their site higher. These sorts of tactics decrease the utility of search engines for all of us, and make sites like MetaFilter turn into a huge collection of crappy self-links if the site administrators don't put a stop to it quickly.
posted by FishBike at 7:48 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


But frankly I'm not even sure what is so scummy or morally reprehensible about SEO or self-promotion.

I think there are levels to it, personally.

- hey check out my business
- hey I am linking to my business using the same keywords each time to try to get higher in google for keywords relating to my business
- hey I am making an FPP about someone else's business indefiance of the site rules because I get paid for it
- hey I am making fake websites that I am paying other people to make shitloads of posts about all over the web so that I can drive eyeballs to advertisers on my pages and basically have a job doing nothing but making the web worse

I live in a small town. I used to live in a smaller town. For the most part, when you Google businesses and stuff in the small towns around here, you don't find the small towns, you find "find a florist in SMALLTOWN" or "find a mover in SMALLTOWN" web sites despite the fact that these towns have neither movers nor florists. Sometimes you have to get waaaay down in the Google results before you find real content about these towns, even the town's web page itself. This is because the people who build the "a florist page for every town" web sites are better at SEO and better at figuring out what Google wants than the people who make my town's website.

And yes, there's an argument to be made that these people wouldn't break the internet [or the ability to search and find things on it, and not land on shitty spammy linkfarm content instead of actual real content] if either Google were better at filtering them out, or small towns were better at SEO. But since Google is the largest ad company in the world, they have less and less self-interest in doing something about the shitty linkfarm spammer types, though people who do black hat SEO still stick in their craw, I suspect.

So, I'm all in favor of people promoting their businesses in appropriate "this is my business" way if they're not spamming the site and if they're contributing content here. For the most part, however, what we see is "I found this interesting LINK" stuff with no stated connection and at that point I sort of feel like "it's on" Add to this that most spammers, when caught, are dicks about it [and these are people who checked the box, who said they KNEW that they'd be banned if they were self-promoting. We don't hide this stuff in a 37 page ToS, it's two sentences you read right there, it's as clear as it can be] and fighty, rarely the "oh I thought this was something people would like and I didn't know my connection to it was too close, sorry!" and it just makes the whole thing an unpleasant constant background noise in the work we do here.

And I also get cringey when people yell at telemarketers, so I get where you're coming from. And I get it, there's money there and not everyone can choose how they get paid. But just like the influx of junk mail that is just part of people's daily postal mail and email routine, this sort of thing online breaks the web, slowly and surely, and people's relentless pursuit of sneaky cash breaks the mechanisms people otherwise use to interact with the web [I say this as a technology instructor] and that seems to make everyone's experience just a teeny bit worse.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:28 AM on September 26, 2010 [11 favorites]


I would say that the fighty behavior is just who these people are. Unpleasantness is part of the hustler's job. Means nothing to them. That's why I find it funny that you guys don't take a hard line on refunds. It's all they understand. If they get their money back, they're probably fine with the whole deal.
posted by Trochanter at 9:18 AM on September 26, 2010


It's really more important that we be done with them. People who don't get refunds sometimes threaten to report us to paypal or harass us over email threatening legal action. We'd just rather have them out of our hair. At some level we're missing a teachable moment, sure, but taking this sort of a stand over $4.72 or whatever it is after the PayPal bite seems like a poor use of our time. Our stock response is "no refunds" but if someone is going to be a tenacious sociopath about it, the calculation becomes "should we pay $4.72 to get rid of this guy?" and the answer is almost always yes.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:24 AM on September 26, 2010


Yeah, I realize that. You can't really win. It's just sad. Probably you can console yourself that these people are more like Willy Loman than the hotshot from Glengarry Glen Ross.
posted by Trochanter at 9:36 AM on September 26, 2010


We're sometimes curious if this is in fact true, if there are long time members who are sekritly working for some sort of underground street team that is posting crappy links here [in posts or comments] totally under the radar.

Sometimes when I post links I worry that I might somehow look like a spammer mole. I have no idea why I worry about it, but every time I link to a product in a comment I think 'Oh, lord, does this look like I am paid to advertise the Adagio IngenuiTEA Teapot™?'

I take comfort in the fact I imagine that no real spammer would actually advertise something that innocuous.
posted by winna at 10:00 AM on September 26, 2010


whenever I hear mods and others being gleeful about banning these folks, I think that some % of them must be just clueless or trying to do a job like anyone else.

Even if you think many of them are clueless and just trying to do their job (even though cortex explained why this is implausible), should that have any effect on how the mods respond? I don't think so. If you self-link on a site with a clear rule against self-linking, you are going to get banned from the site. You can say the spammers are just doing their job, but the mods are just doing their job of enforcing the site's terms.

The mods are "gleeful"? Well, I'm not really that interested in characterization their emotions, but even if they are "gleeful" ... why wouldn't they be? Naturally, the mods care a lot about Metafilter's own standards and care not at all about a random spammer's attempt to promote their product. If the mods (or others) are gleeful about applying their standards and thwarting spammers in trying to undermine their standards, that would be understandable.

By the way, you do realize that the mods have been extraordinarily thoughtful and nuanced in responding to your spammers-have-feelings-too comment, right? If you said this to the average Mod Q. Moderator of the average website, the most response you could expect would be: "But they're spammers and they're breaking the rules." I really don't think anyone could complain about jessamyn or cortex not having thought through these issues carefully enough.
posted by John Cohen at 10:03 AM on September 26, 2010


characterization characterizing
posted by John Cohen at 10:05 AM on September 26, 2010


Thanks for the responses, I am learning a lot. I guess it seems like SEO spamming is like weeds. To me it's just a plant to be ignored, to a gardener, it is an evil force to be destroyed.

As to the exceptions, I am happy to see, for instance, that the poster of the third link in the OP here is not banned. That self-link seems like it was a mistake, given the other honest interactions with the site. Glad to hear that there is a spectrum acknowledged between Scumbag and Citizen.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:43 AM on September 26, 2010


Speaking of the increasing uselessness of google, do they intentionally break "optimize google?" I get the impression they do. Whenever an increasingly infrequent rev comes out it seems like it's broken within a couple of days. Sigh, it was the only thing that made google usable.
posted by maxwelton at 11:47 AM on September 26, 2010


And I guess we should be clear, we don't generally go on the offensive and start howling obscenities at people first and asking questions later. Usually our exchanges go something like this

- spammer self-links
- we delete the post and example.com the link and ban the account
- person emails us "what's going on?"
- we email back "you broke the rules, your account is banned and will not be reinstated"
- IF they email back "WTF assholes?" then we email back "Seriously, are you fucking kidding me??"
- if this turns into an ongoing fight (which is rare), we'll usually refund their money and /dev/null the email address

So while we're excited to catch people fucking around because we feel that keeping self-linkers and spammers off the site is good for the community, we're not all "singin' in the rain" about it either.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:57 AM on September 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Speaking of the increasing uselessness of google, do they intentionally break "optimize google?" I get the impression they do. Whenever an increasingly infrequent rev comes out it seems like it's broken within a couple of days. Sigh, it was the only thing that made google usable.

What the hell are you talking about? I use Google all the time, and I presume just about everyone here does as well. If you mean "Google could be even better than it is," just say so without the absurd hyperbole.
posted by languagehat at 1:23 PM on September 26, 2010


languagehat- OptimizeGoogle is a firefox plugin. I agree Google isn't unusable without it, but it does add nice features when it isn't broken.
posted by SpookyFish at 1:53 PM on September 26, 2010


Man, there is a part of me that desperately, DESPERATELY wants to read the faux-clueless/angry spammer email. Because apparently I like to see bad people made mad.

This probably doesn't reflect real well on me, huh.
posted by KathrynT at 2:54 PM on September 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Amusingly enough, I actually (stupidly) congratulated a spammer via MeMail for making his first FPP a few months ago.

Was he really a self-linker though? The only two deleted posts by him that I can see are a SMBC strip that was deleted for being too insubstantial and one about Windows Phone 7 that was deleted for being too similar to a previous post by him.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:02 PM on September 26, 2010


Yeah he was really an SEO douchebag spammer who had been banned previously.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:11 PM on September 26, 2010


Wow, lh. Depends what you're using google for, I guess. Just today, for example, I was looking for garden tractor reviews.

Results:

1: Link farm
2: Link "aggregator" with a bit of info
3: Useful
4: Link farm
5. Link farm
6. Same link farm as 5
7. Link farm
8. The exact same content as #2 under a different domain
9. eBay reviews, somewhat useful
10. Consumer reviews, somewhat useful

So on the first page of results, one truly helpful link, two somewhat helpful links, and 7 that are the equivalent of SEO posts here. Google used to be way better than this...I'm not being hyperbolic when I say they used to reliably return at least 9 helpful results for just about any search.
posted by maxwelton at 3:15 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


During some online discussion about Google a while ago, I said "everyone says Google is 'god's brain' and knows everything, but due to SEOs gaming the system, it's like a giant autistic brain that can only talk in advertising jingles."
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:27 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I agree Google isn't unusable without it, but it does add nice features when it isn't broken.

Well, that's a perfectly sensible way of putting it, isn't it?

> Depends what you're using google for, I guess.

I guess it does. I don't spend any time looking for garden tractor reviews, but I frequently check facts and quotes, and it does just fine. Obviously it's better for some things than others, and I feel your pain about the link farms, but still: "the only thing that made google usable"? Come on.
posted by languagehat at 4:21 PM on September 26, 2010


I agree, I should retract that statement, but optimizegoogle certainly made it a lot less painful to use.

What's interesting to me is that google absolutely has to be aware of the "link farm" problem, and it must be in their interest to support said farms than to present searchers with more useful results. Additional evidence to support the pithy (and paraphrased here) statement "if you're not paying you're the product, not the customer."
posted by maxwelton at 6:22 PM on September 26, 2010


Mitheral, I think you may need to read ODiV's comment again.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 7:29 PM on September 26, 2010


I'd rather he didn't and continue to take me seriously, rather than discover I was making a stupid masturbation joke.

oops
posted by ODiV at 8:35 PM on September 26, 2010


Sometimes when I post links I worry that I might somehow look like a spammer mole. I have no idea why I worry about it, but every time I link to a product in a comment I think 'Oh, lord, does this look like I am paid to advertise the Adagio IngenuiTEA Teapot™?'

I've never stolen anything in my entire life, but sometimes walking out of big box stores, I am struck by a similar sort of worry. In those cases, my internal dialogue goes something like this:

'Uh oh, do I look like a shoplifter?'
'Just keep your hands out of your pockets and your shoulders easy. Casual. Don't look at that guard.'
'Wait a minute. I haven't stolen anything.'
'Oh. Right. Bye, Mr. Security Guard!'
posted by colfax at 9:56 PM on September 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


I used to have the same feeling every time I went to the liquor store.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:03 PM on September 26, 2010


I get that feeling at airport security...
posted by The Lady is a designer at 11:21 PM on September 26, 2010


But more seriously, since we're on this topic, a thought I've been musing upon is the bit about linking to people's blogs or articles which gets sticky if you happen to know them or consider them a friend. What I mean is that I struggle with this sometimes because once you've been online for long enough, particularly in a subject area, how do not know more or less everyone who writes in that space?

*Oh Noes, I've run out of interwebz*
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:39 AM on September 27, 2010


But frankly I'm not even sure what is so scummy or morally reprehensible about SEO or self-promotion.

This place is supposed to offer links to interesting stuff on the web, not links to sites that make a little money for some guy who just signed up with the intention to make a little money. Every time someone posts a link to an uninteresting commercial link, everyone's experience of this place is diminished.
posted by pracowity at 2:28 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The way I see it, there are a million places on the Internet for spammers to go. Honestly, why they would try again and again to establish themselves here seems like a waste of time. That being said, there are also a million spammers out there. So I guess that is part of what keeps our mods busy.

That is not to say that trying to get in good on MetaFilter isn't worth it. I like coming here to broaden my horizons with quality information, without having to weed through crap that, at first pass, might seem legit (I'm rather gullible, a condition I am trying to overcome...).

I guess I'm just trying to say thanks, mods. I appreciate that you put the "Filter" in MetaFilter...
posted by sundrop at 7:15 AM on September 27, 2010


> What's interesting to me is that google absolutely has to be aware of the "link farm" problem, and it must be in their interest to support said farms than to present searchers with more useful results. Additional evidence to support the pithy (and paraphrased here) statement "if you're not paying you're the product, not the customer."

Yup.
posted by languagehat at 7:34 AM on September 27, 2010


It's gotta grate on advertisers, who actually want to connect with a buyer seeking their product, to have all their GoogleBux™ going to link farms that get closed withing .5 seconds 99% of the time. It really is becoming the new V!4gR4! It seems like spam email is actually decreasing, as this content/link farm/aggregator bullshit is going exponential.

Somebody should do something.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:58 AM on September 27, 2010


I get a lot of comment spam on my sites and I use black/white lists, a captcha, and I moderate comments, so there's no point anyway. But they still leave the comments.

Recently I've been getting comments to sites that are legitimate, but when you go there they've injected a redirect on that site that takes you to some spam site.

I went to the site they have the redirects set up on and they have this disclaimer:
This domain is the official public feed of the Pay-Per-Click partner program [redacted]. We in no way bear the responsibility for the traffic directed here by our affiliates, but we react immediately to illegal traffic. We ban affiliates outright and without pay. We also transfer their personal data on request. If you're harboring information concerning the violation of our rules, please contact us using the abuse form on our web site.
I contacted one company that was spamming my blog and was less than nice. I got back a mortified email saying that they had signed up for a "promote your site" service. Supposedly they were using an actual advertising agency that was outsourcing this.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:43 AM on September 27, 2010


What I mean is that I struggle with this sometimes because once you've been online for long enough, particularly in a subject area, how do not know more or less everyone who writes in that space?

Again, the big "never do this" rule is just about making front page posts. Don't link to people you know well enough for a link to them to seem fishy. I know a shit ton of people and I manage to do this all the time. When you're making comments, if you're linking to people you know, make sure the link between you and them is clear. You can do this casually "Oh hey my friend wrote a blog post about this topic that I think people would be interested in" is fine. If you always link to the same friend's blog or the same products for sale or you're using tinyurl to obscure an affiliate code we'll probably talk to you about it.

Yesterday I emailed someone who linked to a family member's content "Hey I know that's your family member but some other people do and some other people don't. Just mention it's your family member next time so people don't think you're trying to do something sneaky" and it's no problem. For anyone who is a long time member of this community, this should be a piece of cake, and if you're not sure you can ask us and we can give you an honest appraisal of whether there's a problem.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:48 AM on September 27, 2010


That makes a lot of sense, jessamyn, thank you for the informative articulation.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2010


This thread has also made me a lot more aware, nay perhaps even vigilant about links coming my way... ironically it seems the longer you've been around (the blue, the webz, the cloud whatever) the less you FPP or link to, dunno... just musing
posted by The Lady is a designer at 8:58 AM on September 27, 2010


And, because I Can Not Shut Up about this, if you're making an AskMe post, don't include any links that aren't strictly necessary unless they are photos of your pets.

Occasionally we've had people include links that make it seem like they're making an FPP and that's really not what AskMe is for. We usually remove links in AskMe questions just so we don't have to scrutinize each one to see if there's a possible SEO/self-link angle. If the removal of the links in your posts, or us scrutinizing them [or other people scrutinizing them] is going to make you angry or upset or feeling like people do not trust your motives, you are better not just not posting links.

We see an awful lot of spam attempts on a weekly basis and I know to some commenters it seems like we're sort of hard-ass about links or maybe questioning their personal integrity but the big deal is: this isn't personal. I know there are people who are uncomfortable with us occasionally saying "hey I took the links out of your AskMe question, please don't do that unless it's necessary" but I see it as a better compromise than not allowing links at all and having the site have less utility as a result.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:02 AM on September 27, 2010


One of my first posts had 2 links, both of them self-ish, I even joked about it in the fpp.

It still stands, do I win a prize?
posted by Mick at 9:34 AM on September 27, 2010


What's interesting to me is that google absolutely has to be aware of the "link farm" problem, and it must be in their interest to support said farms than to present searchers with more useful results

I am not a Google fangirl by any means, but this statement means that you haven't spent any time, at all, with the Google Page Rank documentation and their other relevant webmaster tools. Google will take you down for daring to sell a link on your page, a legitimate ad, if it doesn't have a no follow tag AND there is a whole movement of Google fanboys who make it their business to report people who ask, say, how to implement Text Link Ads with various blogging softwares.

The problem with link farms is that they're like cockroaches. You close a backdoor that allows one to work its way up to the first page of search results and five other ones pop up with new ways. I don't agree that Google is in bed with the link farms. But spammers can take over web sites with javascript injections in half a minute.
posted by micawber at 9:53 AM on September 27, 2010


Sometimes other users alert us to people leaving what seem like totally non-sequitor comments which seems like a prelude for a self-link.

Oh, won't you all be shocked when my plan finally comes together.
posted by GuyZero at 11:33 AM on September 27, 2010


The problem with link farms is that they're like cockroaches. You close a backdoor that allows one to work its way up to the first page of search results and five other ones pop up with new ways. I don't agree that Google is in bed with the link farms. But spammers can take over web sites with javascript injections in half a minute.

But it has been a problem for awhile now, and I would puzzle how seven of the top ten results on just about any search like the one I performed (somewhat vaguely worded consumer questions) return spam (I've tried it) if they're actively trying to stamp this out.
posted by maxwelton at 12:31 PM on September 27, 2010


I found MetaFilter via a self link. Kinda. ZachsMind complained on his blog that the MetaFilter folks were dinging him for a self link. I didn't know who "MetaFilter" was, so I checked it out.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:59 PM on October 16, 2010


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