How to tell astroturf? July 13, 2016 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Not asking about anyone in particular, I'm just kind of curious generally. How do mods here, and elsewhere, tell when a user has joined specifically for the purpose of commercial or political astroturfing? How do you sniff out Pepsi Blue?
posted by kafziel to MetaFilter-Related at 7:58 PM (63 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

This is unfortunately one of those things where the more we say about our methods, the more likely people will try to circumvent them. The vague answer is that over the years, pb developed a whole bunch of tools for us, and spammers are usually not very sneaky. (One super-obvious thing that happens *all the time* is people sign up with their work username, list their work website on their profile, and then post a link to their work on the front page. That's just a fundamental misunderstanding of the site.)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:00 PM on July 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


It's easy to think of "The Spammers" as some sort of group mind that learns from its mistakes, but that isn't true. Most spammers think they're the first to show up here and try it, and as a result they make the same mistakes as the previous ones, going back for years.

An occasional one is a bit more clever, but there are telltale signs (not counting the secret ones mentioned above) like the fact that the spam is nearly always the first post made by the spammer, or the fact that they are trying to associate the link text with the spam URL, for SEO purposes, so they stand out pretty clearly.

Even I, a lowly user with no authority or power, can usually spot them. It isn't very hard.

Now you could have a particularly stubborn spammer who learns from his mistakes and keeps trying, but keep in mind that it costs him $5 each attempt. And there are softer targets out there. So if they try here and fail, the most common response is to give up and go elsewhere.

Also, that kind of spamming is falling off, mainly because Google has been changing their rating algorithm, and links from sites like this now count negative instead of positive in a lot of cases. (Google doesn't tell us everything, obviously, but if you have had a blog for years, you've probably received email from people saying, "You have a link to us on this article from 2003; could you please remove it?" I know I have.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:44 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Even I, a lowly user with no authority or power, can usually spot them. It isn't very hard.

Same here, but I kind of wonder if there are ones that get through without me noticing, but then if I'm not noticing it's probably because the post is otherwise pretty good and doesn't have the sales-pitchy stench to it. But if the post is actually pretty good and doesn't seem like a sales pitch, that takes care of half the astroturfing issue anyway (the other half being abusing the community and all that), so it all ends up being a sort of tautological and self-evident thing. If you've gone through a bunch of trouble to conceal your connections to a post subject, the post subject is actually worth posting about, and the post itself is actually pretty good, you may not get caught - but can there be a negative effect on the community from a sales pitch if there's a good post and no one realizes they're being pitched?
posted by LionIndex at 8:54 PM on July 13, 2016


If a sales pitch falls in the woods ....
posted by zebra at 9:06 PM on July 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


The most recent hassle is fund raisers, and the problem with it is that the people posting them aren't doing it for sordid reasons, usually. Often they're long-time users of the site, who see an opportunity to do Good Deeds™ in a Good Cause™, and don't understand why it's against the rules.

(The reason is that if it was permitted the site would rapidly drown in similar posts. When you have four or five fund-raisers a day, the amount of money raised thereby asymptotically approaches zero, and so it wouldn't even benefit the Good Cause™.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:07 PM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


As to the "particularly stubborn spammer" problem, I suspect another one of the Secret Detection Goodies is that if the source of $5 is the same as was used on a previously banned account, then it isn't permitted. So the spammer not only has to pay $5 for each attempt, but he has to come up with a different pay account each time.

Much too much of a hassle; it's easier to go pave Blogger again.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:10 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am a sleeper spammer. I have been laying the groundwork for about 6 years now awaiting my handler to wake me up. We are hard to catch mainly because by the time we are activated, the product we were put in place to promote is out of business. There are a lot of pre $5 noobs who paid nothing to join who bide their time waiting for the activation code.
posted by AugustWest at 9:23 PM on July 13, 2016 [47 favorites]


AugustWest, the Manchurian MeFite.
posted by russm at 11:49 PM on July 13, 2016 [14 favorites]


The post also asked about political astroturfers. Has that been an issue? Have you ever banned anyone for commenting rather than posting without revealing their political connections?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:36 AM on July 14, 2016


It does seem like a tricky subject. If someone is being paid to be here not to sell a product, but to try to alter the discourse and promote an ideology in an attempt to influence the general userbase ... how in the world do you figure that out from just being really opinionated, or one of the many single-issue posters?
posted by kafziel at 12:46 AM on July 14, 2016


I too would like to know how you spot spammers, astroturfers, and viral marketeers, but if you're not going to tell us I guess that leaves me no option but to sit here enjoying the crisp menthol flavor of my Tareytons.
posted by um at 4:43 AM on July 14, 2016 [18 favorites]


I think it would be difficult for astroturfers to catch enough people here. They'd have to be different from other astroturfers, perhaps in the top percentage of all astroturfers. They'd need a strong MeFi presence as a starter, which would slowly strengthen and evolve as they gained experience on the site. A good AskMe presence would be super effective, with a question history spanning categories from shopping to human relationships. They'd need plenty of instinct, valor, and probably some other quality. In short, they'd have to be the very best, like no one ever was.

If they truly wanted to see their team rocket in popularity, they'd go for easier targets, so as to eraticate any skepticism. There are plenty of other places on the Internet, with compatible types and weak leaders, where they could collect badges of authenticity.

I'm not worried about astroturfers lurking in the tall grass, and you shouldn't be either. Perhaps you might like to relax with a popular mobile app?
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:47 AM on July 14, 2016 [32 favorites]


How do mods here, and elsewhere, tell when a user has joined specifically for the purpose of commercial or political astroturfing?

I'm guessing you could spot a political astroturfer on MeFi by looking at the bottom of the dogpile.
posted by Mooski at 5:08 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


The thing is, even if you were playing the long, subtle game of being just an influencer, people pick up on it. "Oh, there's X banging on about Y again." Which makes you not so influence-y, you're just the person who is always going on about Apple, so people discount it automatically.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:34 AM on July 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


Probably the best way to spam would be to find an already-existing user, like one who's been on the site for like ten years, and give them a ridiculous amount of cash to subtlely advertise a product in a number of different threads. Maybe even someone whose email is RIGHT IN HIS PROFILE! Maybe someone WHO'S TALKING TO YOU RIGHT NOW. YES YOU, AD MAN, PAY SOME ATTENTION, I'M TRYING TO TALK TO YOU LOOK I'M RIGHT HERE DUDE
posted by Greg Nog at 7:18 AM on July 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


i am actually jennifer aniston.
posted by nadawi at 7:35 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Maybe Matt is now a paid shill for Slack?
posted by Chrysostom at 7:36 AM on July 14, 2016


If you read the AskMeFi relationship questions with enough cynicism you'd end up pretty sure that they are underwritten by a clever cabal from the Therapists Guild and/or the Moving Van Drivers Association. There must be someone who gets paid a nickle every time the[y] type DTFMA.
posted by puddledork at 7:44 AM on July 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


Actually, maybe we DID have a paid shill for the Coast Guard....
posted by Chrysostom at 7:52 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


> I guess that leaves me no option but to sit here enjoying the crisp menthol flavor of my Tareytons.

You and me both! Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch!
posted by languagehat at 8:29 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


L.S./M.F.T.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:54 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Personally, I'm just biding my time until the right moment to tell you guys about Herbalife.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:58 AM on July 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


I Tripled My MetaFilter Likes With This One Weird Trick
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 9:07 AM on July 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


There's never a bad time to talk about Herbalife. Maybe we can fit you in after I put my post about the little known world of opportunity that awaits in the time-share market, but only for the kind of Mefite that's ready to take the world by storm!

/jazz hands!
posted by Ghidorah at 9:07 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Honestly, with politics, etc. I am really not super worried about paid shills. If people behave civilly and manage to convince people of their cause, so be it - but this is not an easily-led or unskeptical crowd, and they better have something of substance to pitch. People who have One Cause they super duper care about tend to lose face over time because they numb their audience, and someone who is only here to pitch a politician or whatever is going to have the same problem, only faster.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:08 AM on July 14, 2016


I think it would be difficult for astroturfers to catch enough people here...

*applause*
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:30 AM on July 14, 2016


So, restless_nomad, you say you have developed a superior spammer-detection toolkit that is the best in the industry. I would expect to pay upwards of a thousand dollars for such a product! That's what it would cost me, right?
posted by softlord at 9:41 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


The toolkit is mostly a handful of people with a lot of experience, which is much harder to buy.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:48 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Perhaps there's some kind of enterprise pricing website you could point us to....?
posted by softlord at 9:51 AM on July 14, 2016


It can all be yours for just ten easy payments of $n.99! (Plus $10n in shipping and hangling.)
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:53 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: The toolkit is mostly a handful of people with a lot of experience, which is much harder to buy.
posted by Melismata at 9:53 AM on July 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


Wasn't there a person who was a member for years that was posting FPP's all related to one topic and nobody ever noticed? I think they finally came clean when they posted to MeTa saying that they couldn't do it any more?

Or did I imagine this?
posted by futz at 10:04 AM on July 14, 2016


Wondering the rate of spammers at $5 an attempt? Seems like a pretty well qualified list, has the MiFi corporate oversight board considered marketing that list?
posted by sammyo at 10:09 AM on July 14, 2016


MetaFilter: shipping and hangling
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:27 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


It would not be worth it to pay someone to post on Metafilter for years in order to subtly push a product, but I wish you guys luck in convincing your bosses that you should get paid to comment on Metafilter and it is a money making deal for them.
posted by corb at 10:36 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I will admit that I do a lot of posting hoping it will eventually result in people wearing more hats. No one's paying me for it, though. But if Big Hat is reading this...
posted by Mchelly at 11:13 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am!
posted by languagehat at 11:22 AM on July 14, 2016 [15 favorites]


For a while, I thought this one user was really pushing this Star Trek LARP thing, but he seems to have gone totally silent about it.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:38 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Astroturfers can be hard to pin down, and it might not even serve much point to do so. Lots of people come here to play Debate Club, and who better to debate?

My proudest MeFi moment was calling out the Suzanne Sommers Vagina Cream guy way back when; all that took was a hunch and a google. Trust your hunches! A lot of these people are really blatant like that, being a) brand new to the site, and b) a solitary, all-worked-up, take-all-comers defender of something the rest of us barely care about. (Hello, Scott Adams!)

Spammers, though? It is super, super, super easy to detect many spammers before they ever spam. Like, so completely easy. If you see a comment that says "Lol great post" or something else brief, inane, and generic, and you click through to the commenter's profile and see that they have no more than two other comments, which are also brief, inane, and generic (which is the case far more often than not), then that is a spammer quickly burning through their mandatory three comments before making a post, which will inevitably be the most blatant spam that ever spammed. It's a hilariously predictable pattern.

I dunno, though, it seems like recently they've gotten a bit more crafty and go to AskMe with questions like "what kind of product is good for problem?" and the best answer, almost immediate, is "[link to specific product]." That looks an awful lot like spamming to me, but only a mod would know for sure. And I guess it's not really a huge problem if you just go by number of favourites and/or read later comments that say, "Just use [thing you already have!]". Still, though, that Best Answer highlighter is a spammer's dream.

Also, I have a strong feeling a lot of the cheerleading Here's My Favourite New Band! posts are done by PR reps or club promoters or something. They certainly read that way. None of the bands featured are ever particularly postworthy, and the posts seem to come from the same small handful of users who only ever do that kind of post. But, meh. That's all the radio is, after all.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:39 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


...go to AskMe with questions like "what kind of product is good for problem?" and the best answer, almost immediate, is "[link to specific product]."

If you see this happening, flag it for sure. And if you have suspicions about someone's FPPs, you can always let us know.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:43 AM on July 14, 2016


Pretty disgusting that people would join MeFi just to go on and on and on about some dubious "product" they are promoting - often in exactly the same terms, time and time and time again. And I, for one, think that it will inevitably lead to the destruction of our society.

Let's face facts: one of the key indicators of an unhinged mind is monomania. And if our website facilitates even one of these monomaniacal monotony-mongers, our much cherished diversity of thought and opinion will be masticated by the chattering teeth of utter PERIL.

In that context, we need new, strong leadership at MeFi; a monumental monarch of moderation to monster every mongrel monomaniac.

So vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid! Vote #1 quidnunc kid!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2016 [16 favorites]


If anyone hasn't looked at the quidnunc kid's profile recently, I encourage you to go there and read his epic "Lord of the Rings" in limerick form (psst, kid - in Book VI, Chapter 6, "Many Partings", "third age" should read "fourth age").
posted by yhbc at 12:54 PM on July 14, 2016 [12 favorites]


That is a work of genius; thanks for drawing attention to it.
Ok, fine - I realise that “Balin”
Might rhyme not with “failin’”, but “Allen”.
I had to use license
Poetic. I'll try hence
To use the right soundings (and spallin’).
posted by languagehat at 1:02 PM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


psst, kid - in Book VI, Chapter 6, "Many Partings", "third age" should read "fourth age

Noted, thank you!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:08 PM on July 14, 2016


Thank you, yhbc! I’ve corrected The error; that verse, now perfected! I wish you good cheer! (Tho' these words now appear To be with weird rhythms infected-?)
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:02 PM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Holy shite, that's an awesome undertaking, quid kid! Well done sir, well done.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:06 PM on July 14, 2016


I too would like to know how you spot spammers, astroturfers, and viral marketeers,

Sometimes mefites with nothing better to do flag all the spammer's comments linking to [product] and hit the mods up on the contact form. Voila, like magic, all the comments get deleted.
posted by Michele in California at 4:09 PM on July 14, 2016


If anyone hasn't looked at the quidnunc kid's profile recently...

Words fail me. And that while my dad was a fervent limerickerer, so I'm used to some.
posted by Namlit at 4:12 PM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Holy crap, that's awesome. Obviously it's a weird area, but just this once, I wish it were possible to favorite profiles. I mean, there's all kinds of problems with that (changing profiles, weird popularity contest issues, and so on), but damn.

Vote #1quidnunc kid for God-Emporer.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:29 PM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


psst, do Dune next! But seriously, stop after God Emporer...
posted by Ghidorah at 4:30 PM on July 14, 2016


I think a gamer gate dude got banned in a ridiculously short time once. Or maybe just given a timeout and didn't bother coming back, I don't exactly recall. It was pretty obvious.
posted by ctmf at 7:17 PM on July 14, 2016


...on the other hand, all those sockpuppet vendors, they're allowed to stay.
posted by Namlit at 12:39 AM on July 15, 2016


I used to do this as part of my marketing career, though not Mefi in particular.

The simplest and most obvious was just spamming links. This used to be of some use when all Google cared about was lots of incoming links, but a fairly recent update killed most of the utility of that and brought about the hilarious spectacle of spammers emailing website admins begging for their spam links to be taken down.

The "grab the intern and put him to work" way is the usual way, where you grab the intern and he wanders around the web posting obvious shill posts like "hey guys, I found this great product, The Catscanner! Finally a scanner just for cats so I don't have to wedge my cat in my flatbed scanner for no apparent reason!" Most of the time this is fairly obvious and reads as marketing copy because that's what it is.

From there it's a sliding scale of professionalism to the very high end bespoke campaigns with deniability. We'd spend a month or two registering accounts on forums and websites that would be of interest if we didn't have them set up there already. we'd set up personalities for them. GanjaDude420 likes weed and cats while NekoMama is the bored stay at home mom that flirts with everyone and only has a car for company, and so on.

We'd even do things like have a dedicated PC at an offsite location that used dialup because you could get a new IP address each time.

Anyway from there we'd ease them into the conversational flow of the site, sometimes taking weeks or months to even mention the product in question. And even that wouldn't be glowing endorsements of the cut and pasted marketing text, but shaped to the personalities. A curious newbie might inquire about the product, then the rabid fanboy would come in to advocate, then his rival would barrel in, and all of them would be me baiting the normal users into responding or checking the thing out or whatever.

The surest sign is lots of people talking about an obscure thing that they all seem to be talking about at once. Which was the goal, of course, create this seemingly organic burst of excited chatter to draw people in. And then they disappear because we finished the contract.

I think it's much less of a thing now that it's easy to set up your own Subreddit/YouTube channel/Twitter and forums are much less of a thing than they used to be.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:47 AM on July 15, 2016 [13 favorites]


i am actually jennifer aniston.

How you doin'?
posted by zarq at 6:34 AM on July 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've been hawking Monoprice for years and haven't seen so much as a dime from them.
posted by ostranenie at 9:08 PM on July 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I flag them when I see them and they usually disappear quickly. I just flagged another, which is what reminded me of this discussion, in fact.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:06 AM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


no comment
posted by clorox at 1:58 PM on July 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Clorox can neither confirm nor deny...
posted by Michele in California at 1:59 PM on July 17, 2016


I've been hawking Monoprice for years and haven't seen so much as a dime from them.

I tried that too, but for some reason they keep TAKING my money and sending me products....
posted by mrbill at 2:22 PM on July 17, 2016


How do you sniff out Pepsi Blue?

Sometimes it's obvious.....
posted by zarq at 2:24 PM on July 18, 2016


psst, do Dune next!

I only know the movie, sorry. But let's test the limits of the comment box with quidnunc’s Dante or “Hell is too many limericks”.

To the greatest Italian bard
Whose epic this doggerel has marred
His poems were finer -
He used terza rima
(Writing limericks isn’t as hard).


INFERNO

Canto I
Middle-aged, and got lost in a wood
Dark ’n’ scary - the memory’s not good.
Three beasts surprised me
And Virgil advised me:
“Go to Hell” - wow. Maybe I should?

Canto II
I ain’t no Aeneas, no Paul,
Can I walk through Satan’s dark halls?
Then Virgil says Bea1
Is waiting for me …
Seems she’s leading me on by my balls2!

1 OK, I know this isn’t right -
It’s “Beatrice”, not “Bea”. You are quite
Justified to correct me.
But this Canto wrecked me,
So please forgive this minor slight.


2 If you think this bit’s terribly crude -
Well, I’m sorry. It’s meant to be rude.
These Cantos aren't subtle!
And I, in rebuttal,
Might suggest you're a bit of a prude!


Canto III
Hell’s door is the dourest portal:
“Abandon all hope! I’m immortal!
And justice divine,
Says your evil soul’s mine -
Ain’t jokin’, so don’t even chortle”.

Canto IV
In Limbo, some pagans are chillin’.
They didn’t know Christ, but were willin’
To act good anyway:
That’s why they can stay
In an afterlife not quite fulfillin’.

Canto V
But now we get into Hell proper:
Where the lustful have come all a-cropper
E.g., Paolo and Fran -
With a book they began,
But ended up acting improper.

Canto VI
The gluttonous souls can be found
In the third circle, deep underground:
There Ciacco can tell you
The future; in Hell you
Meet such weird old friends from your town.

Canto VII
Fourth circle, where Plutus talks babble,
We come on a mad, shouting rabble -
Those who misuse their cash
Will see their value crash
For in sinful investments they dabble.

Canto VIII
A cruise on the Styx: I saw plenty
Of people I knew - ten or twenty.
One rose from the slime
Said, “D’you know me? I’m …”
Yeah, fuck off Filippo Argenti.3

3 I quite like this one, I’ll admit -
It’s not that the others are shit,
Inspiration just struck
And I used the word “fuck”
... which doesn't speak well of my “wit”.


Canto IX
At Dis’ front door we are pitted
‘Gainst Furies - we can’t get admitted
“Piss off, Dante,” they say,
But Virgil cries, “Nay
This is willed where what’s willed is permitted”.

Canto X
So we go in - it’s not a nice place.
Farinata’s all up in my face:
“You’ll be exiled, you bum!”
Great - now I’m all glum.
These heretics really lack grace.

Canto XI
Yet those who reside without hope
In this circle of Hell (sinful dopes)
Once held all kinds of roles -
Some were bourgeois, some proles,
Fuck, some even used to be Pope.

Canto XII
(Quick ad for the Centaurs - Hell’s best
The guides you would want on your quest:
You’ll be Nessus’ buddy
Through rivers so bloody -
Choose Centaurs! - abjure all the rest).

Canto XIII
Circle seven, a wood dark and gnarly,
Full of harpies - cruel fellows, quite snarly.
And the suicidees
Have been turned into trees
Broke a twig off one, just for a parley.

Canto XIV
Those who writhe on a fiery plain
Are punished for cursing God’s name.
Capaneus (e.g.),
Said, “Hey God - fuck thee.”
God answered, “Yeah, fuck you the same”.

Canto XV
Ser Brunetto Latini? – Hooray!
What a pleasure to see you today
But - why are YOU here?
“Dear Boy, it’s quite queer4,
I think God’s scared of catching ‘the gay’.”

4 The anti-gay dogma some teach
Through this Canto, may well be in breach
Of modern-day laws -
i.e., do I have cause
To worry it’s spreading hate-speech?


Canto XVI
With the sodomites, I had a blast -
Caught up with three friends from my past!
But Virgil got bored,
Asked to borrow my cord5,
To call transport sufficiently vast.

5 Dante's belt is the “cord” that Virg’ takes
To dangle at Geryon, who wakes
From fraudulent sleep
To assist with their leap
Further down, to see more of Hell’s aches.


Canto XVII
“Hi I’m Geryon, and I’ll be your waiter6.
Shall I serve you sooner - or later?”
(We request to be shown
Round the Usurer’s zone
And then use him as our elevator).

6 Geryon's not a waiter - I know.
I just couldn't think what would go
In this Canto’s first line
To make the thing rhyme.
My excuse is … well, I’m a bit slow.


Canto XVIII
Down to Malebolge - rings within rings,
Where the fraudsters to punishment cling.
It’s bizarre architecture
Designed to correct ya
If being two-faced was your thing.

Canto XIX
Here seducers with panderers sit,
And Simoniacs, thrust in their pit,
But the worst of this crew
Are the flatterers - who
(You guessed it) are swimming in shit.

Canto XX
Magic-users? Despicable class7!
Divination just leaves me aghast.
And now that they're dead
God's turned each sinful head
To focus their eyes on their arse.

7 A D&D reference? Why not!
I thought I might give it a shot.
It’s always a climax
To quote Gary Gygax
… It’s sad that I think that a lot.


Canto XXI
Fifth pouch8: a hot river of pitch
Where barterers wriggle and twitch
And Demons will scratch
Any souls they can catch -
Quite useful if one feels an itch!

8 These “pouches” to which I refer,
Sir (or Madam), ten times reoccur
In this circle of Hell.
They're (I think you know well),
Malebolgia, Madam (or Sir).


Canto XXII
(This Canto's a bit of a joke,
The Demons of whom we just spoke
Into foolishness trip -
So we give ’em the slip;
Their wrath we don't wish to invoke).

Canto XXIII
The Hypocrites, wearing lead coats,
Trudge, round and round, in their moat.
These bastards all tread
On poor Ciaphus’ head
Not a destiny of which you'd gloat.

Canto XXIV
The seventh pouch: here are the thieves.
Odd punishment that they receive -
Snakes try to bite ’em
Which seems to ignite ’em
Don't quite see just what that achieves?

Canto XXV
V. Fucci flips our Lord the bird
But serpents then have the last word:
Coils hold him tighter -
For t’would be politer
Such blasphemous stuff wasn't heard.

Canto XXVI
Ulysses leaves his fiery bed
To say how from Troy home he sped.
“Sailed back, started gloatin’,
Said, ‘Crew! Let’s keep boatin’!’
Then the sea closed up over our heads”.

Canto XXVII
False counselors spread foul pollution
So some want “pre-sin” absolution
And though that sounds swell
Guido found out, in Hell,
It’s not an accepted solution.

Canto XXVIII
For sowers of schism, ’tis fit
That Demons will cut them to bits
Mohammed9 says, “Wait
This is really not great,
I’ve got half a mind to just split”.

9 This Canto might cause one titanic
Offence, that in this realm Satanic,
Mohammad appears -
I am sorry; I fear
Dante’s oeuvre was not pro-Islamic.


Canto XXIX
Alchemy’s sickness is catchin’:
If false metals you are dispatchin’,
Look out, for in Hell
You’ll feel quite unwell
And spend your death sittin’ there scratchin’.

Canto XXX
Master Adam and Sinon can bicker
But Virgil thinks I am far thicker
For watching the sight
Of these two liars fight:
“Come Dante, we must move on quicker!”

Canto XXXI
To go further down, we’re reliant
On some transportation that’s giant:
Nimrod and his kin
Are half-buried herein
Icy Hell, and yet still seem defiant.

Canto XXXII
Cocytus - a cold, barren place
A glassy and dark, frozen space -
The traitors in here
Chew off each other’s ears
Oops - I kicked Bocca right in his face!

Canto XXXIII
Ugolino then opens his lids:
Tells us all of the horrors he did.
The tale that he’s blurtin’
Is slightly uncertain -
I think he had lunch with his kids?

Canto XXXIV
But on march the King of Hell’s banners
Where centrally, infernal planners
Place traitors like Jude -
By Satan he's chewed
For they both had such terrible manners.

Epilogue:

Hell’s prison, we now quit your bars
And leave you our “Hardy-har-hars”
Your comedy’s fine -
Why, it’s truly divine!
… but we’re off now to look at the stars.

PURGATORY

Canto I
Sunrise on Mount Purgatory's isle:
The air fresh and sweet (Hell's was vile!)
With Cato’s directions
We’ll climb seven sections -
Let's wash up and rush up in style!

Canto II
An angelic ship hits the shoals -
A boatful of penitent souls!
"Hi Dante! Ascending?
Our sins all need mending!
Come with - seems we've got the same goals!"

Canto III
The base of the mountain: here fate
Places those who repented quite late.
To atone for their crimes
They must spend thirty times
That duration just having to wait.

Canto IV
Ante-purgatory: here are the lazies.
"Don't wear yourselves out - that's for crazies,"
Belacqua says, sadly.
His soul's feeling badly
(While his body is pushing up daisies).

Canto V
We climb on, to see some new sights
Those who perished in harsh, bloody fights!
They miserably sing
Of their fate, 'cos the thing
Is, they died without getting last rites.

Canto VI
Now Virgil impresses Sordello
They're Mantuan, both. And that's swell. Oh,
Were we not parochial
‘twould be utopial -
Italy’s such a bordello!

Canto VII
Night’s falling, and Virgil has heard
One needs light to ascend (how absurd!)
We camp with some Kings
Who once warred, but now sing:
Charles of Anjou, and Pedro the Third.

Canto VIII
Watched day to the twilight surrender -
‘Tis the hour when all hearts grow tender.
Save for Nino (a judge)
Who tells of his grudge
‘Gainst his ex (still he wants to offend her).

Canto XIX
I had a weird dream in that place ...
Was I helped by a lady of grace?
On waking (quite late)
Saw a colourful gate -
And an Angel who P’s on my face!

Canto X
The first terrace: here are some geezers
Weighed down by their pride (as God pleases)
And also displayed
Is some art Our Lord made -
He’s quite good at decorative friezes!

Canto XI
The prideful are weighed down by stones
That’s how, for their sins, they atone.
How fickle is fame!
Like the wind, changes name
As it changes from whence it is blown.

Canto XII
From these prideful friends, I’m unyoked.
To explain here an earlier joke:
Seven P’s had been placed
On my head - one’s erased
By a helpful Angelic young bloke.

Canto XIII
The envious, on terrace two
Of purgat’ry’s mountain, seem blue.
Like beggars, quite blind
They trudge round. Thus, be kind,
Lest YOU end up here with them, too!

Canto XIV
Quick pause, so that I can deliver
A rant ‘bout the Arno (a river)
And all who live near -
Wait, what’s that that I hear?
A thunderous voice makes me shiver!

Canto XV
It’s three p.m. now, so let’s jog
Up one terrace more. Here I log
Some visions of kindness
Then fall into blindness
When swallowed up by weird black smog.

Canto XVI
For answers in darkness we grope -
Why DO men eschew love and hope?
Is it God’s fault? (or whose?)
That it’s evil men choose?
Ask Marco, but he blames the Pope.

Canto XVII
The wrathful with hatred may froth
But I’M cut from more peaceful cloth!
We move up a bit
But can’t stop or sit -
Level 4 is for working off sloth!

Canto XVIII
The source of all human desire
Is love, which burns somewhat like fire
The slothful (so slow!)
Lacked such energy, so
Here they run around til they perspire.

Canto XIX
The fifth terrace - sinners of greed -
Who wanted much more than they need
Are chained to the ground here.
And look what we’ve found here:
Another Pope! Man, what a breed!

Canto XX
At nighttime, the greedy harass us
With stories about selfish asses:
Queen Dido’s old man,
King Midas, Achan,
And also poor gold-throated Crassus.

Canto XXI
Mount Purgat’ry now starts to shake -
What caused it? Oh, for goodness sake!
It’s Statius, a fan
Of Virgil! This man
Has just been saved; hence the earthquake.

Canto XXII
The sixth terrace: within this rink,
The gluttons (who loved food or drink)
Are forced to deny it
They’re all on a diet
Most holy. It sure makes you think … !

Canto XXIII
Should mention (before it’s too late)
That Angels have done something great:
I.e., kindly erased
Some more P’s from my face
Oh, hey Donny! - have you lost some weight?

Canto XXIV
Oh, here’s a familiar tree -
“Pass on!” cries a voice we can’t see
“Here none can be feedin’
This tree came from Eden!
No touching, per God’s firm decree”.

Canto XXV
Terrace the seventh: we must
Describe here those tainted by lust.
To wear off their blame
They’re cleansed in a flame
‘Cos sex makes Our Lord feel disgust!

Canto XXVI
On this terrace, we can converse
With those who did sins quite diverse
Most were just horny
(So Guido informs me)
But others were really perverse!

Canto XXVII
“Now Dante,” says Virgil, “walk through
That fire - Beatrice waits for you!
Don’t worry, you’re smart
And guided by art,
Thus I crown you and mitre you, too.”

Canto XXVIII
That fire I thought I’d be charred in
Gives way to a beautiful garden!
It’s spacious and shady
And there’s a nice lady
And rivers for sins to discard in.

Canto XXIX
This pastoral scene’s so refreshin’
But here comes a crazy procession!
With griffins and dancing
And someone advancing
While wearing a holy expression …

Canto XXX
Revealed now, a certain Belle Dam.,
Long looked for. Well, hullo there, ma’am!
I can’t trust my eyes
When scolding, she cries:
“I am Beatrice, I am what I am!”

Canto XXXI
Beatrice, with Dante, finds fault.
“Why, on the true path, did you halt?
You shoulda gone straight
‘Tis sin you should hate!
And my loveliness you should exalt!”

Canto XXXII
Bea is so pretty! (though dead)
And most of her posse have fled.
Though they’ve disappeared
(This bit is quite weird)
Her chariot’s sprouted three heads - ???

Canto XXXIII
Let’s ignore Bea’s odd animal car
It’s time to smoke our last cigar
And time we ascended -
My sins have been mended;
I’m pure, and apt for the stars.

PARADISE

Canto I
Flying with Beatrice ain’t fright’ning
Her beauty my spirit is bright’ning!
And we’re getting quite near
To heaven’s first sphere!
(... just hope we’re not struck down by lightning)

Canto II
You may think the man in the moon
Is made by a surface rough-hewn -
But if t’were nearer
It would look much clearer!
It's beauty one shouldn't impugne.

Canto III
First Heaven! Here vow-breakers dwell
(The saved ones - not those damned in Hell)
Piccarda the Nun
Likes her measure of fun
Though there's more higher up, this is swell.

Canto IV
Free will is a difficult topic:
Bea says Plato’s views were myopic
His books shouldn’t fool us,
The stars do not rule us!
We’ve freedom to act philanthropic.

Canto V
And then Bea advises all people
To follow the cross on the steeple
I.e., obey the Church
From your sinful path, lurch!
Be like persons (says she) not mad sheeple.

Canto VI
In the heaven of Mercury now
And here’s bright Justinian - wow!
He tells us of Romeo’s
Troublesome home, he goes
On - do I love it? And how!

Canto VII
Now more sunday-schooling will please us,
So tell how Our Lord from sin frees us:
Adam angered Our Boss
(Sin makes him quite cross!)
But he took it all out on poor Jesus.

Canto VIII
A soul who seems bright (on first glance)
Says he was once King of France!
He loves diverse folks
'Cos it takes "diff'rent strokes"
To make a society dance.

Canto IX
In Venus’ sphere, lovers dwell:
Rahab, whom Christ saved from Hell,
Cunizza, a miss
Who fancied a kiss,
And Folco. Such nice personnel!

Canto X
Fourth heaven - the sphere of the sun
Where docs of theology run
Around us in circuits.
They’re famed for their work; its
Quite right - think of all that they’ve done!

Canto XI
With Thomas Acquinas I chat
About dear St. Francis. Seems that
Frank wasn’t rich -
He died poor, in a ditch.
But Dominicans? Greedy and fat!

Canto XII
But of Dominic’s graces I’m told: he
Did so love to heresy scold! He
Preached with great zeal
Like St. Frank; each a wheel
Of Christ’s chariot (but, Frank’s was ... mouldy?).

Canto XIII
And King Solomon? Gosh, he was wise!
A monarch who had matchless eyes.
If problems are prickly
Like Sol, don’t judge quickly -
You might be in for a surprise!

Canto XIV
More talk with this heavenly squad
About how they’ll get love from God
And how they’ll be complete
Come judgement day - sweet! -
When each soul will get back in its bod!

Canto XV
Then God’s will makes all singing cease
As one heaven more we increase -
And here’s a crusader
Who God has well-paid, a
Martyr whose death brought him peace!

Canto XVI
Cacciaguida, my noble forebear
Tells me his birthday, and where
He grew up. And, hey,
It was Florence! No way!
Gee, we’ve never met someone from there.

Canto XVII
“Caccaguida, I don’t mean to whine,
But do you see the future? Like, mine?
Cause Virgil had said
I’ve got troubles ahead …”
“Stick with poetry, D., you’ll be fine.”

Canto XVIII
Jupiter’s sphere brings much mirth,
I see spirits of those of great worth!
With movements exciting
They do some sky-writing:
“Love justice, yea who judge the earth.”

Canto XIX
These souls (all so puissant and regal)
Line up in the shape of an eagle!
A judgemental fowl
Who lists, with a scowl,
Certain rulers whose reigns are illegal.

Canto XX
This eagle falls silent; thus I
Stare deep into his beady eye.
There’s Trajan, King Dave,
And some others God saved!
Can’t fathom God’s ways, He’s too sly!

Canto XXI
But with grace, we obtain the next heaven:
A cliched address - number seven!
The souls who sing here
Could burst both your ears
‘Cos they amp it right up to eleven!

Canto XXII
Beatrice protects me with hugs
(Much more pleasant than using earplugs)
Quick chat with St. Ben
And then we’re off again.
(Psst - from up here you all look like bugs.)

Canto XXIII
Eighth Heaven, for stars that are fixed.
Some heavenly troops, and betwixt
Them, someone …
Jesus Christ! It’s the Son
Whose virtue with sin is unmixed!

Canto XXIV
Here’s St. Peter, to give me a test:
I get a great score, thus I’m blessed.
Full marks in his series
Of dogmatic queries!
(Tho’ some of the answers I guessed).

Canto XXV
St. Pete palms me off to St. James
Who’s playing some similar games
I’m asked about hope
And if I lack it - nope!
Then St. John wanders by, bright as flames.

Canto XXVI
Now I question the first human, Adam:
“So, how long did you and your madam
Spend among Eden’s flowers?”
“Just seven hours -
So few. Still I’m glad that we had ‘em”.

Canto XXVII
What’s making St. Peter turn red?
Back on Earth, seems his flock is mis-led!
A bad Pope’s on his throne
(And it makes us all groan)
It’s Pope Boniface - what a shit-head.

Canto XXVIII
Primium Mobile? Here’s my opinion:
Great hangout for all of God’s minions.
(I.e., Powers and Cherubim,
(Arch)Angels and Seraphim,
Virtues and Thrones and Dominions10).

10 Apologies to “Principalities”-!
The Limerick-form’s technicalities
Mean many syllables
Often aren’t fillable
Into a stanza without it suffering irreparable scansion abnormalities.


Canto XXIX
Bea explains now the heavenly host:
The Angels, who love God the most!
For always they face
The source of all grace -
With His goodness they’re fully engrossed.

Canto XXX
Now we see from whence all goodness flows
‘Tis the realm of the heavenly rose!
The blessèd are sitted here -
Who gets admitted here?
Angels? Saints? … God only knows.

Canto XXXI
This heavenly rose God invented
Seats souls in their tiers, all contented
To gaze up at God.
Even here, it’s quite odd,
Different ranks of the dead are segmented.

Canto XXXII
St. Bernard here points out to me a
Bright lady - I’m pleased to see ‘er!
The Heavenly Queen!
(Christ’s mother, I mean.)
So we wave and say “Ave, Maria!”

Canto XXXIII
And at last, saw a book (God’s memoirs?)
More holy than Earthly books are.
It’s a book made of love
Love rules all things, above
That’s the theme of all my seminars -

Love can push ‘round the sun and the stars.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:03 PM on July 20, 2016 [37 favorites]


That's some seriously good poesy there, sir! Bravo!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:29 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Embarrassing erratum (1 of ∞): in Inferno Canto XXI, line 2 word 2 should be "barrators", not "barterers". Sorry.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:04 PM on July 21, 2016


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