November 27, 2020

Comment Spam

I enabled user comments on this site several months ago, and on the whole I’ve been quite happy with the results. But I’ve had an increasing problem with comment spam, comments submitted to advertise products unrelated to my original postings. Many of these spam comments seem to be trying to leech off of my good Google page-rank, by causing my pages to link to theirs.

I’m fighting back technologically, but that’s a pain in the neck and will just lead the spammers to invent workarounds. So here’s a question for my lawyer readers: Is there anything I can do legally about this? Suppose, for instance, that I made people agree to simple Terms of Use before they posted a comment, and the Terms gave me some legal recourse against anybody who posted spam. It’s my site, and it seems to me that I should have the right to impose reasonable conditions on comment posters. I don’t know how effective this would be at actually stopping the spam, but it’s interesting to consider nonetheless.

Comments

  1. a smart lawyer says:

    You might have a legal claim in such a case, but it would be difficult to enforce and you would have no damages. The law isn’t going to help you here much; you need a technical solution.

  2. You could probably include some language in the terms of use that gives you the right to collect a reasonable advertising fee from comment spammers. That might be enforcable, however, it would take even more of your time. You have probably better things to do than wasting your time on trolls.

    I have included this text in my comment template:

    “Attention comment spammers: All comment spam messages will be deleted immediately, so please don’t waste your (and my) time here.”

    This helps somewhat to stop those comment spammers that can read (e.g. know English and are not automated scripts). Any Terms of Use you write would work only for that same subset of comment spammers.

    And I am considering right now striking back by using the Google webform for reporting ranking abuse, since I just got hit by over 500 comment spams entered over a robot script. If comment spammers stand to lose all their ranking from their evil acts, maybe they go back to writing “deceptive cloaking and doorway pages”.

  3. More recent versions (I thought >= 2.6, but I might be wrong) of MT manipulate the links in comments (with redirects, I believe) so that they don’t provide the PageRank boon. That might be worth looking into.

  4. This might not prevent them from writing comment spam, but can’t you prevent them from benefitting by marking the comment pages so that Google will index them, but not follow links off-page?

    Links will still work if included – but Google will ignore them, as far as I understand it.

    Of course, if one of the intended benefits of the comments is the raising of Google ranks through cross-links, then this has a significant downside as well.

  5. Changing the name of the comment script (mt-comment.cgi, I think?) will prevent most of the automated comment spam. Just search-and-replace all of the calls from the old name to the new one.

  6. I am sorry, i have no legal advice but a hint to prevent comment spamming.

    Heiko Hebig (www.hebig.com) has an comment function on his site with a PIN to enter which is written in a picture which makes it unable to automatically readout the number.

    Maybe that helps.