Should I Ban China?

On August 20, 2010 · 6 Comments

The Twelve Mile Circle is about Geography, Geo-Oddities, Travel and the sharing of thoughts and ideas. Would it be ethical to ban 1.3 billion readers — nearly 20% of the world’s population — for the sins of a minuscule few?



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THE PROBLEM

China has become my website’s bane of existence. Internet Protocol addresses geo-locating to various points in China deliver a nonstop barrage of trouble. I’m required to maintain complete vigilance in order to hold a constant toxic seepage of digital garbage at bay, and provide you with the most enjoyable reading environment.

  • I’ve installed a script that blocks at least 98% of bot-generated junk comments, and I practice absolute comment moderation to catch those few that make it through the gauntlet.
  • I trash all attempts at link-backs unless I can determine they’ve linked to me for legitimate reasons.
  • I deal with image and bandwidth thieves harshly and swiftly.
  • I block individual IP’s when I notice a pattern of abuse.

I have no tolerance for unscrupulous people who lie, steal and cheat, hoping to grab a quick buck exploiting the hard work of others, and hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet. You won’t see spam disguised as comments on the Twelve Mile Circle. You also don’t see the level of effort required behind-the-scenes to keep it that way, but it’s significant.

I’ve noticed a massive up-swell, a veritable firestorm of crap over the last couple of months like nothing I’ve experienced in the fifteen years I’ve created web content. It’s all focused, as far as I can tell, on ways to game Google PageRank scores using external links. Very few false positives make it through my initial script hurdle. Nonetheless 2% of "thousands-per-week" is still an annoying amount to weed through by hand in a comment moderation queue.

I’m not sure if it’s a single organized effort or if it’s an entrepreneurial black-hat spam king peddling bot software to thousands of ignorant wanna-be’s. It doesn’t seem particularly sophisticated, and in fact it seems to be rather ham-fisted and brute-forced so I’m guess the latter. All I know is that you, as loyal readers, probably don’t want to slog through thousands of comments that look like these actual word-for-word entries I’ve tagged as inappropriate in just the last couple of days.

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They typically include embedded links for websites peddling shoes, clothing, SEO services, video games, bootleg software, and um… items of a more personal nature. The digital trail leads back to China, nine times out of ten.

THE DILEMMA

Is it fair to punish the residents of an entire nation? I recognize that this is a citizenry already struggling within the confines of the Great Firewall of China. It seems downright cruel to compound their situation by placing additional restrictions upon them. Surely there has to be a few Chinese geo-geeks with a decent grasp of English who would enjoy following the Twelve Mile Circle.

Yet, I have little evidence of actual Chinese visitors while I’ve experienced thousands of instances of unethical behavior each month this summer. I’ve just about reached my limit of this contemptible behavior. It’s not an indictment of the Chinese people but of the greedy criminal gangs that use their nation as a safe harbor.

It’s insanely simply to ban a nation from a website. There are plenty of Internet sites that will generate a list of Chinese IP ranges that I can drop it into an .htaccess file, and take care of the entire problem in about five minutes. That’s not the issue.

I understand that this isn’t like Google trying to figure out whether to pull out of China. It’s my tiny little, insignificant blog. The world isn’t going to change regardless of what I do. However I still struggle with the moral dilemma of whether it would be right or defensible to impose the Death Penalty.

I’d be interested to hear if others have wrestled with this issue and whether you found alternate approaches to a total ban or reconciled your concerns and made a final decision. "Curious to determine what all you intellectuals have to say about this."

geography

On August 20, 2010 · 6 Comments

6 Responses to “Should I Ban China?”

  1. Craig says:

    You might consider requiring commenters to register. OTOH, I stopped commenting on PZ Myers’ blog because I don’t have accounts on any of the registration services he uses and I’d rather not create another. Hmmm. Tough call.

  2. Craig says:

    I wonder how much adding reCaptcha might curb the spammers.

    • Lots of sites have gone to reCaptcha but the renderings have gone to such great lengths to defeat optical character recognition that I have a hard time deciphering them… the spam machines have gotten so good at OCR that it’s now difficult for the humans. I’ve tried a couple of things this morning with the hope that I don’t have to ban an entire nation. First, I analyzed the spam comments and blocked a few of the more offensive IP ranges. That will also block several thousand legitimate Chinese users as an unfortunate consequence but falls quite a bit short of the millions or hundreds of millions if I invoke the nuclear option. Second, I went back to the website where I found the time-stamp solution I currently use. Apparently the author there has had some of the same issues and he’s recently developed a companion solution that relies on renaming a certain file to a random string, which happens behind the scenes so those who are making legitimate comments (such as yourself) will never be bothered by it. A renamed file plus a time-stamp should help things a bit so I’m going to give it a try and keep my fingers crossed. See http://www.ardamis.com/2010/08/09/reducing-wordpress-spam-comments/

      So now I have three levels of defense: a renamed file to catch the dumbest of the bots; a time-stamp to catch moderately-advanced bots; and a moderation queue to catch sophisticated bots and the rare human (manual) spammer.

  3. Have you installed Akismet? That does about “four nines” for me.

    • Not yet. I like to zig when everyone else zags. These kinds of solutions are great — temporarily — but the spam kings are creative and they find ways to defeat them, creating a constant tug-of-war. In addition to the solution I outlined in the earlier comment, I disabled pingbacks/trackbacks and that seems to have done the trick. Almost nobody every creates legitimate pings/tracks to the Twelve Mile Circle anyway, so no big loss there. Only one spam message has made it through the gauntlet and into the moderation queue (out of thousands) since I put this in place.

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