Every comment on Twelve Mile Circle is moderated. If you’ve taken the time and effort to respond to one of my posts with something thoughtful you can be totally assured that I’ve genuinely read it. A few months ago I had a growing problem with spammers. Thankfully I found a solution that keeps that junk away from my pages automatically. I almost never see it anymore. Spam comments now approach zero on my site although I see from the web logs that 276 attempts were blocked in just the first twelve days of September!
Spammers are a resilient bunch however, and there’s another less-common method they sometimes try: setting up phony blogs that reference posts in legitimate blogs. In WordPress, the software behind Twelve Mile Circle and millions of other blogs, a blog posting from another site that happens to reference one of your blog postings can be allowed to appear as a "comment" on your blog. I still moderate them and soundly reject them when inappropriate of course, but I guess the spammers work on the premise that people will be less vigilant if it’s an incoming link from another blog. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to geolocate a few of the more recent fake blogs that have come knocking on my door:
View Larger Map
Admittedly this is a very small, self-selecting and unscientific sample but it still results in some interesting patterns. First, it’s a worldwide scourge: Europe (France, Latvia), Asia (Pakistan, India, China), North America (United States) and South America (Brazil). Greed is truly an international phenomenon. Second, that segment of U.S.A. population that grumbles about motives and ethics of foreigners should note that about half of the sleazebags in my sample are homegrown.
It’s all about backlinks, the links that come onto a website from external sources. And by extension, advertising revenue. There is a presumption that if a page has lots of external links it must somehow be "better" than one with fewer. Search engines take this into consideration in their algorithms to determine the websites they will display to their users and in which order. Coming up sooner on a search result means more viewers referred to the website, and more viewers equals more advertising revenue. The ethically challenged often use link farms, or collections of websites that reference each other, in an attempt to game the system. Search engines have been modified to catch a lot of this, so in this constant cat-and-mouse game, spammers are finding method to generate backlinks from "legitimate" websites.
With the external blog comment method, typically what I see on fake blog postings is a block of text copied word-for-word from one of my postings with a link to my post. Usually there are 30 or 40 other websites similarly referenced on the same page of the fake blog. Generally there is a unifying theme or key word that ties all of the websites together, but the context is jumbled and doesn’t quite make sense. Invariably these pages are also festooned with the maximum allowable units of Google AdSense or Yahoo! Content Match advertising. They’re hoping that by referencing lots of blog postings they will generate sufficient backlinks to score high on search engines results and thereby get those eyeballs on the advertisements. The fact that search engine results produce bogus, useless suggestions, with viewers gets zero benefit is irrelevant to the miscreants who produce fake blogs. It’s all about the money from the ads.
There’s sufficient similarity to the bogus blogs that leads me to wonder if perhaps there’s a master spammer out there somewhere who’s created a turn-key package to generate these sites, and who is selling the solution to others. It must not be too difficult technologically to auto-generate maybe several tens or hundreds of thousands of these fake blog entries along thematic lines. If each of several-thousand fake posting results in just a single hit each day, it’s possible to see that someone living in Lahore, Pakistan, or Riga, Latvia, or Laurel, Mississippi, might be able to live pretty well. I still think it’s unethical but I can see how it might be tempting to those with a "get rich quick" mentality.
That doesn’t mean I have to help them, though. I will continue to reject any comment — whether posted directly on the site or coming indirectly as a reference from an external blog posting — unless it truly adds value to my readership. One is judged by the company one keeps. If all the comments on my site were crap then the whole site would be crap. That’s not going to happen.