Methods of Spam Prevention on Forums
I am a member of a few forums. All of these forums are well moderated and are free of the outside influences such as spam, warez and cracking. But why?
It could be argued that simply by joining a forum, the members (or community) would feel bound by the rules and spirit of that online forum to “be good”. After all, if they didn’t want to abide by the rules, they wouldn’t have joined, surely. Unfortunately, in these days of internet saturation, that is a somewhat naive notion – sorry.
All forums have rules and regulations, from simple one liners to fully thought out terms of conditions (along with sub-clauses and roman numerals). However, if the owners do not take steps to ensure these rules are followed and adhered to absolute chaos ensues and the people you want to be on the boards abandon you and your forum is unusable and empty of real members.
I can only show you the differences by example. So, the first example is LinuxQuestions.org. This is a forum with over 250,000 members and around 20 moderators (I’m one of them). The site owner is around regularly and is also regularly in touch with the moderation team. This means that he is able to respond to our questions and make sure that we make decisions in keeping with the spirit of the site and community. The vast majority of the members are well-behaved and stick to the rules. It is also pretty self-policing as there is a clear way to alert the team to any problems. Added to this, there are also anti-spam measures in force in the background and this means that LQ is pretty problem free.
Example 2 is LiteraryForums.org. This is a much smaller community, but equally well-behaved. It could be argued that the size of the community means that is less of a target for spam as the audience is so much smaller. I have no logs, etc to back this up, but I would say that the owner has put his measures in place to prevent spamming – moderators and other measures. This means that those automated bots don’t get a foothold. Also, the members report any problems.
The third example is the Something Awful forums. They have a prevention measure that none of the other boards do – if you want to post there you have to pay $10 to register. This immediately kills off the automated spammers because if they have to pay to spam it’s immediately useless to them. They also have a moderation team (up to 40 mods I believe for around 100,000 members) and the mods regularly get in contact with each other and discuss problems on the boards and ways to stop them getting out of hand. It is a rarity these days to charge an entrance fee – I can’t think of any other forum that still charges – but it works for them. They do not have a spam problem.
Finally, a board I am not a member of and I only became aware of it through my spam logs: http://www.games2web.com/forums/index.php – because they are a spam haven, they get no clickable link. This appears to be a genuine forum, at least it seems to have begun that way. Looking at their earliest pages there are a few posts that appear genuine. The main site is for games to embed on websites, blogs and the suchlike and I have no doubt that they started out with the finest of intentions. They have no moderation team and their software appears to be outdated, unmodified phpBB forum software. Ouch. Also, their version appears to be 2 or more years old – which means unpatched security flaws and various bugs and gotchas which have probably been fixed. Effectively, the forums were set up and abandoned – assuming they were set up with honest intentions in mind. Pick any subforum and you will see wall to wall porn and viagra ads. If it is meant to be a genuine forum it should be shut down – there is no attempt to prevent bots from making it their home. Malice, incompetence or forgetfulness?
From just 4 examples, we can see the range of measures in place across multiple forums. The best forum to join is one which has a coder with some knowledge, an owner with some common sense and a team of moderators. I will discuss moderation styles across our first three examples in a later post. If you are planning to run a forum, as well as scalability and cost issues you should also think of security as one of the biggest issues.