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Confessions of a Spam-Catcher: How to Identify Spam

Confessions of a Spam-Catcher: How to Identify Spam

    As part of my role as Lifehack’s manager, I am responsible for moderating the comments queue. Lifehack’s back-end has a “Pending” queue for comments that our spam-catching software thinks might be spam, a “Spam” queue for comments labeled “spam” either by the software or by me, and another queue for comments that have been approved, again either by the software or by me. As a general rule, I check that “Pending” queue several times a day, the “Approved” queue every day or so, and the “Spam” queue every week or so.

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    I’ve been doing this for two years, and I’ve gotten pretty proficient at figuring out what is and is not spam – a tough call to make sometimes, since spammers get more and more sophisticated in lock-step with those of us charged with blocking them. I present my “formula” here for two reasons: one, to give less experienced bloggers and webmasters an idea of how to catch spam on their own site, and two, to give commenters an idea of the kind of thing to avoid so their comments don’t get accidentally thrown in the “Spam” bin.

    I should say, a big part of catching spam is a “feel” – intuiting that some comment just doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure I can capture exactly what goes into that feel. Andy Warhol once said that to recognize a great painting, first you have to look at a thousand paintings, and catching spam is a bit like that – the experience of having looked at thousands of spam messages cannot be easily encapsulated. But I’ll try as well as I can.

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    What is spam?

    What makes a message spam is relative and subjective. In a sense, spam is like a weed – a weed is not any particular kind of plant, but a plant that isn’t wanted where it’s at. (See, for example, Wikipidia’s definition of Weed as “a plant that is considered by the user of the term to be a nuisance.”) For instance, Corn is delicious, but if it’s growing in your soybean field, it’s a weed. A message that, say, pimps a word processor might be perfectly welcome on a post that asks for product recommendations for writers, while on a post that just happens to mention writing, the same message could be considered spam.

    Some messages are clearly spam; for example, anything delivered by a spambot programmed to leave its message wherever it can find an open form to submit through. But a message can be left by a living person, custom-written for the particular content it’s posted to, and still be spam. This list starts with the most obvious signs and moves to more vague and difficult-to-interpret signs. My guess is that a lot of people run into the ones further down the list because they post without thinking very clearly, so pay attention.

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    A comment is spam if it:

    1. Contains links to websites that are unrelated to the content.
      For example, a comment might say “I think your baby is really cute!” but the word “baby” links to a site selling baby clothes or even a Forex trading site or other scam.
    2. Is posted on more than one post.
      This is obvious, right? Real people don’t post the same comment over and over on different posts, no matter how relevant. most likely it’s a spambot responding to multiple posts on your blog that contain similar keywords.
    3. Contains more than one link.
      While there are a few situations in which a legitimate comment could contain several links, they’re fairly rare. As a general rule, the likelihood of a comment being spam increases directly with the number of links; anything over three and it’s virtually guaranteed to be spam.
    4. Is not directly related to the post.
      A lot of spambots (or even live spammers) crawl the web looking for posts with certain keywords and then insert a generic message loosely related to the topic on the hopes that it will slip past any human reader who is likely to just skim through their comments. Unless a comment addresses something specific about your post, it’s likely to be spam.
    5. Is overly complimentary.
      Most spammers are fairly astute observers of basic human psychology – particularly our desire to believe good things about ourselves. So they butter us up, saying things like “Great post! In fact, I love this whole site – I’m definitely going to come back again and again!”.
    6. Has keywords or a business name in the “Name” field.
      A basic search engine optimization strategy is to get your website’s address associated with specific keywords, and search engines look closely at the text associated with a link to determine the usefulness of the website linked to. Real people aren’t trying to game search engines, and frankly, we want to be recognized for our contribution, so we use our actual name, or a username. If you can’t imagine replying to a person by the name in their “Name” field, you’re dealing with a spammer. (For example, here’s one taken from our spam queue: “Having a good vocabulary not only gives a framework for thought. It also allows you to be concise and precise to make communication better.” This is relevant to the post, and thoughtful, but it was left by an entity named “dining room table”. It’s spam.)
    7. Links to a spammy business.
      This is a tough call – sometimes I’ll see a thoughtful comment clearly written in direct response to the post it’s commenting on, under a real person’s name, and still mark it as spam because they link to a site whose legitimacy is questionable. Could be porn, WOW gold scams, Forex scams, get rich quick schemes, blogs with stolen content, or anything else that feels to me like someone left a comment more to get their link out than to add to the discussion.
    8. Quotes the post without responding to the quote.
      This is a relatively sophisticated spam technique: pulling lines out of the post it’s responding to in order to make the language of the comment sound like real writing. Real people mark the quotes they’re commenting on (usually with quotation marks, but it could be by italicizing or bolding it, putting it in blockquotes, or some other means) and try to clearly separate their response form the post’s words.
    9. Is posted on an old post.
      Old posts tend to attract a lot of spam. Real people generally recognize that if a post is a year or so old, the conversation there is pretty much over. Spambots do not realize that. It still sometimes happens that someone comments on an ancient post, but the age of the post is a big red flag.
    10. Is in a different language from the site.
      If the point of a comment is to engage in discussion with the author of the post and his or her readers, it doesn’t make much sense to comment in a language that you’re not sure the author knows.
    11. Is from a Russian .ru domain.
      I hate to stereotype an entire top-level domain like this. I’m sure there are Russians out there making thoughtful comments on blogs all the time. And yet I’ve never had a comment that wasn’t spam from a commentor with a .ru domain or email address.
    12. Tells a long, personal story.
      This is experience talking – a lot of times you’ll see what appears to be a blog post in its own right in your moderation queue that starts off, at least, relevant, and is clearly written by a real person. This falls under the “Weed” heading – it might have been totally welcome except it’s out of place as a comment on your blog.
    13. Asks for specific support.
      This is another “weed” situation: a comment on a post about, say, installing Windows 7 that asks for help with a specific problem. Unless the point of your site is to answer specific questions about computer problems, this comment is out of place. There are better and more likely places to get help than on your blog.
    14. Feels wrong.
      Sometimes a comment just feels wrong – it is a little too smarmy, maybe, or it’s a little too formal and stiff. You click through the link and it’s a legitimate-enough site, maybe a little sketchy, but you can totally construct a case where this comment was written by a real person with something to say. The question, though, isn’t what was the intention of the writer, but what is the effect on the conversation on your site. If a comment doesn’t seem to quite fit, you’re well within your rights to “spam it”.

    Anyone else have advice for would-be spam-catchers? Or for commenters who might be finding their comments relegated to the spam-heaps of history? Leave a thoughtful, non-spammy comment below!

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    Last Updated on August 19, 2019

    How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

    How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

    We live in a world that constantly tells us what to do, how to act, what to be. Knowing how to be true to yourself and live the life you want can be a challenge.

    When someone asks how we are, we assume that the person does not mean the question sincerely, for it would lead to an in depth conversation. So telling them that you are good or fine, even if you’re not, is the usual answer.

    In an ideal world, we would stop and truly listen. We wouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves. Instead, when we answer about how we are doing, our mask, the persona we show the world, tightens. Sometimes even more so than it might have been before. Eventually, it becomes hard to take off, even when you’re alone.

    Imagine a world where we asked how someone was doing and they really told us. Imagine a world where there were no masks, only transparency when we talked to one another.

    If you want to live in a world that celebrates who you are, mistakes and all, take off the mask. It doesn’t mean you have to be positive or fine all the time.

    According to a Danish psychologist, Svend Brinkman, we expect each other to be happy and fine every second, and we expect it of ourselves. And that “has a dark side.”[1] Positive psychology can have its perks but not at the expense at hiding how you truly feel in order to remain seemingly positive to others.

    No one can feel positive all the time and yet, that is what our culture teaches us to embrace. We have to unlearn this. That said, telling others you are ‘“fine”’ all the time is actually detrimental to your wellbeing, because it stops you from being assertive, from being authentic or your truest self.

    When you acknowledge a feeling, it leads you to the problem that’s causing that feeling; and once you identify the problem, you can find a solution to it. When you hide that feeling, you stuff it way down so no one can help you.You can’t even help yourself.

    Feelings are there for one reason: to be felt. That doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. It just means that you start the process of problem solving so you can live the life you want.

    1. Embrace Your Vulnerability

    When you are your true self, you can better self-advocate or stand up for what you need. Your self-expression matters, and you should value your voice. It’s okay to need things, it’s okay to speak up, and it’s okay not to be okay.

    Telling someone you are simply “fine” when you are not, does your story and your journey a great disservice. Being true to yourself entails embracing all aspects of your existence.

    When you bring your whole self to the table, there is nothing that you can’t beat. Here’re 7 benefits of being vulnerable you should learn.

    Can you take off the mask? This is the toughest thing anyone can do. We have learned to wait until we are safe before we start to be authentic.

    In relationships especially, this can be hard. Some people avoid vulnerability at any cost. And in our relationship with ourselves, we can look in the mirror and immediately put on the mask.

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    It all starts with your story. You have been on your own unique journey. That journey has led you here, to the person you are today. You have to be unafraid, and embrace all aspects of that journey.

    You should seek to thrive, not just survive. That means you do not have to compete or compare yourself with anyone.

    Authenticity means you are enough. It’s enough to be who you are to get what you want.

    What if for the first time ever, you were real? What if you said what you wanted to say, did what you wanted to do, and didn’t apologize for it?

    You were assertive, forthcoming in your opinions or actions to stand for what is right for you, (rather than being passive or aggressive) in doing so. You didn’t let things get to you. You knew you had something special to offer.

    That’s where we all should be.

    So, answer me this:

    How are you, really?

    And know that no matter the answer, you should still be accepted.

    Bravery is in the understanding that you still may not be accepted for your truth.

    Bravery is knowing you matter even when others say that you do not.

    Bravery is believing in yourself when all evidence counters doing so (i.e. past failures or losses)

    Bravery is in being vulnerable while knowing vulnerability is a sign of strength.

    It’s taking control.

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    2. Choose Your Attitude in Adversity

    You can take control of your destiny and live the life you want by being true to yourself. You can start anytime. You can start today.

    You can start with one day at a time, just facing what happens that day. Most of us get overwhelmed when faced with the prospect of a big change. Even if the only thing we change is our attitude.

    In one instant, you can become a different person with a change of attitude. When you take control of your attitude, you become able to better understand what is around you. This allows you to move forward.

    Originally, you may have had a life plan. It could have started when you were little; you were hoping to become a mermaid, doctor, astronaut or all three when you grew up. You were hoping to be someone. You were hoping to be remembered.

    You can still dream those dreams, but eventually reality sets in. Obstacles and struggles arise. You set on a different path when the last one didn’t work out. You think of all the “shoulds” in your life in living the life you want. You should be doing this…should be doing that…

    Clayton Barbeau, psychologist, coined the term “shoulding yourself.’[2] When we are set on one path and find ourselves doing something different. It becomes all the things you should be doing rather than seeing the opportunities right in front of you.

    But in all this disarray, did you lose sight of the real you?

    It may be in our perceived failures and blunders that we lose sight of who we are, because we try to maintain position and status.

    In being who we really are and achieving what we really want, we need to be resilient: How to Build Resilience to Face What Life Throws at You

    It means that we do not see all possibilities of what might happen, but must trust ourselves to begin again, and continue to build the life we want. In the face of adversity, you must choose your attitude.

    Can attitude overcome adversity? It certainly helps. While seeking to be true to yourself and live the life you want, you will have to face a fact:

    Change will happen.

    Whether that change is good or bad is unique to each person and their perspective.

    You might have to start over, once, twice, a few times. It doesn’t mean that everything will be okay, but that you will be okay. What remains or should remain is the true you. When you’ve lost sight of that, you’ve lost sight of everything.

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    And then, you rebuild. Moment after moment, day after day. We all have a choice, and in this moment, that matters.

    You can choose to have a positive attitude, seeing the silver lining in each situation and, where there is none, the potential for one. Maybe that silver lining is you and what you will do with the situation. How will you use it for something good?

    That’s how you can tap into yourself and your power. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes on purpose. It can happen when we aren’t even looking for it, or it can be your only focus. Everyone gets there differently.

    You can rise, or you can remain. Your choice.

    When the worst happens, you can rely on your authenticity to pull you through. That’s because Self Advocacy, speaking up to let others know what you need, is part of finding the real you.

    There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Or sometimes, helping others can help us deal with the pain of a hurtful situation. You decide how you’re going to help others, and suddenly, you become your best self.

    3. Do What Makes You Happy When No One’s Looking

    Being the best version of you has nothing to do with your success or your status. It has everything to do with your Character, what you do when no one’s looking.

    In order to create the life you want, you have to be the person you want to be. Faking it till you make it is just a way to white knuckle it through your journey. You have the fire inside of you to make things right, to put the pieces together, to live authentically. And Character is how you get there.

    If you fall down and you help another up while you’re down there, it’s like you rise twice.

    Along with attitude, your character is about the choices you make rather than what happens to you.

    Yes, it’s about doing the right thing even when obstacles seem insurmountable.  It’s about using that mountain you’ve been given to show others it can be moved.  It’s about being unapologetically you, taking control, choosing your attitude in adversity and being the best version of you to create the life you want.

    How do you know what you really want? Is it truly status or success?

    Unfortunately, these things do not always bring happiness. And aspects of our image or “performance driven existence” may not achieve satisfaction. Materialism is part of our refusal to accept ourselves as enough. All the things we use to repress our true selves are about being enough.

    “Enoughness” is what we truly seek, but ego gets in the way.

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    Ego is the perception of self as outer worth. It’s not REAL self worth.

    Ego represses our true self with a new self— the self of chasing ‘“Am I ever enough?”’ questions. And instead of filling our true selves with self-love and acceptance, when we “should ourselves” and chase “enoughness,” we feed the ego or our image.

    It’s important to realize YOU ARE ENOUGH, without all the material trappings.

    Stanford psychologist Meagan O’Reilly describes the damage of not thinking we are enough. One of her tactics for combating this is to complete the sentence,[3]

    “If I believed I were already enough, I’d ____”

    What would you do if you felt you were enough?

    By believing you are enough, you can live the life you want.

    So many fake it to try to get there, and they end up losing themselves when they lose more and more touch with their Authenticity.

    Final Thoughts

    By being yourself, you are being brave. By acknowledging all you can be, you tell the universe that you can until you believe it too. The steps are easy, and you are worth it. All of it is about the purpose you are leading and the passion that is your fuel.

    Being true to yourself is all about mastering how to live life authentically rather than faking or forcing it. Having the life you want (and deserve) is about being trusting in yourself and the purpose you are living for. Both need passion behind it, fueling it each second, or you will experience burn out.

    When you are authentic, you can call the road you walk your own. When you live your life for you and not just the results of all your actions (faking it till you make it), you can let go of what you don’t need. This clarifies and pushes purpose to you, living for something that is greater than you.

    You will find that making decisions based on what will actually achieve your goals, will help you attain the life you want, and your success with each step, will allow you to enjoy the process. Good luck!

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    Featured photo credit: Ariana Prestes via unsplash.com

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