Preventing and Stopping Spam: Forums
Three of the most popular forums are PHPBB, SMF, and VBulletin. VBulletin comes with a hefty fee so generally people running hobby forums will be using SMF and PHPBB since they’re open source and come at no cost to use.
So, what we learned about dofollow and nofollow links back in the blog spam post begins to actually come into play here – SMF allows dofollow by default, as does PHPBB, as does VBulletin (at least as far as I could check when digging a bit), though all appear to have plugins and hacks that can make links in forums and signatures “nofollow”.
Obviously, since the most popular blogging software default to “nofollow” and the most popular forums appear to default to “do follow”, you would probably guess the forums are going to be targeted heavily form spamming to get SEO juice and are they going to see an enormous amount of spam.
Your guess would be correct.
What We Do
Again, going back to the blog spam post, we can filter some signatures that are prevalent.
But again pointing out the resource issue, we have to hit a balance because while we probably could filter out a lot more, it will cost both in resources, and in inconvenience for you all.
Wanna do a blog post on Viagra! Ha! Can’t because you can’t post it the word Viagra through your browser! Not only does it become a resource issue, it becomes a censorship issue, so we try and walk a very fine line.
What You Can Do
This again falls on you – how you configure your software, what plugins you use, how you manage your forum.
Out of the box for anything, even Fantastico software, is generally never the greatest idea, and you should always spend some time checking out your options. Since we’re dealing with forums in general and not specific software, we’ll give you a general idea of options usually available that you should look for and utilize.
- Don’t Rely on Captcha – Captcha, the generated image of random letters and numbers that has to be input, has long since been cracked. While you should still use it, don’t rely on it because it won’t stop everything by a long shot.
- Humans are still smarter than machines, most of the time – use human validation. Many forums and plugins for forums can set up a question that has to be answered using actual thought like “What doesn’t belong: a car, a boat, a bus, a leaf?” These type of human validation questions are still very difficult for automated spammers to crack and so you should use them whenever possible and there is an option to do so.
- Email Validation – A lot of spammers do still use fake or throwaway addresses, so you should still make them validate before you let them post anything, even a profile.
- “No follow” links – personally, I’d do no follow links with a plugin or hack – if you get popular, and get a good page rank, someone will find you and list you on a list of “do follow” forums and you will be pummeled with spammers. Do a search for “do follow” forums on a search engine and you’ll see what I mean.
- Limit Post Edit Time – Those spammy spammers know all the tricks – you may let someone in, see a perfectly legitimate post, and come back a day or a week later to see that they edited it into the spam.
- Watch Your Member List – memberlist spamming is a technique where the spammers don’t even bother to spam a post, they simply sign up for a large number of profiles and put the spamvertised URL in their profile. Look especially at those user names with punctuation, numbers, or the letter a as the first character as they often sign up for these to rank higher on the member listing page. To help reduce memberlist spamming you can tell your forum to not display the memberlist at all to guests or only to guests with a certain number of posts.
- Block, block, block – block words, IP addresses, and members that behave badly. If someone puts a spammy post on your forum, don’t just delete it – delete it, then ban them, then ban the IP that signed up for the account.
- Get a good group of moderators – Nothing replaces a team of vigilant, eagle-eyed human beings. Spam is much like porn – you may not be able to define the difference between an ad and spam in the same way it may be hard to actually define the difference between Michelangelo’s David and some naked guy, but human beings know the difference when they see it.
There are more suggestions, but this is a good group to get you started. Check your specific software’s site and their forums for plugins, tips and tricks, and hacks that can help you keep the spammers off your forum and your visitors happily chatting away.