Spam filters and paranoia
A very long time ago, I had a blog whose software platform I wrote myself. It was pretty ropey by the standards of WordPress and Moveable Type, although it beat Blogger’s offer in those days (for really dull reasons, the only server I had access to ran Windows and Access; no existing blog software supported this setup, so I had to write some).
I learnt a lot about Access, IIS, and databases and scripting in general. And for ages I was relatively immune to spam, because automatic spambots were configured to deliver the right form data to work with Blogger, MT and WP. But after a year or so, blog comment spamming was sufficiently big business (and my old blog sufficiently popular, he said self-aggrandisingly) that – presumably manually – the droves of spam started coming.
I see no shame in putting my name to Viagra’s cause
So I wrote my own hand-rolled spam filter. It was rather simplistic – it took a list of key words that someone had put on the Web as “popular words from spam”, and rejected comments which contained said key words. These days, that’d be nowhere near good enough – but a few years ago, it was enough to keep most of the spammy comments off the site.
However, an angry right-wing gentleman (this angry right-wing gentleman, in fact) was unimpressed with my spam filter, because it told him that his comment was spam – whereas actually, it was a devastating and savage indictment of socialism. As an experiment, he changed his name to something lefty-sounding and wrote a comment about how great it was to be left-wing, which went through without any problems. This showed him, beyond all reasonable doubt, that I had an evil system that only let approved and politically correct thoughts through.
Until I explained, apologetically but also struggling not to laugh, that notorious stiffening drug ‘Cialis’ was one of the words in my filter list. Which meant that any comment containing the letters “cialis” was rejected. Which was unfortunate news for anyone writing devastating indictments of socialism.
Nicey nicey catch monkey, or something
That episode taught me something about spam filters. It also taught me something about blogging: if someone disagrees with you, it’s very easy to assume that they’re an evil baby-eating bastard who’s censoring your views because they can’t hack it [*]. Which is unfortunate if they aren’t, since calling someone an evil baby-eating bastard is not usually a good way of motivating them to do what you want.
And so, back in the present on this factory-fresh, WordPress-derived, entirely-not-programmed-by-me blog we have this edifying thread, in which another right-wing gentleman falsely claimed that I censored my comments to exclude people I disagreed with. Since I don’t, I assumed he was a lying arse, and told him as much.
However, he produced an old thread from which, indeed, his comments had mysteriously vanished [my responses to his comments were still there; I might not be Moriarty, but even so I'd like to think I'd have the wit to delete the whole exchange if history-airbrushing was my thing]. For him, this was proof that I was doubly evil and exceptionally stupid; for me, it was rather surprising.
The long-ago spam filter incident came back to mind, and so I set out to learn more about my – vicious and highly effective – spam filter… And indeed, I found that, because the gentleman in question comments here infrequently but makes lots of comments when he makes any, this has tripped a snowball filter that penalises that kind of thing – and once one comment of his had been detected as spam, all his previous comments were also detected as spam and consigned to spam hell. And because it’s pre-written software rather than my own, I had no idea that this function even existed.
So I’ve turned the snowball filter off, while leaving other anti-spam measures on; hopefully this will allow the gentleman in question to continue insulting me while also continuing to stop people promoting hardening drugs, body enlargement and Internet card games. I’ll see what happens (weirdly, Spam Karma doesn’t seem to have a white-list, which seems like a bit of a shame).
However, I was sorely tempted to leave the damn thing on… effectively, I’ve taken a couple of hours when I could have been doing something useful and/or enjoyable to respond to the complaints of someone who, by being completely uncivil to me, has forfeited any right to have his complaints taken seriously, and certainly any obligation for me to spend a second of my time on them…
But then, it’s just part of being a rational, civilised human being – you might call a bloody idiot a bloody idiot, but you don’t deny them the right to call you one back.
[*] Last week I commented on this blog post with a comment saying “similarly, this“. I’m fairly sure the reason the comment never appeared is that it got mistaken for link spam, rather than censorial grumpiness.