I have a friend who runs a nice little community forum. After several years of friends just ‘chatting’ online, the forum has suddenly started to become something of a spam magnet. Actually, I think they’re lucky to have been able to avoid the vermin for so long. I could immediately see several ways how the forum could be improved to keep the spam down, and suggested them.
One of the first problems that occurred to me is that the forum owner allows people to go back and edit their own postings with no time limit on such editing. Most professionally-run forums don’t allow this. They place a time limit on self-editing or at least place some other restrictions on it.
There are various reasons for doing this. If you allow forum members to edit their own posts indefinitely, it can happen that you’ll get a disgruntled member who’ll come back and edit – or even delete – all their own posts. This can make the affected threads seem meaningless and make all the other members’ posts on that thread seem out of context. It makes nonsense out of what might otherwise have been a perfectly good thread.
In this particular case, though, I was mostly concerned about the issue of spam. Sometimes spammers scrape through with a posting that was OK enough not to get them banned. There’s nothing stopping them coming back weeks, months, or even years later and editing spam links into their old posts.
Does it matter if these spammy links are hidden in old threads and postings? Yes! It does matter. I had quite a few ideas of my own about why it was undesirable to allow members to edit their posts without any time restriction. However, I thought it was worth going over to Experienced People to see if they had any additional suggestions about how to answer the question, “How can spammy links hurt a forum?” This is a compilation of what we came up with.
For starters, how many genuine members need the facility to edit what they said a couple of years ago? I can’t think of any good reason to allow that. But more importantly, what harm can the spammers do?
1. Spammers share their information. If they find a good place to crap their links, they’ll add it to their list and share it with other spammers. Once you are on these lists as a good place for links, then look out.
2. If you allow people to edit old posts, they could edit in links to anything – including links to porn sites. Would you like to have your forum known as a good place for finding or posting porn links?
3. If a link was edited in to an old post, say, to promote a porn site, then it denigrates the well-meaning users who may have replied to the post. Now it’s been edited to include the link to the porn, what the real member posted in reply could be taken completely out of context. “Ooh, great information. I really enjoyed that and found it very useful. Thanks.”
4. Once you’re seen by the spammers as being a good target, they’ll try to use your forum and bandwidth for other reasons. For example, they could plant a porn pic on your forum which others then link to. “Hey guys – visit this forum for lots of great free porn.” And whose bandwidth are they using?
5. Spammers can also leave links to malware, eg spyware and trojans. You are putting your real members at risk if any of them choose to click these links to find out more. At the very least their browser may be hijacked, with some undesirable page replacing the home page they’ve chosen, or adverts for some rubbish or other popping up at inconvenient times. At worst, anything they type in to their browser – including any passwords, eg for online banking or credit card management – may get logged and sent to thieves, including identity thieves.
6. If your forum does link out to spyware and trojans, you can be blacklisted by some search engines and anti-virus applications. Even if your site still shows up in the search results, your forum may be flagged up with a message saying, “This site has been blocked for your safety”.
There’s a bit more than that, some of it too technical for my pretty little head, but I think that’s a reasonable explanation with several good reasons why you shouldn’t allow forum users an indefinite time to edit their postings.
And now to address the next question the forum owner asked me: he wants to know if link-building is really a problem. Aaargh! One of my favourite subjects (and pet hates). Time to get the soap box out. 😀