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Michael Tharrington for The DEV Team

Posted on • Updated on

Help fight spam in our community! πŸ™Œ

Hey folks! πŸ‘‹

I wanted to write up a quick post about spam fighting in this community as it's a never ending battle, it negatively affects the experience for all community members, and we rely on y'all's help to keep it under control.

cartoon can of spam spinning around three dimensionally

I'll talk about why most spammers spam our community, techniques we use to combat this behavior, and what all you can do to help us in our quest to rid the site of spam.

Why do spammers spam on DEV? 😱

Most often spam articles are really weird and feel blatantly out of place in our community for software devs. Other times, the spam is more subtle and tries to sneak in by disguising itself as casual blog content written by legitimate community members. Whether it's obviously spam or not, the connecting thread between most spam articles shared here is that they're often promoting goods or services and frequently loaded with links to try to boost SEO for a business's website.

It's important to realize that most spammers are here to do a job β€” they are paid by a business to increase the search ranking of that business's website. This way it appears higher in search results and thus is likely to be viewed by more folks. Few spammers are here just to create chaos and annoy us, though sometimes it seems like that is their goal. πŸ˜…

How spammers increase the SEO of a business's website with their spammy spamminess

The main way that they approach this is by finding websites with high domain ranking authority (meaning websites that already rank highly in searches) and sharing promotional links on these websites that point back to the website they want to boost SEO for. Search engines will see these links from a high domain site as validation that the site being linked to is valuable and should also be ranked higher. This practice is referred to as backlinking. They're essentially trying to hitch a ride on a successful website to boost their own site's placement in searches. πŸ˜’

In practice, this often means that the spammer is less interested in trying to write a compelling post or comment about the business that they're linking to, and more interested in how many links they can unload on a website. It also means that the spammer cares less about finding a place that is on topic with the business they're promoting, and more about if the site has high domain authority and allows them to easily share content. We fit the bill for both β€” we have high domain authority + allow folks to easily share content β€” and so are a target.

What does DEV currently do to fend off spammers? πŸ›‘

We have a mix of automated, proactive measures for fighting off spam, and manual, reactive defenses too. And we're always open to ideas if anything comes to mind! 🧠

Automated spam fighting techniques

Below, I'll talk about some of the automated tools we use to prevent spam. πŸ€–

Spam Trigger Terms

Without getting too in the nitty gritty on our automated tooling, we have a system accessible to admins called "Spam Trigger Terms" that allows us to specify various spammy terms that when tripped by community members will automatically flag content to admin so we can review it and decide what to do next.

rel="ugc"

Also on the automated side, we mark any URLs shared by users in their profile as rel="ugc" (unless you're "trusted" πŸ˜‰). This designates that these URLs are user-generated content and thus should not provide any backlink value when read by search engine crawlers; in other words, it makes it so if spammers include links in their profiles, these links have no effect at boosting SEO.

Manual spam fighting techniques

Beyond our automated tooling, we just have a heckuva lotta folks that help in the battle against spammers.

Trusted Users & Tag Moderators ❀️

On the manual side of things, we recruit trusted users and tag moderators who help to report spam on the daily using our moderator tooling. Note: I dropped links to our mod-specific pages, in case you're curious about the tooling we have available. I seriously can't give enough praise to the amazing group of mods that help us to fight spam on DEV; these folks are incredibly generous with their time and really help with our efforts to contain spammers!

Report Abuse!

Aside from the assistance the mods give us, we also have a Report Abuse page available to all community members that allows folks to report spam or any other behavior that violates our Code of Conduct and/or Terms. This page is linked to in the kebab menu (...) right next to the ❀️ & πŸ¦„ reactions and again at the bottom of every article; it's also nested in the kebab menu beside every comment. Please don't hesitate to report spam as you catch it; there are real humans reviewing these reports every day, we do our best to be quick & fair, and we so appreciate y'all's help! Side note: shout out to my colleague @caroline for taking out so many spammers. ✊

How you can help!

There's a number of ways you can help us to fend off the endless onslaught of spammers.

  1. Report them! - I know I'm sounding like a broken record, but if you catch any spammers in this community, don't hesitate to report them to us!

  2. Become a trusted user or tag mod! - We'd love having your help to moderate DEV. Please don't hesitate to contact us to volunteer. You can email yo@dev.to and let us know briefly why you'd like to get involved.

  3. Share ideas for new spam fighting features/techniques - If you have any thoughts on how we might improve our spam fighting features or know of any techniques we could use to better fend off spammers, please let us know! We'd love it if you'd post your thoughts in our GitHub repo as a discussion or if you'd rather not share something publicly (or just don't have GitHub), you can email us directly at yo@dev.to to let us know about your idea.

Rosie flexing and saying "We can do it!"

Battling spammers is an ongoing effort and we greatly appreciate any help you all have to offer us. Let's work together to fend them off!

Top comments (33)

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jansche profile image
Jan Schenk (he/him)

@michaeltharrington Thanks for the insights. Is the rel="ugc" parameter to urls something universal that search engine crawlers understand themselves? I've not run into this before, but it sounds like a neat idea (until spammers find ways to override it eventually).
Thanks for what you all at Dev do to keep our conversations clean of the "spammy spamminess" (<- loved this!).

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ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke

rel=ugc is a universal attribute value invented by Google. It works similar to rel=nofollow. Moz.com has a good blog post on that aspect of search engine marketing and trying to prevent spammers misusing our own marketing and development effort: How Google's Rel = Nofollow, Sponsored, & UGC Links Impact SEO

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jansche profile image
Jan Schenk (he/him)

Thanks for the read, Ingo!

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

I see @ingosteinke already followed up with a great answer below. I love the Mozilla resources. Thanks Ingo! πŸ™Œ

And Jan, I'm glad ya dig the "spammy spamminess" line. 😁 The fight against spammers is both ridiculous and frustrating... I try to find the humor in it so as not too just seethe with rage all day. πŸ˜‚πŸ€¬

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jmau111 profile image
jmau111⭐ • Edited on

I've seen sophisticated occurrences these days on DEV with very long comments that look legitimate if you don't read carefully.

The trick used by spammers is to use very long comments (I mean very very long) with generic TECH references, and suddenly, you get their crappy link.
Be careful.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

YES, I've definitely seen that @jmau111! This pattern is particularly annoying.

They're trying to stealthily sneak in those links by making it seem like they're talking about tech.

If this becomes the new norm, then I think we might have to make some adjustments to flag any comments with links in them for review by admin or moderators.

For now, if you run into this sort of behavior, please don't hesitate to report it to us!

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jmau111 profile image
jmau111⭐

Indeed. I've reported it multiple times. I doubt any algorithm could catch such attacks efficiently in the long term, as they renew the text and the links on a regular basis, so, yes, manual report and moderation.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Ya rock! πŸ™Œ

Really appreciate ya taking the time to help report these folks. 😁

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jmau111 profile image
jmau111⭐ • Edited on

mostly bots I think, but no problem.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Haha, good point! πŸ€–

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frankfont profile image
Frank Font

I've seen more spam on other sites than I have on dev.to --- so the system must be working. But we are all so on-guard ( as we should be ) for trash links that anything unusual becomes suspect. I've run into that myself and do not have a good idea how to deal with it.

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Woot! That's great to hear Frank. πŸ™Œ

It's a constant game of adjusting things... spammers find an opening, we gotta plug it, and the process restarts. Kinda like this cat here πŸ‘‡ but hopefully we're a bit more effective. πŸ˜…

cat playing whack-a-mole with a humans fingers sticking through various holes in a cardboard box

And definitely good to keep on-guard for those trash links! They are out there!

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thomasbnt profile image
Thomas Bnt

πŸ›‘πŸ›‘πŸ›‘ We protect ourselves as best we can against spam πŸ›‘πŸ›‘πŸ›‘

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Thomas, you are big part of that "we" ... I can't say thank you enough for all the help you've given us over the years in the fight against spam. Really appreciate ya being in the mod crew! πŸ™πŸ™πŸ™

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thomasbnt profile image
Thomas Bnt

Me: Awwwww

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incrementis profile image
Akin C.

Hello Michael Tharrington,

thank you to you and the development team for fighting spammers.
I like dev.to very much and see it as a place to communicate with different personalities from all over the world and to read their shared thoughts and knowledge.
Fighting spam is a great way to keep this a great place :D!

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Thanks Akin! That means a whole heckuva lot. πŸ˜€

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miguelmj profile image
MiguelMJ

I gotta say, a few months ago I received a wave of spam comments in one specific post of mine and I never knew why. But now I don't receive any... I hope it's because the spam detection is working better! :D

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Heck yeah! Thanks a bunch Miguel.

I really do think our spam fighting game is improving. It's good to hear from your personal experience that things are looking less spammy too!

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mitchpommers profile image
Mitch Pomery (he/him)

It's cool that URLs in users profiles are now marked as User Generated Content, but spammers can still put them in comments and posts. That's the main place I see spam when I visit.

Has marking these as UGC until a level of trustworthiness has been met been considered?
i.e. Users reach a minimum level of trust by having 3 high quality posts/comments and having 30 days pass since the first one was made before their content stops being marked as UGC

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bradstondev profile image
Bradston Henry

This was great info to know! I have been noting spam comments on my personal articles and I couldn't understand the motive behind them as they seemed very obviously spam.

I will make sure to be more proactive in reporting and hope to help in whatever capacity I can!

Really enjoy being a part of this community and will do my best to keep bad actors out!

Thanks again for the insight! 😁

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

I'm really glad ya found the info here helpful, Bradston!

I do think it's important for us to know the motivation so we can better fight against it. Understanding that it's a game of backlinking for SEO purposes really helped us to combat that particular goal of spammers β€” i.e. if we can make their links useless to them, then they won't gain anything from coming here, thus hopefully they'll stop coming here. 🀞

Anywho, I so appreciate your message and willingness to help keep the spammers out. Don't hesitate to report spammers as ya see'em and we'll do our best to take'em out quickly as we can! πŸ™Œ

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yessjo5 profile image
yessjo5

In opinion there should be sub section where you can create your post and give only one link. In that these guys would be restricted to only one place other wise they will spam whole forum with there links. One more thing i have read that google tell them not create backlinks but why these guys are creating backlinks i really don't understand this.

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krishnaagarwal profile image
Krishna Agarwal

We can automate the process to remove spam posts.
Great Initiative πŸ›‘

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Woot! I think so too, Krishna. Of course, we gotta be kinda careful with automation because we might get some false positives, but I think it's well worth it if it keeps the spam out. Glad ya dig the initiative!

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krishnaagarwal profile image
Krishna Agarwal

Yes, True
There are always some false results,
but we can definitely work upon it.

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integerman profile image
Matt Eland

The troll in me wants to report this post as spam. Nicely done, though!

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Hahaha! As one of the primary peoples reviewing reports, I would def appreciate that. 😁

By the way, big ups to @caroline who really is the primary person reviewing reports nowadays. Caroline, if you see Matt pulling any shenanigans like this, a stern email response is appropriate. πŸ˜‚

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leewynne profile image
Lee

This is sooooooo educational

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden

Spam is such a nuisance lets all do our part to get rid of it πŸ’ͺ

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington Author

Appreciate your comment, Andrew! Teamwork all the way. πŸ™Œ

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ccoveille profile image
Christophe Colombier

Fun fact, I reported various account and post since I joined dev.to last week.

This morning I checked if you were using rel=no follow and I found you were using ugc, a tag I didn't know. So I googled it.

And now I find your post by sorting by top.

One question and few suggestions

What is a tag mod ? Does it mean once reported post are automatically removed ? Or is it about joining the team that moderate ?

Here I have few suggestions, did you consider using rules like these ones ?

  • the user posted something but was created less than a week ago => nofollow
  • the user posted less than 3-5 posts => no follow

Assuming that nofollow is more interesting for fighting spam than ugc

πŸ€” Did you know?

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