Spam Hyperlinks and Personal Information on Government Blogs

Here in Massachusetts, we moderate comments on all of our Commonwealth Conversations blogs. While our comment policies obviously lean heavily on the side of First Amendment rights, they're in place to protect our employees, bloggers, readers, and commenters.

When moderating comments, I think it's natural to want to scan the comments for obvious violations (i.e., swears, threats, off-topic references to Lady Gaga's latest outfit), and click "publish" on the rest. After all, we don't want to hold up the comments from being seen by other readers and people in our organization who are watching the blogs for feedback.

However, we've found that moderating comments requires a bit more attention for a couple of reasons we didn't anticipate at first.

Spam Hyperlinks

While our blogs don't currently allow users to hyperlink within the body of comments for security reasons (something we're weighing internally as I write this), we do allow for commenters to post a URL that gets hyperlinked to their name.

Of course, that brings along spammers who try to use it to drive traffic back to their site. I'm not sure if they haven't gotten the message that it doesn't help SEO anymore or they think people will click on their name because links draw attention, but they sometimes go to sites that aren't...ahem..."appropriate".

In cases like these, we usually delete the URL but still post the comment, provided it doesn't otherwise violate our comment policy. As with all unpublished information, we record the deletion for public records purposes.

Too Much Information and Misguided Inquiries

Sometimes, we find people comment on our blogs because they maybe don't know where else to turn or haven't received help through more traditional channels. For example:

In these cases, we first try to contact the commenter by email (if they provided an address), refer them to someone who can help them, and confirm whether or not they really want their comment posted for all to see. If we can't track the person down, we'll post the comment, but always try to reply either within the comment or in a follow-up.

What about you?

How do you do it? Do you allow hyperlinks in comments? Do you moderate or just publish everything? Do you have clear comment policies and guidance for your bloggers and has it been helpful?

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9 Comments

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Profile Photo Brad Blake

Thanks John. One of our concerns is that it can be hard to tell, especially for the untrained eye, what's spam and what's not or, worse yet, what might lead to a virus and what might not. It's not only concern with what happens if we, as government, publish a comment that has malicious code in it (though that could be bad). There's concern before it even gets to that point that one of our bloggers/moderators could go to check a link before publishing and end up getting infected.

It's tough when we're trying to empower non-technical people (our 'subject matter experts') to manage our blogs and moderate their own comments. So, we need to figure out what we can reasonably handle and expect in terms of giving our bloggers training and tools to check links safely and balancing that with our security folks' legitimate concerns, all without going too overboard and being too afraid of the "what if"....

Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

Brad - good to see you on GovLoop! It was great to meet you last year when I was up in Boston.

I'm dealing with this issue on my own blog...seems I am getting more spam comments than regular comments (which is one reason why I always liked GovLoop!).

I know that I share this example everywhere, but TSA's blog comment policy is really excellent. I wonder how they handle the spam issue. They definitely have dedicated staff and receive hundreds of comments on many posts.

Profile Photo Adriel Hampton

What kind of filters are you using, Brad? The filters I use with WordPress seem to be really good at holding suspect comments, almost always because of spammy links. I have open commenting though, which I generally recommend. So, 99 percent of the content that goes through is good and relevant, 90 percent of the stuff caught by the filters goes straight to the trash. I use a comment policy from change.gov:

Stay focused. All viewpoints are welcome, but comments should remain on the topic set by the original blog post, discussion question or other type of initial entry.
Be respectful. Ad hominem or personal attacks, profanity, and aggressive behavior are prohibited. Instigating arguments in a disrespectful way is also prohibited.
Tell the truth. Spreading misleading or false information is prohibited.
No spam. Repeated posting of identical or very similar content in a counter-productive manner is prohibited – this includes posts aggressively promoting services or products.

Profile Photo Brad Blake

@Andrew and @Adriel - Thank you both for the feedback and thoughts. Funny you both referenced other policies. We actually used the TSA's as a model for developing our comment policies, and the change.gov one looks suspiciously like it as well. 🙂

@Adriel - The state uses Typepad. We did a deep dive comparison of features and cost before we started all of this (about 15 months ago), knowing we wouldn't be able to support anything that required too much configuration/support and didn't have a big budget for it, and that was where we landed. Typepad's spam filter seems to catch most of the obvious ones.

Where we struggle is with the ones that get through and maybe aren't spam, but are people using say, our Jobs blog to drive traffic back to some random sort-of job-related site without really contributing to the conversation (i.e. "That was for to be a really great post that you did and for to we watch will from now on."), then they link their name to a website. Those are the cases where we struggle with what to do, especially if the link goes to something questionable (making this up - but "getmorejobsandbeawesomemore.com"). We're working on recommendations for link checkers, so our moderators can at least safely check links before publishing posts.

Profile Photo Joey Seich

Great blog post! This is something that we initially struggled with when we created our blog (http://ndupress.blogspot.com/). We currently allow hyperlinks in our comments, however we do moderate the comments.

We have a pretty loose moderation policy (no profanity, sexual content, personal attacks, spam, etc) and we used the DoD Live blog as a model. All comments get approved by me before they're posted and the policy appears in the footer throughout the blog and so far we haven't had any complaints (though we are very new).