Spambots: the invasion of the comment snatchers
Every now and then there's a certain kind of message that's left on my telephone answering machine. I bet you get them, too: those cozy chatty little communications that try to get you to believe the person leaving it is someone you know, someone you've had dealings with before--perhaps at a bank, a credit card company, or maybe selling insurance. The Voice seems to be implying that he (and it's always a he) has promised to call you back, at your request, and well--here he is. Or perhaps it was you who had promised to get back to him. But no matter. All you have to do now is to call him back, and all will be well. And you'll get a great deal, too, on something-or-other.
There's a certain quality about the Voice that both riles me and amuses me at the same time. It seems to have mastered a tone of studiedly casual friendliness--not too eager, not too formal, just right--but is nevertheless totally and instantly recognizable as utterly phony (Holden Caulfield would be onto him in a second).
The Voice accomplishes this effect though a series of hesitations, trying to sound as though he's not reading from a script. Right. There's a liberal (pardon the word) use of "ummmm"s, many moments in which the speaker seems to hesitate and search his brain for just the right phrase. But the timing is always ever-so-slightly wrong--the hesitation is too long, or too short, or too choppy.
Spambots are the internet equivalent of the Voice, on a computer screen rather than a telephone answering machine. For those of you who don't know what spambots are--as I didn't know, myself, until quite recently, when they began infesting this blog like ugly little weeds in a garden--a spambot comment (or, to be technical, a UBS--an unsolicited bulk comment) is an automatically-generated message sent out to many blogs at a time and deposited, like little turdlike droppings (mixed metaphor, I know, having already called them weeds), in the comments sections of blogs. Spambots masquerade as real people making real comments, although they are no better at this task than the Voice is at seeming to be a person with whom you've already had dealings.
What is their purpose? Same as the Voice's--to make money for somebody, in this case by persuading you to click on a link and thereby inflate the hit counter of a commercial blog, or a blog front (if I'm explaining this poorly or incorrectly, forgive me and correct me--I'm new at this game myself.)
Do spambots work? Hard to believe that anyone falls for them, but apparently they do. And so the answer must be "yes," just as I would imagine the Voice must draw in enough people to justify its continuing existence.
The spambots--like the Voice--are very friendly. But they use a technique that I've never heard the Voice use, and that is flattery. Whoever designs the spambot program knows that we humans are suckers for praise. So the spambots give out a sentence or two that sounds enthusiastic and is apparently music to the ears of many a lonely blogger who's been waiting in vain to receive a comment or two: "You've got a great blog here! I've bookmarked it. Hope you visit mine, http://lawnmowers.blogspot.com. It's all about lawnmowers and other cool stuff like that."
The spambots don't always use the same exact phrases of praise in each post. They are far more clever than that; they vary them. But spambots do very much like the word "stuff," which appears in a great many of their comments. "Stuff" apparently has just the right air of casual inexactness to set the desired tone of seeming sincerity.
I once clicked on one of these spambot sites out of curiosity, despite knowing that the comment was spam and would probably lead me to a dummy site and make money for the spambot designers (my lips are sealed as to the URL of the site, but let's just say the blog had something to do with recipes for a certain dessert). It consisted of two posts--that was the whole blog--each with a short list of recipes.
But that blog had a very active comments section. There were over fifty on one of the posts, as I recall. So it was clear that the spambot had achieved its aim of getting a fair number of people to the site (note how I'm anthropomorphizing the spambot; it's hard not to do so, they seem so pesky and duplicitous). Quite a few of the commenters on the spam blog, however, were not pleased; they posted little messages on the order of "You effing a-hole spambot, get off my blog and never come back"
But a large number of the commenters seemed touchingly grateful. They said things like, "So glad you liked my blog! Come back soon. Thanks for the recipes."
At first I thought these might be second-generation counter-spambots, like in some sci-fi movie, evolving to make war on the original spambots and kill them with kindness. But no, they seemed to be real people with real blogs, seduced by flattery into thinking that finally, finally, they'd found a grateful and appreciative reader in the spambot, which of course they took to be a real person.
I'm not meaning to mock these people. I well remember the times when I was getting a grand total of five readers a day on this blog--and three of them were me, because I didn't know how to block my own IP address; and the other two had reached here in error. So I know what it's like to plod away in isolation and hope to be discovered. But I like to think that even in those days a spambot wouldn't have fooled me.
Now I have the near-daily task--not too onerous as of yet--of plucking the things from my blog. I like to weed the garden--that is, I don't really like it, but it's satisfying, and it feels (and looks) so good when it's over.
[ADDENDUM: As several helpful commenters have pointed out, spambots can be successful whether you click on their links or not. The link itself boosts the site's ranking in Google and other search engines. Ah, the ingenuity of humankind!
By the way, I've already deleted three spam comments on this thread. I let one remain in honor of the post's subject matter--couldn't resist having at least one good example of the genre right here.]