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I don’t know for sure how spambots work.

I know the basics. Somebody installs a program on a computer somewhere that comments on blogs. I’m talking specifically about commenting spambots here. These comments contain links within them, either in the body of the comment itself, or as the “homepage” of the fictional commenter himself/herself, in cases where the username of the commenter is a link to a “homepage.” I imagine that most spambots just scour the net for standard-looking comment forms (the fact that everybody has kind of standardized on a few blogging platforms probably makes this easy) and fill them out completely at random. I also imagine that there are more sophisticated spambots that try to find posts that would be a good match for the spammer’s “target market,” probably by using keywords.

All of these things I imagine, I imagine because I have looked at the moderation queue for my blog (and for my websites that preceded the idea of blogs, but which were similar to blogs in enough ways to attract this kind of spam) since about 1995. I have never seen an actual spambot in action, but I have seen the results of their activities. Most of us have.

Simple fact: a spambot comment wants to be approved. Spambot comments which are not approved phase themselves out of the system. Comments that are approved get posted more frequently and more widely.

As you may have noticed, random words get changed in spam comments — many of them look like something a Freshman with a thesaurus would have written. “This bulletin of yours is a primary resource for anybody researching into such a subject,” for example. “I love the design of your weblog presentation template!”

I think of those random changes as mutations.

In every way, really, they are like little organisms, these spambot comments, subject to evolutionary pressures: the ones who survive long enough to reproduce are the ones that are good at tricking moderators. Like anything subject to such pressure, spambot comments are getting smarter, stronger, faster.

Here’s a sort of timeline:

  • 1996: Buy Viagra now! (click this link to buy Viagra now)
  • 2000: Buy V1agra n0w! (click this link to buy Viagra now)
  • 2005: Purchase the stuff that VIA bly GRows A hardon (click this link to buy Viagra now)
  • 2012: The categorical imperative is the central philosophical concept in the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Ke$ha! On my cock — (click this link to buy Viagra now) — can you believe it? Blame.

Just as the hawk, or the eagle, or the owl is perfectly adapted to locate, ensnare, flay and fillet, then devour a rodent or a snake, this new spam comment is indisputably superior in every way, a streamlined killing machine. I mean: who wouldn’t click that final link?

We are doomed.

(Note: sarcasm. Also note: that final spam example is real, from today’s trawl.)