Managing Forum Spammers

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I was asked how I managed spammers on my forums.

This is not a very big topic and it does not need to be. I have been working on some more advanced stuff, but most of that has to do with the need to lock down dedicated, experienced trolls.

CAPTCHAS

When dealing with spammers, you are typically dealing with two different kinds.

  1. Automated bots that know your community script and pretty much roll over and die if you deviate from the pattern.
  2. Actual human beings, either directly or via proxy, that create the account and then add the account to their spamming software or whatever.

The third kind, actual scripts capable of defeating captchas... is surprisingly rare for common community scripts.

The net result is, I have found surprisingly little point in having a complicated captcha. A simple one is absolutely mandatory, but asking people to spell the first number in the current year or the last name of the current US president or whatnot aren't any less effective than much more complicated captchas that get wrapped in most forum scripts.

This increases community conversions, as well, since no one will get frustrated by your captcha, and text-only captchas are much more Accessible.

Google's new RECAPTCHA is likely a good solution, but I've never had a need for it personally.

Introduction Funnel

A method I developed for one of my now-failed forums, but now repeat elsewhere: Force all new members to create a topic in the introduction forum. Either manually approve members or write a quick script to upgrade them automagically. I currently have this working on Legends of a World Unbent and a few other SMF forums I run, though I originally did this it for a MyBB forum.

This gives your community a bit of added activity as people go about welcoming each other.

In my experience, this tends to pretty seriously thwart spammers - they have to call attention to themselves in order to spam, so... they just do not even seem to try after getting registered.

Note that this requires a forum with proper access controls, and may be tricky with e.g. Drupal.

On a similar note, making sure newer members by some measure (whether through time, status, or post count) are not able to post links is also extremely helpful.

Stop Forum Spam

Stop Forum Spam is an amazing service. I set it to bock registrations from known spammer IPs and e-mail addresses. Between SFS and the first technique, only a handful of spammers ever get through to require reporting.

There are integration mods available for many community scripts:

You will need to sign up and get a key from SFS. If your script is different from the one above, chances are a mod exists for it if it is of any meaningful note. Just seek it out.

Choice of Script

The two community packages that I've had the easiest time with handling spammers are Simple Machines Forum and MyBB. Xenforo seems to do okay as well, though I only run one mid-sized (~100k posts) Xenforo site.

All scripts have their pros and cons, and that discussion probably belongs in its own guide.