Battling the ‘Bots

Not a video game.

This is a busy time for me. Yeah, yeah, Annemarie, I hear you say. We’re all busy. And I’m sure you are. But right now I’ve got three huge piles of grading nagging at me, job application deadlines and revisions to an article on Betita Martinez that need to be done.

So what has sucked up 6 hours since Friday? Trying to find a way to deal with spam traffic on this domain.

Mostly I don’t think a lot about spam. In fact, thanks to the ease of using WordPress and the general greatness of my host, Laughing Squid (how can you not want to host with a place called Laughing Squid?), I don’t think much about my multi domain install. It does what I need it to do, which is let me set up blogs for my classes and accounts for my students and then we do our thing. Askimet does its thing and, when I think about it, I empty the spam and delete the crap that hasn’t already been filtered.

I didn’t think I was in an arms race. I didn’t notice my numbers creeping up across all my archived course blogs. Then on Friday afternoon I got an email from the Squid help desk saying that since my domain was using close to three times the allowed “compute cycles” my hosting plan allows that they were moving me up to the more expensive plan. But even that wasn’t going to be enough. In addition to Mega Squid hosting, I was going to need two tacked on packages.

What? I was out cafe writing when I got the email, but when I got home (after Squid help hours) I spent an hour trying to figure out what the hell was going on. For starters, I didn’t even know what a compute cycle was. I’m still a bit blurry, but whatever they are I’m using lots. Were Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman blogging about the Chicana/o Gothic? What the hell?

As I was trying to figure out what was going on with the traffic across my sites, I unthinkingly deleted the filtered spam, noticing with half my mind that the emptying was taking a little longer than usual.

P got home and I showed him the mail. We looked at the control panel stats. Compared them with his domain. According to the numbers, I was using a 30 times more cycles than him. So I went back again to look at my stats. As I did, I noticed that each blog already had more than 100 spam comments since they’d been emptied an hour earlier. I mentioned this to P.

P is a web programmer. Among his many jobs, he battles comment spam on his university department’s websites. At his advice I started looking closer at my spam numbers. Just because the spam wasn’t getting through didn’t mean it wasn’t causing havoc to my page loads. The deeper we looked, and without more detailed information from Squid, the more it looked like this was the problem.

So I closed comments on all the blogs and put a “moderated” message up so that searching ‘bots might see the moderated warning and not bother trying my site. But the thing is, I don’t want the comments to be closed. Not at all. One of the reasons for archiving my students blogging, especially in Chicana/o and Latina/o studies is that there’s so little of this on the ‘net. I want people to be able to find the content and comment on it. Just in sifting through this spam deluge I found a comment about a poet we read made by her daughter. I don’t want to eliminate those moments of contact.

My other alternatives aren’t very attractive either. I don’t want to use free blog sites for my classes. I like the control of knowing they’re on the domain I host and that I never have to worry about ads. I don’t want to put my classes’ work behind the Blackboard wall.

So this morning I found a plugin, Bad Behavior, that claims to block ‘bots. So far it’s working — it claims to have blocked a thousand so far across my sites. Hopefully it’s enough. Then tomorrow I’ll call the people at Squid and see if they have any more ideas.

Spammers. They’re why my blogs can’t have nice things.