PSA: What are you reading? Blog scams and other crud

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Most of you WildSnowers are web savvy, but some of you might be new to the game. Whatever the case, to help with getting max value from the big WWW I thought I’d share some of the ways web authenticity is diluted, as well as a bit of scammish email of the sort bloggers get. Below is a list of a few “content” scams you might encounter, followed by a disgusting email I got a few days ago.

Scams and other stuff that dilutes authenticity of web content:

- Some companies hire people to pose as consumers and write web forum posts or blog comments extolling their products, or attacking competitors. If done cleverly, this scam is difficult to ID. I’m a pretty good spotter and do delete stuff like this on occasion, but perhaps a few have slipped through? My guess is this practice is more common in larger arenas with more anonymity, such as house appliances or automotive, but I’m certain it happens to some degree in any sector.

- Folks on web forums register under different names, and have their duplicates talk to each other. Some web forums are rife with this and it can make them look huge when they’re really not. Main thing with this is to watch what opinion you develop when you see a “hot” thread on a forum. Such a thread might actually be just three people with five identities each, basically talking to themselves.

- Blog and other web content created for the sole purpose of wrapping links to a given company or product. Same with comments, which are made under multiple names by the same author, paid specifically to create buzz about or disparage a product — or just make your junk filled blog look legit. Got a blog? You can buy 100 blog comments a month to make you look real, or 1,000 for that matter! Wonderful! For an appalling glimpse into this world, see this review of a service that sells this stuff like they’re selling popcorn.

- Unscrupulous marketing and PR people are constantly trying to figure out ways of compromising social media. An obvious example of this is the practice of registering companies as people on Facebook, when Facebook provides a well organized system of making “pages” for enterprises that are not people. Some of this is innocent ignorance of how Facebook works, but not always.

Also, many companies now have employees or outside agents who’s job it is to work the social media universe. When done well this seems to flow and be ethical (especially if you’re not particularly anti business, indeed, we have our own Facebook page for WildSnow and post as much as possible to promote our endeavor). But paid social media posting could go overboard so quickly that one wonders how thin the ice is and when the whole process could crack. Other, obvious and not so obvious scams abound in the social media world. Here is some info about one such fraud.

- The missive below offers to pay bloggers such as little old me to publish someone’s content, provided I give them a link of their choice. In other words, instead of “real” stuff created by passionate folks such as myself and our guest bloggers, someone wants me to publish pre-written filler and pay me for it. Yippee.

Dear Louis,

My name is *** from Easy Content Services. We have a client who would like to pay you for the opportunity to post some of their content on your website. All of the content is professionally produced and you can select from pieces relevant to your audience.

The result is you get some free, interesting content for your readers while getting paid.

In return our client is asking for one link that they specify at the bottom of the content (no porn or gambling). Feel free to contact me with any concerns or clarifications you may have.

If you would like to see some examples of our content, please email me at ***.org so we can begin.

Sincerely,

***

Now don’t get me wrong, we sell advertising and we’re proud of our success in doing so. Indeed, in order to keep WildSnow.com going we do everything from selling banners to presenting commercial links to products and services. But we don’t wrap our advertising with “third party” filler content, nor would we ever sell advertising that was not relevant to our core focus (backcountry recreation, usually skiing) and thus able to serve you, our readers. (Note, sometimes we fill some advertising space with Google advertising, resulting in ads that are not particularly relevant since Google selects them, not us. We can control that to some degree. For example, during the last presidential election we turned off all political ads. Doing so actually lost us quite a bit of money, but the pol ads are obnoxious no matter which side of the fence you’re on. So, if you see something that bothers you please let us know and we’ll look at tuning it out.)

Thus, if you like cruising around the net, just remember it’s a jungle out there and what you’re reading may not be exactly as authentic as it is implied to be.

I’ll leave you all with another interesting tidbit. The email quoted above could actually be a sting by Google or someone else to catch blogs that are scamming with outside commercially created content. If I’d answered the email, even to scold or just out of curiosity, I could have been automatically put on a list of scammers and knocked off search engine results or worse. Yikes! Yes, it’s a jungle out there. Readers and writers beware!

Comments

11 Responses to “PSA: What are you reading? Blog scams and other crud”

  1. Brian H. March 11th, 2011 7:54 am

    Something about this reminds me of the discussion a few weeks back about blogs and whether or not to “change” things at W.S. What got me here and what keeps me here is the authenticity of this scene. It’s a really cool mix of folks who are all after a better mountain experience/life. Yeah gear gets promoted, but only after somebody tears the thing into pieces. Lou, Wildsnow is where I go to get my fix. Right after I check Noaa….

  2. Lou March 11th, 2011 8:06 am

    Thanks Brian. NOAA, now that is some authenticity, at least when they get it right (grin)!

    BTW, I don’t profess to be perfect and I have my biases, but of course wouldn’t do anything to deliberately mislead or fake our readers. But that should be pretty obvious or I’m not doing my job. No amount of back patting or brag can equal action, so with that in mind, I’ll head back to the trenches!

  3. Sky March 11th, 2011 8:16 am

    Not trying to be abrasive, but how do you justify your “sting by Google” comment? That would amount to a loss of competitiveness or revenue for them if they were blacklisting people so haphazardly. Perhaps I’ve drank the Google kool-aid, but I hope they’re smarter than that!

    (You could probably argue that they have a (near) monopoly and it takes more than little mistakes like that to hurt them, but it certainly wouldn’t be good for their reputation.)

  4. Lou March 11th, 2011 8:33 am

    Sky, if it was a sting we’d perhaps never know it. Google’s prime directive is to serve up useful search results. Fake content messes that up bigtime, so you can bet they have all sorts of initiates going on behind the scene to ferret that sort of thing out. I didn’t accuse Google of anything, I was just mentioning the possibility. They’ve been known to do stings. Google it (grin).

  5. Justin March 11th, 2011 12:17 pm

    Wow!

    This article could not be more true. Good work. I hope people read it, take heed, and realize that they should not believe everything they read on-line. I am a dog trainer, and in the pet community “experts” often use news groups and blogs to report animal abuse that never took place. In many cases one training school wants to harm the competition by telling lies. I have been witness to many situation where one individual posed as a group of people. We need to get back to our roots and remember what the world was like before we relied so heavily on the world wide web.

    Justin

  6. Joe March 11th, 2011 3:48 pm

    Lou, Don’t you, as the site creator, get access to our, Wildsnow junkies, IP addresses each time we post? or I would think you could easily pull that information from your web host. Just curious…

  7. Lou March 11th, 2011 4:20 pm

    Joe, of course I do and I use it.. One time years ago, a guy was posting really mean stuff, under different names, on a couple of forums I was admin on. The IP numbers matched, and bingo.

    But, If a person wants to spoof that, all they have to do is have a dynamic IP that changes every time they switch their, for example, DSL modem on and off. They could also post from several different locations, or use an anonymizer service. The big money spammers do that stuff as a matter of course. But yeah, I’ve easily caught and blocked some spammers by their repeating IP number.

    Once I even helped with some informal forensic investigating to catch a person who was bad-mouthing a business on the web. Turned out they’d sent me an email using the same IP number that their public posts were using. Busted.

    Lesson is, as Wall Street Journal has published a series on, is that it’s actually pretty difficult to be anonymous on the web unless you go to some effort. So watch what you say, even in emails.

  8. James March 11th, 2011 7:49 pm

    http://www.kproxy.com I use it to bash companies all the time! :) Just kidding, but a usefull tool for us that like to work behind the scenes.

  9. Lou March 11th, 2011 7:55 pm

    James, exactly, all that stuff has legit uses. I even think there is a large grey area with all this, but when things go over the line it’s pretty obvious if one looks very carefully. Methinks that even back in the print media days there was plenty of junk, and the reader had to discern…

  10. Sean March 12th, 2011 5:54 pm

    Good post, Lou.

    Your second example is known commonly in discussion forums as “sock puppetry” and is a very frequent occurrence, probably the thing that keeps moderators busiest on those forums where moderation is active rather than passive.

    Fake-sincerity is easy to use on the Internet — unless you know personally the human behind a handle/e-name, it’s hard to know whether the person is honest, and even harder to know his/her motive in posting comments.

    I always read WildSnow for its content generally, but also because all your reviewers do a fine job of appraising things fairly. Whatever bias any individual reviewer has, I haven’t been bothered by it. I know personally one of your guest reviewer/bloggers (Lee L) and he’s the same person in person as he is on the Internet.

    It seems to me that when comment threads have material from interested persons, those people’s interests are stated and are obvious — such Federico from Dynafit. My thought is that his inside perspective is more valuable and it never smells like shilling or marketing to me.

    Keep doing what you do!

  11. Jonathan Shefftz March 15th, 2011 6:28 pm

    Maybe everyone (except me) already knows about this, but Facebook features pages for obviously fictitious “people” who post really lame (and probably entirely ineffective) ads.
    For examples, just search for my long-last relatives (hah!) Kelci Shefftz and Hester Shefftz. (And no, for all you single guys, I can’t introduce you to them!)

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