Strategies to Mitigate Astroturfing for Forum Owners

Astroturfing (the practice of companies pretending to be ‘regular people’ and posting product or service recommendations on forums or blogs) is becoming a big issue. It’s becoming an increasing pain in the ass for us on AusGamers – as our site grows, we get more people drifting in from search engines on random keywords trying to pimp various products.

Unfortunately for this particular campaign – which is surprisingly subtle, giving the sheer obviousness of most of the others we get – it’s going to backfire, because I’m trying a new strategy. Rather than just blowing the whole post away, I’ve posted a link to a competitor.

We’ve been thinking for a while how to stop things like this. The most obvious strategy is to simply not allow new users to post URLs. This is what we’ll probably end up doing – before a user is allowed to post a URL, they must have at least (say) 10 regular posts to prove they’re actually interested in contributing to the community. The number will probably have to be tweaked a little.

There’s a bunch of other ways – approving first posts by new users, stopping them from creating new threads altogether, etc. At the end of the day I think the require-some-posts method works for us because we want to encourage a community of active users that regularly post useful information, and post counts is a simple (if not completely accurate) method of deriving some base level of trust – if they’ve got 100 posts, they’re more likely to be useful (simply because they haven’t been banned for astroturfing).

5 thoughts on “Strategies to Mitigate Astroturfing for Forum Owners”

  1. Why not have a like/dislike, thumbsup/down, karma system? I can’t remember when I last saw turfing on digg / slashdot because it just gets buried.

  2. I think that system would be awesomely effective, but it’s heaps more work. This system I’m hoping will be ALMOST as effective but only a tiny percentage of the work involved.

  3. I like the idea of a competitor, but what about having a hidden div on the page (a sort of post nuke) that wraps their entire URL in ‘SCAM SCAM SCAM’ sort of text?

    So that if someone searches for them on google, and see your page in the summary text of the search result, they would see the company name surrounded with ‘scam’ – and maybe avoid that company entirely.

    Making it a hidden div also so that the actual forum readers don’t ever see it, just search engines. Also split his URL up so that its not a hyperlink (so no one clicks on it) but still matches up in searches.

    Something like a ‘pit’ where you can send their post to a wall of shame, thats found on search pages or something, may be kinda neat – so that it does some damage.

  4. Actually I’m not that concerned about their impact on searchableness, that’s after the fact. I don’t expect too many of these guys to be back so they would hardly learn that QGL is using some obtuse system that has screwed them out of sales. I’m more interested in how the ‘AD’ is handled on the forum itself.

    I like the idea of posting a competitor, especially if there is more than one reacting to it in that way. It actually increases the value of the thread, places more weight for the competitors, and encourages people to actually look for alternatives. It does require far more effort from the regulars though compared to just clicking a thumbs down (which would be all the time I’d want to dedicate to spam).

    What about a different form of nuke, a minimize. Keep it on the page for searchability, but only show a line with the poster’s name and a button to expand back out. That way the thread maintains its readability, genuine responses are left intact, and competitor links become all the more effective if any search traffic is diverted to that page.

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