How spam can destroy online communities

by Martin Reed on 11 August 2008 in Articles

Defeat spam in online communities

Online communities are all about the exchange of information. This makes them highly susceptible to spam, scams and other content of an undesirable nature. If you don’t keep on top of this kind of content, your online community will suffer and ultimately fail.

First impressions count

You have only a few seconds to convince a visitor to your site that they should register and get involved. Indeed, some studies have suggested you have less than one second. First impressions are important – if someone arrives at your site only to see it full of spam, they aren’t going to stick around.

Don’t be tempted to think that spam can be beneficial because it boosts your post count and member count. As soon as people see spam, you are not only demonstrating that you don’t care about your community, you are also potentially putting your visitors and members at risk.

The competition is out there

If you aren’t proactive when it comes to spam, you can bet that your competition will be. Yes, your community should be unique which will make your site less vulnerable to competitors but the fact of the matter is, aggrieved members will not put up with spam on a continuous basis. They will forgive the appearance of the odd message every now and again, but they will not tolerate spam that isn’t speedily removed or that appears multiple times every day.

The fact is, that besides the fact spam is potentially dangerous and makes your community look as though it isn’t being cared for, spam gets in the way of your content. Your content is the most important part of your community – anything that distracts people from your content is a bad thing.

Show commitment if you expect your members to do the same

As I have said time and time again, if you don’t get involved in your community and don’t pay any attention to it, how can you expect your members to do the same? Not only will spam turn off potential new members, it will also alienate your existing ones.

Good online communities contain members that are extremely loyal and passionate about the community they are a member of. They care for the community, and want to see it continue to develop in a positive way. Spam is never a good thing for an online community. If you don’t combat spam, your members will soon get the impression that you no longer care enough about the community to take action.

Remember: committed members are the result of committed community management. Spam can, and will, destroy your online community. Remove spam when you see it and be proactive by installing tools to minimise it.

Your thoughts

How do you deal with spam at your online community? How important do you think it is to minimise spam? Have you been a member of a community that suffered from a high amount of spam? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.

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jennifer August 11, 2008 at 7:33 pm

I think that most people who have been online for any length of time have witnessed a community impacted negatively by spam. It usually stems from a moderator who lacks the knowledge and/or tools to keep the spam from taking over. Yes, it can ruin the community and yes, if the mod makes no effort to combat it, it becomes clear that s/he doesn’t care that much. Which is a shame, because why go thru the trouble to upstart the board or group to begin with if you aren’t willing to stake the measures to keep it relatively spam-free? It’s like taking an entire weekend to plant beautiful flowers only to allow the weeds to take over.

Mr Woc August 11, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Hi there

I agree nothing worse when you first logon to a site than seeing a load of viagra adverts or lose weight crap.

I have a no tollerance rule for all links, as they are usually abused by spammers, they really can be a complete pain, nothing worse than checked your forums and finding out some idiot has spammed your forums with 20 crappy posts !

I keep on top of it all and make sure i check all the posts, can take time but hey thats my job lol, and i have clear messages on my site and forums not to spam, and anyone who does gets banned !


Mr. Patrick August 11, 2008 at 9:56 pm


Interesting post as I’ve been dealing with users who are spamming our high school sports message board. We recently converted to a new message board platform and a group of vocal users “revolted” started their own message board, and tried to lure as many of our community members to their site.

While I am focused on community building, and satisfying my users, some of these disgruntled community members continue to spam our board promoting their site. I quickly remove these posts and have taken measures to block them.

Spam comes in many forms and can threaten your community. It’s not always the viagra stuff.

Phil Tanny August 11, 2008 at 11:40 pm

Compelling graphic for the article!

Yes Mr. Patrick, “spam” can come in many forms. To me, it seems
the most prevalent form of “spam” is what I’d call “submit button

Some folks just love to hit the submit button, whether they have
anything to say or not. Sometimes this is for commercial
reasons, such as link love, and sometimes just for the ego buzz
of saying something, anything.

Spam is really not the correct word for empty low/no quality
postings, but I’m tempted to use the term loosely anyway, as the
effect upon the reader is about the same. The signal to noise
ratio is reduced, and welcome readers are given a reason to look
for better reading experiences elsewhere.

Personally, I don’t care that much whether the post is a true
spam, or just a junk post. The post is useful to me, or it’s not.
If too many posts aren’t useful in some way or another, I start
wondering what other communities are available on the topic.

“Submit button spam” is the trickiest form of junk content as
well, because it’s much harder to make a clear rule about it.
And it’s much more complex diplomatic problem. Spammers know
they are spammers, junk posters are more often just confused
about their role in the community.

One solution might be to create two different zones within a
community, a formal zone, and informal zone. Posters can be
challenged to meet a real standard in the formal zone, and should
be rewarded when they do. An informal zone can be a welcoming
place where members are encouraged to relax from the rigors of
real writing, let their hair down, and have fun.

Richard Millington August 12, 2008 at 3:42 pm

I couldn’t agree more about the first impressions comment. If it isn’t good enough the first time I visit it’s going to be months or years before I come back…maybe never.

But there can also be a benefit ot that. If you only want to start small and build slowly and defiantly, it can be a good thing.

Smiley August 13, 2008 at 12:37 am

I don’t get any spam. I think I have one or two every few months, which are removed almost simultaneously.

I have two different anti-spam mods installed, and also a ‘delete all user’s posts’ mod installed so when I delete the user, I can choose to have all the posts deleted, too. Saves having to manually delete multiple spam posts.

I have a links section where any contributing member of the community may post their link(s).

Nicole Price August 13, 2008 at 3:11 am

Yes it is true that spam can be really pernicious for online communities, so Smiley you must be really fortunate not to get any.

Angela Connor August 13, 2008 at 3:45 am

I have members in my community who will send me an e-mail the minute they suspect a spammer. The few that I have removed were all brought to my attention by members. We don’t have that problem often though, and I think it’s because the members gang up on the person immediately, letting them know that they are not interested in their services. Believe it or not, I had one guy upload an image gallery of 750 watches. Yes, he was some sort of watch salesman. It was very short lived.

Mark August 13, 2008 at 9:09 pm

I have been dealing with spammers for quite some time with a few of my sites. It is really unbelieveable how they will do anything to help their websites out at the expense of yours. These are truely really greedy and uncaring people. They either ruin sites or give the site owners a ton more work to keep their site up to quality.

Smiley August 14, 2008 at 12:21 am

Nicole – not lucky. offers all the tools you need to prevent spam.

I have anti-spam ACP installed, and the registration anti-spam mod installed. Those two combined seems to pretty much stop all spam.

And any human spammers that post with URLs, it tends to get deleted almost as soon as it’s posted.

We also discourage spam by allowing members to post their URLs in the designated forum, in which case encourages people to stick around and post.

Loky August 15, 2008 at 10:21 am

Spam is getting you nowhere nor your website…
I guess everyone who owns a website encountered numerous spam problems. Fact is, after reading in the last years some webmasters forums, looks like most of the spam is not from the real owners of the websites you see in the spam messages. They “hire” some people to promote their business and in fact they harm their clients websites.

I do agree with some website promotions techniques. That includes the blog comments (to take the example from here)…. But if you have nothing constructive to add…add nothing. When you post a comment on someone’s blog think you are posting on your own website. Do you like to see meaningless comments from your members?

Now, i want to thank you for this article and for the people who added comments on it. Great resource.

denver August 15, 2008 at 6:41 pm

I really hate spam!!When you see a lot of posts in your threads but the posts are linked to somewhere else that are not about your topic ,i am sure you will be so pissed off.So what we do is check our forum everyday and ban those spams account .

Jay Owack August 18, 2008 at 8:11 pm

For phpbb and other forums that support it, I have found the VERY BEST way to combat spammers is to manually activate new signups. You can edit the welcome message so that new members must send you an email requesting activation. It takes a little time each day to activate the new members, but much less time than it does to delete spam and ban the spammers.

This solution works because it prevents both automated and manual spammers. Good luck!

Ray August 20, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Yes i agree with you, i got very headache with the spam in my community and forum, i don’t know where the problem with the form, i was put CAPTCHA, also spam protection (like you have) but they still can post and spam hundred posting there.

Clement August 21, 2008 at 11:05 am

I think spam can be from any were of the forum , I really don’t like spam.
i think Jay Owack has given some useful information…

Adam Keynes August 22, 2008 at 10:14 am

A forum that I post on is constantly invaded by mobile phone/iPod sellers posting up hundreds of ‘amazing deals’ whereby the only means of contact is a dodgy Hotmail address. Hmmm, really authentic.

I love the way some people try to disguise that they’re selling something by posting a story and a fake introduction.

Aaron August 22, 2008 at 10:42 am

Certainly your main point is that spam detracts from the sense of “community”. And it does. However, I think another point you elude to is the fact that people have become used to spam. So much so that it has changed peoples habits when viewing content. It’s similar to desensitization. There are many good sites out there that may have a similar “feel” to “spammy” sites that are actually very informative sites.

I don’t think the problem will ever go away. The only encouraging thing to hold on to is the fact that there are still plenty of honest sites and people out there.

kouji August 23, 2008 at 6:14 pm

i found that some of the yahoo groups i subscribed to end up indirectly pushing out a lot of spam to its members. so instead of reading poetry, we read all sorts of sad ads. that’s precisely what’s making me think of unsubscribing from some of these groups. so i get what you’re saying in this post.

Spore August 24, 2008 at 1:21 am

I can’t agree enough with your first point, that first impressions count. If I see spam comments, my instinct is to assume that the information on the website itself is unreliable. It might not be justified, but that’s how I react subconsciously – if the owner of the site doesn’t care about spam comments, how do I know they care about the quality of the content? How do I know the site itself doesn’t just have junk content to get some quick ad money (a form of spam in itself)?

It’s often not fair th pass that kind of judgement on a site, but that’s how my mind sees it in that split-second when the first impression is made…

Anne August 26, 2008 at 9:42 am

Spamming makes a site low quality! Stop spamming!

Jeffrey August 26, 2008 at 6:30 pm

I think Akismet is a great filter for spam, at least on wordpress blog. I’m not sure if it works for other platforms, but it works well for my blog.

Eva White August 28, 2008 at 8:19 am

Beautiful visual. If I were to think of spam in visual terms it would be just the thing. As for dealing with spam on the website wordpress has Akismet and that really reduces the work that you have to do. In fact touch wood so far it has been very effective for me.

Keith August 29, 2008 at 1:12 am

Spamming has always been an existing problem and not just on blogs. Spammers should be punished when caught but ways like eg. temporarily shutting down of sites by the authority etc. Web hosting companies should play a role in fighting spams too.

John September 2, 2008 at 9:51 pm

I run 2 VB forums (one is financial the other one is job forum) and both receive tons of spam. I have installed several VB plugins to prevent spam, and I’m relatively happy with the results. However my forums still require heavy moderation, because some spammers are very creative :(.

Wakas Mir September 3, 2008 at 10:18 am

I run a few phpbb websites and have noticed that lots of spam software has been created with phpbb in mind, but when one does their homework then I guess things like don’t exist. I had to turn one of the sites into invite based only, so yes it affected registrations but only quality users come in now. And since one of my sites runs on paypal verification no one can use the the shoutbox and other contact ways unless they are REAL.

Joe September 6, 2008 at 5:51 pm

I run some blogs on how to prevent getting spammed and about provilus scam! The funny thing is that people still insist on spamming the How to prevent Spam articles! It gets really annoying at times, but constant moderation will fix it. As for dealing with spam on the website wordpress has Akismet and that really reduces the work that you have to do. Touch wood so far it has been very effective for me.

sharon September 9, 2008 at 12:51 am

yea almost every blog or message board I build gets slammed with spam and never any quality post :( its depressing

John Walters September 9, 2008 at 6:09 pm

People want quality content. Spammers do not give you that. One must have a quick and effective way of dealing with spammers. If they don’t the their community may be overrun and the legitimate users may begin to leave too.


Jesse September 10, 2008 at 6:18 am

Spam can destroy any site. I mean any site. Like if you see Myspace which is a well known site al over internet you will see that the are also facing big amount of spams and they are spending lots of money to stop it.

Not only these big sites are suffering, even small sites are lot suffering.

spam is a curse

Max September 11, 2008 at 8:50 pm

Spam is a curse, but once you reach a critical size, it can’t hurt you as fast and hard any more. Social Bookmarking sites are a prime example: Those who managed to grow without being flooded with spam are still around, many other shut down. On the other hand, it’s alot about motivating visitors and rewarding them for extra efforts, because only with a strong base of faithful members/users generating quality content, you can win the battle.

Greg September 19, 2008 at 1:28 pm

It’s incredible how much spam can be a problem. You know the craziest thing is though, on many of my forums, I invite members to include their website in the signature but just keep it off the posts. What do they do? Instead they just blatantly post boring bla bla adverts which I have to end up deleting! Why can’t they just post normally and enjoy the benefit of having their link in their signature?

Mike September 23, 2008 at 4:30 am

I am happy with SMF software as it provides strong defense against SPAM both manual and automated. There are MODS in SMF that provide an even stronger protection. Most SPAM postings in our forum came from real person. I haven’t seen automated SPAM messages because they don’t succeed in breaking the walls.

Smiley September 24, 2008 at 1:23 am

I use phpBB2 but thanks to a couple of mods I’ve never had an automated spam message, either. Not once. All a real person – and it’s pretty easy to spot these types. The idiots always sign up with an obviously fake e-mail address and their names are never very subtle. They usually get banned before they can even post their spam message!

Jieleah April 15, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Well, in my own experience i erase spam message. I think minimizing spam is really important. It helps you to maintain good conversation with people who have the same interest.

Christina March 25, 2010 at 5:50 pm

First impressions are very important – actually that’s one of the reasons I kept reading your article. I saw the picture and wondered “how bad can spammers be??”