It’s only fair to let everybody know that I’ve been having to crack down on handcrafted comment spam lately. I think the sex toy sellers are getting desperate for free traffic.

What I’m seeing a lot of (as in, many per day) is short comments, obviously written by a real human, responsive to the post on which they appear, and in all respects the sort of comment that I would normally value (except that, generally, they aren’t very substantive or interesting). And then, in the URL box that gets published with the comment, a long and ugly keyword-stuffed link to a sex toy sales page.

I’m not talking about the obviously-machine-generated stuff (“Hi, I did a Google search and found that most people would agree with you”) or the lazily banal one-word comments (“Hott!”). Those have been with us for years, and I moderate away dozens per day. This new plague consists of longer (but still short) comments that react to the posts in human ways (a recent one was similar to “Wow, it must take a lot of coordination to bring somebody off with your feet like that”), with a link in the URL box in the style of “”).

I’ve always gotten a few of these, and I used to moderate them in a way that preserved the comment while refusing to provide the free advertising. I’d edit the comment, strip out the link, pass the comment through moderation, and add the commenter to the “always moderate comments from this source” list. Once or twice a week, it wasn’t too bad. But now, it’s half a dozen times a day, and I haven’t got that kind of time.

I used to think that the spam wars would be lost, if they are, to machine algorithms that got better and better at pretending to be people. And I still worry about that. But I now I also wonder whether the difficult economic times aren’t showing us a glimpse of a distopian future in which infotech is so cheap, and people are so hungry, that handcrafted and human-generated spam begins to make widespread economic sense. If that’s the way it goes, we won’t be winning the spam wars any time soon.