Incentive wars: Buy blog comments

Raising the cost of polluting is one way to reduce pollution. Whether the pollution is a by-product (e.g., effluent from a factory), or whether it is the polluter’s product (e.g., spam advertising), if the polluter is forced to bear more of the social cost of producing the pollution, he or she will have a good reason to produce less.
Most techniques for discouraging or blocking spam can be interpreted as raising the cost. My Ph.D. student Lian Jian told me about a lovely example that makes this point clearly: Most bloggers moderate comments so they can screen out spam by hand; they also often put up technical barriers to block spambots. These efforts are a form of raising costs for spammers, and the market has responded by putting a price on getting around these efforts. BuyBlogComments is a service that pays humans to enter “quality comments” that are related to blog postings, so they won’t be deleted, yet that also include the URL the spammer wants to disseminate. For example, you can buy 100 blog comments for $24.99. They probably don’t have 100% success, but suppose they do: we now have a reasonable estimate that comment moderation is at most going to eliminate spam comments that are worth less than $0.25 to the spammer.


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