Blog Spam, Cheating and Ethics

I allow anyone to comment on my blog posts. This leads to a nice worldwide conversation, but lately that is being overtaken by about 5-10 spam posts per day, which I have to delete by hand.

They are computer generated posts — I can tell because the same phrases are used over and over again — with links to e-commerce web sites targeting specific keywords. I have to delete these by hand every day or two. (Fortunately, WordPress is very blackberry friendly, so I can actually delete spam posts from my blackberry from anywhere. But it is slow.)

Soon I’ll get a CAPTCHA WordPress plug-in so that my blog can’t be spammed.

But what bothers me is that spammers would ruin a good blog in order to make a few bucks. If we think we have a corporate ethics problem in this country, we’ve got to realize that it starts at the individual level asking yourself what would you do to make a buck?

Would you do something that would hurt the whole in order to get ahead?

Here’s a quote from ClarkHoward.com:

Mar 30, 2005 — Why people cheat on their taxes
Cheating on taxes has become an epidemic in the United States. One in six dollars that we’re supposed to pay to the IRS is not being collected because people are lying and cheating on their taxes. Even worse, the people who are not cheating are subsidizing the people who do to make up for that loss. Human behavior plays a part in whether people cheat for sure. But, so does the tax code itself. Citizens think the tax code is unfair, confusing and subject to special interest. All of these opinions are true, not to mention the fact that the IRS doesn’t even understand the tax code. People call to get help on their taxes, and 20 percent of the time the answer is wrong. Clark thinks a “fair tax” system would be the way to go. It would be much easier to understand and would be bi-partisan. We had a system like that in 1986, but it didn’t stick. The way to make it stick, in Clark’s opinion, is to put roadblocks in place when someone is trying to change the law. If the law were more transparent and open, it would also prevent more people from cheating.

The majority of high school and college students admit to cheating, with about half admitting to “serious test cheating.”. What about those who don’t admit it but do it?

A few years ago, Wired had an article on how the internet makes cheating easier than ever before.

Cell phones can enable cheating as well.

Imagine what will happen to the US economy if 75% of our students cheat their way through school, employees spend a fourth of their time surfing the web on non-work related stuff, costing the US economy more than $750 billion per year in productivity, and if spammers ruin our search engines and other perfectly good web sites (including my blog) in order to make a buck?

If everyone is all about making a buck, no matter what the cost, no wonder Charlie Munger (Warren Buffet’s partner) says “we are at or near the apex of a great civiliation.” (Source: notes to myself from the 2005 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting.)

Last week Stan Ricks, a local real estate developer and partner in Trophy Homes, said that too many wealthy business people make money at the expense of others, and at the end of their wealth-acquiring lives, they look bad, and feel empty, and then try to do a few philanthropic things to make up for all the bridges they burned.

I wonder how many Americans, if given a chance to make a ton of money at public expense, would jump on it, without thinking for a moment about the largest consequences, the impact on others or on society.

If too are willing to cheat or have a get-rich-quick attitude, without considering the losers in most schemes (whether it be a pyramid scheme or a spamming strategy), how do we avoid sinking into a free-for-all that permanently damages the economic pillars of our civilization?

How do we stay competitive if the majority of our high school and college students are cheating, which means they are willing to compromise their integrity to get ahead.

These statistics portend tough times for us, I’m afraid, unless we can find some ways to stem the tide.

8 Comments

  1. Great post, Paul. I don’t think it’s worth it to avoid taxes or expend tons of energy in saving a few dollars paid to Uncle Sam. Though it’s not easy, I try not to think about how much I pay and just do it. Life’s too short to worry about taxes. I’d much rather focus on making money than getting taxed on it.

  2. Well that explains why my comments keep disappearing. It just so happens I consistently find a very topical link between anything writen on any blog and herbal viagra bought through overseas pharmacies. Just my world view, I guess. Next time I’ll just have to address my next favorite topic: recent and dire intrusions into your PayPal account.

  3. One good, but potentially more serious fix, which I have on my site, is a mod_rewrite rule denying all access to any referring site with a hyphen in its name. That got rid of 90% of my referrer spam and discussion board spam… It’s not a good solution philosophically, but it works.

    Regarding surfing while at work, I really do see that simply as an evolution of the workforce ethic. I don’t see it as cheating. You’d enjoy reading any of James Loehr’s books, which I interpret to say that mathematically, if counter-intuitively, workers output in short bursts, and that companies that allow surfing th enet or making personal phone calls, within reason, output more. I have no idea if that’s true, but that was his argument–that the average person accomplishes more in an intense two hours of work followed by six hours of slacking than his counterpart in a slow-and-steady eight hour day.

    “Citizens think the tax code is unfair, confusing and subject to special interest.” Amen. When I was a Latin Teaching undergrad, I couldn’t pay my taxes (luckily I never owed any, but I didn’t know that.) I couldn’t pay because I didn’t know how–no one I knew knew how–surely I and others like me passed up all kinds of refunds because we couldn’t afford an accountant to access them. Personally I think it’s inherently void to have a government mandate that the average American doesn’t have the capacity to fulfill. I think that’s the root of 80% of the “cheating.”

    PS This Reply box is wider than my screen, which is set to 1024×768.

  4. To comment more on the substance of your post, I enjoyed these thoughts. I DO think a fair/flat tax is worth fighting for. The overhead of our tax system amounts to millions of dollars of lost productivity if you include all the tax preparation work. I wonder what innovations we’d see if business and innovation weren’t so encumbered.

    To me, one of the most hypocritical get-rich-quick models is to charge thousands of dollars for “business coaching” which includes information that can freely be found elsewhere, presented with hype and allure, and no personalization or one-on-one time. The presenters make a fortune from a group I doubt will get their money’s worth. It’s the opposite of Tim Sander’s philosophy of freely sharing information.

  5. Paul,

    I’m often pleased to find that you have posted my opinion on something–I think we think alike. (Of course, you’re a bona fide visionary and I’m a simpleton by comparison.)

    I was pleased today to see your take on regulatory complexity and its adverse impact on ethics. I posted on this just a few days ago. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    ddt

  6. I recommend upgrading your blog to WordPress 2.0. Among other benefits, WP 2 comes with a spam-catching plugin called Akismet. To use Akismet, you’ll have to sign up for a free blog at WordPress.COM and get an API key. (You don’t have to use the free blog; just get the API key.)

    Akismet communicates with a central database of spam, which improves filtering quite a bit since it can filter spam that ANYONE has seen before. And when you find spam you’ll automatically be contributing to the database and helping someone else.

    If you install a CAPTCHA, I think you should install a text-based one, such as a simple arithmetic problem or a question. Then your blog will continue to be accessible to the blind, the hard of sight, and mobile users. Jeff Barr’s blog has a good text-based CAPTCHA on the comment form.

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