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A few days back, I tweeted an amusing bit of comment spam I’d received that morning:

Today in spam comments: ‘Seriously hardly ever do I encounter a blog that is both educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, +

— Kathleen Fitzpatrick (@kfitz) May 28, 2012

you have hit the nail around the head.’ Hmmm.

— Kathleen Fitzpatrick (@kfitz) May 28, 2012

But there’s amusing comment spam and then there’s amusing comment spam. I’m not going to reproduce it here, but yesterday I received a comment that could conceivably have slipped past me, had Akismet not caught it. The comment was left on a recent travel-related post, and it related a travel anecdote, asking for advice on how to handle a somewhat bemusing interpersonal issue. And while my post seemed a strange place to ask that particular question, the story was well-enough written, and the concern seemingly sincere enough, that I might have let it get through. Akismet, however, flagged the address that the commenter left in the URL field, and so into the filter it went.

I find myself both relieved and troubled. While it would be great to get fewer comments telling me how helpful and brilliant and pretty and useful my blog posts are (or alternately that I should really work a bit harder on them), those are quite easily spotted and dispatched. If spammers start actually taking the time to ask substantive questions and post them in plausible places, will it become increasingly difficult to recognize spam when we see it?

It occurs to me that in fact I probably wouldn’t have missed the spammish nature of this particular comment, precisely because I didn’t recognize its author — even if I had been taken in by the tale, I wouldn’t have been ready to engage with the teller. Something in that leaves me both relieved and dissatisfied. On the one hand, I’m glad that relationships and the communities they create can help us weed out bad actors in networked spaces. On the other hand, if we find ourselves in a situation in which we close folks whom we don’t (yet) know out of our conversations, how can those communities continue to develop?

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