With the start of the semester, I’ve been too busy teaching to write new posts for the blog, so lately, the site has served only to attract spam.

Some of these spam comments are quite cunning. They usually involve some sort of flattery. Here’s one example:

“Saved as being a favored, I truly like your weblog!”

I was fooled into thinking this was a real comment at first. Then I got an onslaught of similar comments, such as:

“Nice post. I learn something more challenging on different blogs everyday. It will always be stimulating to read content from other writers and practice a little something from their store. I’d prefer to use some with the content on my blog whether you don’t mind. Natually I’ll give you a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.”

“I just now adore to learn different themes within you blog page.”

“This article ahceived exactly what I wanted it to achieve.”

“Son of a gun, this is so hlepufl!”

That’s the hook. Softened by flattery, the blogger allows the comment to be posted. Now comes the benefit to the spammer: the comment includes the spammer’s URL – which is always some commercial site that they want you to visit. So it’s a cheap way to manipulate blogs into providing free advertising.

It’s annoying to get message after message that just turns out to be cleverly disguised spam (“Lobster Thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce served in a Provençale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle paté, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam!”).

But it’s also quite a nice example of manipulation in the evolution of a communication.  As Dawkins and Krebs have argued, from an evolutionary perspective, we would expect communication mainly to involve attempts to manipulate others. The signaler tries to get the listener to do something for the signaler. My baby fusses, for example, because she wants me to carry her, or she wants her diaper changed, or wants to be fed. She wants something, and she can get it from me by making signals that I simply can’t ignore. Of course, with my baby, I don’t mind the manipulation, because she’s my baby. But the spambots with bad spelling and mangled grammar – those I could do without.

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