YouTube comment spam on the rise. Google tries to fight back

Graham Cluley
Graham Cluley
@[email protected]

YouTubeLong term users of YouTube will know that its commenting system has always been home to some of the most unpleasant, purile and single-braincelled comments in the universe.

But what it didn’t have much of a problem with was link spam. That’s because Google – who own YouTube – prevented commenters from leaving messages which included clickable links. Life was just that little bit trickier for those trying to peddle phishing scams or direct web traffic to malicious sites.

All changed, however, when Google revamped YouTube’s comments system at the start of this month – throwing out the old comments system, and replacing it with a set-up that required users to post their feedback on videos via a Google+ account.

Google presented this as a way of getting higher quality feedback, because users would have to use “real” names, but you can’t help but suspect that the company’s motivation may also have been to promote usage of its social network.

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There’s an obvious drawback though. Google+ allows you to post links. Which means, it’s easier than ever for spammers, make-money-fast-scammers and malware-spreaders to get airtime for their dangerous or irritating links.

Of course, this may not be a technique which works in the long term as (hopefully) Google+ will suspend accounts which repeatedly abuse the system. That may sound like a solution to you, but it’s actually going to be a right pain in the neck if you’re unlucky enough to have your online accounts compromised, and exploited by spammers who want to use *your* name to spread their spam messages across social networks.

Some comment spam has been little more than a nuisance, like this example of ASCII art scam protesting about the new comments system.

YouTube ASCII art spam

But users like Swedish video games commentator PewDiePie (16 million subscribers and counting), chose to disable the new Google+-powered YouTube comments system entirely, such was the level of abuse.

Turning YouTube comments off

PewDiePie wrote earlier this month:

Turning comments off until they are working properly.

Due to the recent changes of the YouTube comment system I’m forced to disable comments.
Since front page/top comments are filled with: Links to virus sites, Advertisers, Self Advertisers, Spam, Copy and paste pics of dogs (I’m ok with those though) :p … Anyway, the list goes on.

As PewDiePie suggests, part of the problem is that YouTube now gives prominence to those comments which receive the most replies. Seeing as abusive comments are likely to receive a large number of angry replies, it’s no wonder that they actually are seen by more people as a result.

Now Google says it is fighting back against the new wave of YouTube comment spam.

In a post published on the YouTube Creators blog yesterday, YouTube admitted the roll-out of the new comments system had created new opportunities for spammers and abuse.

While the new system dealt with many spam issues that had plagued YouTube comments in the past, it also introduced new opportunities for abuse and shortly after the launch, we saw some users taking advantage of them.

We’ve worked hard to combat the increase in spammy comments and have made a number of updates, including:

* Better recognition of bad links and impersonation attempts
* Improved ASCII art detection
* Changing how long comments are displayed

Clearly Google has no intention to listen to those petitioning against Google+ being the basis of YouTube comments, ASCII art or no ASCII art.

Let’s hope that Google manages to police malicious and spammy links better, or it may become riskier than ever watching YouTube videos.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

7 comments on “YouTube comment spam on the rise. Google tries to fight back”

  1. Jeremy

    I don't mind the ASCII spam art. I agree that the comments are so terrible. IDK why Google doesn't admit that Google+ has sort of failed and wait for Facebook to have a serious flaw and then massively advertise it. Once people are annoyed at Facebook they will join other networks at their own will. I already see more people moving away from Facebook to the likes of instagram. (Facebook owned but still way less clutter)

  2. <pedant>
    Technically, Bob's tank is ANSI art, since it uses block characters rather than the standard punctuation.

    There were also many people posting ANSI art of a certain German dictator or the symbol of his party, plus (away from art), "This is the trouble with the new YouTube comments" repeated oodles of times.

    Google / YouTube probably thought people would downvote these comments or report them – instead many replied or upvoted. Flagging any post that contains more than X block characters or a suspiciously high punctuation to text ratio would be a help. On the link spam front, automatically expanding shortened URLs and/or displaying the linked page title would help mitigate against people being fooled into visiting the screamer / dodgy pages.

    1. Jim Dibb · in reply to Ben Norwood

      Why would anyone click a link in a comment post anyway? Are they spam links disguised as links to relevant videos etc?

      Clicking on a link in a comment seems easy to avoid.

    2. Anon · in reply to Ben Norwood

      Yea… you can't report anything because the
      brainiacs removed the report button. Google plus sucks.

  3. Mahlen

    You did notice that PewDiePie turned comments back on a while ago, yes?

  4. Marius Telemacher

    I never thought I'd read an article where Google is making an algorithm to suppress art. (Even though it's used in spamming tactics.)

  5. Gerald

    I think everyone should ditch google and start using
    DuckDuckGo (and Ravetree and HushMail, etc.). Basically, switch to
    sites that actually offer privacy. A world dominated by google is
    terrifying indeed.

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