Our first win in bringing the good ol' TF back: large group of shills intercepted.
I have some good news. During a substantial investigation that lasted over the course of last three days we have intercepted a large group of shills who have been out promoting predominantly services of web hosting companies. Actually, the use of the word shill is not very accurate. Our understanding of a shill is usually of someone who acts as an enthusiastic customer in order to stimulate interest of others in that particular enterprise. In this case we were dealing with individuals who considered themselves providers of social marketing services (the term they prefer), who charged web hosting companies a fee for mentioning them on various forums and social groups, without any direct experience whatsoever. The more clients paid, the more “plugs” they could receive. So let's call them what they are - spammers.
These "decoys" are well organized. They first try to gain trust within the community by camouflaging their activity as real members. They achieve that by posting absolutely real stuff, making on-topic suggestions and tips. However, they gradually start to do what they were paid to do - bring out the names of companies in form of question, recommendation, comparison opinion, etc. A lot of times they would bring up well-known companies in the mix of their recommendation to make it look more authentic.
At the end of the day, these shills not only mislead the public, but also bring down the quality of a discussion and ruin the value of authentic advice, and eventually the whole community takes a hit.
Having gone through the similar experience at HostingDiscussion, we quickly weeded them out, but research and concrete proof required extensive work. The first major phase of ridding TalkFreelance of these creeps is over and we can now speak of the results: 19 members were banned (most of these members were active on the board since 2006) and 21 companies lost business privileges at TalkFreelance as their URLs are now censored, as a direct result of these posters' action.
To understand the power these shills can provide on public mind and opinion, here are a few stats for you to think about. A total of 155 companies received close to 2,000 (that is two thousand) mentions over the course of shills' activity on TF alone! The companies with the most number of mentions that got their URLs censored, were responsible for over 60% of total mentions. Over 250 fake threads filled predominantly with shill questions/recommendations/discussions were removed from public eyes.
These disgusting low tactics is pure spam and shall (and will from now on) be treated as such. The great news is that these guys are now exposed, but even if they decide to make a silly comeback, we will continue to watch the forums for any suspicious activity and take action as soon as we notice them.
Spammers will always try to find their way into sites like TalkFreelance. We have introduced some new roadblocks to control their presence. We also encourage you to use the “Report Post” function if you notice spam before we do.