Like nearly every blog or website that has been online for longer than a few weeks, Plagiarism Today is routinely targeted by spammers. However, for most of the site’s history, this spam has been irrelevant to the site’s main purpose.
While I’ve seen spam for everything from illegal pharmacies to pornography, I’d pretty much never seen automated spam for a (likely fake) plagiarism detection service. Sure, a few plagiarism services have posted unsolicited commercial comments, they were one-off affairs.
However, on November 23rd I was hit by an automated spam attack for a dubious plagiarism checker. Most of the comments were automatically blocked before posting but seven got through before the poster was blocked from the site.
Since then I’ve been hit by several other attacks, most of which have been shut down either automatically or manually after just one or two posts. Each attack pointed to a different domain but the attacks followed very similar approaches.
Twitter, however, isn’t faring much better. Searching for plagiarism links on the site shows that between one third and one quarter of all links are spam, mostly pointing to a single domain. The links, as shown to the left, can often come rapid fire.
Plagiarism spam, unfortunately, has become a hot new trend for spammers and those who are interested in plagiarism are the ones most likely to suffer from it.
But the bigger question isn’t “Why are spammers targeting plagiarism as a keyword?” The question is “Why now?”
Explaining the Rise
My first thought when the initial spam attack hit was that it was timed out to coincide with finals for college students. That made sense with that attack as it featured a “plagiarism detection” service that really was just a pitch for an essay writing service.
However, other spam attacks have focused on search engine optimization (SEO) services, using the promise of a plagiarism checker to sell ad space for article spinners or other unethical SEO services.
While the timing makes some sense for students, the timing for SEO purposes makes less sense. Though Google has been on a warpath against sites with low-quality and unoriginal content, its latest efforts started in 2012 with the so-called “Panda” updates, which began demoting such content in its results.
December 2015 hardly seems like the time to begin promoting plagiarism tools to black hat SEOs.
So much of this remains a mystery to me. While it’s likely just a topic of the moment for a handful of spammers, the timing is still very odd.
The Important Point
While the timing of the spam attack may remain a mystery for now, one thing is clear: These are not services you should trust.
As we’ve seen with Viper, unethical plagiarism detection services are dangerous, often using the content you submit in ways you did not explicitly agree to or approve.
In Viper’s case, they were taking the essays that were submitted and offering them for download or use on essay mill websites. With these spam sites, no one knows what will happen after you click submit since they don’t have a terms of service.
But even if the service doesn’t do anything with your content, it’s still going to be a low-quality plagiarism check. For example, I ran the first 700 words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence through one of the services and it only returned 13 of the 39 passages it checked as being plagiarized, giving it a 67% unique rating even though it was 100% copied from one of the most common documents on the web.
Worst of all, these sites are used to sell unethical services and enrich spammers. Basically, they support some of the worst people on the Web.
So please, if you do run across some plagiarism spam, either on this site or elsewhere, don’t be fooled by it. There are plenty of reputable services out there that you can use for low or no cost.
In the end, it’s not important why a small group of prolific spammers have latched on to plagiarism as a topic to target, what is important is that it isn’t rewarded.
Though the spammers aren’t likely targeting those with a genuine interest in plagiarism, save maybe those who think about it with regards to SEO, it’s important that we be aware of what is going on.
These services, at best, are low-quality checkers that support unethical practices. At worst, they are an active danger to any content that is run through it.
So be warned, plagiarism spammers are out there pushing questionable services. Though I’m sure most will avoid them instinctively, this is for the handful who might not do so.