Update about the update, and why we’re slow to respond recently

by | December 19, 2018

I announced a major software update for Canadian Atheist. Unfortunately… it hasn’t happened yet.

That’s because we’ve hit some technical snags, and surprisingly it’s not even due to the major version update. Instead, it was a plugin update. And it wasn’t even the plugin itself that was the problem. Funny how these things go, eh?

What’s happened is that one of our plugins updated, and in its update it switched from using reCAPTCHA v2 to reCAPTCHA v3.

reCAPTCHA, for those who aren’t familiar with the name, is that test you sometimes have to do to verify that you’re a human. The original reCAPTCHA – v1 – was just a couple of words in a really messy font with splotches and different colours, and you had to specify the two words. v2 was a grid of pictures, and you had to select all pictures with a car in it, or something like that. The major improvement of v2 was that unless you were particularly suspicious, you could bypass the test altogether; you’d just click “I am not a robot”, and if the system was confident enough, it would accept that.

[Image of an unsolved reCAPTCHA v2 challenge.]

reCAPTCHA v2 example

Canadian Atheist started using reCAPTCHA, very reluctantly, last year. We had to. We were being flooded with spam. Keep that in mind for the next bit.

v3 is the newest update to reCAPTCHA, and it’s major selling point is that it is… supposed to be… completely invisible. Unless you’re suspicious, you won’t even see a test at all. The only clue that it’s there is that thing in the bottom right-hand corner that spells out the terms and conditions of reCAPTCHA v3.

reCAPTCHA v3 would therefore be a great idea…

… except that it doesn’t work.

Since upgrading the plugin that switched from reCAPTCHA v2 to v3, we have gone back to the days of being flooded with spam.

Canadian Atheist is not the only site that’s run into this problem, and as I write this, an update to the troublesome plugin is available. We’ll see if that fixes things.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t bother making a post about this. It’s really just behind-the-scenes drama; stuff that I have to deal with, but that doesn’t really affect the readers (or even other contributors).

Except that because of all the spam, we’re back to the situation we were in mid-2017: With all the spam, it takes a lot longer to respond to legitimate messages, and legitimate messages might be getting lost in the spam.

The worst part is, some of the spam looks a lot like legitimate messages. In particular, we’re getting dozens a day that ask about contributing to the site. If you’ve sent a message asking if you can contribute a guest post… frankly, it’s been binned. Unless you’ve gone to great lengths to make it crystal clear that it’s not spam – for example, by including stuff in your message and especially the title that’s very specific to CA – I have no practical way of separating it from the spam; a message that just says “I’d like to contribute a guest post to Canadian Atheist” looks exactly like all the spam we’re getting. I have had to take extreme measures to hack away at the spam to find legitimate messages… and that might mean legitimate messages that look too much like the spam are getting lost.

This is all just a temporary issue. There’s already an update that may fix all this, and in the worst case, if it doesn’t get fixed in the next few weeks, I’ll roll back the offending plugin and revert to using reCAPTCHA v2. (And of course, reCAPTCHA was never meant to be a permanent solution, but I was waiting on WordPress 5.0 to begin looking into that, and now I’m in a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem.)

So, here’s the tl;dr summary:

  • The update to WordPress 5.0 has not happened yet, but is still planned.
  • We are being flooded with spam.
  • The spam means it takes longer to reply to legitimate messages.
  • The spam also means that legitimate messages might be getting lost if they look too much like spam

And finally: if there’s anyone out there who knows how, burn “http://www.thearticlefactory.com/” to the ground. And then find the owners of the site, and shit on their doorstep. Make sure to leave a tag promising more shit on their doorstep for $1 a turd.

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