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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

E-mail Spammers Are Migrating to Social Media

Posted By on Wed, Jun 1, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Cramming your life
  • Cramming your life
This morning, I had 12 e-mails in my spambox. That includes a few false positives, so really it's only nine. Older spams are deleted automatically -- every night. A few months ago, I was getting anywhere from a few dozen to a couple of hundred new spams a day -- the overwhelming majority of them having to do with my penis: Promises to make it larger and to get it working more reliably. Now, I get maybe one or two spams a day, usually from a Nigerian scammer or a peddler of cheap Rolex knockoffs.

The deluge has been turned off for long enough now that e-mail spam, for me, has ceased to be a problem, at least for the time being. It's annoying that I still need a spam filter at all, but at least it's manageable.

This does not mean, however, that the world's spammers have collectively decided to stop being scumbags and maybe get jobs or something. The type of people who spam are afflicted with some kind of psychological disorder that make them, in most cases, lifelong vermin. The drop in e-mail spam has been well documented. Just today, there's more good news on that front.

It's hard to know what happened to all the dick-pill spammers. But the increase of spam on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and mobile devices would indicate that at least some of them have migrated there, though with less focus on male "junk."

I don't have a smartphone or a tablet (I know, I know), so I don't have a lot of first-hand experience with spam there. But I have a Facebook account and two Twitter feeds. There, I'm seeing increasing amounts of what I would call spam.

On Facebook, the spam is generally much more obvious, or at least it should be. It often consists of fake links designed to get people to click on them and thereby spread themselves across Facebook. The problem is, while it's generally pretty obvious to me that this spam (which often leads to "survey" sites promising rewards for answering questions, but really meant to collect personal information), it's not obvious enough to others --  and so it spreads.

Over the past couple of days, a particularly viral bit of Facebook spam has made the rounds. It consists of a picture that looks like a screen capture of a video depicting a woman's private bits, upside down legs in the air -- with some mysterious objects seeming to emerge from the woman's nether regions. It's titled: "Baby Born Video -- Amazing Effects." Most of my Facebook friends are pretty smart by my estimation, but at least five of them have fallen for that one. What's worse, it's even more obviously spam once you land on the Web page it brings you to. Such spams don't propagate themselves until you click on an outside page -- which means these people really wanted to see those "amazing effects."

All this has to do with Facebook's open architecture, allowing people to "Like" outside Web pages. This amounts to an exploit that the world's scumbags can take advantage of. It's the tradeoff that comes with having such a useful service -- and of course, it's great for Facebook: The more Web pages that are Facebook-enabled in some way (comment feeds, "Likes," etc.), the more people will sign up for, and use, an account.

That's just one kind of Facebook spam. Another kind is photo-tagging spam. That often happens when celebrities, for example, just accept everyone who requests friendship. Then the spammer simply tags that celebrity in an image, which links out to some skeevy site. The image appears in the news feeds of each one of the celebrity's followers.

Facebook mainly does a pretty good job eliminating spam once the company becomes aware of it. There is, however, only so much it can do -- and it can do it only after the spam has begun to spread. With more than a half-billion users, it's no wonder spammers are flocking there.

Twitter is a different story. There, it's not always so easy to tell people who are unmistakably spammers (such as porn spam on an obviously fake account) from semi-legit "marketers." To me, though, they're close cousins, at best. If someone represents themselves as a "SEO marketer" and tweets nothing but links to Web pages about "SEO secrets" and whatnot, that person is a spammer in my book. Same deal with "penny stock" tweeters, of which there are legions.

Twitter does a halfway decent job getting rid of the obvious spammers, though it can take a fairly long time. For the slightly-less-obvious spammers, Twitter does a lousy job. If an SEO spammer "churns" (follows and unfollows in order to get your attention), I report them, which can be done with one click. I have to assume others do, too. But some of these spammers have been at it for at least several months, and Twitter tends to just let them continue.

It's possible that Twitter is fooled by accounts such as FINDPENNYSTOCKS -- that person tweets a lot of business news, mainly, as a cover to appear legitimate. But amid all the links to Business Insider and are pump-and-dump tweets encouraging people to buy garbage stocks (thereby running up the price, at which point FINDPENNYSTOCKS will sell, leaving the losses to the suckers who buy stocks based on some anonymous putz's Twitter account.) I reported this person weeks ago. I have to assume others have, too. Yet FINDPENNYSTOCKS is still happily tweeting.

To be fair, there are so many scummy accounts on Twitter that the company couldn't possibly hope to keep up with them all, even with the user-reporting function. But that just makes Twitter that much more appealing to the scumbags, and the problem only gets worse. No wonder my e-mail spambox is so empty.

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Dan Mitchell


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