Log in

No account? Create an account
Spam is not funny - Phil's Rambling Rants — LiveJournal
May 13th, 2006
12:00 am


Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Spam is not funny
I have an issue that's bothering me.  I've been seeing something happening in the journals I read which I think reflects an emerging trend in the wider blogosphere.  People are posting about the funny spams that they've gotten, and implicitly or explicitly encouraging other people to do the same.  It's understandable, in a way, because if you take some of these spam messages by themselves, out of the context of the crisis the Internet is going through, they are often quite humorous.  And everyone gets spam, so it's a topic everyone can relate to, and everyone can talk about.

And therein lies the problem.  Everyone can talk about the funny spam they got -- but only if they read their spam.  Looking through the spam for those nuggets of unintentional humor defeats the purpose of teaching people to use their spam filters and to delete spam without opening it.  When we get more people reading spam, several bad things happen.  People become more likely to read malicious messages with Microsoft software and become infected with spyware or worse.  People validate their email addresses with the spam server by downloading "image bugs", which means they get more spam themselves, contributing to the general increase in spam.  People will accidentally click on links in spam messages they opened because they were looking for humor.  Worst of all, some people will actually be suckered into giving a spammer money.

A secondary problem is that when people see spam as a form of entertainment, they forget that they should be outraged about the way a few freeloading parasites are destroying electronic mail, the oldest and I would say the most socially useful part of the whole Internet.

Thus, the trend of blogging about funny spam messages actually tends to make the problem worse.  Each individual blogger who does it is helping the spamers and hurting the Net.  In a really small way, to be sure, but the really small things we each do can add up to a lot.

When I started to think this was becoming a trend, and realized that I wanted to speak out against it, I tried leaving responses to the "look at the funny spam" posts saying more or less what I've said here.  For the most part, I've been ignored, except for a time or two when I've succeeded in making the blogger mad at me.  People don't like to be told what they can and can't write about, and while I never thought I was telling people they couldn't make these posts, some people took it that way.  (There's a subtle but vital difference between trying to persuade someone to come around to my way of thinking, and just trying to make them do what I want.  It's all too easy for what I mean as the one to be taken as the other.)  So I'm trying to talk about it in my own blog.

I think there may be an issue of an assumption of how savvy people are here.  I don't think the people who I've seen actually writing these blog entries are the kind of people that will be victimized in major ways (although there is always a hazard of accidentally clicking on something if you open the message at all).  They may feel that I'm insulting their Internet intelligence or geekiness by bringing it up, because of course they know better than do do anything but laugh.  But the trouble with a fad -- if it becomes one -- is that it's not just my friends, who are pretty smart, who are involved, or even my friends' friends, who are probably still pretty smart, it's all those leet-speaking teenagers that give LiveJournal a bad name.  We're not very many degrees of separation from those people, and some of my friends who I'm talking about are people I think of as opinion leaders:  If they do it, it is the cool thing to do, and it will spread.

Can I get some feedback from the world at large on this?  Have I gone off the deep end?  Am I tilting at windmills?  Or do I actually have a point?  If I do have a point, how can I persuade people to stop reading their spam and to stop telling other people how funny it is if they do read it?  It's not good for my ego to be ignored, and it's certainly not productive in any way for me to annoy or offend people.

Tags: , ,

(13 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:May 13th, 2006 05:19 am (UTC)
I'm always amazed people even know what kind of spam they get; I just scan the sender/subjects that make it through the spam filter and delete them off the server before I download my mail. In general I haven't a clue what kind of spam I'm getting because I don't pay any attention to it - why waste my time that way?

So I guess I share your puzzlement (or whatever) about people doing this...it seems like a waste of time to me. (You may be right about the larger implications, but my brain is fried from grading papers, so I'll give that a pass for now.)
[User Picture]
Date:May 13th, 2006 05:28 am (UTC)
I certainly appreciate the time you've put into thinking about this but let me give you my perspective:

1) I HATE spam and don't EVER read it.
2) Some of it slips past my spam filter anyway.
3) Very occasionally the "subject line" makes me laugh enough that I forward it to Ed or I suppose theoretically I might post it to my LJ.
4) I think it helps immensely to be able to laugh at genuinely bad problems. It's called black humor and it has a long history. So yep, I can laugh at spam.

But mostly 1) I HATE spam and don't EVER read it.

Does that help a bit? I think in a sense you are tilting at windmills. I think a more productive response would be to research anti-spam bills etc and educate the blogosphere about them and encourage people to take political action. I'm sure I speak for most of us when I say that although I can laugh at spam occasionally, I'd rather find *other things* to laugh at and would feel no great loss if spam dissapeared from my inbox!!
[User Picture]
Date:May 13th, 2006 11:32 am (UTC)
I get on the order of 200 spam messages a day.

On the order of 20/day make it to my inbox.
Maybe 2/week of those are legit-looking enough that I open them. Eventually one of those might be amusingly bizarre enough to post; it hasn't happened yet to me, but I can imagine it might.

Another 5 or so/week have amusing sender names that I snicker about as I send them to the spam filter for learning. Occasionally I'll post those.

Spam sucks. Spammers suck. Microsoft (whose insecure operating systems are to blame for most of the spam you get) sucks.

But not laughing at spam that does happen to make itself noticed because spammers suck? What's the point? I'm still going to do all I can to avoid spam. I'm still going to get it. Some of it is going to be amusing. Not laughing at it and not holding it up for ridicule doesn't punish the spammer; it just makes me a slightly more humorless person. That's no fun...
[User Picture]
Date:May 13th, 2006 12:24 pm (UTC)
spam is like a television playing in another room for most folks - background noise (albeit somewhat malicious... maybe like Bill O'Reilly's show playing in another room, then)... we ignore it, or it's filtered out, except when something slips through, and only then is it spared a glance.

i usually look through what makes it past my filters out of curiosity as to how.... typically, it's a cursory glance to see what block of nonsense was dumped in (yesterday, one made it through on the strength of fifteen solid lines' worth of cliches strung together, as a matter of fact) before teaching mozilla that it's junk, and it gets promptly nuked. *shrug*

then again, i think spammers should have their thumbs and genitalia cut off, and what's left wrapped tightly around religious fundamentalists, lawyers, and bureaucrats and dumped into shark-infested waters.
[User Picture]
Date:May 13th, 2006 12:52 pm (UTC)
I understand what you're saying and it makes lots of sense, but I think there's a point for "the other side" too. Anything that shows spammers as being -- at best -- worthy of derisive laughter is a positive idea to promote. I think of it as analogous to making fun of politicians; people seldom vote for outright laughing-stocks.

Now, I probably don't qualify as "world at large" on this question because I've been involved in analyzing spam messages, headers, and sites for quite some time for the purpose of getting accounts shut down and making ISPs more responsible. You have an excellent point, though, that one should never use a Microsoft product for anything like that!

To some degree, I feel a similar annoyance about spam filters: they let people ignore and minimize most of the network abuse that spammers cause. Without those filters, more people would be motivated to help stop spamming. There was a time when spammers used to say, "If you don't like it, just hit delete," with the implication that their activities would thereby be allowed to go on undisturbed. In a way, spam filters are just automated delete keys that reduce the chance of spammers being inconvenienced. (But, what can I say...I filter some of my own accounts as a triumph of pragmatism over principle.)
[User Picture]
Date:May 13th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
Are you familiar with 'spamhouse.org'? It might comfort you to know you aren't on a lonely crusade, here. I can see you feel very strongly about this, I respect that and I think you make your points very well. I am not, nor do I know anyone who is a big fan of spams. I think it may be a bit of an overstatement to call it an 'internet crisis'. It is annoying but even the damaging ones are not life threatening. However, I don't like telephone solicotors or junk mail, either. I think it intrusive and an invasion of my privacy. I don't see spam as any different. To say that laughing about it legitimizes it, may be barking up the wrong tree. Laughing about things that bother us is just another way of dealing with the irritation and, I believe, in a positive way. If a stand-up comic gets big laughs out of basing some of his or her material on something he or she got in a spam serves to victimize the spammer. That I don't see that as any better or worse than someone sharing a laugh in his or her blog. The problem of spam is not going to go away any more than telephone soliciting or junk mail is so why not deal with it humorously. And don't make the mistake of assuming that someone who does is naive or unintelligent for it. Having worked in comedy, I can see it as another source of material. A lot of what our governments are doing aren't really laughing matters either but the satirists are having a hayday with it. It is another way of pointing out why we should be cautious. It also tends to be more effective than trying to "pursuade people to come around to your way of thinking." Because, you know what? The people who are making fun of it are on your side. Don't alienate your allies.
[User Picture]
Date:May 13th, 2006 04:31 pm (UTC)
I sometimes wonder what spam looks like to people not using mutt in a terminal window. To me, some of it appears to indicate (if I were to actually read it closely) what they are trying to sell and presumably where to go to get ripped off, but most of it is utter gibberish. Completely empty message body. Message body consists solely of nonsense "poetry." One column of letters running down the left edge, not necessarily actually even words if I put the effort into looking just to see. 100% non-Unicode random-seeming bytes. Obviously, I'm not going to decode and save attachments and then try to open them with something, nor copy and paste any URLs into a browser. I imagine there must be some mail client out there that renders these as ads. I have to say I'm having a hard time imagining why I'd want to switch to it.

I can't say I see much harm in producing poorly drawn cartoons inspired by actual spam subject lines (Spamusement) or sharing the occasional machine-generated gibberish that somehow turned out funny. I can't imagine the spammers being encouraged to keep at it by seeing their gibbering being laughed at.
[User Picture]
Date:May 14th, 2006 09:26 pm (UTC)
I sometimes wonder is spam is what these work-at-home people are doing.

Part of me wants to assert their First Amendment right. But another part of me wants them to pay for their unsolicited commercial email.

My ISP filters spam, but it doesn't get rid of all of it. Nor does Norton AntiSpam, which I've since turned off as it doesn't do that great of a job of filtering messages. I don't bother reading any of it; I just don't have the time. But I'm sometimes amused by the fake names they use.

As much as I detest it, it's become a necessary evil, kind of like death and taxes.

[User Picture]
Date:May 15th, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC)
Hi...you don't know me but I saw your icon on ericcoleman's entry and since I have a thing for tigers I came out here to browse & read ('cause I'm manager on duty until 7 p.m. and I'm trying successfully to read a really boring document).

Maybe it's my blonde roots...but are you talking about genuine spam as in subject lines such as "RE: your ViKa3Agra" or funnies like "Words rearranged: Mother-in-law = Hitler Woman." Maybe I'm missing it 'cause I don't see the entries, or maybe I'm missing it 'cause often if I get an email at either work or home from an address I don't know or with a screwy subject line, it goes straight into the trash. I don't open it (I like the bulk spam filter on yahoo!), I just delete them. I know that even having it pop into my inbox can constitute having "read" the thing which then does all the stuff you said about validating the email address, so I try to avoid that.

I don't think you've gone off the deep end at all. And it is very difficult, in my not-so-humble opinion, to get across what you wish to convey via the computer. Nuances are lost, meaning is easily misinterpreted, etc. Trying to get someone to understand your point of view can be interpreted as "yo, dummy - do it my way."

Did that make any sense? It's getting late in the day and my brain hurts.
[User Picture]
Date:May 16th, 2006 05:51 am (UTC)
I'll take your word for it that I don't know you, but at least you have good taste if you like tigers. Every now and again, I even talk about them or post pictures in public entries, and you're welcome to stay. I'm afraid I can't friend you until I actually know you in person.

When I say spam, I mean real spam, such as offers for Viagra or low mortgage rates. Some of these fine offers have fractured English which is funny in a way. And many of them include text not actually related to the offer, which is supposed to confuse the spam filter into letting it through, which can be very strange. But it's not the spam I'm actually on about right now (that spam itself is a terrible evil and spammers deserve viler punishments than I have the creativity to imagine I just take as a given); it's the trend of people writing about how funny some particular message was.
[User Picture]
Date:May 16th, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
Well if you go to cons and you're in Des Moines say hello...99% likelihood I'll be at DemiCon although haven't decided if I'll be there all weekend since there's a belly dance workshop in Iowa City the same weekend.

...it's the trend of people writing about how funny some particular message was. Ah-ha. Got it. And if they read it to see it was funny, then DUH they've validated their email and that just encourages the spammers. (See, even I can catch on to the subtle nuances.)

Tigers...that was the one big cat I was very disappointed to not get to see at the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler Texas when I was on vacation in April. They had a very good collection - lions, cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, bobcats, and oscelots, but no tigers. Bummer.
[User Picture]
Date:May 17th, 2006 01:10 am (UTC)
I go to cons, but right now I don't have the resources to go to more cons, and Iowa is a long way (I'm all the way on the east side of Illinois). I haven't been to a con in Iowa in about 20 years. I mainly go to cons for filk, and from what I hear filk is thin out there -- no disrespect for ericcoleman but AFAIK he IS the filk scene.

Cheetahs and jaguars are actually rarer to see than tigers. So objectively, you won. But emotionally? No tigers? Boo.
[User Picture]
Date:May 22nd, 2006 05:15 pm (UTC)
There are a group of filkers here. But the scene is quite small.
Powered by LiveJournal.com