Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

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: ethics, lj, tech
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