In Your Face(book) Spam

Advertising media – the term for the way that ads get put in front of us – is a little like water in that it will insidiously seep into every part of our lives. Marketers, having recently discovered the Long Tail and the viral network effects of social engineering, are also looking at ways to optimize two things:

The ratio between the amount they spend and the number of people who see each ad
The ratio between the number of people who see each ad and the number of people that take action based on the ad’s content

So far, the bottom-feeders have thus far stuck to malware, spam spim (instant and text messages), sporge and other nefarious but cheap shotgun approaches to marketing.

So perhaps I naively wanted to believe that my precious Facebook addiction would be immune to the unpleasantness of viral hoaxes and spam. I deleted my Friendster account for no greater reason than I despised the marked uptick in people I didn’t know who suddenly wanted to become my ‘friend’ because they ‘liked my pic.’ Myspace has had its share too, but for some reason, it seemed I had remarkably fewer ‘drive-by requests’ there than on Friendster.

But Facebook seems to have dodged the dodgy friend request bullet.Perhaps it IS widespread, but we never hear about it because invisible Facebook thought police nip it in the bud before most people get harassed. Whatever the reason there have been three incidents in the last week that make me think that Facebook’s spam-free gravy train is over.

First, a former co-worker posted a note to my wall that went something like this:

SOMEONE HAS A CRSH ON YOU!

WANNA FIND OUT WHO IT IS?

http://****************.blogspot.com

THIS IS A GREAT, ITS SO ACCURATE!

Despite early indications that I was being targeted for a set-up by my friend, a quick peek at her profile shows that I wasn’t the only one to get this message. Instead, virtually her entire contact list got their respective walls sprayed with this advert (for a dating site) and each one carried with it a unique address (for tracking purposes, I’m sure). Perhaps the most understanding and gracious response to these spam-posts was “looks like something’s got a hold of your account, huh?” indicating a (likely) application that is running wild (and violating their Facebook ToS, I’m sure).

A few days later, this arrived in my inbox from my teen-aged cousin:

Attention all Facebook members.
Facebook is recently becoming very overpopulated,
There have been many members complaining that Facebook
is becoming very slow.Record (sic) shows that the reason is
that there are too many non-active Facebook members
And (sic) on the other side too many new Facebook members.
We will be sending this messages (sic) around to see if the
Members (sic) are active or not,If (sic) you’re active please send
to 15 other users using Copy+Paste to show that you are active
Those who do not send this message within 2 weeks,
The (sic) user will be deleted without hesitation to create more space,
If Facebook is still overpopulated we kindly ask for donations but until then
send this message to all your friends and make sure you send
this message to show me that your active and not deleted.

Founder of Facebook
Mark Zuckerber (sic)

Obviously this didn’t come from Mark Zukerber, or even Mark Zuckerberg. It’s not dissimilar to the (relatively) harmless hoaxes I get in my inbox every so often incenting people to get their share of Microsoft’s billions, or participating in an experiment for Yahoo!. Meant as cruel, viral jokes on the uniformed, these juvenile excursions into social engineering are really just that – trivial exploits that are more time-wasting annoyances than actual threats.

But then something else happened. I got a friend request from someone I’d been to school with 20 years ago. We knew each other moderately well, had a few friends in common and I certainly recognized his name when the friend request popped up; So, I accepted. Within 12 hours (12!) This newly-found-again friend had posted an offer for free ringtones on my wall. I explored the possibilities in my mind: Could this be the real guy, or perhaps someone masquerading as a friend to gain entry to a social network so that he could spam it? Are people really that desperate, or am I really that paranoid?

In any case, I quickly un-friended him in order to stop any possible future wall posts.

Social networking is simply an optimization of our collective communities, and it is this optimization that the so-called social networking sites are taking most advantage of. As that optimization becomes increasingly automated, it’s only natural that the liquid-like nature of advertising media will find similar optimizations and efficiencies by capitalizing on the platform’s automation.

Facebook needs to quickly look at how this is happening and close off the trickle before it becomes a torrent. If there’s one thing that could really kill that user experience, it’s spam.

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