Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Facing Up To Spam

It's a little ironic that I'm going to start this posting off by bad-mouthing social networking when the first to read it will have accessed it via a Twitter or Facebook link.  I guess that's just the way I roll.

I work with a varied bunch of technophobes and luddites who, collectively, struggle to CTRL-ALT-DEL to save their lives.  Most are still avoiding social networking because they believe it's what kids do, while one or two admit to dipping in and out of Facebook, probably to keep an eye on what their kids are doing.  Whatever happened to burying your head in the sand?

So, periodically I'm asked what is the purpose of social media?  More importantly, what's the difference between Facebook and Twitter?  Good question, here's the stock answer: Facebook exists to allow people to connect with family, friends and loose acquaintances past and present, to let them know you've just been for a crap.  Twitter, on the other hand, being more business orientated, allows you to connect to professionals around the globe you neither know nor are ever likely to meet, to let them know you've just had a plop.

I don't tell them the truth about Twitter, that would beg some awkward questions.  Because Twitter seems to be populated by people talking at each other.  I know,  because I'm one of them.  You can reply to Tweets, but the best it usually gets is ReTweeting - so now you're talking at everyone else what someone talked at you about.  Twitter call that a conversation.

Ultimately, although there are a lot of good and interesting Tweets on Twitter, most of what is out there could be described as spam.  I know, because essentially every time I Tweet that I've posted a new blog entry, I'm spamming.  Sorry.  No, I mean it.  No, I won't stop, because nobody would notice, and nobody else would follow my lead.  And being followed seems to be the main reason for Twitter accounts existing.  As an aside, am I the only one who finds the whole concept of being followed a little creepy?  Currently I'm being followed by @stalker and @madicepickkiller.  That can't be right.

So Facebook is friendlier, right?  Well, everyone you allow to see your posts are technically called friends, so by definition it must be.  And by and large most sensible grown ups limit  who can see their posts because they realise that their personal data should stay reasonably personal.  There are two main exceptions to this sensible approach: people like me who deliberately leave the account open to all and sundry, because it's a marketing strategy, not a social event.  And kids, plus any other vulnerable element of society who manages to stumble onto the network.  It's a bit rough that those most at risk probably have the worst defences, but that's the new information economy, I guess.

But, assuming you've done all the sensible things for your Facebook account and have even tailored the kids' accounts when they weren't looking you should be spam free on this network.  OK, you'll keep on finding out who got drunk again last night (it was me), who has just scored five million on narked birds (not me, I was too drunk to play) but in essence it's all people you don't mind hearing from, in theory anyway.

However Facebook want to change all of that.  Let's suppose you want to target a marketing email via Facebook at someone who has somehow managed to avoid responding to your Friend Request?  Or how about pestering that ex who unfriended you when you split up?  Well, it will cost you a dollar a Facebook address, but once you've coughed up you can carpet bomb their Facebook account until they decide to really unfriend you or, less likely, buy your product.  This they can do the first time you try it on, and to be honest, if they do than you've just blown a buck.  I suspect the ex is more likely to suss this one out sooner than the targeted recipient of your latest marketing scam, but of course they may not even realise they have a choice. Especially if they're now hanging out with the technophobes and luddites I work with.

Facebook say that making spammers pay for the privilege will reduce the total amount of spam emails.  Really?  They charge a dollar a throw for Facebook addresses and the spammers turn their collective backs on the essentially free if inaccurate email lists they thrive on?  No, they'll continue with the scatter-gun approach they always have while some may consider a more targeted approach as an additional way of hitting your inbox.

Nobody's pretending that Facebook is about social media - we all realise it's about making money while the rest of us use it for, well, whatever we choose to.  We may end up receiving emails and postings that we don't like but at least we can do something about that.  But, let's face it, we don't need another spam  channel.


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