Spam I Am Not – The Big Media Weapon Hidden in Plain Sight

September 13, 2009

by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

Misuse and misinterpretation of the term “spam” is now so blatant, one has to wonder if Big Media might not be behind it. But we in “Little Media” are aware of the abuse, and it can’t last much longer.

If you publish a blog, own a website, or participate in various social media sites, chances are you’ve been accused of “spamming” at one time or another. You’re probably seriously angry about it. Well, so am I.

Besides the (ongoing) campaign of pure annoyance coming from my darling Twitter Stalker Agatha-Anne and her buddies (see “Slaughtering Your Pet Hamster” http://wp.me/pycK6-L ), I’ve been subjected to two accusations of “spamming” this past summer, one truly silly and inconsequential, one more serious in its implications.

First, the purely silly one. Several weeks ago, a young woman I’ll call Janette sent me an invitation to connect on Linked In, where I have a fabulous high-quality network of over 1400. Because she was a member of an organization I belong to and trust, I said Yes.

But the first time I sent one of my standard To-My-Network mailings with links to a couple of my stories, Janette wrote me what can only be called a hateful, malicious note, along the lines of “How dare you pollute my mailbox with your vile publications, You Evil Spammer You?”

Huh? You’re in my Network. You asked to be in my Network. I’m a publisher and writer. Do you expect me to send my Network pictures of bunnies or needlework instructions? Moreover, if one does not wish to click on a link in a letter, the obvious solution is not to click on a link in a letter.

And Linked In has a handy little feature called “Remove This Person from Your Network.” This handy little feature allows you to “Remove (Any) Person from Your Network,” for any reason whatsoever, quietly and efficiently, without having to write them letters and insult them.

I immediately took Janette out of my Network, after replying to her charming missive by telling her about the handy Remove-This-Person feature, thinking perhaps she honestly did not know about it.

As the teens say, As If . . . Over the next few days, I got five or six additional charming little notes from Janette, escalating in venom, going on about “You sent me Spam. Your stories are Spam. I hate your stories. My father hates your stories. My third cousin hates your stories. My goldfish hates your stories. My goldfish will not eat Spam. Spam, spam, spam, spam, and spam.”

OK, Janette. You’re just another Flamer, playing Kiddie games and trying to make people unhappy, because making people unhappy is “fun.” We’ll treat the general subject of Flaming in the next article in the series. But in the context of this story, you are silly and inconsequential, and I am now going to ignore you.

Except to say that as someone with a large Linked In network and a growing one on Twitter, every day I receive maybe a hundred mailings of various kinds from people with whom I’m connected. I like some of these mailings. I don’t like some others. Several fall into the category of articles and other publications. Some are newsletters. Others are new product or service announcements or out-and-out advertisements.

I click on the ones I want to read. I archive the ones I don’t want to read. I send a return message of Thanks, if it looks like I am expected to do so. I am never annoyed or upset receiving these mailings, because I allowed these connections to come into my Network, meaning they are cordial on-line acquaintances, and I want to hear about what they’re up to.

If at some point I find a connection annoying or upsetting, not to mention downright rude – remember Palance? – I remove him/her/it from my connections list, and that is that. This is what nice people do. This is what sane people do.

You’re Not Foie Gras, But You Sure Squawk Like Geese

Which brings us to the second incident this summer, a far more serious one, which goes to the very heart of the misuse of the term “spam” and demonstrates why we should all be concerned about it.

I honestly don’t know – nor particularly care – what Mz. Janette’s political leanings are. But I do know, from several people who are acquainted with him, that a young man I’ll call Chaz is a committed Leftist Democrat. He’s also the appointed manager of a large group for computer professionals at Linked In. I joined this Group because I’m an Internet publisher, but also because I’ve been seeking some interesting Boomer IT people as interviewees for my Baby Boomers-The Angriest Generation series. (See http://wp.me/pxD3J-3 )

As you undoubtedly know by now, Angriest Generation is already popular among Boomers, Centrists, and Republicans, but decidedly unpopular among a vocal cadre of mostly young people on the Far Left. Primarily, they dislike this series because I’m among the few to have called them out for spewing anti-Boomer propaganda.

Chaz refused to allow stories from Angriest Generation to make it into his Group’s News feed, even though this particular Group’s feed is generally a dozen pages long and includes many utterly hideous stories from the likes of shady SEO purveyors in Bangladesh and Taiwan.

The first time he deleted one of my stories from his feed, I complained to the Group’s owner and Customer Service. It was reinstated. The second time he did it, I complained again. Reinstated again.

But the third time he did it, Chaz decided to escalate the quarrel and reported me for “spamming” his News feed. I cannot tell you how shocked I was that he would stoop so low. I could have escalated this little tiff in turn and transformed it into a first-class vendetta. But I decided I was tired of Chaz’s shenanigans and simply left the Group.

I want you to ponder this incident for a couple of reasons. First of all, as in the case of a Network of connections above, a bona fide member of a social networking Group should always – that is always – have the right to post blogs or other publications of which he/she is the author or publisher without any restrictions whatsoever – except, perhaps, if they’re pornographic or in some other way universally offensive.

If you don’t want someone in your Group in the first place, by all means, you have the right to refuse them membership. But once they’re in the Group, a manager can’t arbitrarily refuse their right to post articles they’ve written, just because he doesn’t happen to like their subject matter or agree with their political bent.

Chaz’s behavior is offensive to other Group members, too. Is his Membership a gaggle of geese, who have to be protected from being force-fed material they might not like to read, turning their livers into a certain French delicacy? Most adults are capable of deciding for themselves what they want to read and clicking on it. Or deciding they don’t want to read it and not clicking on it. Personally, I have no interest in reading anything from the shady Bengali and Taiwanese SEO purveyors. Or for that matter the New York Times.

Hookers and Con Artists – Good! Bloggers – Evil!

But far worse than Chaz’s battle to shelter his Membership from exposure to us dread Republicans and others he considers politically incorrect is his daring to label our articles as “spam.”

This takes us to the heart of the matter: Publications are not “spam.” Never ever, ever, and ever.

In fact, nobody really thought of labeling any publication as “spam” up to a few months ago, as it became more and more apparent that Big Media was being forced to relinquish its absolute domination of the Internet to hordes of upstart bloggers and websites keen on garnering their own “eyeballs” and audiences, taking them away from the Official – in their own minds – Gatekeepers of the US Media.

The term “spam” was originally – and quite clearly – meant to apply to annoying, repetitive, and unsolicited Internet-based advertising – solicitations that want to persuade you to part with your money. “Here’s a Hot Stock Tip” is usually spam, as are “Buy Foreclosed Houses,” “Get 10,000 Twitter Followers,” and even “Eat at Joe’s Diner,” although I have nothing in particular against Joe.

But someone posting a link to their article, blog, free newsletter, or website, without desiring that you pay them any money to do so, is in no way “spamming.” They are offering information and attempting to build an audience, the same way the Wall Street Journal or CNN or Oprah.com is, when they post and disseminate their latest articles.

Oh, but those are “professionals,” you argue, while bloggers are in a different category. If you think that, I suggest you are reading the wrong blogs. There are many thousands of former or current high-volume print journalists who have their own blogs now. If you’re unfamiliar with my background, I have over 3,000 print articles to my credit over the past 30-odd years. Now I’m in the so-called Blogosphere, working to develop and increase an audience of my own. I like it, and so do many others.

But I also strongly defend the right of newer and less experienced writers and website owners to try to build a readership of their own through the exact same means more established media outlets, including a handful of now-institutionalized Big Blogs, do.

If the New York Times can aggressively post its stories on numerous Linked In Group News feeds, so can Carolyn’s style blog or Arthur’s blog on economics. If the Huffington Post can get staffers and friends to retweet pieces repeatedly on Twitter, so can Charlie’s senior care publication or Nancy’s small business-oriented website.

And if Mashable can strive for blogroll and pingback links from other blogs, John the orthopedist, Patty the homeschooling expert, and Lou who writes about horses can use these tactics, too.

Without fear of being called “spammers.”

Proof positive that the abuse and misuse of the term “spam” applied to Little Media has been calculated is the fact that the mostly young, mostly Far Left-leaning Twitterers and others who’ve been doing the complaining have completely neglected to make complaints about all the real no-doubt-about-it spammers in our midst.

There’s nary a mention of the various get-rich-quick marketing schemes touted constantly by the Trump Network and others. No complaints about barkers for tooth whiteners, gourmet coffee, organic pet food, or Cars Seized from Drug Dealers. Nor even the offensive-to-many pleas to buy male enhancement products or patronize Ladies of the Night.

But Jim or Jane may be harried and harassed by a battalion of “concerned youth,” if they dare to try to publicize their Right-of-Center political articles. “Spam, spam, spam,” some Kiddies now wail – but I don’t think they can get away with it much longer.

For one thing, the social media sites are becoming very wary of Kiddies with chips on their shoulders, since they’ve now been implicated in the Twitter and Facebook Denial-of-Service attacks and the Word Press worm scare in Europe and Asia.

For another, if social sites were persuaded to adopt the “Spam-means-non-Left-Little-Media” theories of MoveOn.Org and their ilk, it’s only a (short) matter of time before they’d start getting hit with some serious and costly lawsuits.

More intriguing, though, is whether any part of Big Media – maybe rogue PR outfits who believe they’re working on media clients’ behalf – are encouraging these youthful legions of “You’re Spamming” accusers or otherwise conspiring to get Little Media’s audience-building efforts unjustly labeled as “spam.”

Surely, we hope not. But one wonders.

What Do You Think?

Have you ever been accused of “spamming” while trying to publicize your blog or website?

If so, what was the outcome? How did you rebuff this accusation?

Do you believe there are sometimes political motivations and biases behind accusations of spam?

Is Big Media using the S-word in its efforts to hold onto Web dominance against the onslaught of Little Media sites?

How should the social networking sites, like Linked In and Twitter, change their spam policies to protect and promote their Little Media members?

For the Introduction to the Media Revolution series, see: http://wp.me/pycK6-19

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7 Responses to “Spam I Am Not – The Big Media Weapon Hidden in Plain Sight”

  1. Jon Jacobs Says:

    I wasn’t accused of “spamming” via that particular word.

    However, I have repeatedly blown the whistle when Linked In Group members abuse a certain abuse-prone function that Linked In unaccountably hands out to all its members: the “Move (Discussion) to Jobs” link.

    Within any Linked In Group – even those whose explicit purpose is career advancement – the “Jobs” tab has sort of emerged as an unofficial dumping ground for advertisements of various types.

    So, having one’s discussion moved there – which can be done by ANY member of any LI Group, not just by a group Manager – is deeply insulting.

    This seems to be a rampant practice.

    While I haven’t noticed any widespread big-P Political motive behind most of these do-it-yourself censorship attacks (i.e. moving another member’s discussion to “Jobs”), they do seem to come about because the attacker doesn’t like the topic of the discussion.

    In one group, which I won’t name – a co-Manager actually was the one who moved the discussion. His behavior when challenged was a bit like your Chaz: He said anyone posting links to their own articles was “advertising” (he wasn’t so impolite as to use the word “spam,” but that’s evidently what he meant), and he refused to move it back. So, I withdrew from his group.

  2. Tammy Says:

    Excellent article!

    This really is becoming a problem. It’s unfortunate that administrators of social media sites can’t be more discerning.

    I don’t know that it’s a concerted effort to silence dissenting opinions, but that wouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. It does, however, seem to be at least an attack by petty and small-minded individuals.

    I’ve witnessed and been victimized by such attacks. While I try to ignore it, and simply block that person, it does leave me wondering about the future of social media.

  3. Pam Says:

    I agree people need to be very careful before labeling something as spam.

    I have an email list, which people sign up for. I offer a lot of free help calls.

    I am extremely irritated when someone who signs up on my list then labels the chance to ask a free question on a free call as spam. What the heck?

    I don’t so much see a trend in major media, as I do an abuse of power.

    People feel powerful when they hit the “spam” button without any consideration of the cause & effect (a universal law BTW) of their actions.

    If they already felt powerful, they would not need to wield their power in an inappropriate way.

  4. Curtis Chambers Says:

    The Internet is in many ways a link farm; links are what makes it the internet.

    Definitions of spam vary. By no means was what you did spam.

    I liked your approach with the first person, moving on. I would suggest that with the group you were in, too.

    I suspect the group will be empty soon as people migrate to groups that understand and promote freedom of speech, a basic American concept.

  5. R. Drew Davis Says:

    I confess to doubling over in laughter as you mentioned “universally offensive” as an appropriate screening criterion.

    You’ve got a better chance of reaching agreement on what constitutes spam versus reaching agreement on what is universally offensive.

    As a former resident of Middlesex County (NJ), I’ve seen first hand what simpleminded software intended to shield “the children” can do.

    One person’s spam is another person’s direct marketing piece. To me a hallmark of spam isn’t that I can’t figure out how I got onto their mailing list and that its trying to sell me something, but that I can’t get off of their list.

    Worst of all are the folks who take requests to get off of their list as confirmation that they have found a valid mailbox to pester so they step up the mailings.

    • ellenbrandtphd Says:

      Drew,

      Thanks for your comment.

      But I think there are at least a few things all would agree were close enough to universally offensive that nearly any authority would be justified in banning them: clearly seditious material, for instance, or criminal solicitations.

  6. Donahue Says:

    Wow, is your post timely!

    I am getting ready to launch a ‘continuity’ program for caregivers. In order to give value to those that join, I am giving away a whole bunch of stuff. And they will be able to cancel at any time.

    But with your cautionary tale, I think I better be super clear on the deal, and even though its a voluntary thing, I bet I get a bunch of those “Flamers” you are describing.

    I will have to take a page from you and kill them with kindness and not let it get to me.

    Thanks Ellen.


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