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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by Ellen Brandt, Ph.D.

The old rules no longer apply. The new rules haven’t been written. But out of chaos comes opportunity. Those of us with decades of experience should be leading, not following, in a media sector undergoing profound transformation.

I used the paragraph above to describe Media Revolution, the new Group I “own” and manage at Linked In, welcoming experienced journalists “to theorize, debate, and collaborate on how to navigate a sector in flux.”

I’ve decided to crystallize some of my ideas about what’s happening now – and what may happen as we go forward – in a series of articles exploring various aspects of the media sector’s transformation, specifically on the Internet.

For now, I’m publishing these stories as a subseries on my EllenInteractive blogsite. As the series develops, they may be relocated to their own site or become part of another media blog.

Much of what I write may be controversial, particularly to those with a stake in the status quo or to anyone who believes a change in current media sector “Gatekeepers” may decrease the influence of certain political groups or other elites which they support.

Others, I hope, will find my ideas helpful – and hopeful – in illustrating what seems to be amiss right now; what needs to be changed; and how the greater public of Internet users generally and those of us in “Little Media” specifically might work together to effect profound change in how information reaches our audiences and which information is “permitted” to reach them.

Because make no mistake, what’s happening right now is a major battle between so-called “Big Media” and its political and financial allies and all of us upstart publishers and entrepreneurs who have broken away from Big Media the past few years.

It is nothing less than an attempt to oust the Official Gatekeepers of this country’s media establishment from the extreme domination of viewership and influence they’ve enjoyed for the past two or three decades – an abnormal concentration of power, in American terms, which many think has paralleled a similar unhealthy maldistribution of wealth and influence in other sectors.

Interestingly enough, those with the clearest sense of such inequalities in Internet access and influence are two large groups you’d think would have plenty of both: Baby Boomers and the political Right (and Center-Right). I say this, because despite their size and collective financial clout, both of these groups have had to fight tooth and nail for Web viewership against the institutionalized biases of the major search engines and social media sites towards today’s Big Media, which tends overwhelmingly to skew to the Left of the political spectrum.

This is changing, though – perhaps rapidly changing. (Please see my hard-hitting story on these changes, Will Boomers – and the GOP – Save Twitter? http://wp.me/pxD3J-K

Is Big Brother Here? And Is He An Algorithm?

Both Boomer bloggers and website owners and those representing the political Right-of-Center have also reported widespread malware attacks on their ability to keep functioning on-line, putting them in the forefront of another media battleground – Internet safety.

Safety issues are now on everyone’s mind, however, after widely-publicized malware attacks on such major sites as Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress, breeding widespread disgust for the costly and sometimes devastating damage wreaked by “Script Kiddie” hackers.

Although there is clearly some disagreement about whether or not organized groups of hackers have tacit – or even formal – ties to political entities, particularly those on the Far Left, there is no disagreement on one important point: Everyone concerned about political freedoms, especially Freedom of Speech, needs to support Internet safety and equal Internet access for everyone, even those with views considered other than “politically correct” by some.

Because even more than financial clout, the ability to control the media equals political power. And more and more, the source of such media control resides in the Internet.

One aspect of such control that many find particularly disturbing is that recent technological “advances” in autonomic computing and so-called botnets now allow for the establishment of Cyber-Gatekeepers which control the flow of Internet access and information.

These Cyber-Gatekeepers are often linked to Big Media or its affiliates, which implies some overt conflict-of-interest from the outset. But one wonders if even Big Media is prone to lose control of these Cyber-Gatekeepers at some point. Think of Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster.

It’s bad enough, say many, if the New York Times or Google or CNN or Fox News or Disney has excessive influence over what we hear, read, and discuss. But it’s worse if people are taken out of the equation and programs – maybe mathematical formulas – are allowed to take control of the public conversation on issues crucial to our economy, country – and world – going forward.

We’ll expand on this topic in future entries. But this series will begin with what seems a straightforward topic on which everyone can agree, controlling Internet “spam.”

Not so! I hope you will see that the topic of “spam” – what it actually is and who should have the power to control it – is anything but simple and straightforward. Indeed, it is actually quite complicated and quite controversial.

As are many other topics this series will highlight.

Please keep tuned. Because the Media Revolution has already begun.

For the first article in this series, “Spam I Am Not – The Big Media Weapon Hidden in Plain Sight,” go to: http://wp.me/pycK6-1b