Social Media Spam: Ick!

(NOTE: I originally wrote this for Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits blog. Since it’s also relevant here, I’m cross-posting it.)

Spammer
What does "Digg bait" look like? These screen grabs from a site that sells dental insurance via an affiliate program show how out-of-place the article "Geek’s Guide to Getting in Shape" is. (Click to enlarge)

Well, I knew it would happen. Spammers have figured out how to game social media news aggregation sites like Digg, Reddit, and Newsvine.

On Nov. 21, blogger Niall Kennedy examined one example of this kind of spamming in detail, explaining how it happened and why it’s a problem.

Here’s his explanation of how this particular instance of social media spam worked:

"Last weekend I noticed a Digg submission about weight loss tips had climbed the site’s front page, earning a covetous position in the top 5 technology stories of the moment. The 13 sure-fire tips were authored by ‘Dental Geek’ and posted to the ‘Discount Dental Plan’ category on his WordPress blog. Scanning the sidebar links and adjacent content it was obvious this content was out of place on a page optimized for dental insurance. The Webmaster of i-dentalresources.com had inserted some Digg bait, seeded a few social bookmarking services, and waited for links and page views to roll in, creating a new node in a spam farm fueled by high-paying affiliate programs and identity collection for resale."

Ick! Now, I’m all for posting valuable content as a way to engage communities and attract audiences. But this really crosses a line, I think…

Clearly a lot of people found this particular article useful — just check out the comments. That said, relevance is the true currency of online communities. Using apparently relevant content as bait to lure people to an irrelevant destination is indeed an insidious type of spamming, I think.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

Well, I don’t know — but Ravi, who commented on Kennedy’s post, offered this idea: "I hope that social networking sites evolve to behave more like Wikipedia, in the sense that the crowd can become smart enough to quickly detect and ‘blacklist’ sites that are obviously out there just to game the system."

Also, bdeseattle offered this idea: "I find it fascinating to watch Digg Swarm and actually see how readers gravitate from story to story in real time. I’d love to mine that data and have the ability to trace diggs user by user, story by story, and then look for common patterns for how
users navigate in real time from story to story. Would also likely help with exposing spammers and others who are exploiting the social networks. Maybe we need to whip up some spambots that crawl the social networks and nuke all spam-related content/comments/etc. Your post
underscores the importance of baking anti-spamming ninjas directly into socially-driven systems in the hopes of slaying the spammers."

Meanwhile, Jupiter Research analyst Barry Parr observed, "Our research shows that consumers see social news sites as less trustworthy than news media or portal sites — by a fairly wide margin. Stories like this tell us it’s going to take a while for social news aggregators to win the trust they need to be more than a fringe source for most consumers."

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