If you use the internet – like you obviously do – then it’s highly likely you’ve received an email from a friendly Nigerian Prince desperate for money, or something along those lines. Spam has been present on the internet ever since its inception, but due to changing laws, tech trends and user habits it never maintains the same form for long. Reading The New York Times’ ‘The Follower Factory’ this week I realized that the days of the Nigerian Prince are over and new, even more faceless, opaque spam tactics have emerged.
In recent years, the Australian Government has passed laws such as the Spam Act which have effectively prohibited sending unsolicited e-mails and messages. This has led to a large decline in the amount of e-mail spam people receive and – along with dedicated spam folders on all major email service providers – kept the public’s inboxes clean. However with the huge boom in social media use, spammers have found a way around this act, and have largely migrated from e-mail to platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Spam has taken a much less direct approach in the last decade, spammers have taken to the creation of fake profiles and accounts on social media platforms used to promote the individuals or corporations that buy their ‘follow’. A celebrity may buy a certain amount of Twitter followers or Facebook page likes for instance, who will retweet or share the celebrity’s posts. This gives the buyer a higher perceived relevance on these social networks due to larger followers, while also generating further reach due to sharing and retweeting. So far no laws have been passed regarding the creation of fake accounts or the buying of followers, however the former does raise legal issues of identity theft.
I believe this new form of spam is something much more sinister than previous iterations of internet spam. There is clearly some evidence of identity theft, like the Instagram accounts created entirely out of stolen photos that were reported in The Verge’s article. Spam is becoming much harder to spot and even harder to evade. I personally am followed by some sort of fake Instagram account or receive a friend request from a fake Facebook account almost weekly. I’m sure that somewhere in the future this type of spamming will reach its peak and the government will finally intervene, outlawing what can very easily be seen as identity theft. I do not believe however, that this will be the end of spamming. I believe spam will continue to evolve, constantly changing and never dying as new loopholes will be found and new technologies emerge to take advantage of. Even today, the rise of DeepFakes, an AI learning programming technique that allows people to essentially create completely fake, yet startlingly realistic videos and pictures of celebrities, world figures and even random people saying and doing pretty much anything. The CSIRO has examined the danger of this technology and I believe it could very easily be abused for spamming purposes. With continued technological revolutions such as this, it is obvious to me that spam is nowhere near dead.
What do you think? Do you believe spam is alive and well, perhaps even on the rise? Do you think the government will be able to make meaningful efforts to stop it? Are you still in contact with any members of the Nigerian Royal Family? Let me know in the comments below.
And as always, stay classy reader.