Monday, September 2, 2013

Understanding Facebook Spam

Check you’re e-mail and you’re likely to find a few spam messages. We’ve come to expect it and when the spam filters let some of it through, most of us hit the delete button and away it goes. Or maybe we don’t read our e-mail at all because most of it is stuff we don’t want to see. Many of us communicate more through Facebook than we do through e-mail. Unfortunately, Facebook has its own problem with spam. Worse, many of us perpetuate it without realizing what we are doing. Let’s take a look at how Facebook spam works.

Troll Linking

One of the most obvious forms of spam is the work of trolls and can result in click-through profits for the troll. It works like this: first, the troll finds a Facebook page that has several thousand followers. He then adds a comment to the page along the lines of “That’s interesting, but you should check out” The people curious enough to follow the link will be taken to a site advertising some product and the person who placed the link will be credited with redirecting traffic to that site.

Everyone Needs to See This

Some Facebook spammers are able convince unsuspecting users to do their dirty work. Instead of directly posting the link on a Facebook page, theses spammers rely on chain sharing. A classic version of this is that the spammer will post a picture of a child with a disfigured face. A recent version of this stated, “This child has skin cancer!!!! FB decided 2 give 1 dollar per every share Ur one share can save his life please dOnt ignore…..” The reason I saw it was because one of my friends had shared it with the statement, “Just in case this is true.”

That’s the reason this type of spam works. People recognize the power of social media and don’t want to be the break in the chain, “just in case this is true.” They don’t want to be the one who doesn’t help a child with cancer. If someone posts, “I found a camera with this picture on it, share to help me find the owner,” they don’t want to be the person who doesn’t help. If someone posts, “97% of Facebook users won’t repost this. Jesus is Lord,” they don’t want to be seen as a heathen for not reposting it.

What’s really going on here is that the person who originally posted these things is trying to drive traffic to their corner of Facebook. In some cases, they are just trying to see the numbers rise. In other cases, they are hoping to gain likes that they can use to push their product at a later time.


For a long time, people have noticed misspellings and grammatical errors in spam of all kinds, including Facebook spam, such as in the example above. Some people have attributed it to foreigners generating the spam. While that is a possible reason, it is much more likely that the people generating the spam speak fluent English. Some may have a college degree. Many times, the misspellings are intentional. If you notice in the example, “Ur” is used to replace “your” not “you are.” And “dOnt" is used to replace “don’t.” Only a person fluent in English would think to make these substitutions.

The reason spammers make substitutions like this is to get around spam filters. If the spam filter is looking for “your one share” then it might not pick up on “Ur one share.” If it is looking for “please don’t ignore,” then it might not pick up on “please dOnt ignore.”

How to Avoid Sharing Spam

First, consider the value of the information. Is this something your friends would want to see? If you see a funny picture or video and want your friends to see it, there isn’t much harm in sharing it. But if the main reason for sharing it is to encourage your friends to pass it along, then maybe you shouldn’t.

Second, consider the accuracy of the information. Can you find evidence to back it up? Does it make sense? Why, for example, would Facebook agree to pay money for the number of times a photo is shared?

Third, consider the source. Was the original information posted by someone you know and trust or is it coming from a page you can’t associate with anyone you know?