Oct 18 2012

I get SPAM…

Published by at 6:51 am under Consciousness,identity,spam

In a former life, I worked in the Abuse Department of a large regional ISP. Part of the job was to field SPAM complaints, either from our users who were receiving SPAM, or by users of other ISPs who were receiving SPAM from our users.

Originally, I used to keep a running text file of some of the more outlandish ones. “Hi! My name is Amber! I’m a student at the nearby college. My friends and I posted some OUTRAGEOUS pix! Come look at them!”

Sure. Yeah. Right. The good old University of Nearby.

I wish I still had this text file.  I still remember some of it, but I’ll spare you the details.

After a while, I noticed SPAM was getting strangely surreal, and almost poetic.  I’ve posted a few that I’d received here, here, and here.

Now, however, most of the SPAM I get is in the form of WordPress comments.

What’s fascinating about these comments is that they almost sound as if they’re written by humans – perhaps someone with a 90% grasp of the English language. To get an idea of what I’m talking about, read this post by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing, and check the link he includes to the text file. This is the level of stuff I’m getting.

Some of it is rather comical – suggestions for SEO solutions stating that the “responder” had “only found my site after much difficulty”.  One of these comments might be enough to acknowledge that I’ve, so far, done very little to really do anything, SEO-wise.  It’s on the list, I’ll get to it.

However, 35 such comments (in the course of a week, from different “responders”) becomes laughable.  If I’ve done a piss-poor job of SEO, how on Earth are all of these spammers finding me??

I’ve also had a SPAM comment that, was, frankly, amusingly bitchy:

How is it that just anyone can write a weblog and get as popular as this? Its not like youve said anything incredibly impressive more like youve painted a quite picture above an issue that you know nothing about! I dont want to sound mean, here. But do you actually think that you can get away with adding some quite pictures and not seriously say something?

Tuesday’s post about Prometheus was the first post I’d included pictures in. This comment came in about 4 days ago.

On a level, one can look at this as merely some sort of automated process. I post, spambots (posing as humans) respond. Yet these spambots have ulterior motives.  They want me to approve of their comments, to justify their existences, to allow for their messages about SEO and lingerie and sunglasses to get through. These are servitors, if you will, of unknown technomages, desperately trying to make contact, to engage, with me, or any other human that crosses its path, by mimicking human interaction.

Yet, somehow, they get stuck in the Uncanny Valley; residing in a state of “almost.”  Who do they think they’re fooling?

(At this point, I’m almost feeling sorry for them).

A post at the now defunct site Geektronica discusses the phenomenon of spamlogs; sites created specifically to boost SEO of other sites, while imitating the appearance of actual blogs with actual content. Sometimes, these can be rather convincing.

Naturally, I’m curious as to what would happen if the commenting spambots were to find the spamlogs, and start a discussion. Sometimes I secretly wonder what the cockroach archaeologists of the future will make of these interactions, should they decrypt the various hard drives left on the planet.

As technology continues to improve, we may reach a point where we are unable to tell signal from noise in some instances. It will become more difficult (though I hope not impossible) to discern human attempts at communication from automated responses.

On the other hand, maybe we can use these musings to consider our own online existences. When I am away from my computer, or without access, people are still interacting with a form of me. I do not have to be connected to the Internet to receive e-mail, or comments to this posting. We do not always know if a person is online, but we will respond to them as if they were in the room with us. We are forced to interact with a perception, or “virtual” version of one another. I may be interacting with what I perceive to be my friend online, and she, in turn, will respond to what she perceives to be me – even if we are not online at the same time.

Another way of asking this is, if I connect to the Internet, set my e-mail client to check my e-mail every 10 minutes (and maybe even send out an auto-response), set another program to retrieve news stories, and another to alert me for low airfare deals to London, and I walk away from my computer and go to the coffee shop, who or what is “connected” Is it part of me? Is it a sub-me? Is it a “virtual” me?

In his book TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information (1998), Erik Davis points out that many of these same questions could be asked about telephones.

A spectral ambiguity continues to linger about the device. Does it talk, or do we talk through it, or are these vibrations only the ghosts of ourselves?…Think of the outgoing messages we leave on our answering machines. “I am not here right now,” we say, which of course begs the inevitable question: If we are not there, then who is speaking? Such an apparently trivial question becomes palpably eerie to anyone who has reached an answering machine of the recently deceased and heard the chipper messages of the dead (pp. 66-67).

I could go on at great length about the notion of us being the “higher selves” of our “virtual selves,” (I’ve written a 33 page paper on the subject), but now I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matters.  Or, perhaps, you will simply send out your spambot servitors to continue serenading me with your siren song of SEO rankings and Ray-Bans. Or, perhaps, they are finding me on their own.

That’s okay, though. Because I actually wrote this post yesterday.





  • Davis, Erik. (1998). TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information. New York: Three Rivers Press.


One response so far

One Response to “I get SPAM…”

  1. Colin Meederon 18 Oct 2012 at 7:46 pm

    What a delightful entry! It is an insightful writing on a subject of much interesting.

    But seriously: I think we live in a time where William Burrough’s assertion that “language is a virus from outer space” is losing its air of surrealism, and becoming more literally comprehensible. That scares me a little.

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