Spammers, scammers and the currency of attention

This New Yorker piece on defeating Nigerian email scams is very interesting indeed. It made me see spammers and scammers in a new light.

We already know that spam is all about quantity, not quality. You have to send out huge volumes of spam email before you get enough clicks on your spam link. It’s the same story with spam comments on the web. As I wrote in my post on The Comprehender:

>Now I realise my conception of spammers was rather naïve; I was picturing a sort of cosy spam cottage industry, with individual human beings crawling the web together and saying “Hmm, that looks like a good place for my comment on cheap Rolexes.” Of course it’s more automated than that...

Because I wasn’t seeing things from the spammer’s point of view, I didn’t grasp that spammers have limited resources. And by resources, I actually mean time and attention. Same with scamming: it really is a numbers game, which is, counterintuitively, why scammers make their scams easy to see through. They can’t afford to mess about with sharper people who’ll see through them eventually, so they pre-select for naivety with obvious scams.

What I’ve learnt from the New Yorker article and from my own experience with The Comprehender is that spamming isn’t economical if you have to put in the kind of attention you’re demanding.

Some of the spam comments on my blog are nearly as long as the blog posts they’re “commenting” on. If you’re looking at wordcount alone, you could argue that they’re demanding almost as much attention as the genuine blog content. What I didn’t fully grasp until I started using The Comprehender is that all these posts are left by robots, which is why they can’t answer simple questions about what I’ve written. They’re left by robots because whoever’s behind the spamming can’t afford to give my blog any human attention.

Some things only work if you’re taking someone else’s resources: growing cannabis for profit, having children for political reasons and, of course, spamming. Spam commenters are taking the resources I’ve put into my blog, and the money I spend on domain registration and hosting is just a small part of that. Time and attention, mine and other people’s, is the currency that’s paid for this site’s content, for the links that go to this site, for its place in the search rankings. Spammers want to use that time and attention for their own purposes by treating my blog as a platform for their spam links, but they’re not prepared to give a fraction of it back.