Holy spam, it's propaganda

August 21, 2005

Yesterday (March 9, 2004) I received around 160 spam messages. SpamBayes does a great job, catching about 140 of them, and flagging about 20 as suspect. It only missed one or two “spam” that are content newsletters highly related to my field which I was subscribed to without permission or no longer read.

I now trust SpamBayes decision that a message is definitely spam and completely ignore those. I skim the suspects everyday and use those for training.

Trends in spamming techniques are very clear when you receive this much junk. While I consider these interesting (e.g. mixing up word letters, adding junk words to fool the filters) a couple of recent messages have annoyed me more than most.

Last week I received my first piece of spam art / poetry. A simple poem that the author felt compelled to send to millions of readers. I could appreciate the idea when done through Google Ads, but was not so excited about having it thrust into my Inbox.

Today, I received my first religious spam encouraging me to find Jesus. This felt even lower…

It raises the interesting idea however that spam is a very effective propaganda technique. If you have a cause and want to get the message out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible, why not use spam? This could be used for both constructive (Go Wildcats!) or destructive (XXX is guilty - here’s proof) ideas. It’s like a modern day equivalent of dropping leaflets only cheaper, faster and bigger.

Imagine if someone decided to start a SPAM onslaught threatening a terrorist attack? Hard to track, quick to spread and must be taken seriously.

Note: Originally posted to my Synop blog on March 10, 2004.

Update August 20, 2005: While I peaked around 400 spam per day, by moving to Gmail and removing the catch all for Synop email addresses I’ve cut back to about 39 with only 1 or 2 actually reaching my inbox each day.