It’s also a realm within which there can be a fine line between persuasion, publicity and outright untruth, not least because – on the screens of our smartphones, tablets and computers – everything is constantly in competition with everything else. Many of us are desperately seeking a scrap of others’ scarce attention. And one of the easiest ways to win this attention is to act like a scammer yourself: to play the numbers game by spamming the world at large, and hoping the “most promising marks” will self-select.
It’s easier to copy and fire off a single message twenty times than to write a couple of original updates. Indeed, this kind of relentless repetition can feel essential if you want to have a hope of being heard, let alone if you’re trying to drum up interest in a new product or service. Courtesy of social media, spam approaches from hacked accounts may be an increasingly common approach; but so too are stand-alone spam accounts designed to look like real people; and real people and corporate accounts quite willing to engage in spam-like activities to serve their own ends. Google itself has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently, thanks to a proposed $6 million settlement to a class action lawsuit over 400,000 allegedly spam text-messages sent by its apps subsidiary Slide.
Attention-seeking is far from the only game online, but it’s among the most ubiquitous – and the most seductive. Many online services, in fact, actively encourage their users to spam each other. More messages and interactions make them look good, and breed further actions. Quantity, not quality, is the bottom line.
So why not play the odds, copy your press release or status update to a thousand people, and then resend repeatedly to help it win through?
The answer, spam suggests, is twofold. What’s instant and easy for you is a cost multiplied across every recipient. But what works for spam is also, by definition, inadequate so far as any kind of informed decision is confirmed – or any kind of meaningful exchange.
You’re likely, in other words, to end up with the kind of attention you deserve: fleeting, unintentional, and probably rather irritated. This may be enough. But you should be aware of the company you’re keeping.