As I noted in a recent post about, um, Big Bird, between undergrad and law school, I spent a year working for the Security Abuse Team at MySpace. My job was essentially two-fold: review computer-generated reports to quickly delete new profiles created by spammers and investigate emailed reports of spam, malware, hackers, and other nefarious activities.
When you interact daily with thousands of people complaining about similar issues, you begin to notice patterns. Complaints could generally be broken into three categories. First, there were the genuine and correct reports of security issues (spammers, hackers, etc.). Second, there were the misunderstood complaints: the user thinks they’ve found a hacker or “spammer,” but it’s really another known issue that some other team should be dealing with. When you’re familiar with what the current spam accounts look like (that is, the patterns generated by their usernames, passwords, IP addresses, and other data), it’s pretty easy to identify when the complaining user is correct about whether an account is ‘spam’ or not.
Let me pause for a moment and tell you what spam is and isn’t. Spam is unsolicited commercial communication. It means that the main goal of the message (or account) is to advertise in more than a passive manner. Spam is not sending a lot of messages (that’s ‘flooding’, or perhaps harassment if it’s designed to be received by one individual and has no legitimate purpose). Most of all, spam is not simply being a jackass on the internet. That’s just called being a jackass.
Which brings us to the third type of complaining users: the Whiner. Whiners are the people who adopt their own definition of ‘spam’ — or ‘stalking’, ‘harassment’, or whatever other menacing term they can find — apply it to someone they don’t like, and report their target as a ‘spammer’ in the hope that they’ll be deleted by the social network. This is what separates the Whiner from the user who simply misunderstands what ‘spam’ is: the Whiner doesn’t just want to be left alone (which is easily accomplished by blocking the targeted user): they want to shut the other person up entirely. More often than not, the Whiner’s report will be simultaneous with an ominous message to the target that they’ve been reported for spam, stalking, etc. The Whiner will also often try to rally his friends to report the target for ‘spam’, in the pitiful hope either that account deletions are a matter of democratic petition to the social network’s admins, or that the admins will be even more sympathetic to the butthurt caused by the nasty things the target has said if more people point it out.
Pro-tip: if you’re reporting someone for spam who isn’t spamming, all you accomplish is to waste some geek’s time and make yourself look like a censorious douche.
Which brings us to Larry Bodine. Mr. Bodine’s role in today’s Internet facepalm moment is, as usual, described more adeptly by Ken White, but it boils down to this: Mr. Bodine runs Lawyers.com, a legal marketing website. During a conference about legal marketing (replete with buzzwords like “the cloud” and great advice like “combining Twitter with LinkedIn”), Mr. Bodine and others used the hashtag #LMATech to talk about the cookie-cutter new-age ‘marketing’ that is too often used in the stead of traditional word-of-mouth-because-you’re-competent marketing. When Brian Tannebaum (@btannebaum) and Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield), among others, began mocking the conference using the sacred #LMATech hastag, Mr. Bodine became a Whiner.
Mr. Bodine attempted to rally the other 20 Twitter users attending the conference to “do what I did and report @scottgreenfield [and @btannebaum] to Twitter for spam” and went on to complain that “Tannenbaum is now stalking me on twitter so I blocked him completely. [...] He’s a troll who has nothing else to do but stalk people and disrupt events.”
Join me in facepalming (and let’s leave aside the “wut” echoing in your head from the proposition that one can disrupt the real world via Twitter, or the nagging feeling resulting from insensitivity of equating criticism with “stalking”):
First, hitting “report for spam” likely does nothing that could help Mr. Bodine. If Twitter’s approach to spam is like MySpace, the “report for spam” feature is generally used to train algorithms used to identify spam accounts in the future. It’s likely that a human being didn’t even see whatever report was generated by hitting ‘report for spam.’
Second, when Mr. Bodine says that he later “blocked [Tannebaum] completely” for stalking, that suggests that Mr. Bodine himself never actually reported Tannebaum for spam — because doing so automatically blocks the reported user.
Third, Tannebaum and Greenfield may be many things to Mr. Bodine, but they’re certainly not ‘spammers.’ They’re not advertising anything. They’re mocking Mr. Bodine’s conference — which is likely to do little to endear them to other attendees or earn them any clients (who, most assuredly, do not care what lawyers talk about at lawyer conferences). They’re not selling anything except LOLs. While it’s hard to fault Mr. Bodine for not understanding the finer points of the “report for spam” tool, it is bewildering that a legal marketing professional has no working understanding of the definition of “spam.” That might be all you need to know about internet legal marketing professionals.