Facebook: Spam Factory

I joined Facebook a few months ago, to keep up with some friends and colleagues who aren’t part of the other social networks I belong to, and to keep abreast of social networking in general, which interests me professionally. Each of the networks I belong to has a purpose: LJ is a blogging platform and a way to keep up with friends who blog regularly and to whom I’m close enough to share fairly intimate details of my life; its filtering capabilities allow me to have concentric rings of friends who see different levels of detail. Myspace is strictly for music networking, and works quite well for that purpose despite its horrendous user interface.

Facebook filled a gap: it let me keep abreast of people who don’t blog or to whom I am not close enough to want to share detailed blog entries. It’s the best way for me to keep up with my many former colleagues, and its telegraphic style makes it possible to actively watch a very long friends list.

Or, it used to. Facebook has gotten increasingly problematic. Even though I have set my preferences to the contrary, my news feed is filling up with so much spam and crap that I miss significant updates (like new photos) by friends from whom I really want to see updates. I turned off email notifications because the vast majority of them were notes not from friends, but from applications my friends had installed. I mostly ignore those requests, but I was becoming increasingly puzzled by the amount of spam I was getting. Had all of my otherwise rational friends suddenly turned into junk-mail-forwarders?

I decided to accept a few requests and see what was going on. I went through eleven screens to read a one-line Christmas card message from one person, tried to return a thrown snowball to someone else (and after ten or twelve screens gave up entirely), and tried to share music through iLike. None of these applications worked properly, and all of them did their best to trick me into spamming everyone in sight. I’ve documented my interaction with one particularly deceptive application below, but this is pretty much standard behavior for most third-party Facebook applications. It is very difficult to install these applications without spamming your friends; they mislead or tell outright lies in order to get you to do so, and in this case, even ignoring it entirely won’t help.

Step 1: The come-on Step 1: The come-on
This item showed up in my news feed this morning. I clicked to view my friend’s message.

Step 2: The sales pitch Step 2: The sales pitch
Oh, I’m adding an application? Why do I have to do that just to read a message? OK, let’s give this a try. For the sake of this experiment, I’ll agree to the terms of use and grant all these permissions to this unknown application that’s already sorta-lied to me.

Step 3: Spam Step 3: Spam
Now things are getting really sneaky. In this frame (altered to protect everyone’s identity), you select friends “whose messages you want to see” but what’s really happening is that you’re sending them spam asking them to add the application.

Step 4: More spam Step 4: More spam
I’m being prompted here again to send spam (not even to a selected list). I still haven’t seen my friend’s message.

Step 5: And more spam Step 5: And more spam
Yet another opportunity to spam my friends. I still haven’t seen the message.

Step 6: Still more spam Step 6: Still more spam
More spam for my friends. Still no message.

Step 7: Spam spam spam spam Step 7: Spam spam spam spam
More spam. No message. Note the very tiny “skip” link at the bottom you need to find in order to avoid spamming people; if you “unselect all” and click Forward, you get an error message.

Step 8: I give up! Step 8: I give up!
I picked one friend in the previous screen and sent a spam, to see if I could get out of the loop and finally read the message. No such luck. So at this point I just clicked back to my news feed, and again clicked there to read X’s message.

Step 9: The punchline Step 9: The punchline
My friend, whose message I was trying to read, doesn’t even have the application! He or she (I refused to do the moronic Faceboook thing of referring to individuals as “they”) ignored the spam that some other friend had sent. If I’d been less careful in installing this app, I would have not only spammed my friends, but THEIR friends as well.

To be clear: person Y installed this stupid application and fell for one of the screens that deceives you into sending spam. Person X, my friend, is a friend of person Y, got this spam, and ignored it, never reading person Y’s message. Yet I still got spam that pretended to be something relevant to person X, in turn attempting to deceive me into the same trick. This is deceptive, unacceptable behavior, and as a result my usage of, and respect for, Facebook is dwindling rapidly.

So, to my Facebook friends, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your sending me gifts and cards and attacking me with your werewolf. I’m up for a snowball fight anytime you want to come over (assuming we get some snow). But I won’t be accepting any more of these invitations.

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