Someone’s spreading terrible rumours about you

Published 28, Nov, 2012

Christopher Banks on the new age of internet spam and those awful emails and tweets we all know about – and should never, ever click on.

Spam used to be simple. No-frills emails telling you how to ENLARGE your penis through pharmacology. 

Something has changed in the age of social media, though.  All but the most delusional of us are no longer susceptible to such bluntness.  We’ve accepted our knobs are not going to get any bigger, unless we attach them to that stretching machine they used on Mike Teevee in Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.

The spammers of the 21st century have more insidious weapons in their arsenal: they fuck with your mind.  Whereas the penispammers of old whacked you in the face with a saucepan, the new breed whispers quietly in your ear while knifing you in the spleen.

Consider this email that arrived in my inbox today, sliding in like a sneaky candy into a Christmas stocking:

From: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Subject:  I’m still in love with you.

Date:   17 October 2012 3:46:41 PM AEDT

I think about you day after day. Usually I even plan out what I’ll say. You have no way to know, just read this card and know I remember the time, I remember the day, I had no idea what I was going to say, so I’m saying it now.

Below was a discreet link for me to claim my private E-card from this genderless Casanova.

Obviously I wasn’t going to click it, but as far as spam to a recently-separated man goes, it was a rather shitty email to receive.  Maybe if I was drunker and sadder I might have clicked it, in the hope of reading more poorly constructed clichés that I could project my life onto.

Another more common one going around is the scourge of Twitter: private messages from your followers (whose accounts have been hacked) telling you that someone is either spreading horrible rumours about you, or posting incriminating videos of you on Facebook.

It’s the sort of thing guaranteed to cause a paranoid reaction.  Where did that shot of my private parts end up?  Has someone created an horrific Photoshop collage involving boudoir pics from Growlr and various farm animals?  I must check, I must!

Not that spammers have ever given a shit about ethics, but with the increasing use of mind games, I’m left wondering where this is going to end up.

Emails telling you that a family member has died or is seriously ill?  There’s enough information publicly available about our lives now that a savvy programmer could create an algorithm to extract detail to personalise such an email and make it convincing enough to snare the vulnerable.  

Direct tweets like this one are not far off:

"um…this profile is making threats against you, they’ve been posting tweets non-stop, just thought I should show you."

The Internet is a scary place sometimes, and the rise of psychological spam does nothing to help those of us who are trying to promote the value of social media as a forum for engagement on mental health issues with an industry of professionals that are still very skeptical about jumping online.

This article first appeared on Christopher’s own blog Bipolar Bear here.