Spam … what exactly is it?
Spam in this electronic age is a generic term generally referring to the indiscriminate distribution of unsolicited bulk messages, especially advertising. Originally confined to email its use has now spread to mobile phone messaging, forums, blogs, fax transmissions, instant messaging and of course social media platforms including Pinterest. Ever wondered why it’s called Spam? Supposedly it derives from a highly amusing Monty Python sketch televised in the UK in 1970 in which Spam, a pork luncheon meat, was irritatingly included in every dish. Being a low cost form of advertising spam continues to flourish despite continual efforts to stamp it out with legislation. The cost to the public is high as a result of lost productivity, fraud and the extra resources required coping with the increasing volumes of spam. In the case of electronic mail spam it was estimated in 2011 that there were 7 trillion spam messages.
Let’s now home in on our passion Pinterest. I started using Pinterest early in 2013 and didn’t appreciate the nuisance caused by spammers until I got my first invites to contribute pins to Group Boards. I felt elated that the Board Owners had invited me to pin as it meant that they were now reaching a potential audience of many thousands. What I hadn’t realised though was how prevalent spammers were and in particular those directing traffic to weight loss and health blogs, handbag outlets and more.
I have been a regular pinner on a Group Board entitled Homemade Food Recipes with its 18,000 followers but a few weeks back it became a dumping ground for Weight Loss pins, many of which directed to the same blog post. I started to report the offending pins using the buttons available to us and also adding comments to pins but it was self perpetuating with one spammer being deleted and another immediately emerging.
I came across many pins entitled “Stop Spam” but soon realised that Spamming on Pinterest was on an industrial scale and these isolated pleas to Stop Spam were totally ineffective. The worrying consequence of seeing these totally unrelated pins is that board contributors stop pinning and followers turn off pin notifications or worse stop following the board.
I have enjoyed the “genuine” pins on the Group Boards that I contribute to and hate to see the negative effect that Spammers are causing, so decided to try and help kick the Spammers. First thing though I need to dig deeper and try to understand how they were operating.
How did Spammers become a problem on Group Boards?
There are two basic types of Board Owner:
- Those that control whom are added as a contributor.
- Those that allow contributors to invite their own followers.
The first approach whereby you must be personally invited to a board seems to have only a few problems with unwanted pins. It is clearly as a result of the zero tolerance policy adopted by many which states that “Any one inviting a contributor without the express permission of the board owner will result in both parties being removed from the board”. This “hands on” approach can be time consuming but the result is a board that grows more steadily and that has quality and appropriate pins.
It is the second approach of “pinner inviting pinner” that I want to discuss further and importantly how we can collectively limit the ability of Spammers to spoil Pinterest. This approach of one pinner inviting another is a great way to quickly build a board’s following but with the drawback that you give up immediate control of who gets invited in and we have all witnessed the result.
The Destructive Power of the Spammers
This screen shot is of a Board entitled “Natural Cures” and you can see what a problem the Board Owner has … all the recent pins relate to Weight Loss. There are lots of different images but they all point to just one blog created by an Eastern European author. So exasperated is the board owner as regards the problem he is experiencing that he has post the following comment “have contacted Pinterest and requested help on spammers! I spend HOURS deleting their pins. Block them, Report them… they just come back under another name. Please keep reporting them! Thanks!”
This poisoning of this Group Board and others has resulted from some “bad apples” having been invited in as contributors. Once inside they often assume the role of a “Sleeper” as in the Cold War lying dormant and until one of their own is deleted. Of course board owners could “post creation” of the board, when spamming starts, introduce the zero tolerance approach to try an eradicate future Spammers but deep down in the already sizeable list of 20,000 contributors could be those “Sleepers”. So in this case the board owner will very likely still have some work to do but it’s better than leaving it unchecked.
Spotting the Spammers
The spammers fall into two categories Active and Passive with the latter being far more difficult to detect.
In the screen shot above it is quite obvious that these posts are spam and the pinners are what we consider spammers. What is more irritating is when pins are placed on totally irrelevant boards. What you must realise though is that these pinners are not real, they are a just a profile that has been created by someone wanting to exploit social media sites with their indiscriminate advertising. In most cases these profiles are generated by software so vexing your frustration by commenting on a pin, hoping the pinner will take note is wishful thinking. Most spammer profiles are completely fake including name, the “about-you”, often suspicious looking web addresses and I have discovered most are also using photos stolen from the www and even other pinners……I have seen famous models and celebs.
So Active Spammers are relatively easy to identify but it is essential to get to the root cause. On each group board you can see whom invited whom and it is imperative to look further down the list as the orchestrator is likely to have been in the group for some time and whose creator thought she would go unnoticed. Unless the complete chain of profiles is reported, new fake profiles will pop up and perpetrate the board.
Technically of course someone that isn’t making pins cannot be considered a spammer but these “Spammers in Wait” are very dangerous. They will be invited onto a board and slip down the list as others are added. It is only when one of their group of fake profiles is deleted that they are called to action and they will have during their period of wait increased the size of the group by inviting others. When you have a board of several thousand contributors you have to very determined to seek out these sleepers as they may be several hundred down the list.
A few weeks back I spotted a group of 6 individuals that had been added to one of the group boards that I contribute to - one had invited the next person and so on all within the same timeframe. When I checked the profiles I found each was “Following” around 150 and had 50 “Followers” but had absolutely no pins. The biggest surprise though was that each had amassed in the region of 180 identical Group Boards and as to be expected none of their own. All have been deleted by Pinterest HQ stopping the potential poisoning of 180 Group Boards.
How can we each assist in Eradicating Spammers?
Spamming is big business for the perpetrators. It’s cheap promotion of products and services and makes them lots of money so complete eradication is unlikely. However, we can all frustrate their game and hope that they do move on. So how can we all help?
Report all Spam Pins. Click on the embedded pinned image and then the flag icon bottom right.
Report Spammers. If they are pinning spam throughout Pinterest report the individual by visiting their profile and clicking on the flag icon within the profile box. If you have extensive evidence I suggest rather than just clicking the Spam button, that you click “Other” and give detail.
Report Groups of Spammers. If you identify a chain of spammers – perhaps one inviting another and so on, report your findings via the Help area. To assist Pinterest HQ, ensure that you detail the spammers “user ID” as found on the address bar of the browser. It is not sufficient to merely quote Anne Smith as there are many. Also give the full address of the group board as likewise there will be many with similar names.
Comment on a Spam Pin. Some Board Owners ask that you add a comment to a spam post including their own ID (found in the address bar of the browser) and prefixed with “@” so it is brought to their attention. This enables them to identify the spam post and take action.
Be a Vigilant and Responsible Group Board Owner. If you are the owner of a board that is “By Invitation Only” you should have a limited penetration by spammers. In all cases though at present members of Boards can invite others and whilst this continues to be the case:
- Ensure that you remove those in breach of your membership rules. The people behind spam use software tools that are active 24/7 so remove and report spammers in a timely manner.
- In addition to removing offenders do “drill down” and look at who invited whom to the board. Check the profile of that individual as they may be there for the sole purpose of adding new spammers. The fact they have knowingly breached your rules indicates that they may be suspect.
- Report Spammers to Pinterest HQ in addition to evicting them since they are likely to be on many other Group Boards.
- Please do be proactive if your Board is open to all. Group Board owners need to regularly check boards since to leave them unmonitored will likely lead them to becoming a haven for spammers with the consequence that you lose followers.
I hope that you found this post revealing, interesting and not too scary. I propose to update it as an when I learn of any new tricks being employed by those trying to spoil our life on Pinterest. I would of course love to welcome you as one of my Followers www.pinterest.com/scoles2011