Social usability, acquaintances, and spam

Despite my many years of internet use, I have only rarely had those moments where I stumbled across something I really wasn’t looking for and didn’t want (and usually because I typed something foolish into Google Images without the safe search turned on). Invariably, what I have seen has been thumbnails and relatively inoffensive–insofar as any adult content you weren’t looking for can be inoffensive (as for what people are looking for…that is neither for me to comment on, nor a topic for this blog).

Like Sara, though, my first experience of the true “Can. not. un. see” moment has come as a result of the 23 Things. I was checking my blog over the weekend, and saw I had a comment stuck in moderation. It was on a post I wrote early in the 23 Things, about anonymity online, and said merely “thanks”. Normally, I would delete such a post as spam outright, but given that I know many people are freshly beginning 23 Things, and I didn’t want to discourage a new user, I thought I better make sure that it wasn’t a 23 Things fellow traveller. I didn’t recognise the email address, but that isn’t anything new, and the link wasn’t obvoiusly spammy, so I clicked on it to see the person’s blog. Bad idea. What I saw was a large, outright obscene image and I couldn’t close the browser tab fast enough.

So here we have a very specific set of social circumstances that led me to an unlikely behaviour, and had decidedly unpleasant results–it is easy to see how spammers, scammers, and phishers do their nefarious work. Trust and identity are important features of online social media, but it they are a hard thing to negotiate, and breaking this trust (as my commenter did over the weekend) has severely negative consequences. These negative consequences include the personal negative responses like I had yesterday, the time many of us (including me) spend moderating their blogs so other people don’t have to be offended, and so that such material is not linked from a professional platform, and the bandwidth cost associated with viewing unwanted images or other media.

What is the solution to these antisocial behaviours leading to bad user experience? One possibility is to never click on or approve anything from anyone we don’t know for certain, but to me this denies one of the more interesting possibilities on the web: meeting new people and ideas. Alternatively we could decide not to moderate, and risk unsavoury links being added to our social spaces without our permission, however this gives the spammers even more advertising (and I’m glad I am the only person who had to see what I saw). Being careful seems a happy medium, with a low rate of failure, but it is not always effective, and it would be nice if some of it could be automated. Since it isn’t, though, I urge all my readers to be careful out there, because once something is seen, you can’t unsee it. Does anyone have any better suggestions for dealing with this problem?

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Comment moderation

If it is your first time posting, your comment will automatically be held for my moderation -- I try get to these as soon as possible. After that, your comments will appear automatically. If your comment is on-topic and isn't abusing me or anyone else who comments, chances are I'll leave it alone. That said, I reserve the right to delete (or infinitely moderate) any comments that are abusive, spammy or otherwise irelevant.

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