Should Social Networks Sue Spammers?

Twitter has made waves recently for its decision to file lawsuits against the five most prolific spammers and spamming tool providers. In a blog post, Twitter announced, “Our engineers continue to combat spammers’ efforts to circumvent our safeguards, and today we’re adding another weapon to our arsenal: the law.”

Twitter has long had an issue with spammers, as addressed in previous statements by the company. It would appear that I can’t tweet about anything current or relevant to present trends without receiving a dozen responses from spammers and hacked accounts sending me links to whatever porn or fake something else site these con artists want me to stumble into.

In Twitter’s most recent attempt to put a stop to the prolific and largely annoying spree of spam is just another step in the uphill battles social networks must face to combat the growing number of companies leveraging their platforms for personal gain.

Twitter isn’t the first big brand in social media to take a legal stab at spam. Facebook sued Adscend Media for alleged clickjacking, the practice of using code to turn an otherwise innocent-looking link into an automatic “like” of a company’s product or brand.

What Type of Spam are We Talking About Here?

This may sound like an easy question to answer, but the details surrounding what spam actually is can be quite complex. Spam, as we’ve come to know it on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, is the uninvited advertising of a product, service, or malicious site through comments, instant messages, or other modes of communication.

Some spam can be quite subtle, leading the user to believe it is a legitimate link to something entirely different. The spammer is paid for traffic, the user is tricked into visiting a specific URL, and the social network is given a bad name for harboring this type of traffic.

Much of this spam is actually legitimate advertising that follows the terms and conditions of the network. Simply sending a link out to your followers about your product or service is completely legitimate, as is encouraging them to share the link in order to qualify for a giveaway.

The type of spam that makes social networks and their users shudder can be quite different. Malicious links and bait-and-switch tactics render social networks into virtual minefields full of potential threats to anyone willing to click. When these links come from trusted friends and family, the problem becomes much more serious.

Using a Scalpel Instead of a Hatchet

Twitter is only filing a lawsuit with five spammers or providers of spamming tools. By doing so, it is targeting the source of the problem rather than risking putting hacked accounts, false reports, and other potentially wronged account holders in jeopardy. This is, in this writer’s opinion, a clever move for several reasons.

First, lawsuits are expensive, and Twitter’s legal team know this. By filing the suits, it’s spending valuable resources to combat a serious problem. Spam doesn’t just add to the bottom line of the spammer, but it jeopardizes the social network as well. After all, how often would you use a service that answers every status update with a cascade of useless messages from accounts that aren’t even driven by a real human?

Second, you’d be amazed at just how much spam comes from a single tool or source. Would-be tycoons of the seedy underbelly of the marketing world (not actual marketing professionals, mind you) could very well be just average script-happy kids using a tool that is commonly available to make a profit. By taking on the creators of the tools, Twitter is targeting the source of much of the problem. In essence, it’s actually targeting a lot more than just five spammers.

Third, the suits act as a warning shot to other would-be spammers out there. The RIAA and MPAA may not have filed lawsuits with the millions of pirates out there, but the horror stories that circulated the Web were reason enough for many freeloaders to give piracy a second thought. Again, not a definitive solution, but a deterrence that users are certain to appreciate.

Final Thoughts

Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other social networks thrive on a content and growing user base. Spam, while profitable for the spammer, does nothing to benefit the social network of the user. Twitter is in the right by upholding its terms and conditions, and using the law to do so is a natural step that other social networks have taken to combat a growing threat.

While Twitter is unlike others in how it handles status updates and messages, with each being severely limited in both length and lifespan against the constantly flowing river of updates in any one news feed, its users are all too aware of the impact these unwanted messages have on experience.

Twitter may not put a stop to spam with this action, but at the very least, it’s more than many of its users give it credit for. It’s easy to blame the social network for the spam, but the reality of the situation is that the social network itself is a victim, too.

What do you think? Should social networks sue spammers, or should they avoid legal actions and stick to developing new strategies to locate and block violators of their terms and conditions?

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://twitter.com/davidclare1 David Clare

    If you can go straight to the source, in this case the tool developers, then go for it. But it’s important that social networks try to tackle the issue at ground level.  

    • http://twitter.com/davidclare1 David Clare

      *this comment has been marked as spam* sorry, had to be done!

  • http://twitter.com/fixgadget GadgetFix

    I personally think taking it to the extreme of a lawsuit would only be necessary if the spammers are successful causing any sort of actual damage to your infrastructure,  cause downtime or data loss. Lawsuits are expensive and they would have to rack up a few cases or incidents to make it worthwhile. With certain international laws the ‘spammers’ might not be doing anything illegal which is another can of worms all together.

    Sue them if they try to lure your user base to another more lucrative platform while using your platform or service as it may be detrimental to your particular ecosystem; not to mention somewhat anti-competitive.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Matt Ryan

      Interesting!

  • Wolfee Darkfang

    I hope this means the end of facebook game/app spam. Invite Invite Invite… Then you accept it, next thing you know you get all kinds of spam from it, and your friends start complaining to you that you are spamming without even realizing it.

    • wizzardsblog

      Are you sure you didn’t sign up to the games/apps in question? You do have to go through a couple of steps before confirming, so it cannot be done by accident.

  • http://twitter.com/msdcarey Daria

    Are lawsuits necessary? I think something in the terms statement alerting users that spammers will be banned from service should be a good start. So many of them are easy to identify: 0 followers 0 following & 500 tweets should be enough 

  • http://www.mandevillehosting.info/ Hewittdwight

    No they did the same thing to get where they are there is no way that new poor site owners can get there web presents out to the world because everybody scam them and try to make a killing off them and they don’t have money to advertise there products that’s why good sites cant come on stream bigger sites fight them cause they want to get richer and richer nothing for the poor who want to try

    • http://www.mandevillehosting.info/ Hewittdwight

      and i don’t mean stealing people information to email and give trouble if you catch a person like that the law should deal with them

  • http://www.actsofpaint.com/ Ellen Marcus

    No, I don’t think people should be sued for sending spam on Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Reported, yes, but not sued, because, there’s always that occasional account owner who will unknowingly give out their password to a phishing bot or malicious spammer (who can then hijack the account).  I don’t think there’s any law on file to punish people who unknowingly give their password to a phishing spam-bot, and I don’t think there should be.

    On the other hand, if the malicious spammers (the one’s phishing for passwords and hijacking accounts as mentioned in this article) can be caught, I would advise suing that entity/person(s) to the full extent of the law.

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Matt Ryan

      Fair and balanced assessment. Thanks!

  • April Elyse Martin

    no it would be a total waste of resources to hire a lawyer , go to court , have a hearing, and then the trial. All you have to do is ban the user and ban their IP so they can’t rejoin. 

    • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Matt Ryan

      Spammers are a little more clever than that sometimes. :-/ Good point though.

  • Clausottesen

    Spamming a person you don’t know, is there a differentiation from a person you know! 

  • http://twitter.com/fixgadget GadgetFix

    This is the world we live in if you don’t like something file for a frivolous lawsuit. Just about anything can be considered offensive. Look at how we hinder innovation one patent lawsuit at a time. If someone decides to promote something are they spamming? I don’t recall receiving a bunch of enlargement pill ads from people on FaceBook or Twitter. Funny enough I culled  through my list of followers and a few had 0 Tweets and were linked to adult sites.

  • https://plus.google.com/112301869379652563135/posts Matt Ryan

    Thanks for the comment!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cornelia-Cornflake/100002692962280 Cornelia Cornflake


    we’re adding another weapon to our arsenal: the law.”

    Er … no, you’re not! You gotta love hype, haven’t you? “The law” is not being invoked in any way when you sue somebody. Though lawsuits may lead to new laws, and can (in the US) lead to punitive damages being awarded, they are not something you can wield about you like the sword and shield of righteousness. Unlike criminal trials, in which the defendant is innocent until proven guilty of a specific offence, civil suits require the plaintiff to establish that there is an offence (ie. demonstrable and compensatable damages or injury) at all. I have no doubt that  a company of expensive lawyers has been added to the ‘arsenal’ but that’s a whole different kettle of shark … er  …. fish!

  • http://www.caseyfrennier.com/ Casey Frennier

    I think if this catches on it will just spam up courtrooms that should be dealing with more important issues that have a greater impact in people’s lives.

    I’d rather deal with spam on a social network than in the legal system.

    Really it’s the user that was scammed with spam that would have a stronger case against a spammer anyway not the networks. If some guy stole something from someone on a Greyhound bus the victim of the crime would probably be in a better position to sue than the Greyhound bus company.

    Also, if you have enough information about the spammers to bring suit then you should have enough info to ban them from your network. If you don’t, you need to require more information to join. (like a commercial i saw on discovery last night about a motorcycle gang “we make it hard to join so we don’t have to worry about kicking them out” sort of thing)

  • http://josephratliff.com/blog JosephRatliff

    Going after the higher leverage points is a smart move by Twitter IMO… there are WAY too many individual spammers to even begin to simply “ban accounts”.  You would ban one, then 10 others pop up.

    However, that being said we’ll see how it turns out.

  • http://josedmorales.net Josè Daniel

    Good luck with international spammers!

  • Gemma_Mac

    As an ordinary Twitter user, it’s the bait and switch tweets that are the most annoying to me.  Searching for comments on your fav topic or celebrity brings up posts but the links have nothing to do with the topic you searched for and lead to advertising or worse, porn sites.  To many to report.