Is Facebook's Fight Against Spam Futile?

Facebook congratulates itself on suing a big time spammer, but bloggers say it's a small victory

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Internet spam is seen as a wretched, unavoidable fact of life, but Facebook is seeking to change that. The company is on a crusade to purge its site of spammers, pursuing expensive lawsuits against individual offenders like self-proclaimed "Spam King" Sanford aka "Spamford" Wallace. On Thursday, a California District Court judge awarded the social networking giant a whopping $711 million in damages from Wallace for obtaining access to thousands of accounts under false pretenses and subsequently bombarding users with links to marketing websites that paid him for corralling clicks.

Hailed as a victory by Facebook in a company blog post, the news comes in the midst of another "large-scale spam attack." Facebook also announced that it's altering the site design to block spam more effectively. Bloggers greeted the news of Facebook's victory with light praise, cautioning that for all its bravado, the site was still fighting an uphill battle.

  • Facebook's A Hero, Sort-Of  Writing for Marketing Pilgrim, blogger Frank Reed noted that this was hardly a new predicament for either of the parties involved: Wallace was successfully sued by Myspace earlier this year while Facebook won $873 million from another spammer last November in the largest anti-spam claim to date. He applauds Facebook for taking a tough stance against spammers, but takes the news with a grain of salt:  "While I understand the desire to clean things up this image of a Facebook super hero approach to the spam issue is too much for even the most zealous Facebook supporter to not chuckle at. But hey, it sure beats them rolling over and just allowing their product to get all junked up. Keep it up, Facebook."
  • It's Up to Us  In a similar vein, the Washington Times' Mark Kellner applauds Facebook for doing its part but says that users need to be more aware of spammers as well: "While it is certainly laudable that Facebook is on watch against these kinds of activities, and that the company pursues the alleged bad guys, there's no substitute for personal vigilance when it comes to keeping your data -- and login information -- secure."
  • International Man of Spam  At the blog Concrave, Morgan Mayhew reports that although advanced filters have helped clamp down on email spammers, they have unfortunately not impeded spam's migration to social networks, where a whole new range of schemes is possible. Furthermore, he insists that the true spam threat is found abroad: "Unfortunately, Wallace is just the tip of the iceberg and was a rare case of an American spammer. This activity is more frequently coming from Russia, China and other nations that rarely enforce illegal Internet activity or violations of U.S. Law. The UK has agreed to extradite spammers and Australia has pledge to pursue overseas spammers." Indeed, All Facebook blogger Nick O'Neill suspects that Sanford is hiding out overseas: "Sanford Wallace is probably moving from country to country, trying to avoid the authorities and living off money stashed in offshore accounts."
  • Losing Battle  PC World's Brennon Slattery provides an excellent overview of Sanford's sordid spam history and Facebook's previous battles against spammers. However, he is pessimistic about the ability of any internet authority, let alone social networks, to make any significant progress in the wider war on spam. As he explains: 
Spamming is a lucrative business, and as long as e-mail accounts exist, spam will persist. While the judgment against Wallace will surely cause some spammers to second-guess their vocations, it's doubtful that it will put a serious dent in a profession so rife with money. Facebook has every right to be proud, but has no reason, at the moment, to be haughty -- watching The Spam King go down in flames won't prevent phony Facebook wall posts or malware-ridden bulk e-mail messages
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.