March 2011 Archives

Asymmetrical warfare works both ways

Commenters don't care if their comment is deleted.

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I blanked it last week, because, frankly, it sounded silly: a 13-year-old girl has just made a music promo that suddenly went viral on the basis of how bad it was. The link to the article isn’t working for me, but Boing Boing’s summary is probably good enough for now: despite the promo being horribly bad, it’s very difficult to parody because it depicts, pitch-perfectedly, the reality and aspirations of its 13 year old target market.

(Yes, I am aware of the irony of using the phrase “pitch-perfect” when discussing a company whose business model involves relentlessly auto-tuning the vocals of teenagers who can’t sing.)

The comments to the Boing Boing article are full of parodies, and contrary to the article’s claim, some of them are pretty good. Appositely, most of the successful parodies succeed by using well-worn tropes - take a bubblegum pop song and turn it into something else by slowing it down and changing into a minor key. (Bonus points if you convert the protagonist from a happy 13-year-old girl into a wrong-side-of-20-something unshaven slovenly guy, although that’s strictly speaking a video job and not an audio job.)

And there are plenty of people pointing out that, these days, camera and audio gear is cheap: Rebecca Black’s parents paid $3,000 to record the song and shoot the promo, and with the state of technology today it’s completely reasonable to assume that the company involved made a fat profit.

To a certain degree I feel sad that technology has produced this; not for any rational reason, but because I remember my father being in the “music video” business. (He always referred to them as promos, rather than videos, possibly because that better referred to their inherent advertising nature, but more probably because many of them were shot on film, so the term “video”, referring to video tape, was actively misleading, dammit).

But then I look at other videos by the same people that uploaded Rebecca Black’s “official video”, and I realise that they’ve got the last laugh after all. Because they’ve gone to all the related videos, and marked every single comment as spam.

No, seriously. trizzygg’s YouTube channel currently links to four “official video” videos, presumably produced on behalf of teenagers with more parent’s money than sense. And the video that’s currently the promoted video for this account is full of comments. But not the others. They’ve all been mass-marked as spam by, presumably, employers or employees of a business who knew that they were temporarily getting more attention than they wanted, and who knew that Youtube comments are a drive-by phenomenon: people come by, comment, and then have no interest in ever following up their comment.

Which makes it a no-risk, no-brainer to claim that those comments were spam. Hardly anyone will be banned by this - the algorithms will realise that this was a false positive, an erroneous diagnostic of a real person being a spammer - and therefore nobody will notice. But conversely nobody will realise that a certain user is deliberately, and probably automatedly, tarring real people with the brush of being fake.

Social network friendspam

Random cynicism, human-powered data mining, or the latest iteration of 419 scams?

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I’m on Twitter, and while I’m not a prolific poster, occasionally tweets will attract the attention of some random bot that decides to follow me, maybe thinking that I’ll follow it back. I mostly ignore them - everything I post is public, after all, so it’s not as if there would be any benefit in them following me via’s APIs as opposed to screen-scraping every so often.

I’m also on Facebook and LinkedIn, which are walled-garden sites, though, and require some degree of human interaction. And that’s where things get intriguing.

I view LinkedIn as a purely professional social network, which is why, with a few exceptions, I don’t friend anyone I haven’t actually worked with. Occasionally I’ll see a friend request come in from a marketing guy at UK2, or a UK2 Group company, who’s clearly asking anyone he can find (it’s nearly always men) to connect with him so he can boast a larger number of connections or something. That’s OK - it’s a different but valid interpretation of social networks, and everyone has a different interpretation of what it would mean to be friends or connected with someone. Some friend everyone they’ve ever met, and connect with everyone they’ve shared office space with. Others restrict themselves to people they actually consider friends, and people they’ve worked with and would work with again.

Then Jacob Wall turns up today. Jacob Wall describes himself as an “Account Manager at Steadfast Networks”, which I assume to be The only connection between me and him is that he works for a hosting company in Chicago, and my company’s parent company owns a hosting company, or maybe it’s a data centre, in Chicago. (I needed to google that - I’m not involved in any of this stuff at all.)

I can only assume this is friend spam: trying to inflate your connections numbers by attempting to friend everyone in your industry. Maybe this works for him - maybe he does this a couple of days after each major conference, hoping that a few people thing “this must be some random guy I met in a bar” and friend him.

At least Jacob Wall is a plausibly real person - he’s on Google and his details match. The next one is altogether weirder.

Earlier today, Facebook emailed me to tell me that some random guy person called Michael Waiganjo wanted to be my friend. I have no idea who this Michael person is (although I suspect the profile picture is fake - if you’re not on Facebook, or the account has been pulled, this is the image in question). So I told him to fuck off.

But what’s in it for Michael? Why does being my friend on Facebook matter? I can understand rogue apps requesting excessive privileges just to display a pretty picture, and promptly mining my contacts database for juicy information; is this an attempt to do the same via the subtly different method of claiming to be an impossibly cool person?

Or is this the latest iteration of 419 scams? Get friended, burble away with random plausible everyday stuff like “hey, I ate roast beef and it was awesome” for a few weeks, and then say “Hey, mate, I’m awfully sorry, but I need, like, 10 bucks” and see if any sucker bites?

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