Everyone gets spam in their inbox. The trick is to offer you something – a bigger dick, access to hot singles in your area, the chance to help a wealthy Nigerian prince move his cash – in an effort to get you to click on the link. Once they get your click, your dreams of having a giant penis while making it rain Nigerian dollar bills all over hot, local co-eds evaporate faster than you can say malware. Spam can be a lot of things: random, obscene, nonsensical, but there are two things they almost always are: predictable and impersonal.
Until the other day, when I received one that will change the way I look at spam forever.
Last week I was doing my routine 6 month check-in on my old AOL account. Checking the email on your old AOL account is like visiting a grandparent you don’t like at the nursing home: your heart’s not really in it, but you do it out of a grim sense of obligation. Usually, it’s nothing but a bunch of spam, and this time proved no different. My eyes lazily skimmed the subject lines of these long neglected emails, mustering the minimum amount of attention I needed to process the information. “Are you currently suffering from back pain?” “Health myths EXPOSED!” “MIKE – This is your Great Aunt Mabel, do you have a new email address?” Trash, all of it. Worthless e-flotsam generated by faceless machines grasping for my attention and personal information.
I decided to just delete the lot of them. But before I did, a single subject line caught my eye. It read:
“WOW – u have a lot of unpaid tickets!”
Now, this piqued my interest. Not because I thought it wasn’t spam. But because I do have a lot of unpaid tickets, and for a split second I thought, “Maybe this is the one spammer who actually did his homework.” His colleagues plug away with nondescript offers of a better life while this guy actually put in the research needed to really grab me. I can picture the meeting now. A manager sits at the head of the table, chomping a cigar and barking at his charges: “OK, our numbers are down and we need more clicks. Whaddya got?”
“We’ll tell ’em we’re aspiring pornstars in need of money for a boobjob?”
“Instead of Nigerian princes, we’ll tell ’em we’re princes from a different African country!”
All this continues until one man steps up in the back. “No! We need to find out more about these people! Figure out what makes them tick! What do they fear? What do they love? It’s not enough to offer ’em bigger dicks – everybody wants a bigger dick, even women! We need to look into their backgrounds and dig up the dirt on them that makes them pay attention to the email we’re sending. For instance, I got this one guy…Mike….likes the Yankees, does stand up, hates his Great Aunt Mabel for some reason, and has a bunch of unpaid parking tickets. Now, shouldn’t we exploit that?”
The boss takes the cigar out of his mouth and rubs his chin thoughtfully. “That’s so crazy, it just might work.”
So I opened the email. I figured I should reward the spammer who took the time and effort to get to know me. Of course, that was until I read the body. It was just a single, hyperlinked sentence that read:
“My kid’s gym teacher is a pedophile….is urs?”
That pissed me off to no end. Not because it clearly revealed it was spam. No. Because I don’t have kids, and it turns out that research thing from earlier was bullshit. He doesn’t know me! He didn’t do his homework, he just made a lucky stab! He lulled me in with a false promise of familiarity only to cruelly yank the rug out from under me once he had my attention.
Also, let’s say for a second this is real. Wouldn’t it be more effective to just say, “Click here to see if your kid’s gym teacher is a pedophile!”? Why say the thing about your own kid? What parent of a victimized child is going to react to that sort of tragedy by saying, “There’s only one thing to do – establish a website that shows other people which gym teachers are pedophiles and start randomly emailing inactive AOL addresses to warn them! After that’s all taken care of we can alert the authorities. Wait a second, do I hear the water running? Is Timmy taking ANOTHER shower? If that little brat wants to take seven showers a day he can pay the damn water bill, I’m not made of money!”
I got pretty pissed about it, so I emailed the spammer to tell him how betrayed I felt. Once we talked I realized he was a good guy. I’m even sending him some dough to help pay for his lawyer fees when he takes that asshole pedophile gym teacher to court. So the moral of the story is, click on enough spam and eventually you’ll be able to help someone.