Online communities are a hugely important part of the online experience. I have no doubt that their importance will continue to grow as people look to harness the power of the Internet to chat with friends, network and find new people with similar interests. Advertisers will also become more attracted to social networks and other online communities as their importance grows.
As a result of this growth, more and more social networks are appearing online. If you decide to set one up, you need to be aware of one of the major potential pitfalls: social networks are highly attractive to spammers and scammers.
Social networks: My definition
I define a social network as any type of membership based site that exists to bring people together. The Just Chat email penpals section falls within this category – users register, fill out a profile and then search for and correspond with other members.
Social networks: The attraction to spammers and scammers
These social networks are a highly prized target for spammers and scammers because of the potential number of people they can gain access to. Unlike spam email lists which can be full of fake or no longer used addresses, a spammer or scammer can be pretty confident that the majority of accounts within a social network are linked to real people who will read their messages. Indeed, many social networks display information on when a user last logged in – this allows such undesirable users to only target those who are clearly genuine, active members of the community.
Almost all social networks are free to join – therefore the spammers and scammers need not make any investment other than their time in order to gain access to a site’s database of members. They simply sign up, and start sending messages to members.
How to combat spammers and scammers
Unfortunately there is no 100% fool-proof way of combating such users – not that I know of, anyway! To prevent such users affecting the Just Chat epals section, I take the following action:
- Every single new profile is manually approved before a user can gain access
- A limit is placed on the number of messages that can be sent each day
- Warnings against spammers and scammers appear prominently around the internal mail section
- Clear safety advice is provided, along with information on how to report undesirable members
Why you need to combat spammers and scammers
Manually approving or declining every single email penpals account is certainly a chore, however it is currently a necessary one. I would estimate that on average, around a third of all new accounts are set up by spammers and Nigerian 419 scammers. I am now pretty good at spotting these and cannot remember the last time a user contacted me to report such a member.
By keeping the epals database relatively free of such users, it makes the section far more pleasant for my users. Members do not want to be bombarded with spam and potential scams every day – if they are, they will soon leave the site never to return. One message every now and again may be accepted, as long as the member is aware that once they report the incident, immediate action will be taken. Once it becomes a regular occurrence however, you can kiss that member goodbye.
As an online community developer, you have an obligation to keep your members safe. Nigerian 419 scammers are no joke – on occasion they are successful at robbing people for every penny they have, and have been known to use violence to achieve their goals. You need to educate your members about such people, and the potential dangers of meeting people they only know online in real life. Similarly, you need to advise your members to never reveal personal information and to report any members that ask for such information to you immediately.
A spam free community is a happy community
Before establishing your own social network, you need to be aware that it will be a target for spammers and scammers. By being aware of this, you can draw up an action-plan on how you will combat them. A community that is harbouring such undesirable members will struggle to be successful, and your reputation will be at risk. If you don’t have a spam and scam-free community, you cannot expect to retain members.
Do you run a social network? How do you deal with spammers and scammers? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences by leaving a comment below.