Spammers Beware

The world of technology is a bit like Pandora’s box. Although when Pandora lifted the lid only evil escaped. Technology, on the other hand, has released much good into the world. For example, the world wide web can aid learning, it brings people together (whoever knew they had so many wealthy relatives in Nigeria?) and it allows 24/7 shopping for necessities such as Cecily calendars.
Today my beef is with spam. Which is odd because spam, the tinned meat, is made from pork and ham then cunningly disguised to look like spleen. Electronic spam takes its name from a Monty Python skit set in a restaurant where a table of Vikings – oh come on it’s not that unusual – sit in a corner loudly singing, ‘Spam, Spam, Wonderful Spam’, thus drowning out the real conversation with their unwanted message.
Electronic spam too is disguised, only not as spleen. Those Nigerian relatives, fake invoices and requests to confirm account details, etc. hide everything from brazen requests for your money through to links that will rob you of your bank details, money and faith in humanity.
What can we do I hear you ask plaintively? Traditional advice has been to delete any suspicious emails without opening them. All very sage, but not very satisfying. Firstly, this will protect you, but not others. Then secondly, and most infuriatingly, it doesn’t hurt the spammer. And let’s face it, what we really want is to do is have them beaten to a pulp or made to copy out Donald Trump’s autobiography 100 times.
However, now there is a way we can fight back. The New Zealand Government internet watchdog, Netsafe, has invented an artificially intelligent chat-bot that engages with the spammer and continues an indefinite conversation, thus sending the spammer on a fool’s errand, wasting their time and resources. All you have to do is forward any spam that you receive to me@rescam.org The chat-bot at Netsafe will strip off any identifying information to do with you, and then spend some quality time with the spammer. This software acts like a human, making both spellng mistakes and jokes, and can engage an infinite number of spammers at once. There is a God! And now her eye is on those pasty-faced highwaymen of the internet. You don’t have to be a New Zealander to do this, but if you are from elsewhere just remember that it’s my taxes that brought you this divine retribution, so please, no more sheep jokes.
If you feel so inclined Netsafe will send you a link so that you can follow their conversation with the spammer. While infuriating a spammer is not as satisfying as having them publicly flogged there is a certain poetry in turning the tables on these people that waste our time and cost the world’s economy an estimated US$50 billion each year. Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if that money and internet traffic were involved in education, reuniting old friends or on-line purchases of Cecily calendars.
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Cecily – The Factual Alternative

Just before the recent US elections I read George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time. At least I think it was for the first time, I might have read it years ago and then been re-educated to reject such thoughtcrime. Stranger things have happened. In fact, stranger things are happening.
The ghost of Orwell’s doublethink came back to haunt us recently when we were told by US White House officials that more people attended the new President’s inauguration than previous ceremonies – despite what photographs or travel statistics showed. The White House staff explained away the discrepancy by saying their claim was an ‘alternative fact’. To accept this type of doublethink all you have to do is to believe two contrary ideas at the same time. Seeing things as black or white is so 1983.
Fake news is another doublethink. Normally used to describe such publications as the ‘Sunday Sport’, with such classics as ‘World War 2 Bomber Found on the Moon’, it has now been applied to the BBC. Of course this is not the first time the BBC has been accused of telling lies, it’s just that it’s normally done by people like Robert Mugabe.
Of course we all play with the truth at times. Occasionally it is not only socially acceptable, but essential that we do. Imagine a friend showing you her new purchase – a very expensive ski suit to take to Japan – that makes her look enormous. She asks your opinion on the purchase. Do you manage to say, with misgivings, that it looks ‘nice’ (a lie), or do you tell the truth, namely that when she’s finished she may be able to find a buyer in a sumo wrestling school? Most of us would lie – I certainly hope my friends would.
However all lies are not created equally. The lie to your friend was for her sake, was inconsequential and didn’t lower trust. Whereas when White House staff issue falsehoods, alternative facts or doublespeak then trust in them and their office is lowered.
Perhaps I need to accept some doublethink myself. Orwell’s themes of nationalism, censorship and surveillance are on the rise, but in the end everything’s going to be great.