The high tide of spam on social media

Resolver
August 10, 2023 · READ

A tidal wave of spam across popular social networks is threatening to submerge corporate brand communications and leave consumers adrift in an ocean of inauthenticity.

Social media platforms, vital conduits for brand interaction and community building are increasingly at risk of being submerged under a high tide of spam. This proliferation of inauthentic accounts, fake engagement and deceptive adverts on brand social channels can ruin customers’ experience, capsize an organization’s credibility, and dilute its brand’s identity online.

In our latest Brands at Risk report, consumers said that harmful content such as spam bots, profanity, and competitive cross-promotion were an increasingly common occurrence on brand social channels. Digging deeper, our data science team examined the distribution of spam content across 110 major corporate brand accounts in the finance, media and luxury fashion sectors between 1 January and 1 August 2023. Their analysis revealed an average of over 47,000 pieces of spam per day detected across the network of accounts over the time frame, suggesting a risk that is both industry and platform agnostic.

The high tide of spam

According to data compiled by Statista and drawn from spam encountered and filtered by the Kaspersky Anti-Spam Lab, in 2022 nearly 49% of all emails filtered by the organization that year were identified as spam, representing a 3% increase in traffic from the 46% reported the previous year. On social media, Resolver AI systems identified over 10 million individual pieces of spam across the network of 110 brand accounts between 1 January and 1 August 2023, representing an average of over 47,000 spam messages per day over the same period.

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While the investment required to produce spam is low, dealing with the sheer volume of spam content can lead to costly disruptions for businesses unequipped to identify, process and action tens of thousands of messages across multiple social platforms on a daily basis. Moreover, while major social networks like Facebook, Tik Tok and X have taken several steps to counter the proliferation of inauthentic activity on their platforms, the efficacy of these anti-spam measures are not evenly distributed across the broader platform landscape.

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The chart above shows a breakdown of the total spam identified by Resolver by platform over the month of June, 2023. ‘Other’ encompasses a range of alt-tech, political forum, and customer review platforms. This category which includes political discussion message boards such as 4chan, 8kun, customer review sites, and newer and alt-tech social networks such as Gab and Minds accounted for over 856,000 pieces of spam account, or 60% of the total spam content actioned by Resolver over the month.

As brands embrace newer, decentralized and regionally focused non-english platforms in a bid to reach wider audiences, they must remain wary of the risks associated with having their brand pages swept away in a wave of spam and inauthenticity.

A rippling effect on consumer trust

Dealing with spam costs time and resources. The data load can be significant, and processing and addressing spam is timing consuming for social media teams. In addition to the increased financial and time burdens associated with identifying and processing a large quantity of unnecessary data, spam also weakens a brands ability to communicate effectively with its consumers, and erodes brand loyalty over the long term.

A survey of over a thousand consumers on the effect of harmful content on their perception of brands and purchasing decisions by Resolver in its latest Brands at Risk report revealed that nine in ten consumers (90%) believed that harmful content on brand-owned pages negatively impacted the reputation of the brand. Two in five consumers also reported seeing an increase in derogatory, offensive or hurtful commentary in ads, with 51% saying that such ads influenced their decision, and 43% stating that such negative commentary would put them off making a purchase.

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In particular, spam not only disrupts and confuses consumers when actively considering purchasing a product or service, but it can also ensure that genuine buying signals from customers, including pricing and availability questions, and brand advocacy is drowned out amongst the noise.

The data privacy iceberg

Making matters worse, a spam-laden social feed can tarnish the credibility of trusted brands with Malspam. Malspam is embedded with malware including infected attachments, phishing messages, or malicious URLs and is currently one of the three most popular mechanisms for malicious actors to breach organizations networks according to the 2023 Data Breach Investigation report by Verizon. The same report also revealed that such attacks accounted for 94% of all breaches involving malware over the examined time frame.

Given the dizzying variety of products and services available in the online marketplace, consumers are now more discerning when making commercial decisions based on their perceptions of privacy, deleting or restricting accounts, and avoiding purchases when they feel that doing so may compromise their digital safety.

Accordingly, a poll of more than 5,000 adults by Mimecast in October, 2021 found that 86% of respondents expected brands to ensure that channels they use to interact with consumers, such as email, websites, and social media are safe for the consumer. The proliferation of fake reviews and adverts or the impersonation of a brand by scammers can also lead customers to associate the brand with illegal or suspicious activity with 65% of respondents saying they would stop spending money on their favorite brand if they fell victim to a scam impersonating that brand.

These results are further reinforced by insights drawn from the PwC February 2023 Global Consumer Insights Survey that polled 9,180 consumers across 25 countries and found that a majority of respondents are ‘very or extremely concerned about the privacy of their personal data’ with social media eliciting the highest levels of concern.

Steering clear of stormy waters

Despite the increased risks created by high volumes of content, spam is not an insurmountable threat. In particular, the adoption of advanced content moderation solutions, the maintenance of effective user reporting mechanisms, and collaboration with trusted third-party organizations specializing in countering spam represent integral steps that can help an organization mitigate the risks posed by a tsunami of spam.

Resolver, a Kroll business, Moderation for Brands protects brands by monitoring, moderating and quickly removing harmful, toxic and spam content. Resolver automated systems have been trained since 2005 to identify risk signals in online discourse, these insights are combined with network intelligence gleaned from the company’s diverse and experienced team of 120+ human analysts. This human-in-the-loop approach allows us to guarantee the nuance and accuracy necessary to keep a global brand community safe at scale.

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