Ask Facebook. Ask Twitter. Ask Google+. Ask just about any social network, but especially one that’s become big enough for the U.S. president to join: Building an audience and attracting media attention are great, but they also mean that trouble is on the way — trouble in the form of spam.
That’s what Pinterest is facing this week, as spammers are coming out of the woodwork to tell their stories. That link points to a Daily Dot interview with “Steve,” a self-admitted Pinterest spammer who has “a stockpile of accounts” and says he’s “spamming the crap out of the site.”
“Steve” says Pinterest is “by FAR the easiest social network to spam right now. Quite possibly the easiest ever to spam.”
But Pinterest says it’s fighting back. A Pinterest spokespeson has confirmed for us that the company sees the fight against spam as a “tremendous priority,” and that its “engineers are actively working” on the problem.
As a growing service, Pinterest is not immune to challenges faced by sites across the web, including spam. However, it is a tremendous priority for us to quickly address them. Our engineers are actively working to manage issues as they arise and are revisiting the nature of public feeds on the site to make it harder for fake or harmful content to get into them.
What Pinterest Spam Looks Like
It’s not certain, but there’s a good chance that Steve’s spam can be seen by looking at all of the pins coming from Amzn.to — Amazon’s short URL.
As the moment, many of the images on that page include Amzn.to links that redirect to Amazon.com affiliate links. One of the affiliate tags that’s popular today is numanumaman-20; yesterday, it was womansdesign-20 and earlier it was other tags.
The vast majority of Pinterest user accounts on that page are signed in from Twitter and still show Twitter’s default “egg” avatar. Click one of the accounts, like pinterest.com/jennilxjgc, for example, and you currently see 36 pins — many duplicates — and all of which appear to point to the same Amazon affiliate account. (I didn’t click on all 36, but the six I did click on all used the numanumaman-20 code.)
What “Steve” & Other Spammers Are Doing
As I said, the examples above may or may not be from “Steve,” the self-admitted Pinterest spammer that talked to Daily Dot this week. But as Steve explained, all of the different spammers that are targeting Pinterest have been doing pretty much the same thing, but at different scales.
They create multiple accounts and use bots (automated software) to pin images with affiliate links. Their other bots/accounts repin the images to make them appear more popular, and the images begin to show up on Pinterest’s category and “Popular” page. At that point, the affiliate images are seen by thousands of Pinterest users, many of whom comment and repin — making them even more popular.
And, of course, as users click through to Amazon, the affiliate code makes the spammers money when someone purchases an item.
“Steve” told the Daily Dot that he’s been making more than $1,000 a day this way, and he expects to make between $2,000 and $2,500 daily next week. (That comment was likely made before Pinterest began taking action; see below.)
Ironically, this kind of spam is only made possible because Pinterest removed its own affiliate links from images a couple months ago. The site had been using Skimlinks to automatically add affiliate links when images were pinned from sites that offer affiliate programs (like Amazon) but, after some minor controversy, Pinterest dropped Skimlinks. And that, “Steve” says, opened the door for spammers like himself and others.
Pinterest used to use a script called Skimlinks. What this did was when anything was pinned that had any type of affiliate link involved, Skimlinks would replace your affiliate tag with theirs. This caused a lot of bad press and outrage and they did away with it. That’s when I saw the opportunity for easy money.
What Has Pinterest Done?
Despite the obvious prevalance of spam that can be seen by looking at all of the pins from Amzn.to, the situation is apparently better today than it’s been.
Pinterest didn’t offer any specifics in its statement, but the unofficial Total Pinterest blog has reported today that spammy pins/images are no longer showing up on the “Popular” tab.
Last week it was very easy to find ‘popular’ pins with the spammer’s affiliate link. This week, looking through the ‘Popular’ tab, we couldn’t find any pins with his affiliate ID. Perhaps Pinterest have simply identified the pins with his ID and removed them from the ‘Popular’ list.
Indeed, as I look right now at Pinterest’s Popular page, there are a few commerce-related images — including one that appears to have an affiliate code. But it’s not an Amazon link, and none of the images on the page seem to fit the profile that “Steve” described.
That may be a small victory for Pinterest, but one thing is clear: Pinterest is officially in the big leagues and the battle against spam is on. Spammers won’t give up easily, not on a website that’s growing as quickly as Pinterest is.