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Electronic spamming is the use of electronic messaging systems to send an unsolicited message (spam), especially advertising, as well as sending messages repeatedly on the same site. While the most widely recognized form of spam is email spam, the term is applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, online classified ads spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam, junk fax transmissions, social spam, spam mobile apps, television advertising and file sharing spam. It is named after Spam, a luncheon meat, by way of a Monty Python sketch about a restaurant that has spam in every dish and where patrons annoyingly shout spam over and over again.
Spamming remains economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, servers, infrastructures, IP ranges, and domain names, and it is difficult to hold senders accountable for their mass mailings. Because the barrier to entry is so low, spammers are numerous, and the volume of unsolicited mail has become very high. In the year 2011, the estimated figure for spam messages is around seven trillion. The costs, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge. Spamming has been the subject of legislation in many jurisdictions.
A person who creates electronic spam is called a spammer.
The term spam is derived from the 1970 Spam sketch of the BBC television comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The sketch is set in a cafe where nearly every item on the menu includes Spam canned luncheon meat. As the waitress recites the Spam-filled menu, a chorus of Viking patrons drowns out all conversations with a song repeating “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam… Spammity Spam! Wonderful Spam!”, hence spamming the dialogue. The excessive amount of Spam mentioned references the preponderance of it and other imported canned meat products in the United Kingdom after World War II, as the country struggled to rebuild its agricultural base. Spam captured a large slice of the British market within the lower classes, and became a byword among British children of the 1960s for low-grade fodder due to its commonality, monotonous taste and low price, leading to the humour of the Python sketch.
In the 1980s the term was adopted to describe certain abusive users who frequented BBSs and MUDs, who would repeat “Spam” a huge number of times to scroll other users’ text off the screen. In early chat rooms services like PeopleLink and the early days of Online America (later known as America Online or AOL), they actually flooded the screen with quotes from the Monty Python Spam sketch. With internet connections over phone lines, typically running at 1200 or even 300 bit/s, it could take an enormous amount of time for a spammy logo, drawn in ASCII art to scroll to completion on a viewer’s terminal. Sending an irritating, large, meaningless block of text in this way was called spamming. This was used as a tactic by insiders of a group that wanted to drive newcomers out of the room so the usual conversation could continue. It was also used to prevent members of rival groups from chatting—for instance, Star Wars fans often invaded Star Trek chat rooms, filling the space with blocks of text until the Star Trek fans left. This act, previously called flooding or trashing, later became known as spamming. The term was soon applied to a large amount of text broadcast by many users.
It later came to be used on Usenet to mean excessive multiple posting—the repeated posting of the same message. The unwanted message would appear in many, if not all newsgroups, just as Spam appeared in nearly all the menu items in the Monty Python sketch. The first usage of this sense was by Joel Furr in the aftermath of the ARMM incident of March 31, 1993, in which a piece of experimental software released dozens of recursive messages onto the news.admin.policy newsgroup. This use had also become established—to spam Usenet was flooding newsgroups with junk messages. The word was also attributed to the flood of “Make Money Fast” messages that clogged many newsgroups during the 1990s. In 1998, the New Oxford Dictionary of English, which had previously only defined “spam” in relation to the trademarked food product, added a second definition to its entry for “spam”: “Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.”
There was also an effort to differentiate between types of newsgroup spam. Messages that were crossposted to too many newsgroups at once – as opposed to those that were posted too frequently – were called velveeta (after a cheese product). But this term didn’t persist.
The earliest documented spam (although the term h