As email clients get better at detecting and filtering spam, spammers are moving to social networks, where they have better chances of going undetected. That's why, on a typical social media account, spam has risen 355% in the first half of 2013, according to a new study.
Spam is spreading on social networks so much that 1 in 200 social media posts is spam, and 5% of all social media apps are spammy (meaning they promise a potentially useful service and then send spam updates instead). These are some of the numbers revealed by Nexgate's State of Social Media Spam Report (.PDF), which was released last week.
The study analyzed 60 million pieces of content collected from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube or LinkedIn over a period of two years from 2011 to 2013 and it seems to confirm what an independent study from Italian researchers already pointed out in late August — social spam is quickly becoming a booming business.
"Just like previous mediums such as email, social spam is becoming a real business for spammers. You can see it in the increasing sophistication and diversification of the mechanisms used to distribute spam, and not just in the increase in volume," Devin Redmond, CEO of Nexgate, said in a statement. "The fact that spam is reportedly a $200 million business in Facebook alone, and it’s delivered via a variety of bots, spam networks, and in multiple spam communication types is proof positive that this is real and thriving part of the social media world."
The biggest strength of social spam is perhaps its reach. Email spam is delivered to one user at the time, while a spammy post on social media can potentially reach thousands or millions of people, And it's harder to detect: only 15% of all social spam has a link that can be detected as spam, according to the report.
Moreover, spammers have a variety of ways to spread spam on social media. From the classic shortened url link after prompts like "click here," "free," or "wow," to fake accounts or social bots, and even to applications that promise special features like revealing the number of users that have seen your Facebook profile but are actually spam apps.
The study also reveals that Facebook and YouTube have more spam than other social networks analyzed in the report. In fact, the ratio of spam on those two networks compared to the others is 100 to 1, and Facebook takes the prize for network with highest number of phishing attacks.
As Mashable previously reported, spam represents 70% of all email sent, while Facebook said in 2012 that only 4% of posts are spam. But this study suggests that while spam might still be a limited problem on social networks, it could be only a matter of time before it gets worse.