Understanding Spamming on Google+
Given what Get Social are trying to do with this community, I thought it was a good opportunity to share John Skeats’s post about spam on Google+. It really does contain some very useful information and will help anyone who may have been accidentally flagged as a spammer.
Originally shared by John Skeats
Understanding Spamming on Google+
A lot of people find themselves in trouble on Google+ because they have serious misunderstandings about spamming. Let me start with two of the most common misunderstandings and then get to the facts about what spamming is. I’ll close with the “secret” to avoid being flagged as a spammer.
Misconception #1: Spamming involves sharing promotional content.
The most common misconception — and the one that leads many people who have no intention to spam to be flagged as spammers — is that spamming involves sharing promotional content. Who the content (a post or comment) is shared with, how content is shared, and the overall sharing behavior of the person sharing the content play a much greater role in determining whether content is viewed as spam or not. Any post (even this one) could be spam.
Misconception #2: You can determine what is or is not spam simply by looking at it.
This comes down to the same point as Misconception #1: the fact that spamming is generally determined by how content is shared, who the content is shared with, and the overall behaviors of the person sharing the content. You can sometimes recognize that content is spam based on its context (e.g., an off-topic post shared in a community), but you cannot determine that a post is not spam by looking at it even in context. For example, you cannot tell by looking at this post whether I shared it excessively in a spammer-like manner, which would make it spam. You therefore cannot judge by simply looking at a flagged post whether the Google+ spam filters flagged the post appropriately or not.
Misconception #3: Political and religious posts are treated differently by the spam filters.
People with all political views and from all religions often complain that their posts on those subjects are being flagged because of their political or religious views. That’s not true. The reasons for their posts being flagged are the issues discussed in the remainder of this post, all of which are conspicuously apolitical and non-denominational.
What is spamming?
At the highest level, spamming is delivering unwanted content to significant numbers of people. It is generally not about what the content itself is other than to the degree that the content is delivered to people who do or do not want to receive it.
Assuming a post doesn’t violate any other rules, it might be perfectly fine when shared with one audience but spam when shared with others. It might even be perfectly fine if shared one way with an audience but spam if shared in different manner. Or a post might be perfectly fine if shared individually with different audiences but become spam if shared with all of them. On top of that, a person’s overall sharing behavior could make whatever they might share at that moment unwanted.
Let’s assume for the remaining discussion that we are talking about a great post that doesn’t violate any of the rules in Google’s User Content and Conduct Policy (http://www.google.com/+/policy/content.html) other than the spamming rule.
Sharing that hypothetical post with specific circles, a collection, or Public would not be spamming unless options I will mention in the next two paragraphs were selected. Sharing the post in a community could be either perfectly acceptable or spamming depending on whether the post complies with the community’s rules. (Remember that each community has its own rules in addition to Google’s rules.) The community’s rules are a consideration because community posts are presented to all members of a community. Members joined the community with the expectation that they would receive only posts through the community that comply with the community’s rules. Therefore, any post delivered to the members through the community that violates the rules is implicitly unwanted by the membership — and therefore spam.
As I said, there are options in classic Google+ that one can choose which can make sharing the same post with the same audience a form of spamming. If you select the option to send emails when sharing a non-community post in classic Google+, that runs a high risk of changing acceptable sharing into spamming. Without that option, your posts will be displayed only to people who follow you. They made the decision to follow you, so that’s okay unless there are more general issues (which I’ll talk about in a moment). Selecting that option, however, can force emails and notifications to people who might not want to receive them. It’s spamming if you trigger unwanted emails or notifications, so using that option can lead you to being flagged for spamming.
A similar problem would occur if you were to add Extended circles, Your circles, or the names of specific circles when sharing with Public in classic Google+. That can also trigger unwanted notifications to anyone in the groups you added to Public — and therefore be spamming.
Fortunately, both of the possibilities I just mentioned have been eliminated in the new Google+ to avoid the problems I discussed.
The next problem involves the same post being delivered to the same people multiple times. No one (at least virtually no one) wants to see the same content repetitively. The issue with sharing content with multiple audiences each of whom it might have been reasonable to share a post with arises when there is overlap in the audiences. Sharing the same post to multiple collections or communities is an issue because there is a very high probability that the same people follow more than one of a person’s collections or are members of the same communities the poster wants to share to. As a result, those people could see one instance of the post for each of the collections or communities the post was shared with. That’s just as bad as if you explicitly shared the same post with them multiple times — and therefore considered to be a form of spamming.
Yet another issue relates to the fact that virtually no one wants to see their Home streams or the streams of the communities they join dominated by posts by a single individual. Therefore, the sheer volume of posts one shares can become a spamming issue. When a person shares too many posts in too short a period of time — even if they might be shared with what appear to be different audiences, it presents a high probability that people would see an excessive number of posts by that person, which would be perceived as spamming.
Note that while I have spoken thus far about sharing “the same post,” all of the above applies to sharing posts that are substantially similar. Making relatively minor changes to posts doesn’t prevent them from being perceived as being the same — and therefore as spam — by recipients. The same applies when people include similar blocks of text frequently. This is especially true if the blocks of text contain the same or substantially similar links (e.g., links to different posts in the same blog). One common practice that gets people into trouble this way is including a “signature block” in their posts because they can be picked up by the spam filters as substantially similar content.
I have focused primarily on posts thus far, but there are still other things that can lead to a person being viewed as a spammer:
* Sharing the same or substantially comments too frequently — because the same people are likely to see the repetition.
* Excessive commenting in a community — again, because no one wants to see a community dominated by one individual.
* Excessive +1ing — because one’s +1s become meaningless when used excessively. It also appears to Google as an attempt to manipulate rankings.
How to avoid being flagged as a spammer
The secret for avoiding being flagged for spamming lies in the statement I made about spamming earlier: “At the highest level, spamming is delivering unwanted content to significant numbers of people.” The most important word in that sentence is “unwanted.” You have to look at sharing from the eyes of the recipients.
It doesn’t matter that you want to share a message. It matters whether the recipients will welcome that message. That means not only whether they would welcome the message overall but whether they would welcome another instance of the message (if you were sharing it repeatedly) and whether they would welcome it in the context of other things you might have shared recently. If the answer is “no” to any of those conditions even for just a few recipients), sharing the post or comment would be spamming — so don’t share it (or at least don’t share it at that moment).