Spam Definition & Meaning

Spam is unsolicited Internet content that is typically sent in bulk for advertising purposes from an unknown sender. Spam is sometimes defined more broadly as any unsolicited email. However, the advancement of email filtering and privacy laws have led spammers toward other mediums for sending messages, specifically social media. In addition to wasting people’s time, spam also consumes a lot of network bandwidth.

Why is it called spam?

There is some debate about the source of the term, but the generally accepted version is that spam comes from a song in Monty Pyton’s Flying Circus with the lyric, “Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam.” In this scene, a group of Vikings in a caf are singing about the ubiquity of the canned meat product after World War II.

The rise of chat rooms and Bulletin Board Services (BBSs) in the 1980s expanded the term when some users began repeatedly posting “spam” to consume the screen space. This new context gave way to spam being used in reference to the same message being sent repeatedly to prevent other messages from getting attention or to push out other users in the same chat.

Types of spam

As mentioned above, the original spam messages came in the form of email and message boards or forums. Email spam messages (also called junk mail) were usually intended for advertising or other types of marketing campaigns, and spam has historically constituted more than two thirds of all email content since the commercialization of the Internet in the 1990s. Similarly, message boards and forums were often subject to high volumes of spam until moderators and filtering technology became more strict about discerning spam from genuine posts.

Social media platforms, on the other hand, have yet to institute significant spam filtering tools. Especially for profiles with a large following, direct messaging and replies are often subject to spam messages. Some platforms like TikTok, however, have introduced a juxtaposed spam meaning. Posts on these platforms that use the hashtags #spam, #spamforspam, or #sfs indicate the user is inviting other users to “spam” their post with likes in exchange for the same being done to theirs. This is largely attributed to the monetization of social media engagement, so spam in this context has a more positive connotation that is contrasted with historical spam scenarios.

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Kaiti Norton
Kaiti Norton is a Nashville-based Content Writer for TechnologyAdvice, a full-service B2B media company. She is passionate about helping brands build genuine connections with their customers through relatable, research-based content. When she's not writing about technology, she's sharing her musings about fashion, cats, books, and skincare on her blog.

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