First, understand that I picture spammers not as businesspeople who need re-training on how to use the computer, nor as members of a shady underworld, nor even as the stereotypical cave-dwelling geek gone bad. Even though all three of the former are involved in spamming, that’s not my mental image. I picture them as birds -- in looks, a cross between the worst aesthetic properties and personal habits of the vulture and the chicken: the teenage chicken whose voice is breaking and still retains the shrillness of its chickhood peep, but the full volume and power of its adult voice, and nigh unto zero control of its voicebox. It makes inexperienced theremin players sound tuneful. They favor nesting in the concrete notches of Brutalist architecture, but are opportunists who make their homes anywhere.
Now picture LiveJournal as a home-based business: mostly family, a lot of kids, a few external staff members who come and go. They have a very large back yard with blueberry bushes in it, and they make blueberry jam and ship it off to people who order it off the internet. (These are the comment notifications.)
To make this analogy work, they somewhat unwisely leave the addressed boxes sitting out on the back porch. Most of the time, the box gets its jar of jam, and is closed up and shipped off.
Other times, a spammer (remember, we’re talking birds here) lays its egg in the box, and closes it up safely. And the teenagers doing the shipping runs figure that any closed box is jam ready to go, slap some tape on it, and ship it off, so some very surprised and annoyed customers sometimes get a spammer’s egg delivered when they were expecting a pot of very nice blueberry jam.
All number of different sorts of birds nest in the blueberry bushes, some of them rare and endangered, some of them common but inoffensive, but a lot of them are spammers.
Now, the spammers nesting here are chiefly of two varieties. One of them has interbred with cuckoos. They like to kick the eggs of other birds out of their nests. These are the spammers who see an empty box and lay in it. The other has interbred with pigeons. Their nests are in the bushes, making it hard for anyone who’s trying to pick blueberries, but they mostly do not bother the open boxes. Instead, they like to fly around the neighborhood. And. Well. Anyone who’s lived near pigeons knows what happens to the neighborhood.
So sometimes there are customer complaints about the spammer eggs being in the boxes that were supposed to hold jam (comment-spam). When that happens, they send a couple of the kids to the yard with BB guns to pick off some spammers. And occasionally they lay out bait and traps, but they’ve got to be careful, on account of the endangered species also nesting there.
There have been problems in the past with packages containing jam not getting delivered because someone has complained too many times to the post office about getting spammer eggs from LJ. Which, true, they are getting boxes with spammer eggs from LJ, but not because LJ is a business that sends out spammer eggs on purpose instead of jam, but that LJ has spammers nesting in the backyard, and sometimes their eggs get in the boxes by accident. (It doesn’t help that the jars for the jam are egg-shaped, either.)
So when too many people complain to the post office about getting spammer eggs from LJ, various local post office branches stop delivering ANY packages from LJ. Which doesn’t work so well, and pisses off people even more. (When a person complains to LJ about the spammers, things do get better overall for a while, but the spammers that get hit with the BB guns are the ones flying above the bushes with a clear shot, not necessarily the ones down further in more hidden, and it’s anyone’s guess whether the one that laid the egg in your box will get hit.)
Now, the Spamhaus situation. We’ve been talking here about the cuckoo-type spammer. The pigeon-type spammer flies about the neighborhood, crapping everywhere (making entries on LJ and emailing totally unrelated people links to the entries). So people complain, and the city gives LJ a notice: Look, there are bushes in your backyard, we understand you can’t tear them down on account of the jam and the rare parrots and all, but they’re infested with spammers that are crapping on people’s cars and mailboxes and everything, and if you don’t do something about them, fast, we’re going to have to take action.
“You think we don’t know?” LJ says. “You think we like this?”
The city doesn’t really care what LJ thinks, and points out that there have been complaints for years about the pigeon-spammer crap on the neighborhood, and LJ’s already been shown the roosting poles of at least fifteen different spammers, but those spammers are still there, night after night.
So LJ diverts more of the teenagers from hauling boxes of jam to sitting with BB guns picking off spammers, but there are far more spammers than teenagers, and in any case the pigeon-spammer hybrids are off on someone else’s mailbox during the day, and only come back to LJ to roost, and by that time it’s bedtime for the teenagers.
So the city tells the post office: Look, we know that a lot of the packages you deliver from LJ’s return address, they’re legit, they have jam. But they’re not doing anything about the pigeon-spammer crossbreeds that nest there, and we need to put the hurt on them so they’ll listen and do something. Stop delivering packages with their return address.
Lots of the post offices stop.
FedEx and UPS don’t stop. They have a good relationship with LJ way back, and even though LJ sends out a ton of packages, they know it’s a legit business despite the fact that they’ve sometimes got spammer eggs inside.
LJ’s customers, the ones who order the jam, mostly stop getting their jam. They are confused and angry. (The ones using FedEx and UPS ((Gmail, AOL)) don’t stop getting it, and are confused when all their neighbors start ranting about never getting promised deliveries from LJ.)
LJ realizes that this is serious, and the nets and traps just aren’t cutting it anymore. So they scramble to figure out what they can do. Meanwhile, the customers are getting angry, and the post office still isn’t delivering.
The customers eventually figure out what is going on. Some are sympathetic; some are mad as hell. At least one customer recounts their own tale of woe involving a spammer infestation and the post office: they had a bunch of pigeon-hybrid spammers in a single tree in their yard, they got a notice to clear them out, they broke out the high-pressure water hoses and soon there was not a single spammer to be seen; the city said “Great, we’ll send an inspector out next month, and if everything is OK, we’ll see about getting your packages delivered again.” That was not at all workable, the spammers were gone, and that customer simply started using the return address from their gate on the other side of the block. It wasn’t their front door, but it was still a legit return address, and it wasn’t an address that the post office was looking for, and since the packages weren’t covered with spammer guano, there was no reason to suspect anything was dodgy. And that worked for them.
So someone in LJ’s shipping department realized, hey, we’ve got a very big lot, and it’s got an edge on another street, so yes indeed we are entitled to use the address from that street! But the bushes were still full of spammers, and while there was a dent, a sizeable dent, in the spammer population, there were still a lot of them, and now the spammer eggs in the undelivered packages at the post office were starting to be a bit of a problem. (Don’t leave spammer eggs sitting out. They go very bad very fast.)
At this point, a lot of the people relying on the postal service for their packages started getting theirs, since the secondary address wasn’t on the post office watch list. However, there was a problem with the UPS customers. See, LJ had negotiated things with UPS a long time ago, and UPS knew that yeah, LJ sent a lot of packages, and a good number of those had spammer eggs... but they were a legit business, and the spammer eggs were a shipping error, not what was meant to be sent. But now UPS was getting a flood of boxes from a different address, and people started reporting that they had spammer eggs in ‘em … so what does UPS do? Why, they stop delivering them, is what they do. Spammer eggs, unfamiliar address... sounds dodgy to me!
So that part did not go as well as it could have gone. But people started getting mail again, and LJ talked with UPS and presumably worked things out.
And LJ realized that one of the new guys they’d brought in after some of their old people had left -- this new guy was a frickin’ DALEK. (In which Oceanplexian and his default userpic are used as a synecdoche for all the excellent people working on this.)
“Hey, dude, can you EXTERMINATE the spammers?” LJ management asked.
“EX-TER-MIN-ATE!!” said the Dalek with great enthusiasm.
“But carefully! There are RARE PARROTS in those bushes!”
“DIFF-ER-EN-TI-ATE!!” said the Dalek, and began tuning his death ray to only vaporize spammers.
So now LJ’s figuring out what to do with a quarter of a million exterminated spammers (that piece is more winceworthy the older I get, but I found it hilarious at age fifteen). They don’t make very good eating: all gristly, tasting vaguely of roadkill, and not much meat on ‘em. They’re still shipping out the back-door address, and still waiting on the city to come and say that the spammer infestation is much reduced and they’re clear again.
And meanwhile, the spammers that were missed in the death ray sweep keep breeding and trying to build new nests...