How to Help Spammers on Pinterest in Four Easy Steps

A Quick Primer on Pinterest: Pinterest is a site where folks collect and share online content (their own and others'). The service is free to users. Each idea shared on Pinterest is a pin, and it's usually a photo that links to a website. Users organize online content (the pins) visually into boards. Pinterest boards are similar to the concept of mood boards (as used by designers and creative folk) or vision boards. Pinterest boards collect pins linked to sites for favorite recipes, fun activities for kids, interior decorating ideas and fashion. Users pin and repin others' pins on their boards. 
For example, let's say I uploaded a picture of the Eiffel Tower to my Travel Board. I linked this pin to my blog post about Paris that includes more photos and a short article. My friend Sally sees the Eiffel Tower pin on my board and repins it to her Bucket List board. Sally's friend Molly sees the pin on Sally's board and repins it on her I Wanna Go Here board. And so on. Repinning is when a user adds a pin, originally posted by someone else, to his/her own Pinterest board, therefore, appearing to his/her friends and other followers, so they can repin it as well. So now that you know about Pinterest, read on, my friend...

  1. Set up a board on Pinterest entitled "Places I'd Love to Travel Someday."
  2. Open the "Travel and Places" category on Pinterest (above), and feast your eyes on beautiful photography of cities, beaches and countryscapes far-flung and fabulous.
  3. Scroll 'till you find a picture of, oh say - Barcelona, a place that's indeed on your bucket list.
  4. Hit "Repin."

Congratulations! You've been spammed! Spammers on Pinterest take advantage of the fact that 1. We are visual creatures, and 2. Pinterest is very visual, and 3. Repinning just takes one click. So how do spammers benefit? Here's how I discovered this spam-scam.

Indeed I was trolling the "Travel and Places" category, looking for cool articles and photos to add to my Wanderlust board and came across this pin:

That's a nice picture of Casa Batlló in Barcelona, I thought. But, hey - wait a minute! What's that caption say? 5 Reasons Why Skiing is Good for You?

Barcelona is near mountains, but I hadn't read anything in my research for my trip or afterward for my Barcelona blog posts about skiing. Besides that, what does Casa Batlló have to do with skiing?!  Maybe "Yuonne Martin" knows something I don't? So, curious me clicked the pin and visited the linked webpage,

The article doesn't mention Casa Batlló or Barcelona AT ALL. Useless! This is weird, too, I thought. Why would someone use a great picture of a wonderful place but then not write about it? Did they just upload the wrong picture on accident?

My answers were right in the middle of the page: AdChoices. I'd been spammed!!

At least, I wasn't the only one fooled. I joined the Friends of Spam club along with 846 other Pinteresters! One way that people make money on the Internet is by "renting" space on their website to advertisers. Just like the newspaper or billboards, the rented space is often a "high-traffic" area, like right underneath the headline or on the right sidebar.

The more visitors, repins, Facebook Likes and retweets the article gets, the more money the website makes from advertisers. By baiting the Pinterest hook with pretty pictures of Casa Batlló or other popular tourism sites, many unsuspecting Pinteresters repin their site, which drives up the spammer's traffic and web metrics (to 847 repins) and puts a few more pennies in their pockets from the advertisers. The repinned spam gains a new audience and its chances of being repinned increase.

That night I trolled further on the "Travel and Places" Pinterest category and easily found a handful of other spam pins. The tip-off was often the photo's mismatched caption.

Many bloggers, yours truly included, take a lot of time and care to create original content that we hope our readers find useful and entertaining. And many Pinterest folk likewise share content via repinning that is inspirational or funny or deserving of a wider audience. So it's frustrating for me personally to see content that is very likely stolen from its original photographers and writers without attribution and repackaged for spammers' fradulent profit who prey on the community of Pinteresters sharing the spam unknowingly with their friends.

Next time you're on Pinterest, before you repin, take a look at the caption and click-through to the linked site. If it's spam, please click "Report Spam." Thanks!