Facebook users reel from porn spam attack

Explicit images may push users away and enterprises to ban the social network, say analysts

After being bombarded with hard-core pornographic and violent images on their news feeds, some Facebook users may change how and if they use the social network, according to industry analysts.

For the past few days, Facebook has battled an attack that flooded the site with explicit and distressing images. A Facebook spokeswoman told Computerworld that its security team has identified "many of the actors responsible" and is working on an "appropriate action."

And while the social network's lawyers are looking for ways to handle the spammers, many users are reeling from the images they saw in their news feeds. Some of them took to Twitter to vent their frustrations and connect with others.

"Facebook use to be friends and family, now Facebook = porn site," XtinaSayWhat tweeted, And kimpoyfeliciano also tweeted, "That awkward moment when your Facebook Newsfeed turned into a porn site."

Others went further and said they might quit Facebook altogether over the spam assault.

"I'm considering deleting my facebook because of all the porn/ dead animals and babies. its disgusting," tweeted sarahjacobss. And UP4RUNWAY tweeted, "I might deactivate my Facebook soon...all these porn going around and ending up on my wall...it's ridiculous."

Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, isn't surprised that users would consider dropping Facebook over the attack. If similar attacks follow, many may do it.

"Think about all the people who use Facebook while they're in the workplace," Kerravala said. "Seven out of 10 people have friended a co-worker or their boss. Think about those images popping up in the middle of the office. Whether a personal or a work tool, having porn pushed through [Facebook] could scare people off."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said that combined with the privacy issues that Facebook has had over the past year or so, the spam attack could make a lot of users think twice about using the site.

"It creates a cloud of distrust surrounding the service and may cause people to reduce their use of it or stop using it altogether," Enderle said. "For those that are likely questioning whether it is a good use of their time as it is... this could eventually erode Facebook's user base significantly."

Enderle said some companies that have employees affected by the spam may bar Facebook from being used in the office or over the entire corporate network.

However, users have been upset about Facebook's privacy policies in the past and most eventually shrugged it off and continued using the social network. While both Enderle and Kerravala said that likely will happen with most users during this spam attack, it may not be the case if Facebook continues to be attacked.

"I do think if it happens too often, even people that don't care about it today, will," added Kerravala. "It can damage users' reputations and upset parents and co-workers. And the power Facebook has is its community, so any loss of community, devalues it."

Not all analysts, however, say the incident is bad news for Facebook. Brad Shimmin of CurrentAnalysis, said Facebook will look good if it quickly tackles the problem.

"I don't think this is necessarily bad given their rapid and apparently effective response thus far to a security issue that doesn't issue from their own software," Shimmin said. "If anything, it will serve to drive awareness of the inherent dangers of browsing Web sites. A malicious attack can be initiated in a way that's completely outside the control of the host Web site."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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