Self-referential spam

I have a contact page here on my website, which lets people get in touch with me without my having to make my email address public, and it’s come in handy several times—mostly for former students or readers of my academic papers who only have old contact info for me. It’s always attracted a little spam, but recently the spam has started getting meta:

Good evening, I was just visiting your website and filled out your feedback form. The contact page on your site sends you messages like this to your email account which is the reason you’re reading through my message right now correct? That’s the most important achievement with any type of advertising, making people actually READ your message and that’s exactly what I just accomplished with you! If you have an advertisement you would like to blast out to thousands of websites via their contact forms in the US or anywhere in the world let me know, I can even focus on specific niches and my costs are very affordable. Reply here: [email address deleted]

I’ve gotten several messages almost exactly like this one, except for minor word changes and a different email address at the end, and of course I will never, ever reply. But part of me is absolutely delighted that their spammy advertising ad found its way to me, who’s already written about the meta-advertisement phenomenon in Your Advertisement Here!. I really enjoy seeing these ads wherever they appear: I’ve spotted them on buses, on billboards, between pre-preview commercials at movie theaters, on TV while waiting at the DMV.

But there’s an extra dimension of interestingness to “you could advertise with us the way we’re advertising to you right now” when it appears on the internet, or in this case, my email. That’s because they only work if you genuinely believe a lot of people are seeing the ad, which is why putting them on a bus, billboard, movie preview, or TV commercial makes sense, whereas discovering a “your advertisement here!” ad while spelunking in some out-of-the-way cave would be utterly unconvincing (though it would raise other questions). But on the internet, you can’t tell how targeted the ads you’re seeing are. Am I getting the “your advertisement here!” ad because every blogger is? Because they think I have advertisements to “blast out”? Because they know I’m partial to self-referential ads? I find that last possibility doubtful, but then again, if they were targeting me, it would be in their interest to pretend they weren’t.

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