Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems


Spam is currently the dominant form of communications on the internet, accounting for most e-mail traffic. Spam is a marketing device, it is also an expensive and time-consuming nuisance for industrires as well as a major vehicle for serious internet crimes. While considerable research has focused on the technical aspects of spam, how it works and how it can be blocked, our research aims to better understand why it works. We explore how genre theory can contribute to our understanding of ‘spam’. Our study consists of two parts. The first examined the content, form and specific features and considered the manifest relationship to existing genres of communication. The second part of the study focused on a detailed analysis of 111 Nigerian letters, a particularly noxious form of spam. Genre is generally considered useful because it makes communications more recognizable and understandable to recipients, helping readers process information. Our study suggests that spam is not a single genre but adaptations of many recognizable print genres. With spam, genre operates at several levels and is often used to mask rather than reveal intent. The paper concludes that spam exploits genre by conforming to known forms while at the same time breaching those norms.