Chad Kimball is a born leading man. In 2010, the 35-year-old veteran actor was nominated for a Tony award for his starring role in the Broadway musical Memphis. But on Facebook he's applying his talents toward an unusual end: Stopping spam ads for shoes.
There's a song, of course: The auto-tuned anthem "Shoe Spam Stand-off," which Kimball recorded and posted to the anti-shoe spam Facebook group he founded. It opens with a simple plea to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:
shoe spam. Shoe spam.
Gotta stop, gotta stop. What. Shoe spam.
Zuckerberg, who owns the Facebook.
You gotta stop the spam, gotta stop the spam
If this seems a bit much, you've probably never been shoe spammed. Shoe spam has become a legendary scourge on Facebook, spreading the same way you share party pics. A spammer hijacks a Facebook account and posts dozens of pictures of shoes with spam links to online shoe stores in the captions, clogging the victims' friends' timelines. Worst of all, they tag all of the friends in the photos so everyone connected to these friends sees the shoes, too, amplifying the message exponentially. Shoe spam has been picking up since the introduction of the new Facebook timeline, which gives more real estate to photos and makes shoe spam more obnoxiously eye-catching.
But the same technique is used to advertise everything form porn sites to knockoff electronics, though. So what makes shoe spam worth singing about?
"A) Shoes smell," Kimball explained in a phone interview. "B) they're hideous to look at. I don't know anyone who would buy these shoes."
And Kimball has seen too many friends turned into shoes on Facebook—in the darkest times, as many as three a day. They've been tagged as tacky, bedazzled stilettos and glow-in-the-dark basketball shoes. Most insidious are the gold-and-white Nike Shox Torch II sneakers, Kimball's archnemesis.
"Ugh, man. The gold-and-white is like the president of the shoe spam. It's everywhere," Kimball said.
It doesn't help that Kimball is part of a tight-knit group of theater professionals who rely on Facebook to connect with fans and colleagues. The shoes thrive on dense networks and high friend counts. When the shoe spam arrived in Kimball's timeline a few months ago, it buried Broadway's elite in a Footlocker-worth of footwear. No one was spared.
"Even Stephen Sondheim and Bernadette Peters," Kimball said. "These are living legends and they're just getting shoes thrown at them." (Sondheim's shoe-ing was memorialized in the lyrics of "Shoe Spam Sand-off": Even Stephen Sondheim got spammed! Even Sondheim got spammmmmed!.)
This called for an anti-shoe movement. On April 10, Kimball created the STOP SHOE Facebook group, inviting about 100 of his friends. Since then, STOP SHOE has swelled to more than 500 members. The theater world is heavily represented, but random shoe spam-haters wander in as well. Kimball had to add an additional administrator to handle all the requests to join the group, a testament to the pervasiveness of shoe spam and the lengths people will go to find new ways to waste time on Facebook.
Since its founding, STOP SHOE has focused mainly on awareness-raising. STOP SHOE members make videos and photoshop anti-shoe propaganda or post overblown pleas for help that could have been smuggled on scraps of paper out of a besieged city.
"dude. its out of control. im drowning. hit for the third time. no one hears our screams. suicide is the only answer," wrote John Jeffrey Martin, a New York actor and hardcore STOP SHOE-er, from the depths of a particularly bad night of shoe spam last month. From what I can tell, he is only half-joking.
STOP SHOE-ers tally the notable victims of shoe spam: Dancers, musicians, actors. (Sondheim's been hit three times.) The ebb and flow of shoe spam is tracked like storm fronts. A lull in the shoes only sparks more anxiety.
"so quite (sic) today makes me nervous," wrote Misty Menken on STOP SHOE on May 27. "I feel as if the shoes are stalking us waiting to pounce the moment we let down our guard!"
But Kimball also hints that some more enterprising STOP SHOE members are trying to cut off the spam at its roots.
"We've got investigators who are really savvy about this stuff trying to find out the inner workings of who's doing it," said Kimball. "We're on it."
STOP SHOE's vigilantism makes computer security expert Graham Cluley of Sophos Security nervous. As they trace the shadowy shoe spam network, does STOP SHOE know what they're getting into?
"There's not very much individuals can do except don't click on the links," Cluley said. "There's always the danger that you end up on a page that will try to install some kind of rogue plug-in into your browser. My advice to them would be to probably not engage in battle. Don't become a vigilante on Facebook. If you don't like it, report it as spam." Clulely suggests Facebook users put pressure on the company to crack down on spam, instead of hunting down spammers themselves.
But a choreographed West Side Story-style brawl between STOP SHOE members and spammers is the only thing this story needs to turn into Spam! The Musical, so I tried to figure out who was behind the latest wave of shoe spam. Most of the shoe spam STOP SHOE has reported recently points to GoforKicks.com, an online shoe store that, according to many angry customer reviews, peddles counterfeit sportswear passed off as the real thing. Some investigation showed the site appears to be run by the Hong Kong-based company Solar World International, which didn't responded to emails.
Even without an actual shoe spam showdown, there's been talk of bringing the movement into the real world. Maybe an anti-shoe spam march. "We could do it just in socks," Kimball said. Finding a route has proved a challenge, but it could make a great finale.