Any community—online or off—will fail if it’s dominated by bad actors who reject dialogue and monopolize conversations for their own selfish ends. The true value of Spam lies not in its analysis of email advertising—though the analysis is expert—but in the way Brunton eloquently extrapolates the story of spam into a broader framework for understanding why the digital commons is so vulnerable. “ ’Spam’ is very nearly the perfect obverse of ‘community,’ ” he writes. “Whereas ‘community’ stands in for our capacity to join one another, share our efforts, sympathize, and so on, ‘spam’ acts as an ever-growing monument to the most mundane human failings: gullibility, technical incompetence, lust and the sad anxieties of male potency, vanity and greed for the pettiest stakes—the ruin of the commons for the benefit of the few.”

A coin has two sides, neither of which can exist without the other. There is no heads without tails; there is no open Internet without spam. If we are to preserve and improve the digital commons, then we need to understand this relationship much better than we do; understand that the existence of spam proves the health of the network, and our inability to stop it proves the fragility of the nodes. Brunton’s book explains this as well as anything I’ve seen. R3AD !T T0DAY!!!!

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Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.