Your urgent assistance is requested: The intersection of 419 spam and new networks of imagination

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22 Scopus citations


This article introduces a series of measures of the geographical manifestation of a subset of unsolicited commercial email, i.e. spam, used to perpetrate 'advanced fee fraud'. Known as '419 spam', this activity has strong historic ties to Nigeria, where similar frauds were operated via physical letters and faxes during the 1970s and 1980s. This article's analysis reveals that 419 spam operates via a globally dispersed network that nevertheless contains a clear agglomeration of activity in West Africa. Building upon theories of the intersection of cyberspace, states, and individuals, this article argues that 419 spam exemplifies the challenge offered by the Internet to the dominance of states by allowing individuals and movements to create social space that transcends borders. This process is an intriguing and ironic parallel to the description of the rise of the European nation-state as an 'imagined community' that challenged medieval systems of authority and existing social epistemologies. The emerging 'networks of imagination' developed by transnational social movements and criminal networks to define their sphere of operations present a similar challenge to the primacy of existing authority embedded in the state, particularly for states in crisis such as Nigeria. The article concludes with an examination of the off-line and online implications of 419 spam and its network of imagination for the Nigerian state and its inhabitants. Ranging from strengthening public conceptions of West Africa as a sea of corruption to a decreased ability to interact with the outside world, 419 spammers are playing an important, if illicit, role in the construction and use of Nigeria's and the world's Internet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-88
Number of pages24
JournalEthics, Place and Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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