Why spam could sink Twitter
I love twitter – it’s so immediate, I get great information fast…and it’s fun.
But I hate twitter spam. It is getting worse and could be the fatal flaw that sinks this fabulous social network.
I get it – I know that Twitter is like any other social media outlet – some marketers use it to sell stuff and if the spambots can monetize their sites or pick up traffic, they will do it. We can ignore them or we can rise up and tell Twitter to fix the problem.
Unlike Google, which has invested in multiple algorithm changes to attack spam, Twitter seems to be relying on users to report spam instead of using algorithms to pick up and block what is obvious and annoying spam behaviour. Reporting spammers makes me nervous because if Twitter can’t tell a real account from a bogus one, what if spammers report the reporters as spammers? Oi – I know that sentence is not elegant, but you get my drift. Spammers are automated bullies but there is a real sociopath behind the automated robot. And they don’t care.
As Tod Spangler pointed out in his October 4, 2013 article for Variety, Twitter has admitted that more that they could have over 10 million bogus Twitter accounts. I bet that is a conservative estimate.
Worst examples of Twitter spam
Here are a couple of the worst instances of spambot Twitter activity I have seen;
I am a member of a great business tweetchat group called #HBRogue. Every Thursday, they get together to discuss a topic. But of late, since the chats are popular, they attract the attention of spambots who then hijack the #HBRogue stream by using the hashtag. Here is an example of a hijacker on the #HBRogue tweetchat:
Tweetchatters use a dashboard like Hootsuite to keep track of the conversation. So the spambot just inserts nonsense tweets into the stream. This is not only rude and annoying behaviour, it is against Twitter rules.
Eventually, the wise @sunilmalhotra saved us all by requesting that we switch channels over to #HBRogue1. And I acknowledge that even talking about it makes our tweetchat vulnerable to more attacks…spambot bullies are what they are. That saved the day but now we have been using an app called http://nurph.com where we have to sign in. It keeps the bots out but doesn’t solve the main problem. There are spambots.
The spambots are really obvious and the tweets are significantly different from the member tweets – so surely there could be an algorithm to pick it up and stop it? I would love to hear from developers whether this is possible.
Twitter Stream Spamming
Another example is stream spamming where a spambot takes over a couple of hashtags. For an example, go into your Hootsuite or any other dashboard and enter the hashtags #business and #consultant. Stream spamming is a little tougher to spot one because the tweets sometimes seem innocent and they don’t always include URLs. I suppose what the spammer is looking for is more followers and clicks to a site. In the case of #business #consultant, if you look for it, the spambot becomes obvious because the tweets are very similar, often sent at the same time via a scheduler, the accounts do not have websites or have dead website links - or worse, they actually use the same stock image across multiple accounts! Here is an example. Can you spot the real accounts and the spam accounts? The real tweets are @jobely and @JobHitsUS – all the rest are from spambots.
How does spam affect Twitter advertising?
If Twitter doesn’t address the spam problems, then the social network system has zero integrity and the risk to Twitter is that advertising revenues will dry up as advertisers realize they are paying for something spammers get for free. All a spammer has to do is set up hundreds of fake accounts on a couple of dashboards and start spinning just like in the old days of SEO spinning. Hey, maybe Google should just buy Twitter and show them how to fix the problem?
What do you think? Can the problem be fixed with algorithms or do we all keep reporting spam? Will it affect my favourite social network?
Terry Rachwalski is a business consultant in Victoria BC. She can be followed on Twitter under the handle @consultingmania and Google +