- It is remarkably difficult to bait spammers: Given the amount of spam that organically arrives in my Twitter stream, I expected it would take very little to turn a trickle of twam into a healthy stream of commercial and dangerous tweets. This was not the case; despite repeatedly posting tweets designed to bait the spammers, I received fewer than a dozen twam replies. To further my research, I ended up searching Twitter for some of the spam links I received, which revealed many more spammers.
- It appears spammers are more coordinated than one might expect: I assumed that repeatedly tweeting the keywords spammers use to target their twam would result in a constant flow of spam replies, but my experience was quite different. After my initial posts sparked a handful of spam responses, the twam trailed off and eventually ceased altogether, no matter the frequency of my subsequent tweets. Perhaps this was an aberration from too little data, but the implications are interesting. Are Twitter spammers coordinated, throttling the spam sent from various fake accounts in order to decrease the chance of detection and reports? Do Twitter spammers only target people with influence within specific content categories, which might explain why I received twam responses when tweeting on tech terms but not about other topics? Or does Twitter have filters in place to prevent an account from receiving too many similar (and potentially spammy) tweets from different accounts that are not already followed?
- Spammers cover a wide range of topics: At first, I focused my Twitter spam experiment on tech terms that had, in the past, generated spam replies. My initial tweets focused on iPad, iPhone and Xbox. Soon, my experiment became crowdsourced with others suggesting terms I might test. I learned that spammers also love topics such as diets, golf, weddings, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, dating, sex and brand names. Thanks to John, Michele, Kelly, Rob, Amrita, Paul, and Paul for contributing to my spam experiment and sharing their experiences.
- Spammers focus on newbies: Ted Sindzinksi noted he recently launched a new Twitter account for a startup and saw a great deal more spam than on his primary account. Twitter spammers may prey on new Twitter users who aren't as jaded or experienced as those of us who've been on the platform for years.
- Spammers aren't difficult to detect: Spammers aren't the most subtle or nuanced bunch of people. Virtually every account I visited--and I checked out close to 150 accounts during my experiment--followed the same modus operandi. Spammers tended to:
|Twitter Spammer Avatars: Warning:|
PG-13 & possibly NSFW
- Have very unusual names (EbonieLacsamana and SusannaBinderup) or end with one to four numeric characters (DiedraChauca624 and KarryHasencamp8)
- Feature provocative profile pics of young women (more on this below).
- Follow people but have few followers.
- Tweet a variety of famous and inspirational quotations and proverbs interspersed with spam tweets directed to individuals. Spammers' dictionary of quotations is quite deep, including everyone from Bill Cosby and John Lennon to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Marquis de Sade and Golda Meir.
- Use obscured links, but avoid the typical shorteners such as bit.ly. Instead, spam links tended to be from sites like safe-url.org (which clearly is not safe, despite the name) and unfamiliar sites like cirb.in (which I have not visited and recommend you do not, either.)
Spam is an annoyance on Twitter, though it hasn't risen to the level of pain caused by spam in email (where, according to Symantec, 92 percent of email messages are spam.) With continued diligence on the part of Twitter and your assistance with reporting spam, the problem can be kept in check, but there is no substitute for simple common sense. Beware of who you follow and use caution when clicking links tweeted by unknown parties. The danger isn't merely that you lose a few seconds visiting a useless spam site; clicking the wrong link could result in the download of malware to your computer or lead to a loss of control of your Twitter account. Tweet wisely!