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Twitter spammer tactics

on Jul 15 in trends, Twitter posted by

Sometimes it’s hard not to admire spammers, if somewhat grudgingly, for their ingenuity.

So we can’t be too surprised it didn’t take them long to discover Twitter.

Aren’t you a bit flattered when you are followed, especially by someone you don’t know? (“Hey, maybe someone actually wants to hear what I have to say!”)

But you know how it goes. “Hmm, who’s that?” You click on the link and you find that your new “follower” is already following ten thousand Twitterers. Yet, only a few dozen are following in return.

Leaving aside the question of why the few dozen would want to reciprocate, what do the “spammers” gain from following so many people they don’t even know?

The main MO seems to be to post one or two tweets with the URL of interest, be it a real estate scam, porn site, online store or just the opportunity to pour utter drivel into the Twittersphere. (Siberian_chipmunk is a good example of the latter.) Some are in a gray area such as agoraIndex, who is following about 30,000 and has around 2,000 followers.

So what distinguishes a spammer from a non-spammer? One useful measure is the ratio of followers to following. If someone is following 10,000 others and has no followers, chances are they’re not saying anything useful. But what if, like agoraindex, they have quite a few followers (a ratio of 15 to 1)?

The Twitter Blacklist attempted to quantify and categorize spammers. When someone complained about a prospective spammer, the Blacklist folks measured the ratio, on the premise, “if you’re obnoxious or socially ignorant enough to ‘follow’ hundreds or thousands of people in order to draw attention to yourself, you deserve to be tarred with the same brush as the commercial spammers and other parasites” …and accorded the guilty party a rank on a seven color scale. According to this, any ratio above 1 could be enough to get on the blacklist.

twitterblacklistscale.gif 

Another MO is to not care about following anyone and just post dozens of Tweets with the same URLs. Perhaps the idea is that search engines will read the URLs. Maybe that’s the reasoning behind setting up similar profiles which have neither Tweets nor followers—just a URL in their profile. (See e.g., visal9c8b, visalc, and veget65c, veget8e, vegeta1, etc.)

Well, the service was closed a couple of days ago (it’s still online), for reasons that are unclear (and not explained on the website). But the idea was interesting. Does the ratio reliably measure a Twitterer’s spamminess? For that matter, how much of the traffic on Twitter is on account of this type of lame activity?

So the big question is, “Will Twitter do anything about spammers?” Do they care? It seems simple enough for the user to block a follower, so maybe it’s just not a problem for Twitter. But what about me? What about when my ego needs to to be inflated with a large number of followers and a significant number of them are bogus?

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