Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Evolution of Spam in the Twitter Ecosystem

Like hospital staph infections, spam evolves in response to our efforts to recognize and control it.

2009 saw the rise and fall of the Twitter porn bot. If y'all remember, this was the hot avatar with a handle along the lines of "@amber1988". The formula was girl's name followed by the year that she would be born in to be young and attractive. Then "she" would follow you, and if you clicked on the profile, there's be just one tweet linking to what was undoubtedly a heinous porn site.

Really, I never clicked!

At the time, in frustration I tweeted, "I'm going to create a profile called @mildred1933 and see who follows me." At least I made myself chuckle!

Twitter cracked down on this, and pretty soon I found the profiles pulled even before I could click on them to block. Good job, Twitter!

The latest twist on twitter spam are the affiliate marketing linkbots.

There are two kinds: Mr. Inspirational Quote and Ms. Newsfeed. Both often use avatars that include a child in the photo (aww, he's a Dad!). The profile description is brief and generic, or nonexistent. Often something about liking to "help people". Right.

Anyway, their MO is this. Their twitter feed contains about 10 or so inspirational quotes, or 10 breaking news stories with links, followed by the affiliate marketing link that the bot wants you to click on to line their pockets. I say affiliate marketing link because that is the best case scenario. At best it's a spam link, at worst, it may contain malware and cross-site scripting nonsense.

Really, I've never clicked!

So when you go to the profile to decide whether to follow back, it may look like a legitimate twitter user, if you don't scroll down and notice that every 10th tweet is the same spammy link.

They set this up by hooking up a Google news feed (or feed of quotes) to HootSuite, inserting the spam link at intervals. One of my LinkedIn Social Media group discussions contained a detailed how-to. Thankfully, other members of the group challenged the ethics and effectiveness of this tactic.

Recently, there was a spate of bot profiles created, often based in Mumbai, with the same description: "Soccer mom who loves to dance the salsa." Oh. You're a Soccer Mom. Well, in that case, I am more than willing to let you feed me a garbage queue of spam links! I got followed by two of these in one day, as did many other twitter users who tweeted, "Hey, what's with all the soccer moms?"

Amazingly, Twitter has not disabled the accounts. Amazingly, the account pictured above has 12,400 followers and has tweeted close to 2,000 spammy links.

C'mon, @twitter, shut it down. And people, wise up and hit "block and report for spam" when you see this stuff.