Thursday, 17 October 2013

A New Sort of Twitter Spam?

Chances are if you have a Twitter account, you have received spam at some point. More often than not this usually takes the form of an unsolicited @mention containing some sort of link. Less frequent is #hashtag spam, in which a tweet (also usually containing a link)  is hashtagged with a totally irrelevant hashtag (for instance, a link to a porn site might be hashtagged #classicfilm). The past few months, however, myself and others have noticed an entirely new sort of spam.

This new sort of spam originates from an obviously fake account and consists of tweets stolen from legitimate accounts. If you follow the hashtag #tcmparty you have probably noticed these spam tweets. In fact, one particular tweet, "#madeforeachother director John Cromwell is father of actor James Cromwell. #tcmparty", has appeared so often that it has become something of a running joke among those who follow #tcmparty. Other have included, "He's not much of a mental health professional if he can't see Violet is nuts. #TCMParty" and "I'd like to spend MY honeymoon in a professional locker room. #CatOnAHotTinRoof #TCMParty". These spammers have not been content to swipe tweets from those hashtagged #TCMParty. Looking at the various spam accounts, they have also stolen such ordinary tweets as "I need a designer bag in my life ASAP," "I swear I am just my parents taxi service these days," and "working on my graphics, some images for my animation."

What is curious about these spam tweets is that they contain no links whatsoever, nor are they promoting any particular service or product. It is then difficult for me to figure out the purpose behind these spam tweets. My only theory is that the spammers hope one will follow these fake accounts, at which point they will send the individual a direct message containing some phishing link or some other kind of link. Of course, if that is their endgame, then they are going about it all wrong. The hashtag #tcmparty is associated with a particular sort of event. TCM Parties are events in which fans of Turner Classic Movies live tweet to whatever film is being aired on TCM at the moment. If someone is tweeting about John Cromwell being the father of James Cromwell and hashtagging his or her tweet #madeforeachother, and Made for Each Other is not currently airing on TCM at the moment, and that particular tweet has been made several times before, then most people are going to know it's spam and ignore it!

Of course, if my theory is correct, then it's possible that we might not be seeing this sort of spam much longer. Since the beginning of Twitter one has only been able to direct message those who follow him or her. Twitter recently introduced the option of allowing people to let anyone direct message them. While I doubt many people will choose that option, it is possible enough of them will do so to allow spammers to simply send direct messages without worrying if an individual is following them or not. If my theory about these fake accounts are a trap to get people to follow them (and hence wind up the recipient of spam DMs), then the need for this sort of spam could become redundant.

Regardless, I know that those who frequent TCM Parties have found these particular spam tweets annoying. We have been blocking them regularly, although they have persisted through the months regardless. Ultimately, I have to wonder if Twitter can even really do anything about them. At any rate, I think it would do the spammers well to realise they aren't fooling anyone. When one sees "#madeforeachother director John Cromwell is father of actor James Cromwell. #tcmparty" for the hundredth time, he or she knows it is spam!

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