First Click: Twitter spam is out of control

August 30th, 2016


Twitter spam isn't a new phenomenon, but over the past few weeks the amount of it has certainly increased. I use the social network on a daily basis, and not an hour goes by without a tweet of mine from months or even years ago being liked by a spambot. It's a practice that generates a notification designed to make you click into the profile, where you're met with what's typically a pornographic pinned tweet and a link that will likely bury your PC into malware oblivion.

The spambots appear to have hijacked ordinary Twitter accounts in some instances, and if you're really unlucky then your entire mentions page could be filled up with notifications for likes on ancient tweets. Liking old tweets isn't the only way these spambots attempt to annoy you, though. I've had plenty of tweets quoted by spammers, which also triggers yet another notification. The quotes are almost always centered around pornography, and sometimes involve some impressive and unconventional uses of emoji.

Twitter claims it has a variety of systems in place to detect spam on Twitter, and that the company responds to new forms continuously to combat spammers. Twitter also relies on users to report spammers, but it's not clear how effective this route actually is. Looking into the profiles of some of these recent spambots, some accounts have infrequent tweets dating back to 2012, which suggests they have been hijacked from genuine users. It's hard to say whether that's directly related to any recent mass database password leaks, or simply poor password management by some Twitter users, but these are all things Twitter could detect and react to without relying on user reports.

Twitter doesn't reveal the exact threshold for how its user reporting tools trigger an account suspension, or even how tweets are flagged in its system. Some of these spammer accounts have hundreds of quoted tweets, so it's hard to imagine that they haven't been reported at least once or twice during that barrage. There are many ways Twitter could improve its reporting system, to lower the threshold so that reliable Twitter users could help suspend these annoying spam accounts more quickly. Of course, any crowd-sourced reporting system is open to abuse, but ranking the reliability of reports would certainly help create a community willing to assist Twitter with its spam fighting efforts.

For now, I'll keep reporting each account I see in the vague hope that the spambot eventually gets suspended and I prevent a fellow Twitter user from being subjected to this frustrating part of the service.

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