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Twitter’s Spam Arms Race

Twitter initially ruled out an anti-spam filter with the help of research team from George Mason University and UC Berkeley. The filter works so well that Twitter was able to block 95% of spams sent from bogus accounts.

Well, maybe Twitter was patting itself on the back too early because two weeks later the success rate of this blocking algorithm dropped to 50%. What accounted for the change? The spam accounts became trickier. The profiles were look more realistic. Spammers found a way to automate adding pictures and avatars to their profiles and more importantly the new fake accounts began to act like real users. In other words, there was some level of artificial intelligence or at least a script based choreography that these fake accounts followed so that they wouldn’t be as easy to tell from real accounts. What accounted for the change? It’s very simple. The previous accounts that were produced were built by software. Since Twitter really didn’t care if you add an avatar or if your account acted like a real user or your profile was not filled out, it’s easy to get away with having a software create tons of Twitter accounts. Now that Twitter applied that filter so a lot of easy to spot fake accounts have been blocked, spammers are now turning to low waged countries like India and the Philippines where people using simple software can create realistic looking profiles. So, in a sense, Twitter is caught in an arms race that has three players, outsource labor, software and spammers. The key to the game is to create realistic looking account so spammers can then have their robots use these fake accounts to blast Twitter with all sorts of spam. And interestingly enough, there is a cottage industry for tweaking social interest through Twitter. These are not big corporate accounts nor are these your typical porn or make money online type accounts, instead, these are local music acts. For example, a Philadelphia rapper named Tony Benson hired spammer to make his name become a trend in the local Philadelphia area rap scene. How successful did this ploy go over? Well, it became so successful. He became such a top trending topic in Philadelphia that local newspapers cover him. Moreover, it got him a lot of local attention. So, Twitter can make or break careers. Unfortunately, there’s gonna be a lot of spamming and a lot of manipulation and abuse thrown in the mix. It would be very interesting how Twitter can solve this problem and get out of that arms race that it’s locked into with spammers.

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