On Twitter's Strange Robo-accounts...

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BLOT: (29 Nov 2010 - 10:32:38 AM)

On Twitter's Strange Robo-accounts...

If you have a Twitter account, one thing that might have happened to you is a friending/following by an account that seems potentialkt legit, but doesn't feel right. Sometimes, these SPAMmers are obvious. You get followed by a guy with a nick like Pr0N_deels_HOT and every single tweet is a short blurb followed by a link (and all the links are, of course, shortened). Sometimes you get complete computer gibberish disguised, badly, as fake tweets: "Gotta narm hallo fixing [insert SPAM link here]". Sometimes you get Actual Humans™, usually using phrases like "SEO" and "monetize" and, again, spouting out a ton of short links in lieu of real tweets. There is the uninivted replier, who responds to your tweets with something that seems like an actual response, except it obviously isn't and always, ALWAYS, has a link attached to it that is a mistake to click (I one time oopsed). And the Trending Topic abuser, who posts trending phrasses into tweets, or sometimes makes nothing but a tweet using trending topics, and only sometimes uses this as a way to sneak a link in (presumably they are trying to get people to friend them?). Finally, you get the robo-account.

A robo-account can be hard to spot. They don't use links in every tweet, but do sometimes use them. Half or more of the tweets are quotes, but posting quotes to a social site is nothing too weird. Most are just innocuous phrases—"Cut the grass today before it started raining." or "Started to do homework but started to play videogames."—that are so insignficant that they might as well be actual tweets. For instance, see this actual screenshot from a robo-account that started following me yesterday:

I guarantee, if you do a Google search for "site:twitter.com" with any of those tweets you would find dozens of similar accounts (for example, see the "Watching the postman wee on a tree" tweet search below). All with profile pictures. All with short phrases. All tweeting on the hour, just about every hour. Sometimes, accidentally, repeating one another. Sometimes replying to accounts, but when you follow the link, you find another almost identical account.

Now, what is this for? Some will eventually drop adverts into the tweets—"I've started using this online money manager [Insert Short URL]— and some have links in the profile, often another shortened URL. Others, though? They just spew out tons of random, presumably computer selected and slightly "voiced" tweets. Maybe this is an attempt to throw off the histograms. Actually dangerous accounts use robo-accounts to make certain IPs or phrases look mostly friendly. Maybe there are hidden words. First letter of every tweet or something even more complicated. I know that when I didn't block them, every post I would make would have a dozen bots immediately crawl it after I linked on Twitter, so this is partially some sort of SEO/meme data-diving thing trying to find key metrics without using Google Analytics or looking for particular types of servers and/or shared files.

Maybe these are actual tweets but unimaginative people...or, terrifyingly, maybe in some third world jungle rimmed sweat-shop, there are tables with banks of computers and workers typing away at nonsensical tweets...all for a quarter dollar per hour...

LABEL(s): Social Sites

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 48
BY MONTH: November 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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The longer, fuller version of this text can be found on my FAQ: "Can I Use Something I Found on the Site?".

"The hidden is greater than the seen."