By March 19, 2013 0 Comments Read More →

Spambots turn Twitter friction (and frustration) to eleven

Twitter has many amazing qualities. It’s a great platform for the sharing of urgent information such as emergency communication in the event of a natural disaster as an example. It can also be great for disseminating important information which may not be readily available over other platforms. And, Twitter might be the web’s most efficient amplifier.

These qualities are often lost on many people. They see only the negative or counter-productive aspects of Twtiter. I’d rather not get into generating a comprehensive list of pros and cons for each channel. Let’s be honest, the technology is less of a problem than those who use it. I’ve had my share of in-person conversations which were every bit as deserving of criticism as our ‘beloved’ Twitter.

The real and newly emerging challenges with Twitter have nothing to do with the 140 character limit or the name of the service. The real challenge is its accessibility and what that means to the signal-to-noise ratio.

Between client work and my own research, I’ve been able to visualize the increased rate of spam traffic associated with popular Twitter hashtags. The growing nuisance of spam messages featuring links to pornographic material and commercial websites with ambiguous yet intruigingly-banal text such as “THIS MADE ME LAUGH SO HARD OMFG I’M CRYING AND I SHOULDN’T BE OMG,” and “If perhaps it’s not love than just what is? i’m prepared to take the risk,” and “lmao this made me laugh” makes it very difficult for legitimate users and observers of Twitter to see the real goods.

The pattern is repeatable. As a Twitter hashtag becomes popular, typically as it approaches 1,000 tweets on any given day, the spambots jump in with both feet. The results are shocking. For one client I tracked 13,000 tagged tweets for a single day, 55% were spam. That’s right. Over 7,100 were generated by opportunistic software.

This is important to note for anyone planning an event with an associated hashtag. This means the forecast for Thursday’s budget (#eap2013) and the Liberal’s April 14th leader election (#lpcldr) is a lot of spam. The people behind the hashtags need to be extra vigilant to find the legitimate chatter. They can also park any excitement about the buzzword “trending.”

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About the Author:

Mark Blevis is a digital public affairs strategist and President of FullDuplex.ca, an integrated digital communications, public affairs and research company. His work focuses on the role of digital tools and culture on issues and reputation management. He also leads research into how Canadian opinions are shaped through online content and interactions.