What Can You Do About Twitter Spam? What EVERY User Must Know

A five-step plan for fighting Twitter spam:

1. Fight It

Don’t EVER only block spammers. Reporting them for spam (http://bit.ly/ReportTwitSpam) automatically blocks them, so actually, do NOT block them at all, report them instead.

The next best thing to do is ignore spammers. They will either unfollow you or be suspended soon. If you don’t want to see spam tweets, see tip #4 “Filter it out” below.

2. Understand What Hijacking Is, and Help Others

If someone’s account has been hijacked to send spam of phishing links (see 2a below), don’t report them as spam, help them! Send them a tweet letting them know that tweets are being sent from their account that they may not have written, and that they should change their password. For more information on how to help people who’ve been hijacked, see “What to do when you see a hijacked account alert.”

Spammers favorite technique is to steal your password. While there are many ways to do this, in practice you mostly only need to protect yourself from two techniques:

2a. Tricking You (Phishing)

The first way they get you is to send you to a FAKE Twitter login page (that looks real) when you click a link. It makes it seem like you’re logged out of Twitter. But you aren’t! If you are actually at Twitter’s website, the URL will start with https://twitter.com/.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF: For more information on how to tell when you’ve reached a fake site, see “How to Prevent Your Twitter Password From Being Stolen.”

2b. Hacking Into Sites That Save Passwords

The second way is that they break into a site that has a lot of users, and steal all their passwords. Then they try those password on other sites. Major sites, like Twitter, Facebook, etc.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF: Check out some of these very simple password techniques for protecting yourself by using different passwords.

3. Avoid It

If you tweet a lot about popular spam topics (like iPads or porn) you will get more spam. If you say you are looking to buy something, you might get spam about that item.

If you really want to tweet that you want to buy a naked iPad app, expect spam. If you want less of this kind of spam, tweet less about the topics that spammers are using to find you.

Yes, this can be very annoying!

One trick you can use is to slightly misspell words. If the last time you said “naked iPad” you got a lot of spam, try n@ked i-Pad instead, or something similar ;-)

They use Twitter search to find people tweeting about what they want to spam you about, so of course if you don’t show up in Twitter search (say, because you have protected your account) this won’t apply to you.

4. Filter It Out

This isn’t effective in stopping spam, but it lets you remove the spam tweet in your mentions so you don’t have to see them anymore.

For example, if you are @InnocentVictim and @DirtySpammer has sent you a spam, simply do a search for “to:InnocentVictim -DirtySpammer” (without the quotes) and you can see all tweets that mention you except those from @DirtySpammer. (Notice that you don’t use the “@” sign in your search.)

If you use TweetDeck, you can use the global filter to create the same effect.

5. Understand It

Tip: You might want to read “The Incredibly Annoying Twitter Porn Spam Attack of Late Winter, 2012.”

Twitter is in a tricky situation. Whatever they do to block spam, spammers figure it out, and behave differently the next time.

That’s why Twitter spam often comes in waves. (When you start getting a lot of it, don’t worry, in a week or two it will usually die down again.)

How Advanced Spammers Work

This is because advanced spammers set up thousands of accounts that behave innocently at first, and then activate (begin sending spam) hundreds or thousands of them quickly.

They activate so many all at once because once Twitter catches on to their latest tricks, they will begin to be suspended much more quickly. So spammers don’t want to reveal their latest tricks until they’re ready to use them, and then send a lot of spam for 1-3 weeks.

So when spammers are ready to try a new trick, they will activate thousands of accounts all at once, sending a huge wave of spam across Twitter.

Once Twitter figures out their latest tricks, the accounts will begin to be suspended more and more quickly.

The worst case for a spammer is to activate new spamming techniques in two waves. This is because if Twitter figured out the tricks from watching what the first wave  of accounts did, the second wave would be suspended much more quickly.

Once an account set up to send spam is suspended, it is considered “burnt” (gone) and so others must be created to take its place. If spammers are making good money from a particular spam tactic, for example porn, they may be willing to burn more accounts (and risk having other accounts being suspended/burned faster) to make money faster.

This is part of what happened in The Twitter Porn Spam Attack of Late Winter, 2012, for example. Spammers burned many more accounts than usual because they had a better money making approach than usual. This meant that for several weeks, many many users got lots of porn spam :-(

6. Bonus: Don’t Do It Yourself!

Lots of people get a little spammy at time. I once bought some movie tickets for 50% off that were valid at a huge range of theaters, for any show at any time.

I thought “I’ll bet other people would love a deal like this,” so I tweeted the link to the special. it was a mistake. People just complained, and as far as I know, no one took advantage of the deal.

It wasn’t a money-making attempt on my part, it was simply an attempt to give something to our network that I thought they might like. But it looked too much like spam.

If you’ve got something to sell, give away educational information and be helpful in the business category that you sell things. Become known as the expert on your topic, and you can sell things related to that topic to people. But do nothing but post links to things to buy, and people will unfollow you.


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