Sunday, May 01, 2011

Twitter Spam Getting Bad, Now Poisoning Health-Related Search Results

What is Twitter spam? A whole bunch of "people" tweeting the same thing from accounts that are likely automated. These bogus accounts have a human name followed by a number, like Colettaj339. When you check out the profile you see this person has:
  • Sent many tweets (all pushing links), 
  • Not followed anyone (Following=0). 
In other words, the account merely exists to direct clicks to a promotion in return for money. Following the pattern of previous forms of spam this Twitter-spam is growing fast and targeting vulnerable people.

For example, I have been encountering more and more of this stuff when searching Twitter for the term "hemochromatosis" which is a scary and potentially fatal genetic condition that causes iron overload, a toxic buildup of iron in joints and organs like the liver, heart, brain, thyroid and so on.

Given the pathetically poor level of knowledge about this condition that exists in the general medical population it is very common for people who find they have hemochromatosis to turn to various channels on the Internet for information, including Twitter.

My hemochromatosis search on Twitter today found a bunch of tweeted links leading to a pitch page for an eBook on Iron Overload priced at $37. Bear in mind that the highly regarded and medically reviewed Iron Disorders Institute Guide to Hemochromatosis can be purchased in paperback on for a lot less than half that price, and can be had as an eBook on Kindle for $9.89.

Maybe the tweet-spammed book is brilliant and worth $37 but the large number of spam Tweets makes me doubtful. And this is by no means the first targeting of hemochromatosis sufferers on Twitter. Tweet spam leading people to an article site has also used this hook. In fact, I'm willing to bet that whenever you search a nasty disease, for example multiple sclerosis, you will see this Tweet spam. Here are some observations about this depressing phenomenon:
  1. Cobb's First Law of Communications Technology: Every new communications technology will quickly be abused, most likely by people lying in the hopes of making money.
  2. Twitter has not done enough to make sure new accounts are opened by real people.
  3. Twitter is not doing enough to remove blatant spam accounts (email me as scobb[at]scobb[dot]net for the algorithm to identify these accounts guys, it's not that complicated)
  4. A depressingly large number of people need to ask themselves whether what they are doing with their computers is helping or hurting their fellow man, woman, or child.
  5. Until the median level of morality among computer literate humans starts to rise, we will see spam, scams, fraud, and the like continuing to poison the technology and waste precious resources (like the energy that email spam wastes, enough to power millions of homes).
BTW, if you want solid information about hemochromatosis, visit The Iron Disorders Institute. If you want Twitter to do more to stop Twitter-spam contact the company. I find that a fax to the CEO is a good communications channel to use: Mr. Evan Williams, CEO, Twitter, Inc., 795 Folsom St., Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94107, fax 415-222-0922.

No comments: