The Twitter Spoofer

Apparently, a spammer is creating dozens of Twitter accounts, each one has one letter added to my profile name jowyang and is linking to a ‘get rich quick’ scam. I’ve received hundreds of messages from replies, direct messages, emails, and even a long distance phone call warning me. It’s likely a computer program, as it’s just adding one unique letter to my name, then following thousands and sending them direct messages. Many suggest that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I supposed I should be flattered. I’m not going to link to any of these accounts not to give them any attention, but I see this as an opportunity for Twitter.

How so? If there was a ‘report spam’ feature on Twitter the community (which already self-supports itself) could quickly notify the system when there’s an issue. This type of crowd sourcing already works for Akismet, wordpress’s spam system, and could easily be applied to Twitter.

Thank you all for watching out for my brand, I appreciate each and every message.

I sent a message to Ev and Biz, and I’m confident that Twitter will resolve this, I’m not concerned, but am thankful to all my followers.

On a related note, Twitter needs to keep the network clean, why? Brands are very interested in this community, I’ve been getting more and more requests from clients to discuss twitter, and whether or not they should engage and how. Just today, Forbes captured my thoughts on how I believe Twitter can monetize from corporate services, read why and how.

We’ve a report publishing soon, headed up by Zach Hofer-Shall, and edited by Josh Bernoff and myself, so if you’re a client, keep an eye out for it soon.

Update: Biz sent my emaill to the support team, and a few minutes later the offending accounts were suspended. Apparently, anyone can DM the @spam account to get this handled, I didn’t know that till now. This smells like a bot/computer program so we should expect more of these spammer accounts to appear to others, read Jacob’s account of the activity. Impressive how Twitter crew quickly cleaned this up –now that they just rounded up a cool $35mm, high quality service is certainly expected.

  • http://extanz.com Yann Ropars

    i hear that @spam is the way to alert @twitter
    robots are among us :)

  • http://blog.thelettertwo.com Ken Yeung

    Jeremiah – I’ve gotten hit by those spammers and auto block them, but I think that there is a “report spam” feature on Twitter already, albeit one more user-generated. Twitter folks can send a DM or reply to @spam and let them know the handle they want blocked. Twitter security should be able to filter ‘em out pretty quickly.

  • William Theuer

    Imagine my disappointment to learn you aren’t following me! wrtheuer on twitter. You still may!

  • http://ralphwhitbeck.com Ralph Whitbeck

    I’ve been followed by the spammer on both my twitter accounts I control. I knew instantly though it was a spammer when I clicked to the account page.

    Thanks for letting us know you are aware of the issue and what actions you took.

    Ralph

  • http://www.thinkspace.com/blog Peter Chee

    I didn’t think that it was really you. I took a look at the name it looked like it was spelled wrong.

  • http://www.modernmediajapan.com tokyoterri

    hah, I was so excited for a moment! then the anxiety began…

    I’m sorry to see you spammed, although not at all surprised, as you’re a favorite :-)

  • Maria

    I believe the @spam account prefers that users follow it, then DM (rather than reply) the name of the spammer so attention is not given to spammers.

    I’m doing a twitter search on jowyang and blocking/reporting the variants as spam as I see them listed.

  • http://www.expedientmeans.com Steve Furman

    Got that spam follow just a few minutes ago. Was about to send you a note when I saw your Tweet then this post. I’ve seen Twitter post notes in the stream about spam, etc. Your idea of a report button is a good one. Discover is still experimenting with Twitter. We have gotten some good results on a recent card release. Look for a very new product news release soon.
    Steve

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    I’m thankful, and am following you back now, thanks.

  • http://www.markshimkovitz.com Mark @mybiziz

    I think it would be a terrific add to Twitter in order to maintain the integrity of the site. I guess I was a little flattered when I saw that you started following me tonight. Unfortunately it was just a spammer. Good luck in trying to wipe out all the Jeremaiah wannabe’s on Twitter. Let me know when you get your first @mybiziz spammer. Might be a while though. :)

  • http://costillacommunity.blogspot.com/ John Costilla

    I got the spoof email and was actually flattered that you would follow me on twitter, now a little let down that it’s you plus one character. In anycase, I’m glad you are speaking out on this and requesting Twitter deal with this is a proper way. Wow, what a cheap trick to try and promote a get rich wealth scam. Almost clicked follow.

    This gives folks who are actually working hard to build a social media strategy a bad name. As a small startup, this is not how we go about recruiting community members. Our brand is important to us. This guy loses all credibility.

    Thanks again.

    John
    weareteachers.com

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    John, I already am following you!

  • http://www.twitter.com/kaimac kai

    I licked through from one of the fake Jeremiah profiles and they’re asking for money (only $3.88 tho, kinda reasonable, lol) – v scummy, and goodness knows what’s happening to that credit card data, also. And all in your name too: charming.

    kai
    @kaimac

  • http://www.jmg-galleries.com Jim Goldstein

    The bastage almost got me! Thanks for the heads up. I checked your site first to be sure. Glad I did. It didn’t smell right.

  • http://www.twitter.com/kaimac kai

    er, weird – managed to cut half my post off.

    First para was wondering whether there was no spam button for fear of people using bots to abuse… mass reporting of people to flood the system?

    Would certainly be better than the @spam system now tho.

  • Jenifer Olson

    Hi Jeremiah,

    I couldn’t send a DM, so I sent 2 messages to Zaibatsu, figuring he would know how to get in touch with you behind the scenes.I, too, was excited to see your name, then figured out the message was spam.

    I guess the good news in all this is that you have received the ultimate in validation from the Twitter community. How cool is that? I, like so many others, enjoy your blog, respect your POV, and would be honored to have you follow me …

    Thanks, Jenifer

  • http://webgrizzly.wordpress.com Webgrizzly

    I too was hit by the spammer. But hey, at least you know you’ve done something right when you have spammers use your name on Twitter! :)

  • http://www.floatingbones.com Phil Earnhardt

    The fact that the spammer is using a variety of URL forwarding services should be immaterial. Twitter can identify spammers through several sources:

    1. DMs to @spam.
    2. Accounts blocked by people.
    3. IP addresses used to create the suspect accounts in the past.
    4. The URLs used in messages.
    5. When a URL-forwarding service is used — or multiple services are chained — the target URL.

    Image matches — and near misses — could be made against existing accounts.

    Twitter either needs to have automated rules for suspending accounts or have staff on-hand 24×7 to turn off accounts.

    A secondary part of the problem is users that blindly accept follows, and users that blindly click on the link in accounts. I was astonished to see that there were over 100 followers to each of the sham accounts that I looked at. Twitter should create and keep current some simple documentation for how its users can detect spamming accounts.

    I could also imagine twitter requiring certain functionality for the URL-shortening services that would help combat spamming.

    I agree with @andrewhyde: Twitter needs to make clear to the community its intentions to fight spamming. If Twitter doesn’t take on the spamming head-on, they risk a mass exodus of users to some vendor who is taking that seriously.

    (Sorry, Jeremiah. I can’t think of anything about floating bones that’s pertinent in this discussion. ;-)

  • http://www.floatingbones.com Phil Earnhardt

    There’s also a middle-ground that Twitter could do: they could have a warning on the page of users that are behaving in a suspect manner. Twitter could warn people to NOT follow such users and NOT click through any links unless they’re absolutely sure who they are.

    The advantage of having a service that doesn’t completely disable an account is that it could be running automatically.

    Again, the most important thing for twitter to create is a small document why following or even clicking through the links is “feeding the spammers”.

  • http://www.floatingbones.com Phil Earnhardt

    Webgrizzly: I suspect that the spammer simply grabbed a list of followers of Jeremiah.

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  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Phil

    There is a medical metaphor, this is a brand parasite!

  • http://www.chriskenton.com Chris Kenton

    Guess I’m slow on the uptake. I was one of the hundreds of emails in your inbox. :)

  • http://webgrizzly.wordpress.com Webgrizzly

    Phil E: Yes, that’s what I suspect too. Although I guess it’s probably a program doing that instead of a real person.

  • http://www.twitter.com/kaimac kai

    Update:

    http://twitter.com/ReportAbuse/status/1214485947

    Bunch of ‘em have been canceled. Remains to be seen if they spring up as quickly…

    http://twitter.com/ReportAbuse worth following, I think. On FB too: http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=7491440739

    kai
    @kaimac

  • http://digitalstuffing.com Rachel

    I’m curious as to why your response was to email the founders directly (I’m assuming you know them) as opposed to following the Help/FAQ instructions? I could have understood the emailing direct based on a previous connection but then posting the reporting method would have been far more effective, so other people could learn.

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Thanks Rachel, now we know.

    This has never happened to me before, so I went to the shortest distance and easiest path I know. I cover Twitter in my day job as an industry analyst, and have recently interviewed them for an upcoming report.

    It appears DMing the @spam account is a quick way to get this handled.

    Learn something new every day!

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Chris Kenton
    Thanks for caring bud

    webgrizzly, Phil E,
    This certainly smells like a computer program, expect more of these.

  • http://www.germaise.com Scott Germaise

    Well… here’s one slice of the Twitter business model that’s been mentioned before. Verified accounts.

    Individuals could be charged some small yearly fee and corporations based on fee plus usage. Users could have the option to filter out non-verified accounts; and there’s a bunch of other options such a thing opens up. Ironically, such spam and phishing may help push business to ASK Twitter to provide such a service.

    The Amusing/Sad part of this? AOL once had a billing relationship with its customers and an army of customer service folks, along with a still somewhat popular IM service. They had the infrastructure and procedures to deal with such things. All they didn’t do was that one little jump to open things up just a tad more to the whole wall / let anyone follow thing. If you are or were an AOL Chat/IM/Messaging product manager, it has to just make you insane.

    Scott

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  • http://twitter.com/Jonathan360 Jonathan Nafarrete

    Glad to see how many people have your back…we all care ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/getoliverleon oliver

    well, that is the downside of a powerful / complete API. I think Twitter has (at least) two challenges ahead: A: Implementing their monetisation ideas (and maybe adding some) and B: fending off spam. This spam could seriously harm the trust and thus the corporate usage.

  • Mohamed Al Agha

    ohh..So that wasn’t you who followed me on twitter earlier today. I only saw the email notification on my Blackberry and thought it was you!Just checked the account and twitter suspended it.

    I hope this doesnt start a new trend of twitter spoofers!

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    Darn, so I’m not going to get rich?

    No offense to you, Jeremiah, but when someone following more than 1,000 people adds me, I don’t get that special feeling at all. My default mode is they’re spamming. Or collecting followers.

    If the number of tweets is higher than my zip code, though, I block them.

  • http://stoptwitterspam.com Stop Twitter Spam

    Jeremiah, I’ve been following the spam issue on Twitter for nearly a year now. The @spam reporting technique is not very well publicized but it is a very effective way to report. Spammy accounts are usually suspended within 24 hours. Unfortunately, it hasn’t done much to stop the influx of these accounts, which seems to be on the rise as Twitter continues to gain mainstream adoption.

  • Robert Sansom

    I was followed by one of these Jeremiah spam accounts… and i was confused. Should i block? Should i not? Will the real Jeremiah please step up? I blocked knowing that you have enough points of communication, and wouldn’t feel the need to open another Twitter account.

  • http://www.twitter.com/robertsansom Robert Sansom

    I agree with Dave (#34). If someone wants to follow me and they are following huge amounts of tweets… it just brings up questions. A business makes sense, but an individual? = something fishy!

  • http://talkitup.typepad.com Heidi Miller

    Jeremiah–

    I saw the spoofer when he tried to follow me, and I was delighted to see that Twitter had already suspended its account. Nice to see Biz is on top of things!

    Also, very much looking forward to your report on Twitter for my own selfish purposes, as I put together several classes on the subject.

  • http://thecentralohionetwork.com/ Mary Wehrle

    Adam Ostrow wrote about a Twitter Spam Software package that is being sold. There are others out there as well. Your name may have been used by one of these programs which would explain the proliferation of multiple identities and the one letter difference in the name. I got followed by a couple of them my self. I usually report them to @spam and then block them.

    Eventually, people will get the idea and realize that spamming twitter is a lost cause. This community does a wonderful job at communicating and reporting those offensive bot accounts.

  • http://thecentralohionetwork.com/ Mary Wehrle

    Ooops! For got to add the link to Adam’s article!
    http://mashable.com/2009/02/04/tweettornado/

  • http://www.newmediamike.com newmediaMike

    I’ll join this list of spam victims. As soon as I looked at the profile I knew it was a spoofer.

    Not to worry Jeremiah we have your back!

  • http://socialmediavision.com JustinSMV

    I recently seen the increase of spoofers lately and I recently saw your Spoof too. Its pretty sad that once a social network becomes mainstream/popular there will be spammers/spoofers/hackers that will try to corrupt these sites.

  • http://www.marketleveragetv.com MLDina

    How frustrating! Several friends of mine have had duplicate accounts made to spam other users (though certainly not to the same extent yours was)! Twitter was quick to resolve the issue in all prior instances I’ve heard of, but a report spam feature would be extremely helpful.

    Good luck!

  • http://www.missmanifesto.com Colleen Coplick

    This, and many other circumstances almost exactly like this, or as bad, are exactly why I ranted on BuzzNetworker.com that Twitter needed a community manager.

    I printed out the 9 page post, (in which I incorporated several of your comments regarding Community Management, Jeremiah), and all 36 comments (which isn’t much by your standards, but it was a big deal for my site!) and mailed a copy to Ev, Biz & Jack. And I followed up with Ev on Twitter when he commented about job descriptions.

    Initially, they said they didn’t believe Twitter was a community – that it was simply a “communications tool”. I got no response from the letter. When I mentioned to Ev online that I was interested, he “duly noted the interest” but there seems to be still, no move in this direction.

    In my eyes, a community manager would be a positive step for Twitter, and would go a long way to stopping some of these situations.

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