Twitter spam has been around almost as long as there’s been a Twitter. @ Mention spam was a cleverly annoying way to ensure that anyone even noticed the spam, given the volume of Tweets that scroll quickly by on most users’ Tweet streams. Usually, a Retweet (akin to Sharing, on most sites) or @ Mention of another user will get more attention – at least from the folks who are mentioned or whose messages you’ve shared. It’s more sociable and personal than just blasting a message out into space, and most of us have notifications turned on so we’ll be alerted by Twitter – “Hey, someone mentioned you!” (It’s really easy to miss stuff scrolling by on the home page, but much harder to miss – unless you’re a celebrity with tens of thousands of followers – an @ Mention with your name on it.) Twitter has experimented, on and off, with ways to expand the Retweet feature to make it more relevant and appealing. At first, the convention was to literally copy/paste bits of a Tweet into your own, preceeded by “RT” and maybe with a little snippet of commentary added – something like “Wow!” or “Didn’t know this!” (because rarely could you put anything more meaningful into what few characters the original Tweet left over from the 140-character limit).
Quote Retweet, introduced last spring, lets you to share another Twitter user’s original Tweet, adding commentary of your own to it. Now, you don’t have to cram the commentary into what’s left of 140 characters – you get your own 140 characters for the commentary! Unfortunately, it appears that spammers have found a creative use of Twitter’s Quote Retweet (aka “Twitter tunnels“) feature.
You’ve probably seen @ Mention spam that includes several names – most importantly, yours – on it, if you’ve been around long enough. There’s usually an affiliate link buried in there, along with the hope that you will be sufficiently flattered by the attention that you cannot resist Following the spam account and Retweeting the spam Tweet. If all the @ Mentioned folks do the same, the odds of some poor fool clicking the links and believing the ad is a personal recommendation go up. But it’s an old game. We’re (mostly) onto it by now, and hitting the Report button only takes a second.
Now there’s a new twist to tempt even the most jaded Twit. Quote Retweet spam.
Depending on the original Tweet, it may include a snippet from the link or image. In any case, Twitter lets the original poster know their message was re-Tweeted (always a welcome thing). Quote Retweet spam looks like a normal Quote Retweet to all but the original Twitter user, but it is vague and nonsensical to anyone familiar with the original Tweet or conversation:
- First, notice that I do not follow this person, nor do they follow me. (I suspect it’s a “throwaway” account, meaning there’s a real person automating it, but not actively monitoring it for the sake of real engagement. If it gets shut down by Twitter, no big deal – another will spring up to take its place.)
- This person is not participating at all in my conversation with @jackyan (a smart, pleasant, real human being!)
- Nobody calls me “girl” (unless they know how to capitalize it, use proper grammar and punctuation, and jump farther and faster than someone brave enough to call me “Honey” or “Dear”)
- The Tweet shares characteristics of blog comment spam – mainly that it makes absolutely no sense, and it contains an Amazon affiliate link that is fairly obviously out of context.
If you go to this user’s Twitter Profile, you’ll find a constant barrage of this sort of thing:
There’s been an uptick in Quote Retweet spam over the past couple of weeks (with many people just beginning to notice it at all), and I am sure there’s some “black hat” Twitter automation software out there enabling it. Just know that it’s there and ignore it – don’t be flattered, don’t click the links, and DO REPORT IT. Just click the Settings icon, select Report:
Next, you need to choose a reason for reporting them. The second box is appropriate (although the fourth feels very tempting, sometimes, depending on the text and context) > Click Next > Choose to Block or Mute. In most cases, it’s best simply to block them.
I just hope Twitter doesn’t disable Quote Retweet and punish us all for the actions of a thoughtless, unscrupulous few who will always find a way to abuse a privilege and suck the legitimate, useful fun out of anything online.
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