Fake RT replies are the latest menace to hit Twitter. We’ve already had advertising spam, porn spam, hacked accounts and random tweets from robots, and now we’ve got the latest twist – the fake RT reply.
In case you’ve not yet seen a fake RT reply (I hadn’t, till a couple of days ago), here’s how it works.
If you change your password regularly and are careful which applications you log into with it, hacking into your account and using it to send out advertising or malicious tweets is not that easy, so a spammer does the next best thing – harvests Twitter user names (quite easy, if you know how) and uses them to fake it.
How? By simply putting the user name, complete with “@”, into the update box and putting the letters RT in front of it. They’re then free to send whatever message, with whatever links, they like. It looks as if the original has come from you – and the first you know of it is when a copy lands in your Replies box!
If you find a fake RT reply in yours, don’t panic. (I did – I thought my account was being hacked, changed the password in a hurry, had a problem with the Twitter database and panicked worse, then accidentally locked myself out of TweetDeck, and caused myself sufficient inconvenience to satisfy a spammer’s wildest dreams!)
In one way, fake RT replies are GOOD news. A spammer who’s gained access to your account won’t waste time sending them; they’ll be too busy sending ORIGINAL tweets apparently from you. The fact they’re “only” sending fake RT replies means they haven’t had the chance to do that.
So why are fake RT replies important?
Because whatever’s going out in them will NOT be helpful to recipients… and they’ve got YOUR name on them.
That’s frustrating enough if your Twitter following is limited to a few friends you can quickly tweet and say you didn’t send the message. If you’re in business, with followers spanning different time zones, and the message goes out when you’re off-line, you’re in a living nightmare.
You may have heard the saying, “It takes 10,000 tweets to make your reputation… and only one to wreck it.” That’s all too true – and hard to take if the wrecking’s done by fake RT replies you haven’t had a hand in!
So, what’s the best way to handle fake RT replies?
- DON’T click any links in them. They may simply be irritating but essentially harmless advertising – but they can just as easily take you to a malware site which can download spyware or other harmful stuff that will compromise your internet security, ID and passwords without your knowledge. What does the sender of the fake RT replies want you to do? Click on the links. So do the opposite. Ignore them;
- If you’ve clicked on the link before you’ve thought about it, play safe by disconnecting your modem so that no information can be harvested by spybots, then run your spyware checker AND your virus checker;
- DO click on the sender’s name to visit their account, then click the Block button. You’ll see a message asking you to confirm the action. Click on Yes. One way Twitter identifies spammers is by the number of people blocking them. The more people block them, the faster they’re suspended;
- Go one step further, and report the sender to the Twitbroom spammer-busting service. Just start your message with @twitbroom, give the offender’s name (without the “@” at the beginning of the username), and add “sending fake RT replies”. Complete your message by adding the hashtag #twitspam, to make sure that as many people as possible will see your message, and hit Send. Your message will be sent to all @twitbroom’s followers, with a request to block the sender of the fake RT replies. Typically, the offender will be out of Twitter very quickly. (Please also start following @twitbroom – the more followers he has, the faster spammers are disposed of.);
- If you think your followers may have seen any of the fake RT replies, you might want to send a tweet and tell them that they haven’t come from you. If the sender only has a handful of followers then they should be the only ones at risk – but for all you know, some of your own followers might quite innocently be among them, and you don’t want to leave them open to a spyware attack, etc. A message saying you’ve discovered fake RT replies have been sent out in your name and warning any questionable links should be ignored might save someone on your list from a great deal of unpleasantness; and, very importantly…
- DON’T beat yourself up about it. You’re not to blame for someone else’s forgery, and if you take these simple steps to alert people to the existence of the fake RT replies, you’ll have done everything you can to put things right.
Finding someone’s hijacked your identity can be a very frightening experience… but, equally, it’s empowering to realize that you’ve come through it AND taken action to prevent it happening again. Senders of fake RT replies, like all the other types of spammers, can be dealt with – but only if their victims will fight back.
Twitter has been getting tough on spammers, and others they consider undesirable… and if you indulge in behavior they consider looks suspicious, you could be next.
For anyone who wants to get kicked out of Twitter, here are 10 great ways to go about it:-
- Use bad language. We may be used to it on TV and in movies, but a lot of folks don’t like it tweeted at them. Occasionally using a heartfelt expletive is generally accepted – over-use of cuss-words isn’t;
- Tweet advertising links masquerading as replies to people who have never heard of you. Sending a reply to a tweet you like from someone you’ve started following is friendly; staking out a hashtag and “replying” the same commercial tweet to everyone who uses it is spam;
- Follow people, then, when they follow back, UNfollow them to make your friends- to-followers ratio look good. Tweeters notice that – and lots will block you;
- Get involved in quarrels. If you disagree with someone, keeping your place on Twitter could depend on doing it politely, or unfollowing the offender, and maybe even blocking them. If you start or carry on an argument, belittle or attack someone who disagrees with you, people will take sides – and they’re unlikely to pick yours;
- Use a robot to “add thousands of new followers while you sleep”. Most of them don’t work, work by following enough on your behalf who haven’t followed back to make it obvious you’re spamming, pair you up with spam and porn accounts already on their way to getting banned, or send out frequent advertising tweets with your name on them. Result? Next time you click your Twitter name, you see “Account Suspended”;
- Twit-vertize a porn site. More than enough tweeters will be offended enough that they’ll complain, and get you banned;
- Abuse TweetLater or TweetSpinner to send out advertising tweets every minute or so, 24/7. I’ve known people try that – but I haven’t known them for very long;
- Sent automatic Direct Messages to all new followers inviting them to buy your product. Direct Messages are also by default sent out as e-mail, and no-one wants their in-box full of spam. Tweeters are beginning to retaliate by immediately unfollowing anyone who sends them – some are going on to block them;
- Use a bot to send out random auto-tweets. Some people intersperse commercial tweets with them to make it look as if they’re interacting with their followers – but “breaking news” items that are two weeks old, or questions like, “What’s your favorite TV show?” (which never get an answer when anyone replies to them) fool only the very inexperienced – and the person sending them. More and more people are unfollowing and blocking people who send random tweets – and the more times you’re blocked, the greater the likelihood that Twitter will get rid of you; and
- Disrespecting the Twittersphere‘s ability and willingness to deal with people who infringe the very simple code of Twitt-iquette – tweet only what you would be happy to receive. There are now so many spammers there’s no other option. Tweeters (other than the absolutely desperate) WILL check your profile before returning follows… and many will block you if your timeline looks like spam. Those who use TweetLater’s “Vet New Followers” facility can now report spammers directly to Twitter which just one mouse-click – and if they report them also to @twitbroom, the names will be circulated for others to check out the accounts… and, if they agree they’re spam, they block them.
It can’t be emphasized too strongly that the more blocks you attract, the faster Twitter will get rid of you. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
The New Broom That’s Looking To Sweep Clean
Spammers haven’t taken long to set their sights on Twitter, and more and more exasperated tweeters are looking for a way of getting rid of them. The good news is that there’s a brand new “broom” looking to sweep them out of Twitter – and that YOU can help to wield it.
Types of spam on Twitter
There are two main types of spam on Twitter:-
- Over-aggressive and unwelcome selling practices; and
- Porn spam, male and female, straight and gay.
Problems caused by Twitter spammers
Aside from the irritation and distaste they cause, there are a couple of potentially very serious problems they can cause:-
- You wouldn’t want members of your family seeing some of the images the profiles link to; and
- Some people who’ve clicked on links that offer them hundreds of new Twitter followers a day have had their accounts hacked, and a stream of porn or advertising tweets sent out in their name. (Typically, they ask you for your Twitter log-in details – and that’s all they need.)
How you can recognize Twitter spam
Not everyone who’s trying to sell something on Twitter is a spammer. Here are the tell-tale signs to look for:-
- A Twitter spammer will typically be following LOTS more people than are following back. It’s normal for people who are building up their follower numbers to be following more people than are so far following them back, but with spammers the numbers are usually a long way out of balance. The most blatant one I’ve seen so far was following 2,000 people – and had 14 followers himself (and he was peddling software “guaranteed” to bring you 400 new followers every day. I kid you not);
- A Twitter spammer’s timeline doesn’t look right – and even if you’re very new to Twitter, it isn’t hard to recognize. Some post the same message over and over again, every few minutes; others have just one tweet, usually offering porn or “hundreds of new followers” software;
- Some Twitter spammers get their leads from following a trending topic, and post what they pretend is a reply to a long list of individuals. Many people genuinely have a long list of replies to post – it’s often a sign of a good Twitter follower to have, because it’s someone who likes to develop conversations with other Twitter users. The Twitter spammer’s fake replies are easy to recognize, though – they generally post the same message with the same link to everyone;
- Twitter porn spammers often have a profile or a tweet (the account has usually only one) inviting you to a site where it says you’ll “have to register to view my pics”; and
- Twitter porn spammers’ profiles generally have a provocative picture and sometimes quite explicit wording – but not always. Many of the pictures are simply glamor shots, and the more subtle ones use language that’s suggestive and inviting rather than crudely explicit. They leave no room for doubt, though, that simple friendship isn’t what they’re looking for.
Why you should do something about spammers
There are lots of reasons for doing something about Twitter spammers – the most obvious being:-
- There are lots of Twitter spammers, and their numbers are increasing every day. They’ll go on doing so as long as they can get away with it;
- The more of them there are, the more they’re going to ruin your, and everybody else’s, experience of Twitter;
- If Twitter spammers get too great a hold, the people that you’d want to interact with are simply going to get fed up and cease to use the service. That way, no-one wins; and, best of all…
- Because you CAN. There’s now a service that can deal with Twitter spammers. It works by getting the offenders blocked… and if an account’s blocked by enough people, Twitter closes it.
How you can fight back against the Twitter spammers
- DON’T accept all followers automatically. Use the Vet Followers facility in TweetLater – it takes most of the work out of checking your new followers, so you can do it with greater speed and much less effort than clicking all those links in e-mails. What’s more, in addition to “Accept”, “Ignore” and “Block”, it now includes a “Spam” button, which if you click on it both blocks the spammer and sends a report to Twitter… and they will investigate;
- DO follow @CharlesYeo AND @twitbroom. Charles Yeo runs the twitbroom service (more details in a moment), but there are two separate lists of followers, so being in touch with both will get your spammers blocked by a greater number of people and make Twitter act more quickly;
- When you find a Twitter spammer, tweet both @CharlesYeo AND @twitbroom with the spammer’s Twitter username. DO NOT include the customary “@” sign in the spammer’s username (using it would send a reply to the spammer, effectively warning them that they’re in trouble). Keep the message short enough to be retweeted to other Twitter users (leave at least 20 characters spare, if possible). Your message will go to all @Charles Yeo’s and @twitbroom’s followers, who’ll be asked to visit the spammer’s page and block it. Once the account is blocked by enough people Twitter will take action; and
- Check out the suspected Twitter spammers named in the tweets you’ll get from @CharlesYeo and @twitbroom. Twitter’s “Find People” is working only intermittently at present, so for now you’ll probably have to type www.twitter.com into your browser, then copy and paste the Twitter ID - for convenience, I keep a browser tab open at the twitter.com page, and just paste in the IDs as required, but it will be easier and faster once the “Find People” function is put right.
It only takes a few moments… and it works. A lot of Twitter spammers have already been suspended after a report to @CharlesYeo and @twitbroom… and withYOUR help they can clear out a whole lot more.
So, please, go follow @CharlesYeo and @twitbroom, and report all the Twitter spammers who start following you. You’ll be doing yourself, and all of us, a massive favor.
Being popular on Twitter can serve many purposes:-
- If you’re in business, it can bring you customers;
- If you’re trying to help a charity, it can attract supporters;
- If you want up-to-the-minute in-depth news coverage, it can provide it – and can even use your help to get the news out there; and
- If you want friends it can help you make them – in almost any country you can think of.
There’s one thing that can make or mar your poularity with Twitter users very quickly, though.
We like you to be HUMAN.
Well, actually living and breathing will do fine – I’ve just been asked to vote on the best animal tweeter, and been confronted with every kind you can imagine, from a West Highland White Terrier called Frugal Dougal to Aleksandr Orlov of comparethemeerkat.com.
The one thing you can’t expect to get away with being is a robot.
Yes, I realize that may sound like species discrimination, but that’s the way it is.
It’s not that I don’t like robots. Far from it – I love them. I’d be lost without the digital program guide that switches the TV to the proper channel when I’d forgotten about something that I’d planned to see.
I’d be lost far worse without my Thinking Rock, which manages all my ideas, projects, appointments and to-do lists for me, and never once complains of being over-worked and unappreciated.
Yes, I’m a tremendous fan of robots – until they get ideas above their station and start trying to convince me that they’re human.
These robots have now set their sights on Twitter, and I’m beginning to think that someone’s switched on Skynet.
First, there was the deluge of tweets that promised “thousands of new followers each week” (one or two were modest, and only promised hundreds). What they did agree on, though, was that we could have them all “on auto-pilot”.
Now, look – I don’t care how clever a robot you are, any human would have known that a promise like that coming from an account that’s managed to get only 56 followers out of following 2,000 (honestly!) does not say much for the autopilot’s sense of direction. I certainly don’t want to be on any plane it’s flying.
Most of us have probably just got used to marking these accounts as spam and otherwise ignoring them – so the robot world is now perfecting Plan B. This robot doesn’t merely autopilot you to followers – it actually does your tweeting for you.
All of it.
Now, I’m not referring to the services that let you send tweets automatically at hours when you’re not on Twitter. They require you to write your own tweets, and just send them out for you.
That’s very usefful. Once you have Twitter followers in different time zones, or even different continents (and with Twitter being worldwide, it generally isn’t very long before you do), there isn’t any other way that you can interact with all of them, and merely automating the time you send a message doesn’t impact on the message that you send.
It may be some kind of unfair species-prejudice, but what sends most of us humans screaming for the nearest screwdriver to stick into the robotic works is the type of random, totally irrelevant banality that neither informs nor entertains, and is completely unresponsive to the people it’s addressed to.
I admit that I initially was taken in by these. I responded to several enquiries as to whether the sun was shining where I was (as that one regularly arrives at 2am our time, it’s not), what everyone is twittering about today (I managed NOT to say, “Just read our tweets, why don’t ya?!”) or whether I ever get a song stuck in my head (yes, especially when I’m reading one of those. You really do not want to know the words).
At first I innocently believed I was encouraging new tweeters by responding to these messages, and was puzzled as to why I never, ever, got one solitary reply. Only when I began to see the same messages arriving, day after day, from the same sources did I begin to realize what was going on.
I should also point out to autopilots that we humans don’t have all that good a sense of humor. Yes, we can laugh at ourselves a little – but it has to come from us. Being made fools of by a robot does nothing for our self-esteem – or for our temper.
It has to be my most cringe-worthy moment on Twitter so far when someone gently pointed out that the “person” I’d very publicly congratulated on his amazing command of several languages was actually a robot sending random auto-tweets. I keep promising myself I’ll see the funny side.
Most of us on Twitter want more followers, whether it’s to market to or find new friends who share our interests (and, in many cases, both). I think it’s fair to say that all of us who tweet, and who respond to other people’s messages, expect and want to talk to someone with a pulse – and, equally importantly, a mind.
So, if you’re human, please feel free to follow me on Twitter (and I almost always follow back). If, on the other hand, you are an autopilot, please, please resign from Twitter and go back to flying planes.
How often do you change your Twitter password? It’s more important than perhaps you think.
In fact, it’s the best way of preventing a repeat of the recent spate of hijacking of Twitter accounts to send spam without the owner’s knowledge which has caused so many people lots of inconvenience and anger.
The most effective way of locking spammers out is just to change your password regularly.
As with computer back-ups, though, it might SOUND easy… but relatively few people do it very often, and many never get around to it at all.
Here are a few tips to help to make changing your Twitter password regularly as easy and as hassle-free as possible.
- Change your Twitter password NOW. It saves you trying to remember when you changed it last.
- Choose your password carefully. A random mix of letters and numbers, or two unrelated words with one or more numbers added, will be harder to hack than any single word.
- Make a note of your new Twitter password BEFORE you change it. It’s tempting to think that you’ll remember it – but when your browser tries to sign you in with your old password and it fails, you won’t!
- Decide the date you plan to change it. Twitter suggests changing your password at least every 6 weeks. Changing passwords every 4 weeks is an easier habit to get into, especially if you can tie it in with something else, like paying your credit card bill.
- Put a reminder somewhere that you’ll find it – WITHOUT looking. If you use Thunderbird for e-mails, for example, the calendar and to-do list add-on is a handy place for a reminder. ThinkingRock, Sunbird and Outlook are other handy programs to remind you when it’s time to change your Twitter password.
- As a back-up, note your paper-based organizer, to-do list, calendar or diary, as well.
This might sound like overkill, but please remember – to set up your reminder system and make it fail-safe only takes a moment. Repairing your reputation after a hacker’s used your account to send out porn spam takes a lot more time and effort!
Plus, it lets you feel extremely good about yourself the next time someone asks you…
When was the last time you changed YOUR Twitter password?