Sunday, July 26, 2015

Crap Detection - Fake Accounts on Twitter

Have you ever received an obvious spam email or blog comment that's trying to look legitimate?  On the surface they might seem okay, but a quick read gives them away.  Here's a snippet from a recent blog comment I received:

Unbreakable & collapsible, multifarious from stock bloom flower vase.
While performs the done gathering as accustomed cheap flower vases one.
Charm vase made of hard-wearing and flexible soft materials.
Absolutely fill it with copiously then it takes show improvement as a flower vase.
Fatiguing davy jones's locker layer helps it continue firmly with sprinkle in it.

Pretty obvious, isn't it?  But spammers and bots aren't always quite so obvious - it takes a bit of crap detection (and skepticism) to spot them before you click on a link that might infect your computer with a nasty virus.

Let's look at an example from Twitter.  Yesterday I was followed by an account that didn't pass the smell test with me.  How many problems can you find in this screen shot?

Gina Randolph looks like a nice enough person.  I don't watch television, but her face seems familiar to me - can't place it though.  Beyond that, there are some things going on with this account that should raise the alarm bells.

  • Twitter handle:  @ArangoKryukova - a foreign sounding handle by itself is no problem, but in this case there is nothing about the account that matches a name like this.
  • The bio blurb makes no sense:  "The most effective remaining stock promoter is one that I have not yet blogged .... This blog has a terms of use that is incorporated by reference"

  • Location = Las Vegas, baby!  Kind of cliché, don't you think?
  • Every single tweet contains a shortened link through a site called - click on them if you dare!  I didn't.  And the photos often don't have any connection to the topic of the tweet.

Bubble dog is horrified at the economic decline in China!  See how horrified bubble dog is?  Bubble dog weeps for China.

Bubble dog wants a treat.  As long as it's not made in China, because it might kill him.

Somehow, this account has 2,638 followers - who are these people?  How many of them automatically followed our friend Gina when her account followed them, without checking the details?  Quite a few, I imagine.

A little bit of investigation goes a long way.  I'd much rather follow Pogo the Death Clown than Gina.   Research tells me that Pogo is followed by real people that I trust, and his account has a wide variety of posts including original thoughts and retweets.  Pogo may have a strange name, but that's a good indicator there's a real person at work on that account.  I can follow him, and if it turns out I don't like his tweets, I can unfollow him.  No big deal.  I'm going to have to say no to Gina however.

I sure do like bubble dog though...


  1. Anne:

    Perhaps the bubble dog will start its own Twitter account so we have access to another very different perspective.

    Enjoyed your pointers on bringing skepticism as a digital-literacy tool to our online interactions; wish I'd thought a bit more before clicking on the one (obviously questionable) link that led to my Twitter account temporarily being hijacked. Great, relatively painless experience since friends were quick to alert me to the problem and I was quick to reclaim my account.

    1. Hi Paul!

      I have a funny update to this post. I was showing it to a coworker - one of our young pages who happens to be quite techie, and he shared with me a method to search Google Images with a picture. Save the photo to your desktop, then drag it into the search box in Google Images. VOILA! It turns out that our friend "Gina" is actually a businesswoman from Phoenix:

      An interesting case of a spam account mining somebody else's photo. I've seen it on Facebook, but this is the first I've caught on Twitter.