Black Hat Twitter: Simply spam or proactive promotion?

It was only a matter of time before Twitter was subjected to the same spam that blogs and forums have suffered since their inception. Spammers will always go where the traffic is and, with over 200 million users, there’s no arguing that Twitter is the place to be.

Many of us might have questioned what is to be gained from spamming Twitter. So, you stuff it with links and then what? Are the links purely for SEO? We had a sneaking suspicion there was more to it than that.

Equator's very own Garry Hamilton told us the story of one astute black hatter: how he purchased 1,000 Twitter profiles, personalised them, used programmes to gain followers and created a network of over 1 million engaged tweeters.

Garry explained that shortened links can conceal all manner of sins - those links drop cookies, which track each click. When the click results in a sale, commission is paid. Garry told us that Mr Black Hat chose his merchants wisely and only promoted high value products such as cruises and insurance as well as lifetime value services such as bookmakers. Making a percentage commission on big sales and earning a percentage of every bet made by a referred customer made for a very lucrative system indeed.

An audience member raised a couple thought-provoking questions: If Mr Black Hat is generating genuine sales for these merchants, why does anyone care, and why is it considered unethical? Garry explained that some of the techniques employed were particularly underhanded, for example, setting up fraudulent profiles pretending to be the merchant.

For me, the key learning was the notion that "abuse forces change". Garry observed that Twitter didn't previously have an effective algorithm in place to prevent it from being exploited, but it is now advertising for an "Anti-Spam Software Engineer". He even went as far as to say that Mr Black Hat (and the plethora of others just like him) had done Twitter a favour by forcing them to be proactive.

Of course, you might argue that if the abuse didn't exist in the first place, there would be no need to have measures in place to manage it - but that's not the entrepreneurial world we live in.

By Jennifer Rogerson