Twitter's other spam problem: Username chaos

A few months ago, Twitter published a State of Twitter Spam blog post. It claimed to have reduced spam from fake accounts to little more than 1%, lowering the number of offers for prescription drugs, dodgy online scams and invitations from busty babes. We complain about Twitter more than we praise them, but this deserves a “well done!”

What’s on the increase and quite possibly trickier to control is the noise created by users who don’t understand how Twitter works – usernames in particular.

There seem to be a few trends:

Retweets as replies

Users in Malaysia and Indonesia seem to use retweets as a way to “thread” conversation. As a result, the oldest words get truncated. As Veronica seems to be a common name, I’ll often have more misappropriated foreign tweets than real @replies in my stream.

Failing to understand usernames

The next flavour of Twitter spam is due to users who don’t understand that @Vero or @Jake or @Bob are really someone’s usernames and use them willy nilly.

I often see “@Vero’s house for a party” and hope that some stranger isn’t on the way to my place with a couple of crates of beer for an impromptu gathering.

What’s next?

I’ll be interested to see how Twitter tackles this kind of issue. Having steamed past the 100 millionth user some time ago, the noise level is quickly becoming deafening.

Unlike classic spam where a user publishes the same thing hundreds of times, this can’t be fixed as easily as it’s a user education issue.

How could Twitter handle this?

Torchwood's social critique and the education system

This week, many of us have been riveted to our TV screens more than usual. I have, certainly.


BBC experimented with a 5-part miniseries of the Doctor Who spin off show Torchwood, called Children of Earth. I’ve been a fan of Torchwood since the first season – while it hasn’t been a flawless show, it’s been interesting to see sci fi themes of a more adult nature (not in that way, you perv. Well, ok sometimes…) be approached.

This miniseries not only looked at the usual “alien invasion from the skies” theme, but also looked at Britain in a dark and disturbing way.

For those who haven’t seen it, here is the issue in a nutshell:

Britain is forcefully approached by “The 456”, an alien lifeform that approached it over 40 years ago. In 1965, the 456 requested that they were given 12 children, assuring Britain that they would disappear forever, never to come back. In 2009, the 456 comes back, this time requesting millions of children – 10% of the entire child population of the world. Otherwise it would destroy the human race entirely.

When faced with no other option than to obey the 456, the British government, UNIT, the American forces and a number of other worldwide governing bodies come to the difficult decision of choosing the children who should be handed over.

After discussions of random lotteries and “one loss per family” to meet the 325,000 children to be taken from the UK, one government member suggests what many have been thinking: Use the school league tables to select the lower ranking schools and rid Britain of the scum.

The blunt suggestion is accepted and buses are driven to the disadvantaged schools, providing the media with a spin story that the children are being taken away for inoculations as a means of protection.

I won’t give away the ending for those who still may not have watched the last episode, but will instead look at this situation. Sure, aliens are unlikely to land in Thames House tomorrow to make such demands but what about that bottom 10% of school kids?

In the real world of here and now, are we failing our youth by accepting that disadvantaged areas of the country must necessarily mean lower ranking schools, poorer grades and children who will grow up to spend their life on the dole? In top schools, children are expected to go on to further education and get good, meaningful jobs. Of course, they have the added benefits of a childhood in an independent fee-based school and the likelihood of parents who are more actively involved in their education. These aside, are we taking away the disadvantaged kids’ changes by setting expectations too low?

In this fictive situation, the government made the decision for these kids that they would never amount to anything and were therefore the best group to sacrifice, for the sake of the other 90%.

I don’t have kids and I certainly don’t have an answer, but it was insightful to see Torchwood broach what is a rather controversial topic in between battling aliens and saving lives.