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?

Why You Should Avoid Mass-Emailing Using the "To" Field

This may seem like an obvious blog post to most readers. If that’s the case, just move along, nothing to see here.

However, if you’re wondering why people have been giving you snappy responses and a stern look when you include them on mass emails where all recipients are in the “To:” field, please take a seat. I’ll explain why you’ll find yourself on the naughty step if you do it again.

First, when emailing dozens of people at once, you’re sharing the recipients’ email addresses with everyone else. Everyone, including aunt Wendy whose old computer is crawling with malware and nasty things that can harvest their address book. And including that careless salesperson who is quite happy to add me to their spammy mailing list even though I’ve never agreed to it. If you think that’s acceptable behaviour, then you should have no problem with me taking your personal mobile number and plastering it all over the city, right?

And secondly, in particular when you’re in a business environment, it looks awfully unprofessional to email customers or prospects openly. If you’re sharing a prospect’s information with no regards for their privacy, why should they trust you with information like credit card details? You’ve lost a sale right there.

Do yourself a favour and learn to use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field of your email client when sending group emails. Even better, use proper email marketing software (Campaign Monitor, MailChimp and many more) and present yourself like a real professional.

Note: I’ve created this post to ensure I can send this link to email marketers and friends who don’t understand why it’s inappropriate to send mass emails this way. Feel free to link to this post if you also need to explain it to someone.

WordPress & Akismet: Why It's Important to Mark Spam as Spam

According to Spamhaus, over 96% of all email is spam. That leaves 2% for Facebook notifications, 1.5% for those forwards your mum sends you that you saw in 2001 anyways & about 0.5% for those nagging emails your boss sends on Sunday nights. It’s grim isn’t it? Yet we love it, and we (certainly I) couldn’t live without it.

How about blog comments?

Bucket and SpadeWe love getting recognition and fandom for the great entries we write, even though we might not get as many as the big blogs who might get a few hundreds for every post written! And how much spam in blogs? Well, according to Akismet, who power the spam filtering for WordPress and Movable Type blogs, 85% of all blog comments are spam.

Recently, however, I’ve noted a slightly disturbing trend where bloggers let some spam comments through by choice. I’m mystified on why they would do this; ignorance that spammers can “customise” a spam message by including your post title and therefore assuming it’s real? Naivety that a comment like “I was searching for Blogs about personal government grant applications and found this site. I am interested in your content and appreciate sites like this.” could be a real one? Or a personal interest in wanting to see their posts appear to have more comments?

Others seem to simply hit “delete” instead of “spam” in their WordPress admin area, since the immediate results are the same.

But here is why it matters

It’s important for us all to call a spade a spade and a spam comment a spam comment.

Akismet is more than just a spam filter for YOUR blog, it’s a giant brain. Not the gooey, kept-in-a-jar kind of brain, don’t worry. (Though I wouldn’t put it past Matt Mullenweg to have one of those too…)

It’s a system that learns from all our actions, so every comment you mark helps it identify ham from spam in the future on your blog, but also on every other Akismet user’s blog. So marking a commenter you don’t like as “spam” or a spam comment as “deleted” muddles the waters. Bet you didn’t realise it affected everyone else, did you?

Follow these simple rules

  • If it’s a real comment from a squishy human user but you don’t agree with it, hit delete.
  • If it’s a comment from a bot, something that looks automatically generated or links to obvious spam sites, hit spam.

Being consistent with these rules will allow us all to spend more time blogging and less time moderating comments. Meanwhile, if you haven’t got Akismet already enabled on your blog, what are you waiting for?

[Image: Bucket and Spades by Auntie P on Flickr, under Creative Commons]

The Twitter backlash begins: Welcome to a world of pain and spam

A couple of days ago, Hugh quit Twitter to work on writing his book. Now I’m considering quitting Twitter, but nobody’s signed me up for a book.

The reason? Spam, spam, eggs, bacon and spam. Well, without the eggs or the bacon. The sheer volume of new followers I’m getting these days who are blatantly spammers is getting increasingly frustrating. Sure, I can block them one by one, or simply ignore them, but if Twitter could implement a “flag as spam” a la Blogspot, then we could help each other and avoid 10,000 other users getting the same spammy follower message.

Such a pain, Twitter spam takes over my inbox

To add to the frustration, a friend pointed out that spam followers could very well use your RSS feed to create random copy for spam emails or blog comments in the future. I haven’t come across it yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already happening.

I guess for now, the less drastic route for me to take will be to create a rule where all notifications of new followers will go straight into a mark-as-read folder. It won’t solve the problem that my feed could end up as spam material for some unscrupulous asshole out there, but it’ll have to do for now.

What this means is that if you start following me and you want to have a conversation, you’ll need to send me a message @vero for me to react and add you as well. Crappy, but it’s the best solution I can think of.

Anyone got a better idea? doesn't understand data protection

[Update: Some further info on the post on Michele Neylon’s blog. Monster PR? Get on this one like a fat kid on a smartie now!]

Tom Raftery posted yesterday to let the world know that doesn’t quite grasp the concept of the DPA (Data Protection Act) which covers personal data like email addresses.

This morning one of it@cork’s members forwarded us an email conversation he had with John Burns, Monster’s Business Development Manager in Ireland. We were incredulous when we read it.

It started with an email from Monster’s John Burns to 189 recipients and CC’d to our member (!). Our member replied to John that this was spam and

…coming from Monster, most unprofessional. Worse, you exposed everyone’s email address to one another without their permission

Unbelievably for someone working in an online organisation, Monster’s John Burns seems to be unaware of the data protection legislation and responded to this saying:

These email addresses are part of a networking list from and are all available for everyone to see.

I do appreciate your concern chris, (i will keep my eye out for the bloggers!!!)

Having worked in email marketing before and being rather precious about my personal data (well… aside from the fact that I publish just about everything aside from my bra size on my blog!), shit like this winds me up a treat.

Some people don’t mind having to wade through piles of junk mail just to get to the important stuff, but it doesn’t give them permission to do the same to everyone else.

The Data Protection Act specifically requires a sender to have explicit permission from a user before mailing them, which is basic common sense anyways. But what I find absolutely gobsmacking, if I’ve understood the above correctly, is that he put 189 recipients in the “To” field. When anyone dares send me mail like that without making all recipients “Bcc”, it makes me want to do unspeakable things to them. I haven’t even received the email, yet it’s making me want to get my ass kicking boots on and go visit Johnny over in Ireland.

Urgh, some people just shouldn’t have access to the Internet, much less be involved in running an online business like Monster!

[Via Paul Walsh @ Segala & his twitter comment]