DoS Twitter Spam in MSNBC’s Education Nation Student Town Hall #EdNatSTH

Well, after writing in my previous post that Twitter spam always includes URLs, I was proven almost immediately wrong during MSNBC’s Education Nation Student Town Hall hosted by Melissa Harris-Perry.  In the middle of the show, approximately 1140 tweets like these flew by:

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Note: If you don’t like seeing spam in your Twitter feed, please give my free Social TV Twitter client at a try! It will catch these kinds of spam tweets, so even if Twitter’s getting deluged you’ll be sheltered from them.

Mind you, that wasn’t the only spam during the show.  The “normal” spam that tries to get you to click on the spammer’s URL was omnipresent throughout the show.  But this was different: it was severely disruptive and totally pointless: it aimed to kill the conversation on the hashtag altogether.

How was this spam done? All of these tweets were sent using the service.  It’s a tool that allows you to automate sending tweets based upon data you feed it. Virtually no other non-spam tweets were sent with these service.  Interestingly, is often used in “Silencing” attacks, where a huge number of critical tweets are sent to a person to try to chase them off twitter. (See this as an example).

Why was it done? That’s hard to say.  Maybe it was a misconfiguration of spam program that ended up with garbage messages.  If so, the person doing the configuration is horribly inept.  All their twitter accounts were sending the same set of messages to a variety of feeds, and all of the messages are garbage:

Notice the same spam accounts hit Up with Chris Hayes (#uppers) earlier this morning.

Is this a deliberate attempt to undermine the MHP Show?  That seems not to be the case, insofar as the spam tweets seem only focused on trending topics.  When the Education Nation Student Town Hall #EdNatSTH hashtag was trending, this attack was launched.

Is this a deliberate attempt to perform a “Denial of Service” attack against trending topics (by flooding them with tweets, it basically kills the conversation)?  That seems to be the goal.  It is basically just behaving badly for the sake of behaving badly. 

Could you just block the user and report them for spam and be done with it? Not really — so many fake accounts were used that it would be like whack-a-mole with a hyperactive mole.

One thing is for sure: Twitter should shut down the service immediately until it can better control the spam its users generate.  And Twitter should shut down these spam accounts: there are 1140 fake accounts out there that have spammed hundreds of times each and are continuing to spam as of this (9/23) evening.  Why doesn’t Twitter do anything?  They can’t expect people to return each and every one of the 1140 accounts.  We’re on the cusp of a breakdown in Twitter if they don’t do something.

One more plug: If you don’t like seeing spam in your Twitter feed, please give my free Social TV Twitter client at a try! It’s spam free  🙂 and ad free. It’s your best defense against these spam attacks for now.

Twitter Hashtag Spam on #nerdland (Melissa Harris-Perry Show) and What to Do About It

For an update on this topic, please also see my more recent post.

If you like to watch shows such as Up With Chris Hayes or The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and also tweet along with them, you’ve probably been plagued with spam.  Whenever a show’s hashtag starts to trend, spammers will begin to swamp the tag with messages like:

What can you do about this?

Pretending it doesn’t exist is impossible. During today’s (Saturday 9/22) MHP show, roughly 20% of all Tweets using the #nerdland hashtag were spam.  But because the #nerdland hashtag popped in and out of the trending topics list throughout the show, at #nerdland’s peak somewhere between one-third and one-half of all Tweets were spam — and started to crowd out the real tweets.

The normal Twitter spam tools are mostly useless.  You could block each user and report them for spamming.  But when you see spam messages, on average, every 20 seconds, there is no way to keep up with them.  Because the accounts are frequently different, blocking one still allows most of the other spam to show up:

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(The SPAM SPAM is not part of the original tweet, but is a flag my Twitter client puts in when it detects spam tweets — see more later in this post).

Clearly, you can try to ignore the spam.  It isn’t too hard to identify spam tweets yourself:

  • Twitter spam almost always has a URL click. In the case of today’s attack, it ultimately took you to an AOL job listing site where, presumably, the spammer gets paid if you use the site.
  • The text of the spam is usually unrelated to the show.  And often it’s not particularly gramatical.  This is because spammers use sentence generators — one popular one is called “spintext” — that generate sufficiently random sentences to avoid immediate shutdown by Twitter.

A word of warning: you should never click the spammer’s URL.  Today’s spam was fairly innocuous, but there are moments like just this week where hackers find a new weakness in a browser and may be able to infect your computer if you visit their web site, even if you have an up-to-date anti-virus and browser.  (By the way, there is an update to Internet Explorer just released yesterday, 9/21 — make sure you get it!).

But even if you avoid clicking on spam, you still have the annoyance of seeing it in your Twitter feed.  Until Twitter takes it upon itself to stop this, you will need a Twitter client that filters the spam for you.  And that’s where I can help you…

The above screen shot is of a Twitter client I built that detects and hides spam (normally, that is: I had it just tag spam tweets with SPAM SPAM for this article).  The client is free to use.  It does not have advertising that gets in your way.  The spam detection is evolving, but it basically looks for patterns in tweets that identify spammers with a very high probability and then prevents the client from showing them to you.  It won’t catch the first couple of spam tweets, but after a few of them it detects the pattern and kicks in.

In addition to deflecting spam, the application specially designed for tweeting along with shows like the MHP Show or Up With Chris Hayes.  I built it because I am a #nerdland fan and was frustrated with all the other ways to live tweet the show and was annoyed by spam and trolls.

Give it a try, if you like.  You can go to its web site at, or if you just want to launch the application to give it a whirl, you can start it here:  It’s easy to select all the MSNBC shows, as well as all the other cable news shows:

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In addition to blocking spam, there are a bunch of other things my Twitter client does to make live tweeting a show more pleasant.  It allows you to flag people as “trolls” and hide their tweets (which does not report them to Twitter, as most trolling is not really a violation of Twitter’s terms).  It allows you to hide retweets if you wish (you’ve probably already seen the original tweet).  And it highlights Twitter users who are connected with the show (e.g., @MHPShow) so it’s easy to spot their tweets in the stream.

I’ll continue to evolve the program to block spammers (as well as other improvements that are unrelated). Give it a try, and give me feedback — my focus is on making it the best possible Twitter client for following along with a show.  And if you really hate Danish Modern, I apologize for my theming: I’m also a fan of mid-century modern.

Anthea Butler gets attacked by Malkin’s Twitch-Mob

Anthea Butler was the target of an angry Twitter mob on Wednesday; a mob purportedly worked up over her opinions about the anti-Islam film-makers tied to events in Egypt and Libya.  But just like the angry mobs in the middle east, this was no expression of spontaneous anger.  Instead, it was the result of a leading conservative whipping up her followers into an attack.  This is the story of how events unfolded…

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Melissa Harris-Perry, Risky Comments, and the Attack of the Misogynist Twitter Clones

On Saturday’s (9/1) Melissa Harris-Perry show, the host made an animated defense of poor people, arguing that being poor was riskier than being wealthy.  It’s not surprising that her comments got a strong response from viewers, and it’s not surprising they were almost uniformly positive in their comments on Twitter.  What is surprising, however, is that 24 hours later the tone of the comments on Twitter had changed from positive to negative.  What happened? Were these real comments by people reacting to the video? Or was Melissa the victim of an orchestrated “attack of the clones” — a large number of  identical tweets that sought to change the public’s perception of events?

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