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:
(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 http://www.tweetwatch.tv/, or if you just want to launch the application to give it a whirl, you can start it here: http://apps.tweetwatch.tv/app/index.html. It’s easy to select all the MSNBC shows, as well as all the other cable news shows:
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.