The Twitter Underground

There is no smoke without mirrors when spamming – everything is a confidence trick. Whether unsolicited SMS, 419 type email scams, pump and dump stock offers or fake job offers and DHL parcels waiting for your collection, the game is always the same: be just less than too good to be true and people will fall for it.

In my case, Twitter offered up a place to create the illusion of popularity for my clients. The platform provided a channel to send users to my clients’ site, to send direct messages touting services… it was very direct, just like the good old days of email spam only without the threat of criminal prosecution!

I also wanted people’s attention, their vote through a follow or endorsement via a reply or retweet. I wanted Google to interpret my Twitter accounts as popular and in turn boost the rankings of the sites I would promote.

Getting there involved 5000 accounts. I bought these for $100 from my USA-based contact Jared who supplied operational Twitter accounts with images, fake biographies, background images and with the location set to British or American cities. These were high quality fake accounts because complete profiles are less likely to trigger spam filters.

I created a network of ‘Bimbots’ – fake Twitter accounts which feature profile images of scantily clad young women with lap-dancer inspired names – Shantelle Nowt or Ruby Roxx for instance. If you have spent any time on Twitter, one these kinds of accounts has followed or @replied you – they are almost too good to be true…

The Bimbots were ideal for unseemly and nefarious means e.g. trashing a rival’s or competitor’s Twitter.

Un-Social Media Marketing
The fee I charged to trash a competitor company account was anything from $500 to $1000. Step one was to follow the competitor with 20,000 fake followers that I purchased for five dollars from a seller in India.
Step two was to tweet negative remarks such as “brand x scam” or “brand x rip off’ then wait for Google Suggest to pick up the common frequency of these terms.

Google’s search algorithm could then incorporate these terms into their AutoSuggest (the automatic search suggestion presented to users when they start typing) – the competitor would then face an unmanageable online reputation problem.

Another less obvious payload delivered to the company went like this: anytime an account gained a follower or received a reply the social media manager might get an email alert.

Imagine the chaos when they would arrive at work to find over 20,000 email alerts. That is one for every follow or reply. Their corporate reporting metrics would be invalid, their account now full of illegitimate followers and credibility. Their email system creaking at the number of email updates. It guaranteed to produce nothing short of a headache.

There was an occasion when Company A employed me to wage an attack on Company B who were winning market share despite an inferior product.

Lots of negative reviews and news stories existed for Company B, so Company A paid me to push those negative stories via retweets, and @replies that mentioned Company B. This had a negative effect on Company B’s reputation and standing.

One of the other consequences of trashing Company B via Twitter was that the negative stories started to rank higher in Google, again hurting the reputation and the company’s Google rankings.

Google uses social media follows, shares and mentions as a ranking factor, meaning the smokescreen for any website with no social media traction requires manipulation and a few mirrors.

Ultimately I was paid because one company owner despised the fact his competitor was winning the market battle, and his emotions got the better of him. Hence, he paid me to fight his fight. It was like repeatedly crank calling a company, only this time I used Twitter spam to do that for me.

Unlike other Twitter spammers, all my work was a kind of social media hooliganism – causing trouble, messing up things and generally making noise… I mean, when they say to be successful on social media you must “listen”, I figured: “Ok, let’s make some noise for these listeners”.

Close But No Cigar
Some people tried to make money through legitimate means. Back in 2008, Charles Hooper sent tweets to users who mentioned certain terms. His tweets were book suggestions related to the original tweet, with a link to the book recommendation on Amazon – replete with his affiliate ID.

Over the course of four months, Hooper had generated $7000 in revenue for Amazon with just over $400 in commission for himself. Armed with this knowledge that $400 was much less than being offered for more mercenary work, I continued to scour the margins of what might work.

The closest I got to legit was to set up a bot to track mentions for terms like “just landed airport x”, “travelling to location x”, then hit these people up with a welcome to location x, “if you need a cab call us on…” – these tweets never generated much work for my clients, but that was not the point. The point was helping people, who would then @reply one of my account, a Bimbot…in turn making the bot genuine and less likely to receive a ban for spamming – the cab number was the mirror.

Rhoda Crocket
Rhoda Crocket is Netopia’s undercover hacking and spamming expert. The name is fake (like with any spammer), but Netopia knows her real identity.