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Emergence of Dedicated Spamming Apps in Malaysian Politics

In previous articles published on our blog we have described various spamming strategies used in Malaysian politics:

Some of these strategies are still in use today. Some key points about spam:

  • Spamming involves repeating the same tweet or retweeting another user’s tweet across one or more accounts within a certain time period.
  • Spamming is a violation of Twitter’s own rules for users (that you can read at https://support.twitter.com/articles/18311-the-twitter-rules ). They list various factors that determine spamming behaviour one of which is, “If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account”. ‘Updates’ refer to tweets and retweets.
  • Spammer accounts are identifiable via their behaviour on Twitter e.g. follower/following relationships; timeline content; tweet timestamp patterns. Tweet frequency, repetition and collaborative behaviour are the main traits we look for.
  • Twitter accounts are being used for personal use and spamming. This lends the appearance of a normal human Twitter user for anyone looking at their timeline and a denial when accused of sending spam.
  • Some Twitter accounts are dedicated to spamming and have no personal messages of any kind.
  • Some Twitter accounts have a block of spam in their timeline but otherwise appear normal. This means they only spammed tweets briefly. It is possible their login credentials were being used without their knowledge.
  • Spamming does not always involve automation via applications. Humans using mobile devices to repeatedly send identical messages across multiple accounts can still be identified.
  • It takes a computerised system to analyse and identify these users and their tweets and categorise spam.

Developing spam detection systems is necessary for us due to the frequent use of spam in Malaysian politics. Spammers who retweet other tweets are problematic for 4 main reasons:

  • They increase the retweet counter for the tweet, making people believe that tweet was popular
  • By retweeting instead of tweeting, users who are searching on a keyword or hashtag won’t see the spamming accounts. This means people who use Twitter won’t discover this activity unless they happen to find the spammer in the list of recent retweeting users for the tweet.
  • The retweet counter is not guaranteed to decrease if the spammer is suspended or deleted.
  • It is harder to prove to non-technical users that the account is a spammer. Direct links to the spammer’s tweet will redirect to the tweet that they retweeted, which is a detail they may overlook. The best way to show evidence to the public is for them to visit the spammer’s timeline and judge for themselves.

All timestamps used in this article have been adjusted for the UTC+8 time zone.

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Written by politweet

June 1, 2015 at 12:51 pm