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How and why Twitter Spam works and makes money

by Scott Hoffman on November 7, 2009

The following documents how (and why) Twitter Spam works & makes money. Ironically, I was doing some research on the Zynga – Farmville – Facebook scam story during that process I discovered the Twitter spam.

Zynga

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The Set-Up

I did a search on the keyword “Zynga” and the results that returned included a majority of unknown twitter accounts that we publishing what looked like gibberish. The tweets all used the common words “Zynga CEO Mark…” and then adding quotes and a link. There are hundreds of twitter spam updates, being produced at the rate of 2 or 3 per minute. To the right is a screen-grab from my TweetDeck application. Notice that each Twitter account has a similar structure with the first set of alpha numeric characters in CAPS and the final two characters in lower case. Some of the quotes were marked as being from Steven Wright, a comic who was popular in the late 80′s. I wrote about spammers taking over #hashtag# streams before, and this is a very similar tactic.

The Volume

Bitly Lookup

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The first thing that I noticed was that the links contained in the updates were not all the same, and some used the bit.ly URL shortening service (see “The rise of the URL Shortening Services” in previous post), which allowed me to track the “clicks” stream activity. The links contained in the spam Twitter updates got around 300 clicks. I was surprised by the volume, so I took a screen grab of the statistics. Clicks tend to equal cash in the online world. With the amount of clicks multiplied by the many tweets containing links, it becomes much clearer to understand why Twitter spam is such a large part of the Twitter ecosystem.

The Culprit

EntertainmentIf the ultimate culprit is defined as the organization that “paid for the spam” then in this instance it would be Entertainment Publications, LLC run out of Troy Michigan. They have an affiliate program which offers participants “as much as $7* for every referral who purchases a “Book” in that session (or returns to Entertainment.com – and hasn’t been referred by someone else – within 3 days).” One their affiliates, a person who operates a site called Projamble published an advertisement for the Entertainment Publications affiliate program on the site (ad creative on the right) with the linking URL (http://projamble.info/index.php?adclick=4) That URL is the same link that is exposed in Twitter update. Projamble.info is listed in the Whois directory and is registered to Gary Konigsberg.

Final Analysis

Affiliate marketing is the dark underbelly of online advertising, and like it or not, a growing part of the online marketing economy. There are major trade shows like Ad:Tech that seem to cater to this type of marketing. It is big business. (see post) The Twitter spam practice seems to be widespread, and while in this instance I tracked a single link back to its source, there are millions of these links being published.

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