Web Vigilantes being banned from social media sites.

November 17, 2010

Cyber crime and Twitter scams make good headlines but somewhere underground there are a few concerned citizens that take a vigilante approach to dealing with these scammers and fraudsters. For instance http://www.419eater.com/ bait scammers using highly creative methods to engage Nigerian conmen, waste their time and then attempt expose them. There’s also the Salty droid who names and shames would-be conmen who utilize Twitter and other channels to exploit consumers. But it turns out that life of a digital freedom fighter is not easy.

imageHere’s the problem : Many scams consist of intelligent, organised individuals and groups. They syndicate and they collaborate, and they actively wage a reverse war on the people trying to expose them. Ironically scammers are using the same processes created to report spammers to shut down the people trying to expose them.

Sadly YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo accounts etc belonging to web vigilantes trying to alert people to scams are being shut down faster than than those belonging to the scammers. How do I know this?  Read on:

The Sad Story of the SaltyDroid

imageI’m not sure how I first came across the Droid on Twitter but I became interested in the Droid’s outspoken ‘attacks’ on certain individuals. Some of the people it was targeting had HUGE followings on Twitter, some with high profiles and. SaltyDroid had no qualms in confronting them directly in public view and alerting other users. I have no reason to doubt that SaltyDroid’s only purpose was to expose people it believed were engaged in unethical practices (such as this one which was exposed). 

I noticed a few months ago that SaltyDroid (which had a few thousand Twitter followers) just ‘vanished’. The blog was still alive and kicking so I wrote an email to find out what the story.

Me: “What happened? Where did your accounts go?”

Salty Droid: “I lost. I’m basically banned from the Internet.  Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, Bluehost, Youtube, etc. Everywhere I go the scammers file false complaints and horrific lies about me.  The web companies all default to caving in and banning you rather than risking "trouble".  Most of them, and especially Twitter, do it with zero notice, process, or chance to respond. It says sad things about the state of free speech on the all important fringes … IMO.

I don’t have time to fight the web companies and the scammers … so I just gave up on the web companies.  I’m on a special free speech server where some really great people take special care of me … and otherwise I’m silenced.

And the Twitter bannings are not as bad as the death threats, the private investigators, the plots against my personal life, etc.”

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The Droid also let me know that although he began his pursuit anonymously it wasn’t long before a syndicate of scammers found him at which point the he decided it would be safer to unmask the droid. Revealing himself as a lawyer it  gives the whole saga an even bigger sense of irony.

In summary, it’s easier for a scammer to have a web vigilante shut down than vice versa. The Droid is now absent from all social networks and yet the people being named in his blog continue to tweet freely etc. In an age where consumers are able to interact so easily with anyone from close friends to complete strangers there is no easy and quick way of distributing warning messages to others in the case of genuine scams. That’s a service SaltyDroid was attempting to provide before being shut down in social media circles. The internet at present sometimes appears lawless and wide open territory for the scammers, and the presence of government and local authority is limited, and at best slow moving. I’m not condoning Salty droids methods or even agreeing with all his posts but freedom of speech is important so I certainly don’t want to see people prepared to take on these issues disappear especially with the bad guys roaming free so easily.

Beware wolves in birds clothing: Currently I know of one major Twitter account belonging to a convicted spammer in Australia with close to 100,000 followers. This person appears free to be able to act on Twitter regardless of their history. Sadly the only way you are likely to hear the name of this person is via someone like SaltyDroid.

What can you do?
1. Send this link on to people in the industry.

2. Copy and paste this story – reproduce it in your own blog.

3. Help Re-activate or read the Saltydroid: If you know someone who works in Twitter or Facebook etc ask them to reinstate the banned SaltyDroid accounts eg:  http://twitter.com/saltydroid

4. Support freedom of speech but don’t be a web vigilante. Salty Droid is a lawyer in real life and is better equipped to deal with bad people on the internet. Report web crime here:
http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx – USA
https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/content/index.phtml/tag/reportascam/ – Australia
http://www.met.police.uk/fraudalert/ – UK

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Above: Clearly Charles Bronson wouldn’t have lasted long in Facebook or Twitter.

Cheers,

@eunmac

Disclaimer to be quite clear: The opinion above is that of the author only and does not represent the views of Amnesia Razorfish etc.


Why TweeterGetter will not and does not work.

February 16, 2009

The site Tweetergetter.com offers a ‘pyramid-like’ system suggesting that from a single tweet you could net 19,530 followers within 5 degrees of retweet from a single tweet.

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In the last 7 days GaryMcCaffreys message has been retweeted over 11,000 times. This Retweet is a “forced” tweet that occurs when a user enter their twitter name and password. The verbatim message below is delivered to your followers with your name inserted at the end of the tweet.

“RT @garymccaffrey has a crazy idea. 19,530 new twitter followers in 30 days? Check it out http://tweetergetter.com/username

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Shown above: RT Data from Retweetist.com on the above retweet: (http://www.retweetist.com/users/garymccaffrey)
Note that the decay has already started in terms of the viral effect with the retweets peaking on Feb 12.

The logic as shown at retweetist.com.

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Of course like most pyramid schemes the offer seems logical, but it of course is flawed – the maths require perfect conversion with no dropoff at any stage in order to get close to the numbers shown. No matter how early you jumped in on the chain, the slightest splintering drops users out of the pyramid as quickly as they came in.

The Evidence:
We took a broad sampling of around 30 users who signed up to the scheme early on and tracked their results through http://www.twittercounter.com. Results showed that in most cases the growth was limited to a handful of followers usually around 15-20, nothing like the dozens, hundreds or thousands of followers that tweetergetter suggested was possible. The fact that the curves we see level off very quickly in each case is evidence that the model is not sustainable. If tweetergetter was working, the curve should actually be accelerating upwards fairly quickly, especially with the nature of fast burnout that naturally occurs with tweets which have a very short shelf life. Viral behaviour is normally recognisable as a distinguished ‘J’ curve and indeed the tweetergetter chart above suggests that is what ‘should occur’ “even with conservative estimates”.

Illustrated Samples:
The examples below are a random sample base from some of the 30 that we checked from Feb 11 to today:

Growth of these accounts are provided by TwitterCounter which monitors twitter account growth on a daily basis.

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To sample these results for yourself follow the twitter search here then take the user name and append it to the end of the twittercounter url  http://twittercounter.com/ insert_twitter_name

Conclusion:
In a nutshell, the only likely recipient of any mass following is Gary McCaffrey himself (who by default gains a new follower from every transaction). Of course TweeterGetter is essentially an opt-in campaign – so it is simply a case of ‘buyer beware’. It’s up to you if you decide to use the site.

Of course it is also up to you who you might “unfollow” at the end of it all 😉

I’m sure each and every one of you reading this will find many great follows with or without TweeterGetter.
Regards,
@eunmac