Post Mon Jul 06, 2009 1:38 pm

Twitter Falls Under a Gorilla Attack

Twitter is increasingly the medium of choice for PR pros and pranksters alike. Can it survive the onslaught of attacks from flacks and hacks?

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Someone (or a group of someones) created an unknown number of fake accounts designed to push the hashtag #gorillapenis (don't blame me, I didn't do it) into the trending topics on Twitter.

Each tweet contained a tiny URL directing you to a site where you're asked to take a "survey." The survey offered coupons for discounts on pharmaceuticals or pet food in exchange for completing more surveys, each of which captured your name, phone numbers, and e-mail address. Once you complete a survey, you get rewarded with "premium content" -- a brief forum post comparing, yes, the size of the gorilla, chimp, and human members. Fascinating, no?

Best-case scenario: Marketers will use this data to send you oodles more spam. Worst case? Hackers will use it as social engineering fodder for identity theft.

Judging by the way my browser redirected itself en route to these surveys, I'd guess we're looking at an affiliate scheme whereby whoever was doing the redirects was collecting a few pennies for each sucker who bit.

According to Cnet blogger Harrison Hoffman, the source of the Twitter hack may have been 4chan, the merry pranksters of the Web responsible for the anonymous attacks on Scientology, for hacking's 100 Most Influential People on the Web, and scads of other juvenile japes.

If so, this is very bad news indeed. Until now, 4chan seems to have been motivated by pure "lolz," or the sheer adolescent thrill of making large numbers of Netizens look like tools. If they've decided to go into business, we're in deep kimchee.

The Twits in Charge responded quickly by taking the hashtag out of trending topics and nuking many of the fake accounts (though I still found a fair number of them last time I checked). For that they should be commended. But it seems in 86ing the fake accounts, they also took down a number of legitimate ones by mistake (according to "social geek" blogger Jesse Stay). Not so commendable.

Which brings us back to disturbing story No. 1. If Twitter is indeed the medium of choice for future news about products, companies, or really, anything, and it can be this easily gamed -- that's a dangerous combination. When the gatekeepers for information are the folks who fall for some monkey business about a primate's privates, it's time to worry.

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