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Twitter, the wildly-popular microblogging service that's the topic du jour amongst digital marketers these days, had a really bad weekend.

First, on Friday it came to light that a Twitter-oriented advertising network called Magpie was being used by affiliates to promote spammy affiliate links on Twitter. The affiliate links were presented as 'testimonial' tweets and the users who sent them did not directly disclose that their tweets were paid.

Not surprisingly, this didn't go over too well with Twitter users, many of whom were concerned that pay-per-tweet could destroy the authenticity that Twitter has built its reputation on. Making matters worse: many missed the fact that the paid tweets included affiliate links, resulting in the misdirected criticism of companies, like Apple, that didn't actually pay for the tweets.

But if paid tweets were considered a nuisance or threat to Twitter, that was only the beginning.

Twitter was hit by a cross-site scripting hack on Saturday that hijacked victims' Twitter accounts to promulgate messages promoting a third party website.

The 17-year-old behind that website has claimed responsibility for the hack, which reportedly took advantage of a recent change in Twitter's authentication setup to execute malicious JavaScript code. By merely visiting an 'infected' Twitter account, Twitter users with JavaScript enabled would find their accounts hijacked too. Although Twitter responded fairly quickly to the incident, new variants of the hack popped up almost immediately and as of Monday, security vendor F-Secure wrote that "Twitter administrators don't seem to be able to shut down the various XSS / CSRF worms that have been plaguing the service over the weekend."

Needless to say these incidents raise concerns about Twitter and what its future might look like. As Twitter grows in popularity and attracts more mainstream attention and users, these sorts of issues are going to become more and more common. That's not all bad; experimentation within limits is natural. What those limits are, however, is often subjective, although it's safe to say that hacking and paying Twitterers to spam affiliate links are not likely to be on the official list of appropriate Twitter behaviors.

But that doesn't mean people won't engage in them, which brings us to the next question: is Twitter destined to become a hub for spam and paid tweets? Will hackers have a field day and turn the service into a security liability? Will early adopters and Twitter 'purists' be driven away?

Thus far Twitter has stuck to a laissez-faire approach, which is one of the reasons the service has been so successful. But in the face of hackers, spammers, impersonators and the like, Twitter may be forced to reconsider that laissez-faire approach now that it's hit the big time.

One thing is for sure: Twitter is changing, for better or worse.

Patricio Robles

Published 14 April, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2381 more posts from this author

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Internet Marketing Blog

Sadly this is just the way things are always going to happen when new phenomenon spring up on the web, spammers and hackers are always going to try and cash in on a site/tool popularity for their own means.  It happened wih email, it happened with instant messenger, it happened with facebook and now twitter is the obvious target.  I dont think it is a long term threat to twitter, just something they need ot get better at dealing with, and they will.  They need build up an "immune system" and this can only happen over time, but with more exposure to these "germs" they will become stronger and more resiliant.

over 7 years ago

Andrew Gerrard

Andrew Gerrard, Consultant at d-marketing

Twitter was previously seen as the preserve of the Twitterati, and the self-moderated/market-forces approach has served it well in attracting an open and engaging audience. But this has also exposed it to a number of fundamental issues that it now has to deal with, as evidenced by these incidents, including that of regulation, whether self-imposed or enforced. Shrugging its shoulders is no longer an option. Twitter, and Social Media in general, are changing, and what is one man's meat is another man's poison. Was it ever not thus...

over 7 years ago

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Tom Rowlands

I'm a bit confused as to your stance on these 'paid tweets' - is it just the misleading way in which people are tweeting affiliate links or is it the principle? The reason I ask is that I read a post on here championing the 'coupons by twitter' service created by Coupons.com.

over 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Tom,

I'm not taking a stance. :)

I think the problem most people had with these tweets was that the users who sent them did not disclose that they were paid to do so and many of the tweets were written to look like actual testimonials, which was misleading.

Obviously if you follow somebody and they start posting affiliate links that they're being paid to send it's easy to understand why that could upset somebody.

That's quite a bit different than a business like Coupons.com using Twitter, which tweets links to its own coupons and which everybody who chooses to follow the Coupons.com account would expect.

over 7 years ago

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maikeru76

The problems with fellow Magpie tweeters are they dont put a "disclaimer" that these tweets are paid (I put a Htag #ad), All you can do is ignore or better yet unfollow...NOT a BIG problem, right? Unscrupulous? Auto-DM spam? Unfollow 'em in a blink.

But I draw the line at the script kiddie who did Mikeyy, kids with powerful "toys".

Twitter administration, this is just a harbinger of things to come.

over 7 years ago

Bryan Montpetit

Bryan Montpetit, President at LinguaCounsel

Y'know - There shouldn't really be any surprise that

1. Companies, promoters, or general e-marketer will take advantage of a platform growing in popularity.

Is pay per tweet right? Well with the current popularity, and our ability to properly use metrics to assess the *clicks* - it's a viable method of getting out there... especially with all the RSS being fed by Tweets. Damn powerful - so right - well it's not not right - but there should be for example a method of distinguishing between paid and unpaid tweets. This would at least give the readers a chance.

2. Of course people are going to try and hack it. It is somewhat of a nuissance, but ultimately hacks expose weaknesses and force the companies to be better, smarter and stronger... I'm not pro-hack but good does come from these situations... after the dust settles. Imagine Windows without hacks. ;O)

Will Twitter be a thing of the past... nah... it just took a dent in the door - they'll be fine. They'll get things together and make things better.

Hell - we're still talking about 'em and will be for a long time I feel.

Cheers.

over 7 years ago

James Wakeman

James Wakeman, Unsure

Thanks Patricio, just wanted to clear that up, as I didn't think it was clear from your article. Like maikeru76s idea of using an 'ad' hash tag.

Was interested as we have a purely paid tweet 'service' @OffersUpdates of all the offers that go on our site, but I think it's pretty clear to people that it's just an automated feed.

over 7 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

Twitter is cruising for a bruising. It is really easy to spam the pants off people in a semi-automated way.

In fact most large scale Twitter users are basically spamming (anyone north of 1000 following is not following).

The appeal of Twitter was that you could reach out and touch some big names. Those big names are gradually using Twitter as just broadcast.

Tulips anyone?

over 7 years ago

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biometric fingerprint door lock

It's a meaningful discussion.

almost 7 years ago

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