An Army of ReTweet-Bots…

Sun 15 Feb 2009

… is better than a band of loyal followers — if you want to get noticed on Twitter.  It looks like someone has built an army of fake Twitter accounts which can re-tweet on command.

Bruce Wagner, a New York City talk-show host and Twitter user, took time out to leave an erudite comment on my previous blog post about TweeterGetter.  Now it is not unexpected that he might have a band of loyal followers.  It is also not unexpected that they might be prompted to re-tweet Bruce’s tweet at the same time or within the same minute as far as anyone can tell.

Here’s a sequence of eight of the re-tweets.  There are plenty more.

Bruce Wagner's followers re-tweeting within the same minute

A few minutes later, they all re-tweeted again and within the same minute.  That wasn’t too surprising.  However what was really surprising was the fact that they all re-tweeted in exactly the same sequence.

Bruce Wagner's followers re-tweeting within the same minute

Here are three more examples of this perfectly-synchronised re-tweeting, all in exactly the same minute and exactly the same sequence.

This prompted me to inspect the profiles of Bruce’s loyal followers / army of re-tweet-bots.  It appears to me that their sole role in life is to reproduce tweets from some news source and RT @brucewagner.

I’ll step over @latinnyc, whose Twitter background is NSFW.  Here’s @staceylwilliams who doesn’t seem to do anything other than repost from WeSmirch as well as re-tweeting @brucewagner

One of Bruce Wagner's followers

And here’s @Margait who reposts from Techmeme as well as re-tweeting @brucewagner

One of Bruce Wagner's followers

There are lots more…
@kevincroft who reposts from SkyNews,
@GreenAndGlad who reposts from nytimes,
@sharonmclements who reposts from msnbc, et al.

I thought this was brilliant!  Slimy, immoral and damaging to Twitter, but brilliant.

———————
Nine hours before posting this, I sent the following e-mail to Bruce.

From: Mike Fitzsimon [mailto:mikefitz@fitzsimon.com.au]
Sent: Saturday, 14 February 2009 23:26
To: ‘bruce@brucewagner.com’
Subject: Do you have an army of retweet-bots?

Hi Bruce,

Your tweet to me earlier today was clearly very popular with your followers. A large number of them re-tweeted it within the same minute.

The same followers later re-tweeted another of your tweets. Again, all within the same minute and interestingly, in exactly the same sequence.

It wasn’t hard to find other examples of this behaviour in the previous few hours.

Inspection of the profiles of your loyal followers would indicate that their sole role in life is to reproduce tweets from a news source and RT @brucewagner.

This is brilliant! Well done.

I just wanted to check with you whether my information is correct before I blog this in about 8 hours time.

Kind Regards,

Mike Fitzsimon

19 Foliage Court, Shailer Park Qld Australia 4128
t: +61 7 3801 2369 f: +61 7 3388 0296 m: +61 418 275 275
MikeFitz@Fitzsimon.com.au www.Fitzsimon.com.au http://mike.brisgeek.com

About 5 hours before this post, I engaged with Bruce on Twitter, reminding him to check his e-mail.  There was no response to the e-mail.  Instead, Bruce once again appears to have demonstrated the effectiveness of his Retweet-bot army of fake Twitter accounts…

Bruce Wagner's followers re-tweeting within the same minute

Bruce, you are clearly a very engaging person.  I can love you but I cannot love what it looks like you are doing to Twitter.

———————
Update: Soon after Bruce’s comment below, it was time to DM @Spam with a link to this post.  I had seen other attempts to notify @Spam about this account but I think the evidence presented above was what Twitter needed before taking action.  The retweet-bot army and its general were gone within the hour.  Thanks Twitter.

39 Responses to “An Army of ReTweet-Bots…”

  1. Bruce Wagner Says:

    Well done!

    Great investigative work!

    Thanks for calling me Brilliant…

    Isn’t Twitter fun! :)

    PS - Sorry for not getting back to you earlier. My iPhone battery died. I’m using Ed’s iPhone right now. In fact, I still haven’t seen that email yet. But I will….. eventually.

    Have a great day, my friend, and thanks for bringing a smile to my face!

  2. Jon Seymour Says:

    Well spotted, Mike.

    You will be delighted to know that twitter had suspended Bruce Wagner’s account at the time I posted this.

    The good part of this is that a modicum of selectivity in choosing one’s followers is enough to avoid such trolls, so while it may be a problem for Twitter, it isn’t really a problem for most twitter users.

    jon.

  3. MikeFitz Says:

    G’day Bruce.

    Yes there’s no doubt it was brilliant; slimy and unethical, but brilliant.

    Twitter will now be more fun for the rest of us now that your @brucewagner account has been suspended.

    Cheers — Mike

  4. Andy Fitzsimon Says:

    Hey dad,
    Do you really care about the health of the twitterverse ? please say no.

    Twitter gossip is the web version of bold and the beautiful and i’d hate to see my old man become a star writer for an epic time-waste.

    Bots are a healthy part of any messaging system (irc and others).
    It’s cheap marketing, and it’s okay. if someone is really silly enough to follow a fake account, at least they are getting some resemblance of news from a friend.

    So please the lonely people of the world some metric to judge their lives by (retweets) it’s the only thing they’ve got.

  5. MikeFitz Says:

    Thanks, Jon.
    I drew fire from Mr Wagner because I spoke out against TweeterGetter. It was only after that that we “followed” each other. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” :)

    Unfortunately there are plenty of other TweeterGetter supporters who stand to gain from having a large list of Twitter usernames (and possibly passwords.)

    Hi Andy,
    You are too unkind to poor Mr Wagner. You would have liked him. He is even an Ubuntu user. I wonder if he knows you built the Ubuntu “Human” theme?

  6. Jannifer Says:

    It certainly is not healthy to have all of these fake retweets filling up the twitterstreams. Nonetheless, I don’t understand why @garymccaffrey is still able to stay on Twitter. Why isn’t his account suspended?

  7. Ian Kath Says:

    Well done Mike.

    I would never had the energy to go and do all that detective work and the evidence is damning.

    Although he may be a decent person some behaviours by good people can ruin communities and standards. The rules here are simple be genuine and interact like a real person and I think it’s amazing how beneficial twitter will be. But to scam and manipulate will only cause you to be outcast. In this case twitter just shut him done. Like the host throwing the obnoxious egotist out of the party.

    Good on you :)

  8. Monty - Sensonize.com Says:

    Got him banned!

  9. Luis Serpa Says:

    Well done, Mike!

    Not everyone has the time and the patience to track those situations. Even when one sees something “smelling” slightly shady, the usual reaction is to hold one’s breath and pass by at top speed.

    Good for you that is following your gut and good for us that someone is trying to keep Twitter as it was supposed to be ;)

    Thanks!

  10. Laura Walker Says:

    Brilliant work Mike - so glad you saw it through to the end! Most of us would quietly tut to ourselves and move on, thank you.

    If there were Twitter community service prizes, you should get one!

    :-)

  11. mizdi Says:

    Amazing what some “decent” people would do to get themselves popular and noticed. Is that a manifestation of a grave psychological problem or just an ego trip?

    “What comes around…comes around. ”

    This didn’t come around though.. it directly backfired!
    Thank Mike for that.

  12. Greg Cryns Says:

    Slimy but brilliant!

    Love that statement. It is, of course, close to the truth. Not sure if “brilliant” but very creative.

    Thanks for your vigilance on our behalf, Mike!

  13. Jen Bronenkant Says:

    It is too bad that Bruce choose to play these games with Twitter. He was pretty entertaining before he got so into the tweetgetter and now this!

    Thanks for taking the time to investigate and report it. People like you help keep Twitter a great place to be!

  14. Tina Clarke Says:

    Someone is following me who is using this and boasting about it http://www.twitaddict.com/hummingbird/ is it the same thing? I think both are sick. I check out each and every follower. For my personal id I am more decerning, for my ‘help/info’ in my chosen subject I just check its not a spam/scam id otherwise I follow those that are following me. Glad Twitter are on the ball with this. Good job on gathering evidence Mike:)

    Tina

  15. Michael Calienes Says:

    wow. just wow on a bunch of different levels. bots suck. they should open their own version of twitter and piss themselves off. good work, mr. fitz.

  16. Joseph Kohli Says:

    The invective that Bruce directed toward TAGs (Tweeples Against Getter) seemed quite out of proportion to the criticism.

    Thanks for the service to Twitterdom.

  17. Annabey Says:

    Wow good work. I haven’t seen this on twitter before… How lame!
    I’m glad Twitter has shut them down.. . (Very embarrassing for @Brucewagner)

  18. Angsuman Chakraborty Says:

    Splendid job!

    I too oppose tweetergetter but for different reason; it’s ponzi scheme.
    I often wondered how many so called twitter celebrities were using such techniques as Bruce did.

  19. Bruce Wagner Says:

    The funniest part is… I did it just for fun.

    There were only 17 of them. Using TwitterFeed. It was the simplest, most obvious, thing in the world. It’s not like it took a brain surgeon. I wondered why I was the first one to think of it…

    Anyway, now the whole world has thought of it… LOL

    It was slightly amusing to to see myself rise to the #2 position on the RetweetRank list… “OMG! I’m showing up on that list ABOVE @kevinrose and @stephenfry and Everyone!” That was amazing, and stupidly simple!

    Then, I just throttled back the frequency of their RTs… so I would fall down to around position #46 (still in the top 50, tho, ;)

    The irony of it is… While setting up this little game was fun, and slightly amusing… It didn’t benefit me in the slightest. Not one iota. I could tell that I got ZERO new followers from it. Because, No One looks at the RetweetRank list… (except the few people actually ON the RetweekRank list)…. And I already HAD 4,699 followers.

    So, as I said, it didn’t benefit me at all. Not sure why I didn’t just turn them off completely…. again, it was mildly amusing to watch. And maybe inside, I was dying of curiosity to see how long it would be before anyone would notice.

    But the stupid mistake I made (well, OTHER stupid mistake) was to leave them on… 17 “virtual people” RT-ing every 12 hours… They would simply repeat the last thing I said, no matter What it was! LOL Too funny!!! It cracked me up every time! :)

    So, Mike had the lucky fortune (or misfortune, depending on how you look at it ;) of being the last @reply I sent…. just before the 12-hour mark… and the “robots” kicked in…. I sent an @reply to HIM.

    So, of course, he received 17 Retweets (RTs) of an @reply…. from me to him. I’m sure he thought, “Now THAT’s odd.” Obviously.

    He simply, out of curiosity, checked out the profiles of those 17 people… And it was VERY obvious what they were all about…

    Each profile would post a headline from some news source, like CNN or whatever, every 30 minutes. And then, post a RT of the latest thing I had said, once every 12 hours.

    Every single post clearly stated, just next to the date and time, “posted from twitterfeed” …as you can see clearly in the screenshots on Mike’s blog. Even to the casual observer, it was plain as day.

    As an aside, another thing which was Really funny to me was…

    Some of these “bots” accumulated up to 200 followers themselves! More followers than many of the people I chat with on Twitter have! LOL Who follows a bot!?!? LOL

    So, in conclusion…

    It was fun. It was silly. It was funny. It was also a stupid thing to do. And I now know, it was a violation of the twitter TOS. (..as I have since been informed. :)

    It didn’t benefit me in the slightest in any way (except for my own amusement).

    It also didn’t harm anyone in the slightest either …as Mike’s son, Andy, pointed out.

    I don’t sell anything.

    …not even my own consulting services or anything. …so in spite of what one may assume, it was NOT “spam-related”. I don’t sell anything at all.

    The only thing I offer is slightly amusing profundity, via 140-character tweets. :) …and great twitter friendships. (I Love my twitter peeps!)

    But it’s all good.

    The world is safe now… that those evil twitter “robots” have been destroyed! ;)

    Another Irony: Just the day before, I finally made the list of the “Twitter Elite”, at http://twitter.grader.com/topusers - coming in at position #60, of the Top 100 - which is based on Quality of Content… NOT on number of followers, nor number of retweets soley. That is a GREAT honor! …to know that my tweets have really been appreciated, and continue to be… (regardless of the number of followers or retweets). That makes me Very happy. :)

    We are reminded once again… Twitter, just like the internet at large, is not a perfect system.

    Ya know how ya never REALLY know who you’re chatting with on the internet…? People are not always who they claim to be. (Betcha figured that one out, by now! But we often forget.) Things on the internet, and things on Twitter, are not always as they appear.

    Love you all!

    Bruce
    http://brucewagner.com

    http://twitter.com/bruce_wagner

  20. Bruce Wagner Says:

    PS - This is in response to some comments made on my blog by a guy I have a lot of respect for, Alex Schleber… ( see http://is.gd/jHIe )

    ______

    Thanks, Alex, for your very thoughtful comments.

    Let me say just a couple things about the points you made…

    (1) Yes, absolutely. I apologize to the entire world. (I guess I assumed that was implied.) But, absolutely. If I have harmed anyone or anything, or impugned the trust of social media… I apologize to everyone.

    I certainly didn’t mean to come across like I was rationalizing my actions. I was just telling the story… of how things happened.

    (2) Yes, I believe that there are people who look at retweet rank as an indicator - at least as a first sign, maybe - that someone might be an interesting person to read.

    However, I was only ranked high on that list for about 24 hours. And, to this day, I don’t think anyone even noticed. I certainly did NOT receive any comments about it, nor get any new followers, or any other indications that anyone even noticed I was there… for all of about 24 hours.

    Again, not to rationalize… But just to explain my motivation… In my mind, I was just having a little fun. Harming no one. And no one even noticed!

    (3) I agree with you 100% here. I have always known that it is NOT the number of followers you have that counts. It’s the RELATIONSHIP you have with however many followers you do have, that counts.

    If you talk with 95% of my followers (both from before, and now), I think you’ll see them saying things like… “I love Bruce Wagner.” “I really enjoy his tweets.”

    I am extremely interactive with “My Peeps”, as I call them…. and they do love me. They tell me so all the time.

    Generally, the only one’s that don’t, are the one’s who disagree strongly with me on some issue or other… (like Michael Phelps versus Kellogg’s, or something, for example).

    Except that accidental RT of an @reply…. that went to Mike…

    My followers were not affected my these little ‘bots’ activity at all.

    And since I really don’t think anyone even noticed that I was listed on the RetweetRank list for 24 hours… I truly wonder if this whole thing affected anyone at all, in reality.

    I have been known to be imperfect. I’ve even broken the law. I’ve driven 56 mph in a 55 zone. ….more than once.

    But again, to anyone or anything that I have harmed…

    I truly sincerely apologize.

    “There is Only Love.” - A Course in Miracles

    Bruce

    http://twitter.com/bruce_wagner

    http://brucewagner.com

  21. MikeFitz Says:

    Thanks Bruce,

    Just one thing. I cannot let you get away with your assertion that your activity does no harm.

    Pretty soon Gary McCaffrey is going to have a list of all Twitter usernames who have signed up for TweeterGetter - not just his followers. (He’s not really interested in his followers.) Now this list, combined with the techniques you employed, will result in a @Reply and DM spamstorm which will be the end of Twitter.

  22. Bruce Wagner Says:

    Yes, Mike.

    I wanna make it very clear to everyone that the “RT bots” thing was the TOS violation.

    And that the “RT bots” thing has absolutely nothing to do with TweeterGetter. They are two totally different, unrelated, things.

    TweeterGetter is, apparently, approved by Twitter. (I assume this, since @garymccaffrey is still going strong… even though lots of people love him, and just as many people hate him).

    Thousands, maybe millions, of people have used TweeterGetter by now. But I’m not going to say any more about TweeterGetter… other than…

    I can only say, I hope you’re wrong about your dire predictions of the “end of Twitter”. I don’t see that happening.

    Gary says that his app does not store people’s passwords. A list of Twitter usernames can be found on ANYONE’s followers list — like @stephenfry or @kevinrose — anyone who has over 100,000 followers…

    But, luckily, any account found ’storming’ twitter with bogus, or spammy, messages… will be shut down promptly.

    Obviously. :)

  23. Bruce Wagner Says:

    UPDATE (Feb 18, 2008): Twitter has been most kind in restoring my @brucewagner account. I am very happy to resume providing the best quality content I can. Thank you very much, Twitter, your excellent professional support staff, and all my Peeps (my followers) who have been so kind and supportive. I love you all! -Bruce Wagner

  24. MikeFitz Says:

    Hi Bruce, I’m glad to hear you’ve recanted your evil ways and are now ready to play nicely with the other kiddies. I (and Twitter) will be watching.

    Just for the record, the screen shots above indicate that your ReTweet-bots were going off every 2 hours, not the 12 hours you assert. 2 hours/12 hours, doesn’t matter; it was gaming the system.

  25. Sean Boone Says:

    Hummingbird for Twitter is not a Re-Tweet bot.

    You will never be harassed by anyone using it because you can choose to un-follow on Twitter… this is called an “opt-in relationship”.

    Those who use Hummingbird MUST learn to contribute to the community in a moral & beneficial way in order to communicate, or else! :)

    Spammers get the boot!

    P.S. Hummingbird is for professional twitter marketers only.

  26. MikeFitz Says:

    Sean, Your blatant advertisement for your product made me want to vomit - TWICE, once when you had the gall to post it here and again when I had a look at the splash-page pitch. “only 75 copies at this drastically reduced price”

    I emphasise to readers that, despite approving Sean’s comment, I DO NOT ENDORSE his product in any way.

  27. Bruce Wagner Says:

    “This is not spam.”

    and…

    “I am not a crook.”

    Reminds me of the email I received recently…

    “I know this sounds like a scam because a lot going on internet… I assure you this is real.” -from an email saying my Malaysian relative died today

    REMEMBER!

    It’s for “professional twitter marketers” only….

    No spammers!

  28. Aurelius Says:

    Email’s now getting to the point of being useless because of spam.
    Many functional websites designed to acheive something (sixdegrees.com being the notable first example, facebook, linked in being others in their footsteps) took the same path.
    This sort of rubbish is exactly the kind of thing that means I’d not go down the Twitter path. You’ve reinforced it for me Mike.

  29. MikeFitz Says:

    I value Twitter as a community-building tool and it upsets me greatly to see marketers devalue it. Unlike e-mail, there is an organisation (Twitter.com) who SHOULD be keeping it clean. I think they have to be more assertive about throwing the baddies off.

  30. Sean Says:

    Dang MikeFitz, that was surely rude & unprofessional of you.

    Won’t see me around here anymore, geez.

  31. MikeFitz Says:

    Sean,

    I would call it honest feedback. You’ll probably find most Aussies are pretty good at it.

  32. TweeterGetter? Twitter Password Harvester! « MikeFitz with overflow bit set… Says:

    […] that wouldn’t fit into Mike’s day job. « Ooh, an Inbound Link from the US Government An Army of ReTweet-Bots… » […]

  33. How To Not Be a Twitter Spammer | Magicomm Blog Says:

    […] Bots that RT specific users […]

  34. The Salty Droid » Blog Archive » A message from Gary McCaffrey, Idiot Says:

    […] And to the “tonnes of cunts blogging” ….  woot! Gotta be a good thing, right?  Nothing ever goes wrong when “tonnes of cunts” start […]

  35. Paul Zagoridis Says:

    Thanks Mike for bringing a smile to my Saturday night, Sunday morning. Gotta love Sean’s balls. Two different nofollowed url’s no less.

    Bruce’s game was cheeky but the really bad guys will think of ways of exponentially advancing the technique. But that what the internet does when things get popular, the trolls, vandals, d00dz and crooks jump on.

  36. Self Deprecate Says:

    I laughed at this from the beginning all the way to the end of the comments. Thanks for this!

  37. MikeFitz Says:

    G’day Paul and Jason.

    Yeah, you just cannot make up stuff like this.

  38. Gain Muscle Lose Fat Says:

    Wow is right. You surround yourself with yes men and only 1 person even commented on the sheer insanity of this. You followed a person, tracked his bots, then got him banned? And the other nerds are giving you high 5s for it?

    I don’t think you understand what is going on. This Bruce person is small potatoes. Twitter, facebook, youtube, are all getting swallowed by big conglomerates and you’re cheering cuz some schlept got banned. Twitter has to make a buck. There is no twitterverse, there is no free lunch, there is no fairytale ending. People use twitter for marketing, end of story. It is time sensitive marketing at its best. It is relatively cheap and only time consuming at best.

    Instead you want to have your cake and eat it too, you want free communication with your nerd yesmen buddies without any consequences. Ain’t gonna happen. If twitter goes under, you move on. However, the smart money is that these bots and such are the feather in the twitter coffers, retweet bots for a small monthly fee.

    Bottom line, you can’t be tweeted by anyone outside of your network. It was disingenuous on your part from the beginning to instigate this.

  39. MikeFitz Says:

    Hi Mr “Gain Muscle Lose Fat”

    First of all, congratulations for having the spammiest name of any person whose comment I have approved. You are lucky.

    Secondly, “yeah-No!” In other words, I am appraised of your assertions, but I am not inclined to agree.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>

Comment moderation is in use. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly.
"SEO"-type comments will be reported to Akismet as Spam.