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This article is a follow-up to my original article, published in January, about “TrueTwit Validation Service,” the world’s most-hated Twitter app. I wrote that article in a momentary fit of pique, but it definitely struck a chord: it’s one of the most popular and enduring articles I’ve ever done. There are a lot of people out there who hate TrueTwit. I was motivated to write a bit more after a bizarre snafu involving TrueTwit that occurred this past weekend, but we’ll get to that. There’s more about TrueTwit that my previous article did not cover.
In case you’re just tuning in or don’t know what I’m talking about, TrueTwit is a diabolical little app that turns Twitter users into spambots by sending a DM (direct message) to everyone who chooses to follow them stating, “[so-and-so] uses TrueTwit Validation Service. Please click here to validate.” The link then leads to a “verification” page on TrueTwit’s website, where the victim (the person who was unfortunate enough to follow a TrueTwit user) must solve a captcha puzzle in order to be blessed by the mysterious TrueTwit gods and declared–cue the singing of angels–to be not a spambot. Ostensibly this is so the TrueTwit user can be “confident” that if they follow the victim back, they’re not following a spambot. In other words, TrueTwit is a computer that asks a human being to solve a captcha puzzle to prove they are not a computer.
Almost no one ever does this. I tried to find stats on how many (or how few) victims actually take the time to click a captcha puzzle on TrueTwit’s website, and couldn’t find anything quantitative, but I saw estimates to the effect that somewhere between 80% and 95% of “validation” requests are simply ignored. Despite this shockingly low return rate, TrueTwit users continue to pump out another obnoxious spam DM every single time someone new follows them–unless, of course, the victim is also a TrueTwit user, in which case they’re immune. (“If you’re annoyed by our product, sign up for it so you won’t have to see it anymore.” Yeah right).
Ironically, many TrueTwit users don’t even know that this is what happens. At some point in the past they clicked on to the site or said yes to an app and either scrolled by or forgot about the disclosure that TrueTwit presumably makes about how it sends DMs to everyone you follow, or they don’t understand the implications of it. Some TrueTwit users aren’t even aware that they’re signed up with TrueTwit!
The problem with TrueTwit, though, is not just that the spam DMs everyone hates. It’s that TrueTwit is deceiving its own users about its true purpose. TrueTwit claims that it’s a service that will “vet” a user’s followers to determine whether they are spammers and the user should follow them back. But in its own FAQ, TrueTwit admits that it can’t really prevent spammers from following its users or vice-versa. In this exhaustive article on TrueTwit from Mediabistro.com, the claims and admissions TrueTwit makes in its FAQ are carefully analyzed. For example:
“If a spammer is human, they will get through. The point of TrueTwit is to eliminate automated spam software from grabbing your attention. But as for now, if a user successfully fills out the CAPTCHA, they will be validated…TrueTwit doesn’t prevent you from following anyone, nor do we stop anyone from following you. If someone doesn’t complete the validation request, they can still follow you…Twitter allows anyone to follow anyone else, and there isn’t much TrueTwit can do about it.”
These are direct quotes from TrueTwit’s own website. TrueTwit therefore admits, in its own fine print, that it is ineffective–that it does not prevent users from following spambots or vice-versa, and that filling out a captcha is totally meaningless.
So if TrueTwit isn’t in the business of “protecting” its users from spammers, what is their business? I can answer that in one word.
Yes, that’s right. TrueTwit is simply an ad platform. The captchas include puzzles, logos and slogans of advertisers that the victim must read to “solve” the captcha. These advertisers (presumably) pay for the “privilege” of showing their stuff on TrueTwit. Thus, TrueTwit’s customers are not the users who sign up to use the service–but the companies who buy advertising on TrueTwit’s website. Thus, both innocent Twitter users who do not use TrueTwit, as well as TrueTwit users themselves, are essentially being victimized: the former by being spammed with annoying DMs, and the latter by having their Twitter accounts hijacked to send DM messages containing content they did not approve and do not know about in advance.
Instead of protecting Twitter against spam, therefore, TrueTwit is a major generator of spam. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t consider TrueTwit’s ridiculous DMs to be anything other than spam junk mail. TrueTwit’s own protestations to the contrary, on its own Twitter feed, are unavailing to anyone who’s spent more than five minutes on Twitter. Adding even more irony to the situation, TrueTwit’s Twitter account is apparently automated–which means it is one of the spambots it supposedly “protects” you against!
Where TrueTwit went from tragedy to farce was this past weekend, when Twitter developed some sort of glitch that prevented people from sending weblinks in DMs, or certain weblinks (I’m not sure and it’s not important). TrueTwit was thus forced to change its spam DMs to the following:
“Until Twitter’s DM bug is fixed (support.twitter.com/articles/14606…) copy/paste this in your browser to TrueTwit validate: [link]“
Yes, that’s right. TrueTwit, a spambot, is asking innocent Twitter users to willingly copy and paste a spam URL into their browser. The idiocy of this idea, and the complete unlikelihood of any human being ever actually doing it, simply beggars the imagination. When I got one of these messages this weekend, after instantly unfollowing and blocking the user who sent it to me, I got a good belly laugh out of it. It reminded me of the old “Amish computer virus gag':
“Thou has just received the Amish computer virus. As we haveth no technology nor programming experience, this virus worketh on the honour system. Please delete all the files from thy hard drive and manually forward this virus to all on thy mailing list. We thank thee for thy cooperation.”
So there you have it. TrueTwit has gone full-circle, from tragedy to comedy. All you can do is shake your head.