Usenix/FOCI 2013 - Five incidents, one theme: Twitter spam as a weapon to drown voices of protest

Another year, another Usenix Security Symposium. Like last year, I’ll be presenting a paper at FOCI1 (Free and Open Communications on the Internet) entitled: Five incidents, one theme: Twitter spam as a weapon to drown voices of protest:

Social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, have become an impressive force in the modern world with user bases larger than many individual countries. With such influence, they have become important in the process of worldwide politics. Those seeking to be elected often use social networking accounts to promote their agendas while those opposing them may seek to either counter those views or drown them in a sea of noise. Building on previous work that analyzed a Russian event where Twitter spam was used as a vehicle to suppress political speech, we inspect five political events from 2011 and 2012: two related to China and one each from Syria, Russia, and Mexico. Each of these events revolved around popular Twitter hashtags which were inundated with spam tweets intended to overwhelm the original content.

We find that the nature of spam varies sufficiently across incidents such that generalizations are hard to draw. Also, spammers are evolving to mimic human activity closely. However, a common theme across all incidents was that the accounts used to send spam were registered in blocks and had automatically generated usernames. Our findings can be used to guide defense mechanisms to counter political spam on social networks.

You can download the paper and slides here:

The rest of my research can be found here: Research

  1. Good luck pronouncing that ‘correctly’ ↩︎