Twitter Posting for Credibility: A Case Study

Recently, I’ve noticed another flood of spammers on Twitter. I don’t worry about it as much as I used to, since they aren’t as offensive. Not gross sexy pictures, no crude or offensive language, no propositions. What hadn’t really clicked until this morning was that a lot of them are scrapers providing, um, health information, for lack of a better phrase. At least they appear to provide health information. What they really do is post links that appear to go to blogs, but the blogposts are minimal content and mostly go to other sites where the content really appears. The content seems credible, too, and mixes up genuine good stuff with advertisements and questionable content promoting products or services. I’m not sure of the underlying monetization strategy but there must be one, since this is a noticeable pattern. I am guessing probably advertisements on the page, in addition to paybacks from the companies and services promoted. They seem to follow a general 80/20 rule with 80% decent content, which is enough to seem worthwhile. One of the Twitter streams I had found earlier, when I poked around, turned out to actually be using a news feed service that automatically generated the blogposts and Twitter feed on behalf of the “doctor”, so all they had to do was configure the feeds and accounts, step back, and let it run itself. No real person required.

I’ve seen instances of this where I found over ten accounts with identical posts, each of which had different false identities associated with the individual accounts. The accounts had different names, genders, races, locations, credible bios, photos of real people, listed credits that made them sound really authoritative. If you don’t know the people (and how could you?) it is easy to think, “Wow, I just found a doctor who is really keeping an eye on the literature for the public. This is doc is my kind of person — guy/gal, asian/african-american, middle-aged/young … I bet they are putting these out for their patients. How many followers do they have? Five thousand or ten or twenty thousand or … , wow, they must be good. I wonder why I never heard of them? I guess I should follow them, too. They must be important.”

My response when I found the first few cases of this was to just block the accounts and report for spam. It kind of niggled at me, tho, that these folk were targeting health information. I bet they do the same thing for sex and food and I just haven’t noticed. This morning I found what immediately appeared to be the same sort of scam.

Twitter Practice to Avoid:

Two identical posts, both purporting to be doctors, opposite genders, minimal biographies, links to blogs that presented information linked to other sites. One warning sign was a long list of affiliated blogs, some of which were less clinical, most of which had some tech focus.

One account was for a young male doctor who appeared to be Asian-American with over thirty thousand followers. Wow!

Twitter Practice to Avoid:

The second one was for a female doctor who didn’t provide a picture, but the two streams were identical posts at identical times.

Twitter Practice to Avoid:

I was sick of seeing this sort of thing. I figured this was the same thing I’d been seeing, and they probably had more fake accounts, but I didn’t have time to dig through and find and report them all. I blocked and reported for spam both accounts, and then sent a tweet saying I’d done so and why.

Twitter Practice To Avoid
“Just figured out @DrJosephKim & @EllenMD are fake accounts, since they have identical streams. Disappointing – fake docs on Twitter.”

This got a little bit of attention from other people, notably @laikas and @andrewspong, both of whom I already know are real from extensive conversations both on Twitter and in blogs and other spaces.

Twitter Practice To Avoid
laikas: “RT @pfanderson: Just figured out @DrJosephKim & @EllenMD R fake accounts, since they have identical streams << think 1st = real / not good”

Twitter Practice To Avoid
@andrewspong: “@pfanderson asks” are we being worked like circus monkeys?”

Then, surprise! Replies from both of the two accounts.

Twitter Practice To Avoid
EllenMD: “I contribute to the blogs written by my husband @DrJosephKim. You can find me here:

Twitter Practice To Avoid
DrJosephKim: We are both using twitterfeed. You can find my wife (A family doc) here:

However both these postings sure sound like they easily could have been written by the same person, they use the same strategy for verifying identity, and use the same link to provide that evidence. I am willing to consider that they might be people, but I am, frankly, still suspicious. If they are real people, I find it a bit sad that real people are not able to pass a Turing Test.

The discussion on Twitter was getting more active and more people getting involved, to the point where I couldn’t reply to comments because there were so many people to copy it was taking more than half the 140 characters! I decided to move this conversation over to my blog, where we have more space. Uploading screenshots for context, and adding the text below the images. Then I got this fun little error message at Flickr.

Twitter Practice to Avoid
“Hey! That URL you tried to post has been used for abuse on Flickr before. If that’s you, stop it! If that’s not you, sorry, but you can’t post links to it.”

I don’t know. Somehow I don’t think this is helping their case any. Oh, if you are curious about the Evil Abuse Link, I was caught and did click through, so I have a screenshot of that, too, and you don’t need to.

Twitter Practice To Avoid

So, the bottom line for people posting. I am guessing that these probably are real people. I am still unfollowing them because they give the appearance of spammers. If you are someone managing multiple accounts, there is a lesson here.
– Make a point of being YOURSELF, not someone else.
– Use your OWN account to be you. Use the corporate account to do business.
– Be REAL in both places, and don’t be the same.
– Engage in conversation.
– Make friends, not just followers.
– Don’t make a habit of posting identical content in two or more places.
– Do more than retweet or post links to your blog.

Basically DON’T LOOK LIKE A SPAMMER if you don’t want to be mistaken for one. That does mean you have to know what the spammers are doing these days, and frankly, the spammers are getting better and better at pretending to be people.

So, the bottom line for people reading posts. Does it matter if they are spammers if what they offer is of value to you? By following spammers are you feeding something that hurts someone else? Tough to find out, and a tough call. I’ve seen some pretty high quality spam. I don’t know enough about it to say if it is hurting someone else. I wouldn’t go looking for any consistency in what I do, since I suspect it varies from case to case. And I’ve been mistaken for a spammer myself before, and I didn’t like it at all. So, I hope no harm done to @DrJosephKim and @EllenMD but I sure do hope they change their posting practices to seem more like real folk.


7 responses to “Twitter Posting for Credibility: A Case Study

  1. Real/not real: hey, I have days when I can’t work that out myself.

    Nevertheless, the moral of this story is: tweeting like a bot is a bad idea.

    Yes, @AZHelps, I’m looking at you 🙂


    I rolled around with delight at your Turing Test reference, BTW.


  2. I’ve been reading a lot of Doug Engelbart lately. Turing is fresh in my mind. 🙂 And I like your moral better than mine: Tweeting like a BOT is a BAD idea!!


  3. Hi Patricia.

    I get the same uncomfortable feeling when I see two identical Twitter streams from two “different” persons. Good that you noticed it.
    The speed of the reactions and -again- the same pattern of responding suggests to me that joseph kim is at least using his wife account too.

    But Joseph is a well know doctor and blogger. He has hosted several Grand Rounds, one just 1-2 weeks ago.

    However, I already noticed that the links in his blog led to advertorials. So the link to the word diabetes goes to an advertorial. Plus I retweeted one link that appeared not trustworthy (dr. Ves pointed that out to me). I communicated this with dr. Kim on Twitter and he told us he would be more careful in the future.

    As I already discussed in my post on sweetened beverages dr Kim also supported the diet coke Facebook campaign against heart diseases. First I thought, it may just be out of naivety, but now there are 3 such events in a short time…

    At the very least dr Kim should be more careful with his online presence as a blogger, a Twitter-id and a Facebook-id

    Trustworthiness is an important thing, certainly if you are a doctor.

    p.s. What doe this mean you think. “Hey! That URL you tried to post has been used for abuse on Flickr before. If that’s you, stop it! If that’s not you, sorry, but you can’t post links to it.” Sounds Worrisome.


    • I have no idea what the Flickr error message means. I didn’t know that Flickr did that, but I like the idea of it! But it sure makes it sound like that link is, um, being used in unexpected ways. Or is Flickr blocking all links? I did a little test and it does look like Flickr is blocking ALL links. So not their fault, just … cripes. What a mess.


  4. I’m sharing this post with many of my MD SM clients. Good moral.


    • Thanks! It’s the same message we all keep saying in different ways – be human. 🙂 Just it helps to say it in different ways, since sometimes one way will click when another hasn’t.


  5. I think they are using the comments as a way to generate more back links to their website.


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