You’ve seen Facebook viruses. You’ve gulped at the sinking feeling in your stomach when you clicked on a link that you thought was legit but might have been spam. You’ve deleted random emails immediately, praying that your computer would not be affected by the blue screen of death. We’re all used to proceeding with caution when it comes to technology, but as the number of Twitter users grows exponentially, new challenges are emerging. Suddenly, the Twitter virus is becoming a problem for millions of collegiettes, because the shortened links often look like regular tweets and messages, and that’s just downright sneaky!
What is it?
A Twitter virus works just like a Facebook virus or a sketchy hyperlink in an email. Once you’ve clicked on that strange link, you’re infected, and the virus takes hold of your account, sending tweets or direct messages to all of your followers and people you follow without your consent. Sometimes, you can’t even see the activity on your own account, so you won’t know that you’ve been hacked until someone else tells you about it.
If you’re an avid Twitter user, you know that many people use Twitter to post news articles and links that they find interesting. The bad links often look exactly like those shortened good links, making it difficult to discern which links may be safe to click on.
Amanda First, a senior at Cornell and HC’s Life Editor, was embarrassed to find that she had a Twitter virus last summer. “I clicked on a link that said ‘Is that you in this photo?’ and I ended up sending out direct messages to every single one of my followers and everyone I follow several times, saying ‘I lost weight fast using this’ or something like that. It was really embarrassing because I use Twitter as a professional tool as well as a personal one, and that message ended up getting sent to a lot of past and potential employers. The messages kept sending over and over as fast as I could delete them, but eventually they stopped after I changed my password.”
Last March, millions of Twitter users clicked on a link that was supposed to tell them the top 20 stalkers that had viewed their Twitter profiles. The virus infected Twitter accounts at a rate of about 159 tweets per minute. Millions of users clicked on that link because it looked like a legitimate, normal shortened link that their friends wanted them to read about.
Recently, there has also been a spread of direct inbox messages on Twitter that say something like “Have you seen what this person is saying about you? Terrible things.”
Eve Carlson, a Bucknell University senior, clicked on that direct message and ended up getting hacked. “I don't use my Twitter very often,” she said. “I got this direct message from a random friend from high school on Twitter saying something like ‘somebody is saying bad things about you...’ and then there was a link and, like an idiot, I clicked on it! I tried deleting my account but my Twitter kept tweeting things like ‘lose 30 pounds today!’ I got an email a few days ago from Twitter that said they changed my password so I guess the problem is solved now, but it was pretty annoying.”