Profiting Off The Protesters

by Chris Bodenner

Fintan Dunne sounded the alarm this weekend over a spam-related "cyberattack" in the Iranian twitterverse. Mike Dunn reacts:

Twitter users may remember a scandal last month when UK home furnishing store Habitat hijacked Twitter’s trending topics (the most popular words and tags currently being used by twitterers) to promote their own products. [...] I differ from Dunne in that I don’t see this as a cyberattack so much as a Habitat-style hijacking of an popular topic. Lots of people use Twitter, lots of them are interested in #iranelection, and for spammers that equals lots of potential victims customers.

But Dunne is right to raise the importance of this issue. Already some legitimate Twitter users are moving away from the #iranelection tag, using #iran or #iranrevolution instead. As #iranelection is overwhelmed, the conversation on Twitter risks becoming diluted as users drift towards different hashtags. Dunne has set up an anti-spam Twitter account which tells followers which terms to remove from their searches in order to find relevant information on Iran, and this could prove an extremely useful tool.

Still, Twitter, having recognised its important role in post-election Iran, now needs to act against the spam. If it does nothing, the spammers might succeed where the Iranian authorities have failed, and silence online opposition.

In other Twitter-related news, FP's Evgeny Morozov has an ominous post about Iranian authorities using social networking sites to gather intel.