Is Syria's Government Fighting Twitter Protests With Spam?

Some bloggers have noticed disturbingly lame accounts

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As governments from Uganda to Iran try to figure out how to deal with the revolution-fomenting potential of Twitter, Syria may have hit upon a new strategy: Instead of a straight-up shutdown, it seems somebody there (and it's not clear it actually is the government, but come on) has been interfering with tweets about the ongoing protests by filling up the #Syria hashtag with spam.

Fast Company's Neal Ungerleider points to the news from expatriate Syrian tech blogger Anas Qtiesh, who has been tracking the fake accounts.

First was the proliferation of what tweeps dubbed as the “twitter eggs,” a group of newly created and mostly image-less twitter accounts that cussed out, verbally assaulted, and threatened anyone tweeting favorably about the ongoing protests, or criticizing the regime. Those accounts were believed to be manned by Syrian Mokhabarat[intelligence] agents with poor command of both written Arabic and English, and an endless arsenal of bile and insults.

But when Twitter users figured out how to circumvent those disruptions, a new annoyance popped up, this one far more insidious. Ungerleider explains:

These spam accounts, with names such as @thelovelysyria, @syriabeauty, @syleague, @karamahclub, @syhumor, @dnnnews and @mbking13 all regularly posted automated tweets full of nonsense unrelated to happenings in Syria with the #syria hashtag appended. One account, for example only posted old sports scores.

That would make it pretty hard for people trying to track protest news. Of course the #Syria hashtag is pretty broad, so the tweets could surely be just random commercial spam. Not so, Qtiesh contends. He points to the Web site for Eghna Development and Support, a Bahrain electronic consulting firm that offers "political campaign solutions" among other things, where he says he found a reference to @thelovelysyria in an account of their success stories.

Today, however, the only reference to the account on the site is in a cease-and-decist letter dated April 19, addressed to Qtiesh and signed by Eghna managing director Al-Ayham Saleh. The letter includes a passage about the Twitter account:

In your report, you accuse us of providing false information in our success story, and this is another totally false claim. The mentioned customer has built a community of over 250 followers, many other people re-tweeting  the photos they send, and many people have contributed new photos for them.

The @thelovelysyria account is still active, but it hasn't used the #Syria hashtag since April 19, and it appears to have slowed down the rate at which it is posting. The same is true for some of the accounts Ungerleider mentioned, including @syriabeauty, @syhumor, @dnnews, and @mbkng13. But @syleague and @karamahclub still use the tag and appear to be posting sports scores roughly hourly.

Regardless of whether the accounts are truly a counter-protest measure or are just annoying spam, they seem right now to be transmitting at too low a volume to disrupt the #Syria tag. After about 45 minutes open this morning, that tag has returned 300 results and gaining.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.