ATwitter

Invasion of the Doppelgängers: Spammers Pose as Journalists and Techies on Twitter

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Fake Cord Jefferson (Screencap: Twitter)

Fake Cord Jefferson (Screencap: Twitter)

Spam accounts are nothing new on Twitter, as anyone who has ever tweeted the words “iPad” or “sex” can attest. But another spam ring has recently cropped up on the platform, and it uses the name cache of prominent journalists, techies and celebrities in an attempt to attract followers.

On Friday, Gawker writer Cord Jefferson discovered a copycat account that lifted his name, photo and bio in order to appear as if the account was that of the real Cord Jefferson. “Ha ha. What is this? Why is this? How do I kill this thing?” he tweeted. Twenty minutes later, BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski noticed the same thing. “Fuck is this account?” he tweeted.

As it turns out, Misters Jefferson and Kaczynski aren’t the only media people affected by this trend. It appears that these spam accounts are also following hundreds of other spam accounts that pull the same trick, taking a real user’s avatar, background photo and bio in order to make the fake profile appear legitimate.

There’s one for actress Chloe Sevigny, Politico tech reporter Eliza Krigman, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and Dropbox product manager Matt Holden.

Celebrity impostors have always been an issue for social networks, which is why verified accounts exist. But the phenomenon doesn’t seem to be related to a user’s number of followers. Mr. Kaczynski has over 70,000, Mr. Jefferson over 8,000, and Learnvest’s Allison Kade, who also has a copycat account, just over 500. The accounts all appear to be part of the same spam enterprise, since they all follow each other.

Weirder still is the fact that none of the accounts have tweeted anything yet. If the point of creating a ring of fake accounts that appear legitimate is to disseminate your spammy message, the spammers are either still building their core base of users or they haven’t decided just what exactly their message is.

Users can report the accounts for spam, but that doesn’t get them removed automatically. We’ve reached out to Twitter for comment and will update when we hear back.

(h/t Peter Sterne)

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com