The word hacking has become so prevalent in reporting that almost everything is hacking, from a DDoS attack to a friend prank-posting to your Facebook when you leave your computer unlocked. But hacking doesn’t have to mean breaking into someone’s account, or shutting down a website, as SwenzyMarketing demonstrated in an attack against The Daily Dot’s Twitter account. You only need to overrun them.
For a while now SwenzyMarketing, formerly SocialVEVO, has been held up as an example of shady social media practices. The company’s business model is the exchange of fraudulent likes, shares and YouTube views for cash. The primary tactic is the use of botnets to generate large numbers of interactions, sometimes hundreds of thousands of views for only a few hundred dollars.
The Daily Dot exposed Swenzy as a manipulator of interaction counts and a prominent hoaxer in a December 2013 investigative report. Websites about NASA secrets being revealed, and a spurious announcement about Brian Griffin of Family Guy getting his own show, drove thousands of legitimate users to view bait-and-switch content, fooling many high profile publications.
Swenzy got back at The Daily Dot for the report by blowing up the publication’s Twitter followers, from 48,000 to 122,000 in just four days. Why use bots, which the company usually charges for, to do this? Three reasons according to The Daily Dot contributor Fernando Alfonso III: An action like this could seriously harm The Daily Dot’s Twitter brand, it would also force The Daily Dot to give Swenzy more publicity and simple revenge.
This plan is equal parts genius and slime. The Daily Dot’s Twitter account could be suspended for the appearance of fake follows and since there’s only one way to combat spam — one account at a time — it will be hard for the account to recover. It’s not a hack, and it’s not just a publicity plot either; it’s weaponized spam, a social media DDoS.
Image credit: Thomas H Brown