Black magic

An innocent bot could have unwittingly spread a virus around Twitter

June 11, 2014
June 11, 2014

Less than an hour after it was posted, this tweet had been retweeted by over 36,000 people.

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The tweet contains a malicious piece of code that affects users of Tweetdeck, a service available in an app or browser that provides an interface with Twitter that juxtaposes multiple streams at the same time. When confronted by this tweet, the Tweetdeck browser version will unwittingly retweet it, spreading it further. Users may also be at risk of having their login details stolen. (Alex Hern of the Guardian has a great explanation here.)

That’s bad enough. But Twitter may be lending the tweet a helping hand through an experimental service called Magic Recs. The account was set up to algorithmically inform users about what their Twitter list is doing, whether that is following a new account in droves, retweeting the same thing, or using a particular hashtag. If lots of people you follow are talking about something, Magics Recs figures, surely you would be interested in it too.

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That’s great in theory. But it also means that something like the tweet above, which is being retweeted indiscriminately, fools Magic Recs into recommending it to others, thereby spreading the contagion.

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