Saturday, August 20, 2011

Case Study: Tracking a Stolen Tweet

Many people on Twitter want more followers. A good way to gain followers is to provide an amusing timeline, thus jokes are popular material to tweet.

It's hard to come up with good, original content, so many people tweet jokes they find elsewhere. The best source of content is Twitter itself. This article is a case study of a stolen tweet.

The Tweet

On Sunday August 7, 2011, Twitter user @Haleys_Hell tweeted the following joke:

The original tweet by @Haleys_Hell, click to enlarge.
I once had a goldfish that would hump the carpet, but only for about 30 seconds. 7 Aug
Being highly original and funny, this tweet was widely retweeted and favorited. As of this writing reports it was favorited 194 times, retweeted 38 times, and received 3 Tweets of the day:

The original tweet on Favstar, click to enlarge.

@Haleys_Hell told me that it reached 100 favorites in roughly 24 hours, her fastest tweet to do so. 100 favorites is an important milestone on Favstar, since it triggers the posting of a tweet to the 100 favs leaderboard, which has the slowest turnover ensuring high visibility for a tweet.

Notable copiers

@5tevenw (Steven Winterburn) is an account with 76,977 Followers. In 2011 he was nominated for the 3rd Annual Shorty Awards and placed 8th for The Year's Best Humor on Twitter. In his Shorty Interview he answered the question "What are some big Twitter faux pas?" with the statement "I've not come across any." @5tevenw's timeline consists almost entirely of unattributed content from others.

Tweet from @5tevenw, click to enlarge.

@DBowens96 is David Bowens, a professional football player in the NFL.

Tweet from @DBowens96, click to enlarge.


Data for the timeline below was collected using the Twitter search API on 8/18 at 9:29 AM. The timeline is incomplete because Twitter only stores a few days of searchable history.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Twitter jokes for the week ending Sunday, August 14th 2011

Twitter jokes from @FunFlood for the week ending Sunday, August 14th 2011.
If you like one, favorite it. If it's really good, retweet!
  • Guys, if you have to Axe, you'll never score. 8 Aug
  • I enjoy getting to know new people by testing to see which touches are inappropriate. 8 Aug
  • My cousin's an idiot; today he showed up wearing tights. He'd also stuffed a fish in the crotch—said it was his codpiece. 8 Aug
  • Eating McDonald's is like buying death on the installment plan. 8 Aug
  • Great, the market crashed, & since the US lost its AAA rating it can't even call a tow truck. So a jump start to the economy is right out. 8 Aug
  • Had a call from a headhunter for a position at Vivid Entertainment—on all fours. No, actually it was for Chief Perversity Officer. 8 Aug
  • Let he who is without aim cast the first stone at me. 9 Aug
  • C'mon Twitter, you should at least be able to get a 9 year old girl to scrawl a sign saying "No Bots Allowed." 9 Aug
  • Nickelback? More like Priceofthewholeticketback. 9 Aug
  • I got a new job at Hormel sending mass emails extolling canned meat products. 9 Aug
  • I insisted I was a Sociobiologist conducting field studies but the cops said I was just a voyeur. 9 Aug
  • A stupid woman gets her boobs done. A vain woman gets her nose done. A smart woman gets her brain done. 9 Aug
  • The last thing I recall was drinking that glass of cata tonic... 9 Aug
  • I've heard that if mauled by a bear you should play dead. But what if the bear's a necrophiliac? 9 Aug
  • Seize the carpet dime. 9 Aug
  • Got a 40 foot container for the backyard. The kids think it's a playhouse, but the lock's on the outside. 10 Aug
  • I was talking to a librarian who told me that her job had changed from re-shelving books to dusting them. 10 Aug
  • Got the pickup truck & trailer, now gonna buy some mowers, trimmers, and edgers and start a manscaping service. 10 Aug
  • Just imagine if J.K. Rowling had called him Harry Palmer... 10 Aug
  • A visit to Maine had me asking, "What's a Penobscot that I don't got?" 10 Aug
  • While I managed to annoy the crap out of it, I never made that lobster roll. 10 Aug
  • I was talking to my ex-wife when a pop-up appeared saying "CHEW THROUGH THE LEASH: Violate a restraining order!" #achievement 10 Aug
  • Years ago people kept catalogs in the outhouse for reading material. And for wiping. Today we use Facebook. 10 Aug
  • Ladies, tan lines are way sexy. They're like a highlighter for the naughty bits. 11 Aug
  • Timid people of the world, stay home! 11 Aug
  • My cousin's wife misunderstood hair extensions and now she's an extension cord Medusa. 11 Aug
  • A food scientist seeks the perfect emulsifier while his marriage grows stale for want of a spicy spread, next on Cheez Whiz Theatre. 11 Aug
  • I hate that some people say you can choose to be gay. I can't even manage a grin. 11 Aug
  • Anyone down to start a new website?—we upload pix of our poops and favorite the best dumps. 11 Aug
  • It's nice to know the USA is still #1 in some things, like FREEDOM!!!!! Oh, and prison population. 11 Aug
  • Hollywood reboots the seven dwarfs: Spacey, Pushy, Skeevy, Hateful, Horny, Cheesy, and Dumbass 11 Aug
  • Her boob job is so bad it's more like an internship. 12 Aug
  • My son's trying to choose a major for college next year. Is it Human Physiology or Mechanical Engineering to become a sex toy designer? 12 Aug
  • I opened my coat and a pop-up appeared saying "FLASH MOB: Expose yourself to a crowd of people!" #achievement 12 Aug
  • I bagged a dust boar that was hiding the refrigerator. 12 Aug
  • A guy told me he'd gonna give me the big break I've been hoping for! Or maybe it's about the money I owe him. 12 Aug
  • You're not completely deranged until you lose your stove. 12 Aug
  • Last time I had a checkup my doctor told me I had high air pressure. #ThatsHowIRoll 12 Aug
  • As a kid I'd clothespin baseball cards in my bike's spokes to make engine sounds. Now I've got muscle car sound effects for my Fiesta. 12 Aug
  • Who's this guy Fritz, and why is he under all the broken stuff? 13 Aug
  • If you're an attractive young heiress with daddy issues then I'm your unemployed older guy. 13 Aug
  • Why is it called toe jam? It tastes disgusting on toast! 13 Aug
  • I'll stop lowriding when I can afford a set of tires for the rims. 13 Aug
  • I'm taking some courses. When my son leaves for high school I start studying—his browser history. 13 Aug
  • You know what else doesn't work? Using a belt sander for a do-it-yourself dermabrasion. Or actually it works too well. 13 Aug
  • W.C. Fields liked children—fried. So why did he marry Mrs. Fields? She's a baker! 13 Aug
  • One time a pig got into the yard and tore through it like a bull in a butcher shop. We ate well that winter. 13 Aug
  • So glad I'll never be in the same room with Mila Kunis and Aubrey Plaza, since both my heads would explode. 14 Aug
  • When on extended dives members of the submarine service relax to the music of Air Supply. 14 Aug
  • My ex-wife once put me on a pedestal. Then she tied a rope around my neck and kicked the pedestal away. 14 Aug
  • I painted a big 'S' on its case so I'd have a supercomputer. 14 Aug
  • Son, someday this whole cesspool will be urine. 14 Aug
A Twitter feed of original jokes. Put some humor into your day with @FunFlood.
Studies show that laughter is healthy, so take time out for a cup of cheese, er, comedy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'm blegging you, please. Begging, even.

A bleg to the InterToobz.

I'd love to see a brass section (trombones, trumpets, saxaphones, etc.) doing an instrumental cover of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven. Post a video to YouTube. Call yourselves Brass Blimp and title it Escalator to Heaven.

If I played a brass instrument and knew some others I'd do this in a heartbeat, but alas, I don't. Thus my bleg.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Technorati, you're Colossal

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
There is a ticket here.
>Get ticket
You pick up the ticket. It has some writing on it.
>Read ticket
The ticket says:

Technorati: WDBCDEJUX33H

How Favstar rewards and enables cheaters to steal the best Tweets

Twitter has benefited from users who treat follower counts as a game. Many users spend a lot of effort attempting to gain followers, increasing their engagement with Twitter and keeping them active on the network. An ecosystem of third-party vendors has sprung up to address this preoccupation with follower count.

Favstar as an online game further gamifies Twitter by counting statistics for individual tweets. Data are collected for favorites, retweets, and its own Tweet of the Day awards.

Favstar is most closely focused on tracking a tweet's favorites, data which isn't readily available using Twitter's API. Favstar is currently the sole aggregator of favorite data and serves as the only public source. Thus, Favstar is vital to its users, who are at the forefront of using Twitter's "favorite" option as a "like" button for a tweet. Favstar lets its users know both a tweet's "score" and who awarded the "points."

Some features of Favstar:
  • Favorites, retweets, and Tweet of the Day awards are tracked for each tweet. In addition to counts, the users who awarded them are tracked and displayed.
  • Web pages display the "best" and most recent tweets from each user.
  • Notifications, where Favstar automatically retweets a tweet upon being favorited a certain number of times. Subscribers can increase the number of retweets by defining more notification thresholds.
  • Tweet of the Day award, available only to Favstar subscribers, who may designate one award per day. Sometimes awarded strategically in the hopes of an acknowledgement including a recommendation to follow the awarder.
  • The leaderboard, a set of webpages featuring tweets that have reached favorites counts of 10, 30, 50, or 100.
Most of these features increase the visibility of a tweet (and thus a Twitter account). While possibly resulting in more favorites being awarded, the extra exposure of a tweet is also valuable to anyone looking to increase the number of followers of an account.

Many of Favstar's users treat it as an online game.


Years ago Matthew Pritchard offered game developers two rules about online cheating:
Rule #1: If you build it, they will come -- to hack and cheat.

Rule #2: hacking attempts increase with the success of your game.
Indeed, in online games (i.e., World of Warcraft, the Call of Duty franchise) the temptation to cheat is so strong that companies must take preventative measures. Pritchard's rules have been accepted to the point that within the industry it's considered mandatory to have an anti-cheat solution in place before a game is launched. Online game companies typically ban detected cheaters, even canceling the accounts of paid subscribers.

Currently, Favstar has no mechanism for detecting tweet theft or cheating by its users.

Tweet theft existed long before Favstar, and hasn't been addressed technically by Twitter, although in The Twitter Rules it's defined as being spam: "If you repeatedly post other users' Tweets as your own."

Stolen tweets have become a common enough occurrence that one user has taken it upon himself to create @ThiefPolice, a Twitter account to "name, shame, and help shut down repetitive thieves' accounts."

Twitter's policy of requiring many complaints to close an account for spam works for blantant spammers but not subtle content thieves. The @ThiefPolice account helps generate the collective action needed to close thieving accounts more quickly.

Tweet theft and Favstar, an example

Because it's tracking favorites, Favstar provides the information about which tweets are best to steal. Simply look up any user on Favstar and steal the first tweet on their "Best Of" page, which is their most popular tweet. Or steal any tweet on that page.

Favstar has nothing in place to prevent free users or paid subscribers from cheating. There are Favstar subscribers who are using it as a source of stolen tweets to gain recognition on Favstar itself! Not to mention more Twitter followers.

An example of tweet theft is the account @FunnyB1tch. Note that FunnyB1tch's Favstar page has a More link at the bottom, indicating a subscriber. Here's an excerpt from FunnyB1tch's timeline via a list on Twitter:

All the pictured tweets are stolen (as is almost all of the timeline):
  • As a woman, I like to here how pretty I am and that I.....aww fuck it, just slap my ass and pull my hair! Stolen from @Mommie_EJ with typo intact. First on her Best Of page.
  • If money cannot buy you happiness, give it to me. I'll be HAPPY. Stolen from @elisa212007, with obscenity edited out. Second on her Best Of page.
  • If Red Bull gives you wings, meth gives you a jet pack. Stolen from @HaHaWhitePPL. #12 on his Best Of page.
  • I often confuse serious psychic shit with being hungover. Stolen from @joeinverarity.
  • Why don't witches wear panties when flying on their broomsticks? For better grip. This ancient joke is found all over Twitter and the Internet.
Here's a case where Favstar rewarded tweet theft:

  • Orgasms are like washing your car, you can do it yourself, but it’s so much better when a man does it for you. Stolen from @Jazzzzzmina. First on her Best Of page.
The blue and orange star icon indicates that the above Tweet was retweeted by Favstar itself! The retweet was via Favstar's experimental @favstar_pop account. In addition, since it was favorited by 10 users, the Tweet would briefly appear on the Most recent tweets with 10 favs leaderboard.

What Favstar could do

Before discussing measures Favstar could take to combat cheating, first some definitions of three severities of tweet theft:
  • Verbatim: The tweet is stolen unchanged. Automated detection is easy.
  • Minor edit: Minor edits, often to remove profanity or correct a typo. Automated detection is harder*.
  • Major rewrite: The content is rewritten in a manner that drastically changes the tweet. Can be very difficult to distinguish from non-stolen tweets conceived in parallel which are similar due to a common theme. Automated detection is impossible.
*A stolen tweet may appear to be identical if tricks employed by email spammers attempting to aid detection are used, such as whitespace and unicode character substitutions.
The severities fall on a continuum and the boundaries between them aren't fixed.

In Favstar's case, cheating need not be detected in real time. Processing required for cheat detection could happen as infrequently as once per day (during periods of light load) and still suffice.

Verbatim tweet theft could be detected automatically, at the cost of the CPU time needed to perform a cryptographic hash function such as SHA-256 on the texts and database space to store them.

Minor edits employing email spam tricks could be detected using conventional anti-spam measures to normalize texts before processing them for verbatim detection.

Minor edits to content might be detectable using Bayesian methods at the cost of some false positives and negatives.

No attempt should be made to automatically detect major edits.

Since there isn't an automated way to detect major edits or reliably detect minor ones, perhaps a user-based reporting or voting system could be implemented. There are many ways to implement this, ranging from entirely automated to having a number of volunteers from the community review the reports before declaring theft.

With enough agreement that two tweets are identical, theft could be declared. Too many thefts would result in the Favstar account being disabled.

Whatever system is implemented it should be recognized that some cases will be tough to judge. Many people are tweeting about common subjects and thus similar non-identical tweets may appear to be rewritten or inspired from others when they were conceived separately.


Because Favstar is running the game, it's Favstar's responsibility to deal with the cheaters. Favstar is currently the sole source of aggregated per-tweet favorite data, so it uniquely enables thieves to cherry-pick the best tweets. The thieves are both Favstar's own cheaters and Twitter spammers who are using it to identify the best content to steal.

[Update, 8/16] First, has a statement on plagiarism. It puts the onus on the user to deal with all plagiarism, first with the offender and then by filing a complaint with Twitter.

Second, Twitter is slowly rolling out the new @username and Activity tabs, which will make the favorite data readily available and thus remove Favstar's complete monopoly on the per-tweet data. Favstar will still be the only source of aggregate and historical data.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Twitter jokes for the week ending Sunday, August 7th 2011

Twitter jokes from @FunFlood for the week ending Sunday, August 7th 2011.
If you like one, favorite it. If it's really good, retweet!
  • The plumbing in Octomom's house must get a workout. By the time the last kid finishes in the bathroom, the first one needs to go again! 1 Aug
  • Plastic wood, isn't that another term for dildo? 1 Aug
  • Nobody gets in my way when driving, thanks to the stolen "Student Driver" sign. 1 Aug
  • Do camels ever stub their toes? Asking for a female friend. 1 Aug
  • I'm going to an antiques auction to bid on a collection of Myspace accounts. 1 Aug
  • Dropped in on my hacker friend, but there was a sign on his door that said, "Gone phishing." 1 Aug
  • My cousin was moving an overturned bed—by crawling around beneath it. When I asked, he said, "Shut up, I'm bedridden!" 1 Aug
  • They should make an award for anyone who makes a joke about Chapstick without copying it. 1 Aug
  • If Mila Kunis bought the farm I'd still plow her furrow. 1 Aug
  • "Do it for the achievement" is the new "Close your eyes and think of England." 1 Aug
  • If dogs suddenly started to purr, cats might have to respond by learning to fetch. Or being nice. 2 Aug
  • With the bad economy I'd move back in with my parents, but there's no room in the crypt. 2 Aug
  • I'll be retiring to prison if I get another mailing from AARP. 2 Aug
  • Aww, my son has a new pet, how cute! Oh wait, she's a cougar? Then he's the pet. 2 Aug
  • I told my cousin to move to Alaska to mine Klondike bars, and he did! But he got revenge—made a bundle selling cold stone to the creamery. 2 Aug
  • Some people switch profile pics more often than I should change my underwear. 2 Aug
  • Don't you love that exhilarating rush you get when you're in a speeding subway car, groping? 2 Aug
  • My pal went hunting with his dog. He accidentally shot a homing pigeon and the retriever took it to Labrador. 3 Aug
  • Ahhh the old days, before sexting—back when girls needed Joe Francis to go wild. 3 Aug
  • Every week my older son scams my younger son out of his allowance. Serves me right for naming them Connor and Mark. 3 Aug
  • This winter I plan to heat my home with morning wood. Or at least the bedroom. 3 Aug
  • Look, just because I get aroused in subway cars doesn't make me metrosexual. 3 Aug
  • Told my uncle I was gonna use the Kickstarter website to get funded. He said, "Kickstarter? I'll give you a kick start, right in the ass!" 3 Aug
  • My ex-wife used to complain that I have too much spare time on my hands and too much spare tire on my waist. 3 Aug
  • Like I tell my son: Always wear a thinking cap if you're gonna think with the other head. 3 Aug
  • My younger son came crying because he'd been evicted from his in-game housing and all his virtual stuff was piled on the virtual street. 3 Aug
  • I'm not saying he's a messy eater, but we make Gandpa wear a wetsuit to meals. 4 Aug
  • Wait, I'm supposed to body groom and manscape until I'm a hairless wuss and then use a spray to turn me back into an animal? Screw that! 4 Aug
  • I hate it when just as I get used to and like a woman's hairstyle*, she goes and changes it. *avi 4 Aug
  • I was shopping when a pop-up appeared saying "Eeeuww B.O.: Send 10 people fleeing at the mall!" #achievement 4 Aug
  • I wonder what Pavlov conditioned his wife to do. 5 Aug
  • After 20 years Rip Van Halen wakes up, resumes touring 5 Aug
  • When not in high school my son's an online gamer. His favorites are OkCupid, EHarmony &, and he pwns on Ashley Madison. 5 Aug
  • Spencer Pratt would eat no phatt, His wife would eat no peen, And now so broke they both must work, To lick some toilets clean. 5 Aug
  • I wear a flak jacket whenever I go shopping near Target. 5 Aug
A Twitter feed of original jokes. Put some humor into your day with @FunFlood.
Studies show that laughter is healthy, so take time out for a cup of cheese, er, comedy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Twitter jokes for the week ending Sunday, July 31st 2011

Twitter jokes from @FunFlood for the week ending Sunday, July 31st 2011.
If you like one, favorite it. If it's really good, retweet!
  • Astronomers just discovered a moon orbiting Pluto—let's call it Goofy! 25 Jul
  • Wow, I never noticed this writing on the sole of my foot. "Inspected by #1." I KNEW I was created by God! 25 Jul
  • New reality show: People scent something and call the gas company to fix the leak. "Saved by the Smell" 25 Jul
  • Didn't Lincoln's Gettysburg tweet start with "Foursquare and seven years ago...?" 26 Jul
  • When I go to the beach I like to stuff my swimsuit full of seaweed so it looks like I have a bizarre body hair problem. 26 Jul
  • Does anyone still get ring around the collar? 26 Jul
  • You know who else changed their name? William Shitner. 27 Jul
  • I think my problem is that my focus group has only 1 member. And that he laughs at any joke. And he's my dog. 27 Jul
  • Bah! Bedbug! 27 Jul
  • I tried Spanx for men but returned them and got my money back. I wore them ALL DAY and there was no pain, redness, or welting AT ALL! 27 Jul
  • Got an emergency call from camp—my son escaped again. 27 Jul
  • A great way to restore your sanity as a parent is through the liberal use of duct tape. 28 Jul
  • Hey, catch you all later—on Wednesday nights I'm a regular at the brothel for the NuvaRing toss. 28 Jul
  • So cute, my little nephew pronounces Eminem's name as En-em-a. 28 Jul
  • There's just no sport in giving a babe a wedgie when she's wearing a thong. 28 Jul
  • Black helicopters from the UN have been following me. High-tech miniature ones...oh, they're just flies. OMG, the UN uses flies now?!? 29 Jul
  • Budget cuts at my son's high school. They combined shop class with sex ed—today they learned how to use a drilldo. Next week, the f*cksaw. 29 Jul
  • Octomom's dining room was too small so she had the back yard redone as a feedlot. 30 Jul
  • Octomom said the hardest part of raising a big herd of kids was getting them all branded. 30 Jul
  • I long to meet my soulmate. To be so in synch with a woman that, without speaking, I'll just have the thought and she'll slap me. 30 Jul
  • My son was born prematurely, just like the ejaculation that made him. 30 Jul
  • He's on the warpath again, who pushed Benjamin's button? 30 Jul
  • My wife was furious when I called her the N word. Nagger. 30 Jul
  • Why did Barry Diller let his wife call him 'Fang?' 31 Jul
  • I've advanced beyond eating in bed by using a bedpan to cook there, too. 31 Jul
  • In 1894, Big Brother is dyslexic. 31 Jul
  • I wonder if Tom Sizemore is compensating for anything. 31 Jul
  • Shark Week on the Discovery Channel? Meh, give me Cougar Week on the Playboy Channel! 31 Jul
  • Have you heard about the new website where you rate Twitter accounts? Bot or Not. 31 Jul
  • What must we do to have Britney Spears serenade Chris Brown with "Hit me baby one more time?" 31 Jul
  • My cousin won't eat potato skins—he says it's cruel how they club the baby potatoes. What an idiot, that's how they make mashed potatoes! 31 Jul
  • This year the Discovery Channel is having Henry Winkler host Jump the Shark Week. 31 Jul