Twitter is a great networking tool. It truly creates a global conversation, where anyone can provide and receive advice and input from others around the globe. It provides a mechanism for people to brand themselves or their company, and make the world just a bit smaller.
There are some dangers with Twitter, however. Here are three specific warnings that I would pass along to anyone entering the Twitter conversation:
- Shortened URLs. Each Tweet must be no longer than 140 characters. In order to provide more information, people either need to send multiple Tweets, or they need to send a link to something on the web (like this blog post). However, many web addresses are too long, and leave little or no space for the actual tweet. To solve this problem, Twitter users make use of URL-shortening sites. These sites act as a proxy for the “real” site, but with a much shorter name. The name itself has nothing to do with the actual content.
The danger here is that we have no indication of where we are being taken, other than the text of the tweet. So, one could receive a tweet that simply says “Check this out!” with a URL pointing to someplace on “bit.ly” or “tinyurl.com”. Clicking on the link could result in pornography, phishing schemes, malware or any other unseemly or dangerous site. As with email, be very wary of clicking on links in Tweets that are from people you don’t know well.
- Twitter Spammers. In my last blog post, I explained that Twitter is a much more open environment than Facebook. The intent is to “put yourself out there”, and to make it easy for those who may have similar interests to find you and follow your tweets. You post some tweets, and those who like what you are saying will find you and follow you. You don’t seek out followers – they naturally find you based on what you are discussing.
There are many, however, who turn this paradigm on its head. They follow anyone and everyone – not because they want to receive updates from these people, but because they want to make these people aware of their existence. Since Twitter includes images with each Tweet, many of these Twitter spammers will use pornographic images – thus spamming you with an image that you neither requested nor sought out.
Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about these types of Twitter users. The best we can do is to use the Twitter “block” feature, and block them from following us. Unfortunately, that means we need to: 1. Know about them, 2. Know what they represent, and 3. Decide we don’t want their influence on our Twitter page. and 4. Specifically "block" them from following us.
- Relationship of trust. Every con artist will first attempt to build a relationship of trust before scamming you. A common problem with all social networks is the relationship of trust that is inherent in these networks. If a scammer can leverage that existing relationship, it makes their job much easier.
Remember that at any time anyone can have their account compromised – it only takes someone discovering the username/password combination and they can start posting as if they were that individual. If any of your online friends ask for personal information, be wary of providing it online. Their account could have been compromised, and you may be handing your information over to a complete stranger.
These are just a few of the unique areas of concern for the open social networks such as Twitter. Don’t let these warnings prevent you from entering the global conversation, but when you do decide to join in, please do so with your eyes open to the dangers, and be vigilant in protecting your digital footprint. Be sure you are not associating with those that would do harm to your online reputation.