When I visited the Web pages of those hot-looking women, I found a bunch of tweets on different topics, all containing a tiny URL that leads to the same "dating" site: XXXBlackBook.com. That site pays out up to $50 for every sucker you trick into signing up and up to $1.50 for every click. So this is an affiliate marketing scam, pure and simple.
From the scammer's point of view, this is far superior to e-mail. There aren't any Twitter spam blockers (at least, that I know of). There are no ISPs to get in the way and cancel your accounts. People on the service are still fairly trusting of each other. And with shortened URLs, there's no way to find out where that person is sending you until you've already arrived. It's a perfect storm of spamminess.
Here's an even bigger problem. Twitter makes it far too easy to create a fake profile and far too difficult to report one. To rat somebody out, you have to follow Twitter's internal @spam account and send them a direct message containing the name of the spammer. It's so hard to block these folks that it seems almost deliberate -- as if Twitter didn't want to impede its growth by building in tools that would keep the service clean.
(MySpace took a similar laissez-faire approach, which is how it became infested with pedophiles for a few years. It's never fully recovered from that.)
By contrast, when some fake Skype user tries to worm his way into my address book, I can block and report him instantly with two clicks of the mouse. As a result, I get very little Skype spam. Would it be so hard to slap a "report this person" link on every Twitter account? Really?
Even sites that rely on "community policing" find themselves overwhelmed with spam after a certain point. But when your community starts out hobbled, you're dead. It's just a matter of time.
I predict that in a year my Twitter feed is going to look an awful lot like my e-mail inbox, which I opened this morning to find two dozen identical pieces of spam from "Fortune Maker News," among other useless dreck. (There is a special circle in Hell for spammers, filled with 24/7 infomercials and music by Paula Abdul.)
Spam will kill Twitter's usefulness for everyone but relentless Internet marketers, unless the brainiacs at TwitCentral can figure out a better way to block it. Smart people have tried and failed everywhere else, though. I don't hold out much hope.
Have you been nailed by a Twitter scam? How about on Facebook or other social sites? Post your tales of woe below or e-mail me: email@example.com.