Buying followers on Twitter has always been seen as one of those shady, underground practices that’s easy to do, but frowned upon by the masses.
But that practice had seemingly gone mainstream early this morning, when accounts like @PlayStation, @Viacom, @XboxSupport, @NTSB, @TheNewYorker, @TheNextWeb, the Red Cross (@ICRC) and @Money had “started aggressively pushing ways to help you obtain more followers for free,” according to Engadget.
But upon further inspection through popular Twitter client Tweetdeck, it appears all of the tweets had been sent out via the Netherlands-based Twitter Counter (@thecounter), which is a tool that “provides statistics of Twitter usage and tracks over 14 million users … and sells featured spots on its website to people who want to gain more followers,” according to its site.
The tweets began rolling out with malicious links at around 1 a.m. Saturday, promoting various websites inviting users to get more followers just by clicking.
In addition to the companies and organizations listed above, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was also affected, as well as some politicians and celebrities including Charlie Sheen, Lionel Messi, astronaut Leland Melvin, and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. A large number of other users were also affected but the number is unknown.
While the tweets promoting the follower-buying sites have since been deleted, a hack of the Twitter Counter service seems possible, but only affecting accounts linked to the tool.
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, founder of Twitter Counter (as well as founder and CEO of notable site The Next Web), told Engadget that the company was “looking into the situation.”
As Engadget advised, the incident simply serves as an extra reminder to change your password often, make your passwords difficult to guess, don’t share it with anybody ever, and check any apps or services you might have linked purposefully or accidentally to your social media accounts. As was possible in this case, if one of them gets hacked, your account could be at risk, as well.