organizations attempted to manipulate Twitter to their benefit over the last
few months, one was potentially a nation-sponsored actor. The other was a peanut
The more serious case was revealed by Twitter on February 3 when it reported it had shut down an attempt by a possible nation-state actor to exploit an API and match usernames to phone numbers.
involved an attempt by the social media operators behind Planter’s Peanuts to make
the resurrection of Mr. Peanut, shown in a Super Bowl commercial with the birth
of Baby Peanut, go viral.
In the first case, Twitter noticed the API manipulation on Dec. 24, 2019. At this time someone began using a large number of fake Twitter accounts to exploit a feature in the site’s API that enables users to be matched to phone numbers registered to specific accounts. This was created to help new users find acquaintances on Twitter by using their phone number.
this feature, the malicious actors could send out requests using phone numbers
obtained in legal or illegal manner and then grab the account names for any
matches. Those without this setting enabled or who do not have a phone number
associated with their account were not impacted.
investigation, we immediately made a number of changes to this endpoint so that
it could no longer return specific account names in response to queries. Additionally,
we suspended any account we believe to have been exploiting this endpoint,”
investigation found the fake accounts being used were from a wide range of
countries but observed a particularly high volume of requests coming from
individual IP addresses located within Iran, Israel, and Malaysia.
indicate the IP addresses have ties to state-level-sponsored actors. All were immediately
The API endpoint
has been changed so it no longer returns specific names in response to this
More recently, Twitter suspended three accounts owned by Planters, a subsidiary of the Kraft Heinz Food Company, that began retweeting memes in conjunction with the commercial announcing the birth of Baby Peanut in an attempt to make the story go viral, reported Business Insider.
Because the retweeted
memes were part of a coordinated promotional effort they may have violated
Twitter’s policy on this issue which states “You may not use Twitter’s
services in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information
or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on
Business Insider cited Kraft Heinz as saying, “As we prepared to launch Baby Nut, we knew our fans would want as much content as they could get. After consulting with Twitter, we launched three meme-sharing accounts (BabyNutBaby, @BabyNutMemes and @BabyNutLOL) in a fashion we believed was compliant with its terms of service.”
In the end, the company decided to not rub any salt in the wound and accepted the decision.