If you haven’t yet seen one, where have you been? On Twitter, supposed “cash giveaways” have become a means for the self-styled “benefactor” to build a vast following, elicit unnaturally high levels of compliance from the public, and make a lot of money. But if there’s no separate terms and conditions page, the cash prize almost certainly doesn’t exist. And even if it does, how would you know? This is a world where the winners are almost never mentioned, let alone identified. It’s just tweet after tweet of…
“RT, Like and Comment to win £5,000 in cash. Must be following me, and must tell me what a fantastic guy I am in the comment, blah, blah.”
That’s the kind of character we’re talking about. Not just spectacularly manipulative, but also childishly egotistical. And there’s no “Congratulations to the winner”. Aside from their occasional, staged convincer ruses, these dudes can’t even be bothered to pretend someone actually won. New day, new giveaway, and it never ends.
This post was written in May 2019, before the rise of the #TwitterPhilanthropy tag. I’ve done a full update taking into account more recent events in the #TwitterPhilanthropy Cash Messiah post, but I’ve also left this post intact for historical reference…
This month we’ve seen one of the most notorious “sugardaddy” cash giveaway blaggers go inactive, after a public and thoroughly-evidenced identity exposure by @JulsTTV.
@THESUGARDAD1 built up hundreds of thousands of Twitter Followers with a feed of constant, substantial, cash giveaway offers. There were so many scam accusations in his incoming mentions that you couldn’t even count them all. And yet he was championed not only by the odd “influencer” (and by “influencer” I obviously mean a dude with the reach of a government chancellor and the responsibility of a 7-year-old boy), but also by legitimate businesses. That’s what happens when profiles reach a certain size. Everyone wants a piece of the action.
Little more than a lad himself, @THESUGARDAD1 has been driven into inactivity by one member of the public with hacking skills. But had his identity not been exposed in a YouTube video, he’d be active today. Indeed, as I write, his main account (User ID 968152241965338624) is still live. You can see in the screen shot below that he’s cryptically renamed it and deleted all his tweets. The account has been deactivated, restored and renamed multiple times since the exposure. Twitter did NOT suspend this con artist…
Below, I’ve posted the ID link to the account. By following that link, you’ll always be able to see the profile’s current status, regardless of how many times it’s renamed.
HOW THESE SCHEMES PROFIT
There are masses of others playing similar tricks. Some make money on affiliate referral programmes, by requiring their “entrants” to sign up to specific apps – often with extremely dodgy privacy policies. Others run advance fee rackets, in which the “winner” must pay an initial charge to facilitate the cash transfer, then receives nothing. Large scale schemers can even collect entrants’ personal data and sell it to spammers/scammers. And let’s not forget that men specifically targeting women may also have predatory sexual goals.
Then there’s the psychology of it all. The dudes running this bullshit know how the public think. They know that people will often make nice gestures in order to be noticed and liked. And they know many people believe that being liked by the “benefactor” will heavily increase their chance of being given the cash. So the “benefactor” invites small donations, while offering to give away huge sums of money. The little “bribe attempts” keep coming in, but no money goes out.
These one-man schemes on Twitter are sketchy in the extreme. They have no terms & conditions, or prior detail on how the prize is claimed. That makes most of the “giveaways” illegal here in the UK – even if the prize money existed, which, as I say, it almost certainly doesn’t.
But it also means that entrants often don’t know whether they’re supposed to be entering a complete random prize draw, or an effective popularity contest. The possibility that the money could go to whichever entrant the “benefactor” likes the most is important, because it makes people more malleable, more compliant, and easier to exploit. That’s why regulators rule against ambiguity and require full clarity from giveaway organisers.
There’s a definite sense that “sugardaddy” profiles might be open to persuasion, additional favours and bribes, and they take advantage of that. The widely understood definition of a sugardaddy is a man who finances glamorous women’s lifestyles in return for some sort of return benefit. So there’s already a strong implication that the “benefactor” is going to be biased when selecting “beneficiaries”. The implication is that it may not be a straight prize draw. And that affords Mr Giveaway Dude a lot of benefits. The incredible level of public compliance alone gives him way too much power. And the whole of that compliance hinges on the authenticity of the offers. So when the offers are fake, it’s really a type of abuse.
It should also be noted that a lot of these “cash giveaway” accounts start off in the world of “Twitter findom”. That’s a sex work sector where many of the new providers (very predominantly female) have been conditioned, courtesy of sensationalist media and blog articles, to expect money for nothing. It’s extremely fertile ground for male scammers. @THESUGARDAD1 definitely came out of that environment. Once his account grew big enough, he dropped this from his bio…
“Let me be your slave. Call me worthless/slave. findom/paypig.”
And replaced it with this…
“Here to make you smile. Winners chosen at random. Secret tweets are sent to those who have notifications on.”
The amount of repurposing, cloaking and account networking that goes on in the “giveaway” genre is mind-boggling. It’s unreasonable to expect ordinary Twitter users to keep tabs on it all. That alone is a pressing reason for Twitter to ban this type of account.
TWITTER MUST BAN
Twitter has, especially since 2017, sought to heavily reduce spam, junk accounts, and means of gaming the system for unfair advantage. Over that period, I’ve applauded Twitter for many of the steps it’s taken. I think it’s a much better site than it was at its low point in 2015/2016, and I do understand that eliminating problems on a vast scale is an almighty challenge.
But we’re not talking here about annoying auto-DMs which could be blocked. We’re not talking about spamlord e-marketers following 400 accounts a day, only to unfollow most of them again by the end of the week. We’re talking about scammers. People who not only game the system with manipulative and dishonest ploys, but proceed to abuse the immense power they gain in the process, to con people out of money, or pave the way for others to con them. Even if a giveaway profile is genuine (not that I’m saying any of them are), it will spawn another raft of copycat profiles using the same formula to commit fraud. This needs to be stopped.
But because these lone dudes on Twitter are not legitimate businesses, the regulators are not realistically going to deal with them. Legit businesses care about their reputations, and here in the UK they gravely fear the shame of being found in breach of commercial laws by the Advertising Standards Authority. But anonymous guys, whose Twitter feeds are nothing but cash giveaway spam, simply don’t give a shit.
For a start, hardly anyone knows who most of them are, and they’re not registered companies, so who would the public actually complain to Advertising Standards about? And even if these characters could be exposed for malpractice, they’re men whose mentions are literally full of scam complaints, and they take not a scrap of notice. Twitter can’t expect regulators or laws to take care of people like that. The platform has a duty to protect the public from them, because no one else will.
HOW WOULD TWITTER STOP THIS?
Twitter does have existing rules that could be used to suspend giveaway accounts. Some of the spam rules, for example, already make it an offence to…
- Attempt to artificially inflate account interactions (I mean, these dudes are directly asking for interactions based on cash prizes that don’t exist – inflation doesn’t get any more artificial than that).
- Repeatedly post duplicate content.
- Post misleading or deceptive affiliate links. The rule doesn’t make it clear whether “post” only applies to public tweets, or also includes DMs. Most of the “giveaway” scammers post their dodgy links via DM.
Some “giveaway” profiles also arguably infringe Twitter’s no-phishing rule, and depending on how you interpret the wording, the fake account rule too.
But none of these rules were designed with “giveaway” profiles in mind, and clearly, all of the existing rules are failing to stop the problem, because the accounts are still there. Twitter needs some specific rules which can quickly and easily be used to stop prize draw scamming, and importantly, stop people building huge power and control using promises of non-existent prizes. The problem is not just about money. It’s just as much about grossly dishonest people gaining too much power.
The main difficulty for Twitter would be to introduce a rule that stops cash giveaway scams without interfering with the right of legitimate business to incentivise sales – especially in paid ads. So a good way to set about differentiating between honourable businesses running legit draws or contests, and scammers running bullshit giveaways, would be to look at the actual ways in which they differ.
The con artists generally do not…
- Provide adequate terms and conditions.
- Close their giveaways (i.e. confirm that someone won and declare the prize draw over).
- Use their Twitter feeds for any significant purpose beyond promoting giveaways.
- Pass a reality check.
And the con artists generally do…
- Expressly and solely use giveaway promises to inflate their engagement and reach.
The con artists differ from legitimate businesses in all of the above ways. Based on that, it would make sense for Twitter to do at least two things.
- Suspend profiles whose primary or sole purpose is to run giveaways, and who demand engagement (especially Retweets) as a condition of entry. These accounts do not pass any form of reality check, and at very best they’re blatant, repetitive spam. A rule against such accounts would weed out almost all of the worst actors, and cut off the viral elevator system for those starting from scratch.
- Require in the Twitter Rules that all promoters of giveaways in which the prize has a publicly recognisable value, link to acceptably transparent terms and conditions, per giveaway. Money has a publicly recognisable value, and so does an iPhone. A video of your dog chasing a balloon does not. I’m not saying Twitter should monitor and moderate every single giveaway to ensure it has acceptable terms. I’m saying in cases where a page repeatedly runs “prize draws”, doesn’t pass a reality check, and has been reported as a problem, it can be suspended on this basis – even when it can demonstrate that giveaways are not its main purpose.
I know this is more complicated to moderate than simple follow churn, but it’s a lot more serious, and it should be taken a lot more seriously by Twitter. And let’s not pretend that Twitter is in the dark about the reality of a given account. Twitter can see all the DM activity, and it knows what scammers are up to. The persistent survival of their accounts puts a question mark over Twitter itself. How much protection do you have to give a scammer before you, yourself, become an accomplice? Some would say Twitter has already crossed that line.