“Barack Obama is a stupid #$@&ing socialist!” So said the Twitter feed @MSNBCHeadlines, which has since been discontinued after a profanity-laced Twitter tirade (twirade?) on Friday, as documented by TechCrunch. Previously, it had just served up exactly what it promised – MSNBC headlines, without comment or blue language.
It’s easy to chalk this up to the feed being hacked, but as TechCrunch reports that Twitter account was never owned by MSNBC. So here’s another possibility: @MSNBCHeadlines was a sleeper Twitter account built for the express purpose of saying things like “Chris Matthews sucks.” But in order to maximize the impact, the owner of the account simply fed MSNBC headlines for a few months to build a follower base.
It’s pretty easy to do, and it might not be the last time we see something like this. With big 2010 House and Senate races coming up, now would be the time to register a Twitter account like “@PASenateHeadlines.”
Let’s say you work for Joe Sestak, the Democrat Congressman challenging Arlen Specter for the nomination. It would be easy to feed the account with the daily news stories about the race that run in various newspapers around the state thanks to Google news. There wouldn’t need to be any slant to the stories, and the lack of a slant would attract more followers; interested parties (especially reporters) would follow the account just to get straight news from various sources that they may have missed.
The account exists on autopilot and seems innocuous for a few months. Then, weeks before election day, you take more direct control of the account. Instead of automatically feeding it any old story about the Pennsylvania Senate race, you serve up more consistent anti-Specter news. If you have some potentially damaging information about Specter (like video of him hanging out with George W. Bush) you could use this Twitter feed to attract attention.
Maybe @MSNBCHeadlines got hacked. But maybe it was a prank that provided a blueprint for an effective campaign tactic.