Category Archives: How To

Detailed steps on a particular task, sometimes including screencasts.

Case Study: How a notorious spammer was brought down via Twitter

Today the Montreal Police announced that an arrest has been made (in French here) in the “Mabus” case. It wouldn’t have happened but for Twitter. This post explains how.

Twitter has been around for five years now, but there is still much confusion about what it is good for. How can you post anything useful in 140 characters? Isn’t it just people posting what they had for lunch? It’s a massive time waster. Those are typical complaints.

And yet there are several thousand self-proclaimed skeptics actively using Twitter quite effectively as a means of communication and organization. I quite like it myself. Unlike some complicated multi-purpose websites like Facebook, Twitter is dead simple. And you can do amazingly useful things with it.

“Like what?” you might ask. Well in the last week the science, journalism, skeptic and atheist communities on Twitter organized to pressure a law enforcement agency to take action on someone who has been a copious source of spam and death threats on the Internet for at least 15 years. Today’s arrest came about in under 10 days from the first moves.

I think the sequence of events of how this came together are quite interesting, and perhaps an object lesson in online activism. As it was happening I was capturing links to the relevant posts so I could document how it came about. Read on…

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An inexpensive skeptical tool everyone should have

Much of what we talk about here is relatively new stuff like REST APIs, geotargeting and so on. But some skeptical tools have been around for quite some time. This is just a quick post to sell you on a tool that dates from 1976. It is now priced so low that there is no excuse for you not to have it in your toolbox.

There’s much excitement in skepticism these days, in part because Internet technologies have enabled an influx of new people who are enthusiastic and want to be involved. But as Barbara Drescher lamented over the weekend, many enthusiastic folks who have jumped into skepticism have not yet had time to fully familiarize themselves with the years of work that has gone on since the creation of CSICOP in the mid-1970s. As a new skeptic, how do you catch up with 40+ years of work?

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Please Don’t Start Another Blog or Podcast!

Update June 29: Now with video.

My presentation at SkeptiCamp Atlanta 2011 this past weekend was titled “Please Don’t Start Another Blog or Podcast!” I chose that title deliberately to to be a little controversial, of course. It verges on ridiculous for someone who both blogs and podcasts to tell others not to do either.

My real point is to highlight the many other online activities skeptics can engage in that are important and make a difference. Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will find some familiar topics in this. See below for links to the slides, an audio version and other supplemental information.

The video includes some introductory material from SkeptiCamp, the main presentation starts at 6:26. If you prefer to listen on the go, you can hear the audio for this presentation on the Skepticality podcast #158 “Return to Lake Skepticamp.” The audio of the presentation itself starts at about 20 minutes in to the episode. You will hear in both the video and audio that I originally miscounted my subtopics, I say seven and the audience corrects me. This has been corrected in the slides seen after the break.

Continue reading after the break for my slides and a list of links that to more information (mostly prior posts on this blog) that expand on each of the topics I cover in the presentation.

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How to filter persistent trolls (and spammers) on Twitter

UPDATES: Additional clients Plume, Kiwi, Tweetings, TweetCaster and Choqok were added.
UPDATE March 10: Just added Hibari and Slipstream.

Any new communication medium is bound to attract annoyances. And so it is with Twitter: the trolls and spammers have definitely arrived.

Skeptics are long familiar with pathological behaviors amongst believers online. When you challenge people’s deeply held beliefs, be they about religion or ghosts or alternative systems of medicine, you are bound to get a few of them riled up. And now that there are several thousand self-proclaimed skeptics actively using Twitter, trollish behavior on that service directed toward skeptics has become more common, particularly recently.

In this post I will show you a technique you can use with certain third-party Twitter clients to get more proactive with trolls and block them before they become an annoyance.

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