When Google announced earlier this year that it had regained access to Twitter’s firehose of data, we were all excited to see more blended, dynamic search results. However, there’s a dark side to the story that could make threats posted on Twitter even more harmful.
What exactly does the partnership mean?
Google regaining access to Twitter’s firehose allows the search giant to display tweets in search results in near real-time, and it also gives Twitter a boost by allowing tweets to be seen by non-users.
Our research indicates that Twitter accounts and recent tweets are displayed in Google based on three key factors:
3) Level of activity
Additionally, Twitter has static pages for specific hashtags that now appear in Google’s search results. We have noticed that such hashtags have been given a disproportionate amount of weight and consistently rank well. From an SEO perspective, there’s no logical reason why a URL for a specific hashtag would outrank reputable content with tons of backlinks and thousands of social engagements, so there is clearly something going on behind the scenes.
When individuals run searches in Google, algorithms decide whether to display an official Twitter account related to that specific search or a hashtag that closely relates to the search, which is where a major issue surfaces.
What’s the problem?
Twitter is one of the vehicles commonly used to deliver social media threats, and criminals as well as terrorist organizations are using Twitter as their weapon of choice.
The partnership between Google and Twitter means that social media threats will not only potentially be seen by Twitter users, but also those using Google. And with over 10 billion searches in Google per month, that’s a lot of eyeballs.
Case Study: ISIS
Looking at ISIS as an extreme example, the organization relies on thousands of Twitter accounts to amplify messages and force them to go viral. They are also intent on hijacking various hashtags, including #ISIS.
According to the Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool that shows average monthly search traffic for various keywords, throughout the world there’s a whopping 6.1 million searches in Google each month for “ISIS” and 2.2 million of which are originating in the United States. Please find an image from the tool below:
With that many searches in Google every month and the ISIS hashtag on Twitter ranking #6 in Google’s search results, there’s clearly a problem. Numerous studies on click-through rates over the years have shown that around 4% of Google users click the 6th result on the first page, and 4% of 6.1 million is 244,000. This means if there’s pro-ISIS content trending under the ISIS hashtag it has the potential to reach 244,000 people via Google each month (keep in mind there’s a margin of error).
What is the solution?
Our company proposes the removal of potentially harmful hashtags from search results that we know could cause harm. On the other hand, it’s imperative for organizations to understand the ramifications of the Google/Twitter partnership and be prepared for the future.
To combat potential threats or negative messages from reaching Google users, organizations must closely monitoring the ranking of hashtags in search results, improve social media threat monitoring capabilities, implement counter-messaging strategies, and have incident response plans clearly defined.
For more information on our company’s research or to discuss ways Soteria Intelligence can help keep your organization safe, contact us today.