#TwitterPhilanthropy and the Danger of the Next-Level 'Cash-Messiah'

Popzazzle | Thursday, 7 November 2019 |

How Twitter’s seemingly unstoppable wave of 'pop-up social engineering' could create the platform’s biggest ever scandal.


Pile of cash
Image by Bob Leggitt - @PlanetBotch

If you look up 'Criticism of Facebook' on your favourite search engine, you’ll find a 34,000-word Wikipedia page crammed solid with breathtaking instances of misconduct. Twitter, conversely, has no Wiki crit page at all. But Twitter’s moment in the spotlight of public scandal may be coming. And we may not have to wait very long.

So let’s talk, Twitter. Let’s talk about the burgeoning trend of pop-up social engineering, which is awarding almighty power and reach to people who’ve done nothing at all to warrant it, other than repetitively offer cash prizes – which may or may not exist. A level of power and reach which, if it were used for political influence, could change an election result. Could start wars. Could blow up the frickin’ world. So yes, Twitter, let’s talk about it…

If you repeatedly dangle large sums of free money in front of the general public, and are perceived to be credible, you gain control over that public. You can make them beg, worship, comply, self-humiliate… And more significantly, you can make them spread your message. Even if they don’t agree with it. Even, indeed, if they strongly disagree with it. That’s a proven fact historically, it’s a proven fact psychologically, and you can even prove it to yourself by looking at a single Twitter account…

#TWITTERPHILANTHROPY


If you haven’t noticed the #TwitterPhilanthropy hashtag recently doing the rounds on the world’s number one micro-blogging platform, let me enlighten you. The tag has seen use on Twitter going back to 2011, but it was popularised by one Bill Pulte (@Pulte), starting in mid 2019. The driving force of @Pulte’s activity since then, has been a near carbon copy of a pre-existing, dramatically incentivised “RT+Follow to win…” routine.


Because I feel like being nice…” Awww. Warms your heart, doesn’t it?

Whether Pulte came up with this tiresome formula off the top of his head, or was deeply inspired by its previous success on the rogue sugardaddy scene, I don’t know. What I do know is that in the ten years of activity between its 2009 creation date and spring 2019, Pulte’s Twitter account amassed thirty-odd thousand followers. In the weeks between mid 2019 and the present – the comparatively short #TwitterPhilanthropy era – that audience has ballooned up to nearly a million. [Update: ten days later and he's up to 1.75 million].

That’s right, when you start manipulating public behaviour with offers of big cash, you can turn a standard business/media-bod audience into a celeb-with-bells-on audience, in a matter of weeks.

Let’s talk about a level of power and reach which, if it were used for political influence, could change an election result. Could start wars. Could blow up the frickin’ world. Yes, Twitter, let’s talk about it.


The coercive manipulation of public behaviour, by any Tom, Dick or Harry who gains credibility and proceeds to wave theoretical cash prizes about, is what I’m calling “pop-up social engineering”. And if you look at the public response to high profile “cash giveaway” accounts, you see all of the begging, worship, sycophantic grovelling, slavish compliance and self-humiliation characteristic of people who are being coercively controlled. You also see the self-styled 'cash-messiahs' encouraging that behaviour. Baiting it. Demanding it. Exploiting it.

You may believe that these men are giving away money to real, random people, or you may not. And my own opinion on 'cash-messiah' characters is reflected in the number of “cash giveaway” tweets I’ve ever RT’d in the course of my life… Which, for the benefit of anyone who can’t be bothered to look, is zero.

But whether or not 'cash-messiahs' actually deliver, the practice of offering large sums of free money on a perpetual loop ARTIFICIALLY INFLATES Twitter profiles way beyond their natural status. And it ARTIFICIALLY INFLATES the level of control the account holders have over the general public – to an obscene degree.

Especially given the track record for dishonesty, control-freakery and abuse in the 'cash-messiah' genre, that artificially-derived power is dangerous, and Twitter knows it.

A SCANDAL WAITING TO HAPPEN


What happens if, after running up a few million followers with giveaway promises, a 'cash-messiah' decides he’s going into politics? Or even just wants to influence politics? It’s not only he who is elevated into a much more visible position. It’s also his message. This is where the 'cash-messiah's coercive behavioural control and enormous public visibility become truly dystopian and threatening.

Twitter is not in a position to stop the expression of a political view, provided it complies with the Terms of Service. So once the platform has allowed someone to grossly over-inflate their profile, power and reach through artificial means, how does it then neutralise the unfair balance of messaging this creates? At best, it’s going to be a grotesque mess of on-the-sneak deboosting and shadowbanning; at worst, a political corruption scandal on a par with Cambridge Analytica.

SO WHY DOES TWITTER ALLOW THIS?


The most obvious theory as to why Twitter allows this to happen, focuses on the relationship between Twitter and Cash App. Since Twitter and Cash App share the same CEO, it’s suggested that the desire for Twitter to serve as a promotional tool for Cash App overrides the desire to uphold Twitter’s integrity. "Cash giveaway" schemes promote Cash App on a grand scale, with a very high level of built-in signup motivation. So if Twitter banned the type of engagement-bribery which has become associated with Cash App, the promotion of Cash App would suffer. And that would run against the interests of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Without the central figure – the Cash App Jesus who draws the crowd into a conversation thread – those 'career beggars' would find it a lot harder to rinse and scam honest strugglers.


But there are other theories, including the fact that stricter rules (or stricter enforcement) on engagement-bribery could hamper the sale of Twitter Ads. A lot of businesses use forms of engagement-bribery in their ad campaigns, and may not consider Twitter Ads a worthwhile spend if that were not possible.

Another theory is that, simply, Twitter innocently sees the “giveaway”, or #TwitterPhilanthropy, as a form of charity which, if carried out honestly, genuinely helps the needy. Maybe Twitter just doesn’t want to be accused of blocking financial aid?

The latter theory is not as easy to dismiss as it looks at first glance. If you examine the environment surrounding #TwitterPhilanthropy in depth, you don’t just find follow/RT-steamrolling egomaniacs with messiah complexes, dangling vast sweepstake prizes in front of the general public. You also find targeted crowdfunding efforts in which there is tangible financial assistance going to people who appear to need it. And even though these targeted systems use Retweets differently from our archetypal Cash App Jesus, they do still use Retweets.

Sometimes the line between actual philanthropy, and sweepstakes, is blurred. Some Twitter users profess to be involved in both, and some users profess to regard third-party sweepstakes as a potential means to fund targeted philanthropy. Example theory: win $10K from @Pulte, pay off your own debts, and then donate the remainder to others in need. And I do stress the word “theory”. I’m absolutely not affirming that any “cash giveaway” on Twitter is genuine.

#TwitterPhilanthropy is a confusing world, in which you have some of the same people both asking for money and sending the odd small donation to others who claim to be facing appalling hardship.

Then you have a prevalent issue with fake hardship claims. It’s fairly obvious that people who really can’t afford it, are sending small donations to 'career beggars' who make a living or healthy side-income pretending to be in dire straits. And some 'career beggars' are very, very convincing. Without the central figure – the Cash App Jesus who draws the crowd into a conversation thread – those 'career beggars' would find it a lot harder to rinse and scam honest strugglers.

I don’t care how difficult it is to write into the ToS, the perverse culture of these control-freak 'cash-messiahs' needs to be stopped. Not next week. Not tomorrow. It needs to stop now.


And that’s even before you explore the money that 'cash-messiahs' are themselves taking from those with a fraction of their means. Or the fact that 'cash-messiah' profiles exponentially spawn copycats, most of which are outright advance-fee scams.

So is #TwitterPhilanthropy giving to the poor, or taking from the poor? In the big picture, it’s doing both, but the general flow of wealth is doing what it always does. Creeping out of the pockets of the strugglers, and into the pockets of those with the gift of the gab. It’s an ugly picture, which requires proper regulation from Twitter.

The difference between philanthropy and engagement-bribery looks 100% clear to me. As does the fact that the vast majority of Twitter sweepstakes (if not all) are either fake or fixed. And as does the fact that coercively driving people to engage, supplicate, worship, self-humiliate, and spread messages they don’t really want to spread, is dangerous.

So the popular notion that Twitter blind-eyes “giveaway” profiles to assist the growth of Cash App would seem the most likely explanation. Especially since Cash App itself uses the same “Follow & RT to win…” giveaway bribes as your average rogue sugardaddy...


And this is supposed to be a serious financial utility?... I'd actually rather let Facebook handle my money, and I would need to be dead for that to happen.

Whatever the justification, Twitter has a very selective take on spam. And that's exactly what all tweets in the above format are. SPAM. Indeed, they're not only spam in themselves. They're spam that encourages and heavily incentivises other people to spam. En masse. Especially when they request the actual tagging of individual people, these tweets rank among the most aggressive spam on the platform. Yet Twitter is, for some unspecified reason, absolutely fine with it. Like...

"Yeah, struggling artists with valuable content to offer, following one too many accounts in a row, is a crime of crimes, and shall be punished to the fullest extent of Twitter law... But if Cash App want to not only spam the platform with their desperate attention-begging, but also incentivise the masses to virally spam the platform on Cash App's behalf, that's something we positively and wholly encourage!... Because... Well because @Jack says it's not spam, so it's not spam."

CEO Jack Dorsey also promotes Cash App directly to his four point three million plus followers. And that makes me wonder if @Jack’s vast pre-existing audience is the only reason he hasn’t turned his own profile into some horrendous loop of “cash giveaways”? It’s a sobering, and frankly scary thought. That incredibly low-integrity loop is only one step away from him as things stand.

BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE...


I know it can be easy to compromise on your values when there’s money at stake. But this is not merely Twitter compromising on values. This is Twitter green-lighting, and damn-near personally indulging in coercive, social engineering strategies which create a vast amount of spam, and skew the natural balance of power and public visibility in a dangerous manner. I don’t care how difficult it is to write into the ToS, the perverse culture of these control-freak 'cash-messiahs' needs to be stopped. Not next week. Not tomorrow. It needs to stop now.