Recently on Twitter there was an example of a journalist being called out for having sent an unpleasant tweet to someone. It soon became clear that they hadn’t sent it – it was a fabrication sent from a very new account which shortly afterwards disappeared entirely. It was a smear attempt.
There was some discussion about the increase in faked screenshots (they’ve always been around but mostly used in a jokey way until recently) and also about the ways in which screenshots can be manipulated.
Here are some suggested possibilities, although all are functional methods they’re also all speculative as we’ve no idea how the person created the malicious tweet.
Although this post does give information about how to fake tweets or how to fake screenshots the intention isn’t to encourage anyone to do this but to make people more aware of the possibility and to treat screenshotted tweets with some caution, and not to assume the worst.
• Twitter forensics (general)
• A slightly forensic Twitter example – in which a key tweet is now unavailable
1. Combining images
A fake account could send a genuine tweet and the screenshot of its text could be overlaid on the area occupied by a real tweet from the ‘target’ account. The fake tweet might then be deleted to reduce the chance of it being discovered and raising suspicion.
2. Image / text manipulation
Things like Photoshop / Word / PowerPoint can be used to generate new text that matches the appearance of a tweet (type / font size etc) and be used to create a fake tweet from scratch.
3. Editing the appearance of the tweet on-screen, then taking a screenshot of that
I remember seeing a tweet warning about this being a possibility but couldn’t remember what it said so I asked Twitter and Sean Ellis confirmed that this was possible, so I tried this out myself on Firefox and it’s quite easy to do (I assume it’s more or less the same for other browsers but haven’t checked).
With a tweet open on the browser so that its URL is visible in the address bar you can open the Inspector panel (Command+Alt/Option+i on a Mac) and re-write the tweet that appears in front of you. It won’t change the actual real published tweet, just what’s on your screen. But you can screenshot it and it looks real.
Search in the Inspector window for a phrase that appears within your tweet’s text. I found five examples of it but only the one that referenced TweetTextSize was the one that let me edit it.
a) The actual tweet (below)
b) Screenshot of the real tweet (below)
c) View of the tweet online with Inspector window open. I’ve searched for the word discoveries which appears towards the end of the tweet (you might need to search for a word that appears earlier if the text is truncated – there were 3 instances of discoveries but 5 of bowels!)
Note the smaller text below the tweet where I’ve written different text, it says “You can write anything in here and when I click back in the tweet it will show up there too. This is a fake tweet screenshot made for illustrative purposes.”
d) Screenshot of the fake tweet (below)
Sean also pointed out that you could probably download a local copy of any web page, manipulate the underlying HTML code in notepad and reload a local copy and take a screenshot. There seem to be a lot of ways of cheating!
4. Faking a ‘deleted tweet’
If you add extra numbers to the end of a tweet’s URL / link you are effectively creating a tweet that has never been published. When pressing enter, to open the tweet, Twitter will return a ‘page not found’ error page. It looks as if the person has deleted the tweet but it never existed.
Here’s an example I created for myself using two numbers repeated to make it clear what I did.
It looks like this on the page.
5. Phishing / hacking
Probably a bit more involved but someone might not even need to break into a Twitter account – hacking into someone’s third party linked accounts might work too and allow a ‘real’ tweet to be sent from the main account. This was done to a police account. Every time they posted a new story to their news source page a tweet was emitted through their account. Some people managed to access the news page and posted gibberish there which showed up on the police Twitter before that avenue was closed off.
Featured image of Twitter ‘t’ logo tiles from Pixabay