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Errant character to blame for Twitter 'hack'

In the sometimes slippery world of the Web, it can pay to cross your "t"s and dot your "i"s.

Is this real?
Is this real?

In the sometimes slippery world of the Web, it can pay to cross your "t"s and dot your "i"s.

Case in point:

A colleague sent me a link to a tweet that at first seemed to show that Applebee's Twitter account had been hacked. The account had tweeted: "Poop is food."

How the URL looks in different fonts.
How the URL looks in different fonts.

As catchy as that tagline might be, it seems a little weird coming from a major restaurant chain. And on closer inspection I thought the page looked a bit suspicious. Only nine tweets had gone out from the account, and it had a mere 150 followers.

A quick search for "Applebees" turned up the verified @applebees profile page, which has more than 12,000 followers and 1,900 tweets, none of which appears to mention solid waste. Apart from those details, though, the two profile pages looked the same, and the URLs for the two profiles were identical.

Almost. It turned out they were one letter away from matching. Displaying them in different fonts revealed a key difference, otherwise invisible to the eye.

In the word "applebees," the fake @applebees account was using a capital "I" (as in "intestine") instead of a lowercase "l" (as in "lower intestine"). This was apparent when viewing the Twitter handle or the URL in the Serif, Courier New, and Times New Roman typefaces. But in the sans serif faces Arial and Helvetica (Chrome was using Helvetica), the two letters look the same.

That's a minor detail, but one that could cause a pile of confusion.

Later, the cunning fake Twitter account was masquerading as Tom Arnold's Twitter presence. At the time of this article's publication, however, the bogus Arnold tweets were short on charming slant rhymes.

Remember, when things don't add up, try changing the font. And bon appetit.