Fighting Twitter Spammers

Fighting a new kind of spammer.

Twitter logoI’m an avid Twitter user with 5,000+ tweets to my name since I joined up over a year ago. I tweet from my computer, usually using Twitterrific, and from my Treo smartphone, usually using text messaging. I don’t follow tweets via text message, but while I’m out and about, I occasionally will use the Treo’s Web browser to see if I’m missing anything interesting among the people I follow in the Twitterverse.

If you know Twitter, you know that you can select whether you should be notified by e-mail when you get a new follower. I have this option turned on. Each time someone follows me, I get an e-mail message with a link to his/her page. In the past, this has enabled me to identify new, interesting people to follow.

Twitter, like all online services, has abusers. In the old days, this was limited to people who tweeted more promotional material and links than real “What are you doing?” content. These people used bots to follow everyone they could. And there were just enough idiots out there to follow them, making them look somewhat legit.

For new followers, I’ve always applied the 10% rule. I wrote about this rule in my post, “Twitter Sluts.” This rule states that if the Twitter member is following more than 10 times the number of people who follow him, he’s following indiscriminately and is probably abusing the system. In reality, he’s not “following” anyone at all. He’s just trying to get suckers to follow him.

Now there’s a new breed of spammers. They set up a Twitter account and post a single tweet with something like “This make money fast plan really works:” Then they use bots to follow every person who tweets.

People like me, who want to find new, interesting people to follow, get the notification in e-mail and click the link to check out the user’s Twitter page. What I see is the promotional link and stats that include thousands of people being followed and only a few idiots following in return.

Obvious spammer.

This wouldn’t be so bothersome if it were just one or two of these abusers a week. But I’m getting 2 to 5 of them a day. Following up on these people is becoming annoying.

While I could turn off notifications, I’d also miss out on the real Twitter users who are legitimately following me, people who I might want to follow. So that’s not an option.

Now the folks at Twitter have a technique in place to report spammers. It requires me to go to a feedback page, fill in a form with a number of fields that don’t apply, and put in the spammer’s account name. The entire process takes about 3 minutes to complete — when my currently funky Internet connection cooperates. With 5 spammers a day, that’s 15 minutes of my day pissed away on report spammers.

I don’t know about you, but my time is more valuable than that.

While I could simply ignore them, I’ve taken to using the Block button at the bottom of the user’s Twitter page to block them. This feature is designed to prevent the person from bothering me again or from seeing my tweets. But I think that if enough people do this and if the folks at Twitter occasionally glance at who’s being blocked by more than 5 or 10 people, it could be a quick and effective way to identify spammers. Just two clicks — Block, then a confirmation I want to block — the job’s done.

Of course, if the folks at Twitter installed a “This is a Spammer” link on the user’s page, it would make it clear what we’re all trying to say. I’ve put that in as a suggestion, but am still waiting.

The folks at Twitter have enough on their hands right now, just trying to keep Twitter up and running smoothly 24/7. I hope that when they’re done with that daunting task, they’ll tackle this one.

But they should keep in mind that once they put controls in place to prevent spamming, they’ll have a lot less activity on the site to worry about.

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