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Spammers Find Twitter

As Twitter’s popularity continues to skyrocket, I’ve been noticing an increasing amount of spam content out there in the Twitterverse. Typically, when we think of spam the first thing to come to mind is usually email. Every morning I sift through my email accounts and remove a few unwanted messages. While spam filters can help a great deal, I’m basically *forced* to delete at least a few emails each day. We all know that this is a real problem.

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Luckily, Twitter is mostly immune to this problem. In order to have tweets from users show up  in your feed, you must explicitly choose to “follow” that user. This is the “opt-in” approach in comparison to an “opt-out” approach usually taken with email (think “Unsubscribe”). So what happens when some of your Twitter friends start tweeting excessively and drowning out the tweets from people you actual care about? Easy! Just stop following them and the problem is solved. If you’re looking at Twitter simply from this aspect, then there really isn’t a spam problem.

Now let’s get to the problem. I’m sure many of you receive emails from Twitter telling you that “Alyssaifqxzfq is now following you on twitter”.  Do you consider this spam? I do! In fact, it’s often referred to as “Follow Spam”. The problem is that spammers can create programs to follow hundreds of people automatically in a short period of time. It’s really easy to do, in fact. The goal is that a few of these thousand users will actually follow the spammer back. Then, the spammer will be able post links and have them show up in the users feed. The easy solution here is to be careful about who you follow back. I usually look at the ratio of following to followers to gauge whether or not the user is a spammer. If they’re following lots of people with just a few following back, this is usually a sign that the user is a spammer. The *real* problem with Follow Spam is the email’s that arrive from Twitter. I don’t really care if a spammer is following me, but I DO care about the email that arrives in my GMail account as a result. I could turn off email notifications, but I like to know when real friends start following. So, as you can see, follow spam is a real issue.

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I’m finally at my main point. It’s taken me a while to get here, hope you’re still with me!! I’ve been noticing A LOT of spam in Trending Topics lately. Trending topics are keywords that are showing up in many tweets and are generally an indication of what’s going on right now. Often it’s sporting events, tv shows, celebrity gossip, or news related information. I’ve been noticing that spammers have begun using the trending topics as a way to get their message out to the masses. Check out this example below:

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This is terrible!! It’s bad because it’s been posted 6 times in a row (which does actually help me notice it) AND because it’s a shameless use of every trending topic in order to get noticed. I must say, it’s a very smart tactic, but it’s something that the Twitter folks need to address. How can this be prevented? It’s a tricky problem and one without an easy answer. I’d love to hear some of your ideas for addressing these issues.

Here’s another example of (as far as I can tell) completely spamming a keyword to popularity so it shows up in trending topics. I noticed that #TwitterTakeover was trending today and I wasn’t sure what it was all about. After clicking the topic I was inundated with garbage tweets. It was impossible to even figure out what the topic was about.

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These type of things are what makes people think Twitter is useless! I feel like I could go on and on about this. Keep and eye out for spam these next few days, I’d expect it to get worse before it gets any better. Thankfully we are mostly safe from the spam with our Twitter home pages.

Update: Found another good post about this exact problem on Mashable today. Check it out.

Comments

Comment from Kyle Barnoff
Time May 11, 2009 at 8:32 am

Twitter is on the right track with their blog post that you linked to. I think they should have an incrementing cap system. This cap would allow a user to request to follow 20 people in their first week, 30 their second… ect.

Another cap that may work would be a lower following limit followed by a ratio cap. The lower following limit would allow a new user to request to follow 50 users, then they would be required to meet a ratio of following::followers. This ratio could increase slowly over time as a users’ credibility increases.

These solutions would deter the spamming but still give serious users the freedom they have now.

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