Wednesday, April 1, 2009

#Twitter Spam is Tweeting Me Off

As of late, Twitter spam is tweeting (i.e., pissing) me off enough to get me out of my technology blogging hibernation.

What is Twitter Spam?

My three criteria:
  1. A notification e-mail from Twitter that someone new is "following" your tweets (i.e., your status updates)
  2. The someone new is only "following" you to promote their business
  3. The someone new's business has nothing to do with anything you have ever tweeted (i.e., unwanted communication)
Twitter spam is not a "direct message" from another Twitter user because another user can only send you a "direct message" if you "follow" them and, thus, you can easily control who is able to send you direct messages.

I consider myself a passive Twitter user such that I only follow people that follow me and I only initiate a "following" connection with someone who is tweeting about similar topics. For example, I blog about Colorado trails and use my Two Knobby Tires Twitter profile to connect with people interested hiking, mountain biking, or outdoor gear retail. Up until recently, my experience has been positive including connecting with new people that share similar interests (e.g., Leave No Trace, mountain biking, outdoor gear products).

Spam Life Cycle

In the early days of e-mail, spam was not a problem because e-mail was not heavily used. However, as e-mail became more popular the opportunity to spam people for profit became larger. E-mail spam was a nightmare before e-mail services (e.g., Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail) became good at blocking it. Twitter appears to be going through a similar life cycle:
  1. Low usage = limited spam
  2. Mainstream popularity = increased opportunity for profit
  3. Spam escalates
  4. Twitter develops software intelligence to slow down spammers (losing the battle right now)
  5. Spam shrinks but never completely goes away
Twitter Spam vs. E-mail Spam

Twitter spam is not as annoying as e-mail spam once was; at least not yet. Similarities and differences of Twitter spam and e-mail spam are as follows:
  • Twitter spam originates from a Twitter profile -E-mail spam can originate from anybody with access to an e-mail account and/or e-mail server whereas Twitter spam can only originate from someone's Twitter profile. Thus, it should be easier to identify Twitter spammers since Twitter should be able limit the rapid creation of spamming Twitter accounts.
  • Twitter spam is somewhat solicited - E-mail spam is completely unsolicited because you are getting a communication from someone who should never have had access to your e-mail address. However, having a public Twitter profile puts you at risk of receiving unwanted communication because you are choosing to give the public access to you. Specifically, having a public Twitter account is a choice you can make whereas most people receiving e-mail spam want their e-mail to be 100% private.
Obvious Spammers vs. Shrewd Spammers

Obvious spammers - Obvious spammers have a limited Twitter history, a rapidly increasing number of people they are following, and are pushing an unwanted product or service. Twitter shuts down accounts that have received hundreds of "block" requests from frustrated users. For example, the following Twitter spammers have been shutdown:,, and because they were following people at a rapid rate and frustrated users like myself were blocking those Twitter accounts.

Shrewd spammers - A shrewd Twitter spammer puts up a nice facade (i.e., fancy web site) and is less aggressive so that Twitter and other Twitter users do not realize that they are a spammer. For example, I have been too lazy to "block" these Twitter profiles:,, and Their "following" to "follower" ratios are unbalanced (2:1 or worse) which means more people will be receiving spam from them. The enablers of shrewd spammers are those that get in the habit of "following" Twitter users that follow them because they want to be nice and return the favor. It is in our human nature to return the favor (i.e, reciprocate). I am guilty of this and I am sure others are too. Unfortunately, reciprocating with a shrewd Twitter spammer legitimizes their presence and enables them to spam more people.

Solution - Software Intelligence

Twitter administration - Twitter allows users to configure which Twitter events (e.g., new followers, direct messages) trigger an e-mail to their e-mail address. In addition, Twitter lets users make their profiles private such that unapproved people cannot follow their twittering. However, neither of these configuration options solve my problem because I want to be notified when someone new follows me and I want to share my tweets publicly so I can connect with new people.

Solution - I think the next step is for Twitter to prevent accounts with an unbalanced "following" to "follower" ratio from "following" new people until their "following" to "follower" ratio becomes more balanced. Benevolent Twitter users should not have to spend energy "blocking" spammers or waste time being fooled by shrewd spammers. In sum Twitter's appeal is diminishing with each new spammer and I hope Twitter can solve the problem before it gets worse.


  1. Great article. One question: How do you get off their spam list if you've been placed on it for whatever reason? I am in that dilemma and don't know how to resolve it. Twitter is not returning my request to be removed from their list. I'm not a spammer.

  2. Not sure. Try getting more followers and follow less people. People must have been "blocking you" after you attempted to follow them.