Twitter Gets The Bird Flu

Twitter Spam

It looks like the time has arrived for Twitter to step up to the plate and do something about this spam problem. Over this past weekend, I received over 20 different email notifications that so and so was following me on twitter. Only 3 of those people were legit. The rest of them were spammers who were following thousands of people and the only updates they had made to their account were spammy links.

Adam Ostrow of Mashable correctly identified some time ago that Twitter was going to undergo a spam explosion and his prediction appears to have come true. In fact, he recently wrote another article highlighting his inability to sleep because of the constant buzzing noise his BlackBerry was making due to spammers following his account.

Then, I come across an interesting experiment through Twitter. There is a user on Twitter who goes by the name of RU4Real. The name has a purpose. The account was created by someone named Nantel as an experiment to see how many people would automatically follow a spam bot without first checking the content that said user has posted. As it stands, the account is following 5,484 users with 98 of those following this account. It’s already been discussed that the majority of the followers most likely have their Twitter account configured to automatically follow anyone that follows them.

Here is how the project has progressed thus far:

I created a new Twitter account that specifically tells people what it’s for and not to follow it. I then followed >5200 Twitter feeds to see who would reciprocate without reading. At last count, it had 94 followers. Interestingly, an additional 41 people initially followed me back, but then read the account description and changed their mind (good!). I also had to block 3 others that admitted following RU4Real even though they knew that it was an experiment.

I’ve also received some requests for my real Twitter account. Just don’t expect me to blindly follow you back

There is also need for you to block the account, it will be deleted once the experiment is over.

Phase 2 will begin once it gets 100 followers. During this period, I won’t add anybody else until the weekend to see if I can attract those spam followers that have been annoying everyone.

This is at best a very interesting experiment. Now, the recent poll put up by Mashable asks the question, Is it time for Twitter to move aggressively to prevent spammy accounts? The results so far speak for themselves. 359 people have voted yes compared to 30 people who have voted no. Of course, if you don’t use Twitter then you obviously could care less. But for those who actually use the service such as myself, I think it’s time for Twitter to take Adam’s suggestion of at least implementing a CAPTCHA solution that is presented to user’s after you press the follow button. This is the bare minimum that should be done to combat this problem of spam.

How about you? Have you received a major influx of spammy twitter accounts choosing to follow you? What other suggestions can you think of that would help Twitter deal with spam more effectively?

As a side note, if you take a look at the following image quite a few people who are following RU4Real are big names on the web.

13 thoughts on “Twitter Gets The Bird Flu

  1. I always check out new people who follow me, including RU4Real. In fact, I have noticed a significant increase in spam followers recently.

    I don’t know if anything really needs to be done however – anyone who gets spam through twitter really only has themselves to blame. Sure, I could be duped if someone I follow sold their account (Looking at you, Andrew Baron!) but it still only takes a number of clicks to unfollow and block someone.

  2. @Foomandoonian I suppose you’re right, I have made it a habit now to check the posts of anyone who has chosen to follow me to see if I should really return the follow. However, if we can cut down on the automatic following everybody syndrome, we can sort of keep emails from appearing in our inbox of people that want to follow us.

  3. “However, if we can cut down on the automatic following everybody syndrome, we can sort of keep emails from appearing in our inbox of people that want to follow us.”

    Say that again?

    (Also, more importantly, what’s up with my Gravatar not working all of a sudden!)

  4. @FoomandoonianNot sure about the gravatar situation lol. As for my previous comment. What I’m saying is, if we can prevent those email notifications appearing in our inbox from bots hitting the FOLLOW BUTTON, it would relieve the pressure on our email inbox and it would also allow us to go through the notifications that are more than likely from human beings.

  5. Greetings and thanks for the write-up. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m the guy who’s running the RU4Real experiment.

    Something else that I have noted in doing this experiment is that I was able to follow 6000 people fairly easily and without having to write a single script. I was greatly helped by those “power-twitterers” that follow thousands of people. I just click on their following link and end up with 20 perfectly-aligned “follow” links.

  6. The problem is I don’t think Twitter has the manpower to hand-approve every account, and I LIKE getting notifications that I have a new follower. Part of the problem this weekend was that there system was down so I was getting stuff from like four days all at once, and that was kind of overwhelming. I always click on the people who want to follow me (I almost always follow back, just to be polite, exceptions for people who are new and following a jillion people, people who never update, people who tweet in a language I don’t speak 90% of the time, etc.) and usually block the spammers, because that lets Twitter know that there is a problem (if lots of people block a person, they are flagged and the account can get shut down pretty quickly).

  7. @Christina Warren I don’t want Twitter to hand approve every account, I want each individual to hand approve following someone. For instance, when someone clicks on the FOLLOW button, a CAPTCHA image appears and a human being has to type in what they see into the text box and then if the text is correct, the following process occurs. If a different captcha image is used for each follower, then I think it might help in the prevention of bots following people en masse.

  8. Here’s an aside that may be of particular interest to potential twitter spammers:

    Did you know you can make a link that will automatically make anyone who clicks through automatically follow you? Try it – it’s user RSS number here]

    Seems harmless enough. Unless you put a 1px iframe on your website linking to that url. Then anyone who is signed into twitter when they visit that page – bam – instant follower for your spam.

    Nice, eh?

  9. @Foomandoonian You’re starting to make me think you are a twitter spammer! lol. Interesting. Would the CAPTCHA message prevent that from happening?

  10. I guess the captcha would help, but I think the days of the captcha being an effective countermeasure have already ended. The technique of automatically serving the captcha image on another site and getting some unwitting user to solve it has pretty much made them useless against big spam operations.

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