How to Spot (and Block) Twitter Follow Spammers

Twitter is becoming a cesspool of uselessness, churning with marketers who think it’s free advertising, and people who post motivational quotes that couldn’t persuade someone with OCD to wash his hands. And I won’t even mention the people who promise to get you 5,000 “followers” for $29. (They’re the “floaters.”)

Now we’re being hit with wave after wave of Follower Junkies who artificially inflate their numbers without providing anything of value.

Follower Junkies will yo-yo follow people to boost their follower count into the tens of thousands, bumping up against Twitter’s policy of only allowing users to follow 1,000 people per day, but never going over the line. So they stay under Twitter’s radar and continue to spread their infestation.

Beating the Twitter Follower Limit

When someone new joins Twitter, they’re only allowed to follow 2,000 people. This is the Twitter Follower Limit. You can’t follow more than 2,000 people until a certain number of people are following you back. (You also can’t follow more than 1,000 people in a single day). Once you reach a magical unspecified ratio, you can follow more people. (Some people speculate that the ratio is roughly 10% more than your follower count. Once you get 2,000 followers, you can follow 2,200 people. 2,200 followers, you can follow 2,420 people. This is speculation, but that’s the principle behind the magical ratio.)

So a yo-yo follower will follow 2,000 people, wait for them to follow back, unfollow them, and then follow a new batch of people. The more followers they get, the more people they can yo-yo follow, and on and on and on, until they’ve got more followers than God, but their tweets are about as complex and substantial as a high school prom.

Suspicious Twitter follower count

Fewer than 800 tweets but almost 4,000 followers? I don’t think so. Also, check the followING count — if you’re not a celebrity, it shouldn’t be that unbalanced. This is someone in the midst of a yo-yo drop.

How to Spot a Twitter Follow Spammer

You can spot a yo-yo follower because they have fewer than 3,000 tweets, but 10,000 or more followers. Or they are following a mere fraction of their followers, but they’re not celebrities. Their following numbers look like the Matterhorn.

Here’s an example: Spammer #1 is following 76,800+ people, and has 88,700+ followers. Are they interesting? Most of their Twitter stream seems to be a steady drip of one-way communication, with the #leadership hashtag on Every. Single. Tweet. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)

To check the Twitter shenanigans, I used TwitterCounter.com’s graphing capability. You can examine as much as 3 months’ worth of data with a free account. This is from April 4 through June 18.

May 27, 2014 - Following 88,162 people

May 27, 2014 – Following 88,162 people

 

May 29, just 2 days later. Following 69,563 people. A 12,463 count difference.

May 29, just 2 days later. Following 69,563 people. A 12,463 count difference.

This is someone who is — technically — following Twitter’s rules. The slow climb after May 29 is still within the “you can’t follow more than 1,000 people in a single day” rule, but they dumped nearly 12,500 people on May 27 and 28 so they could slime their numbers up some more.

This wouldn’t be so bad — hell, I just dropped 4,000 followers over several days by clearing out people who hadn’t tweeted in 30 days or more — except this person is on a yo-yo upswing, which is why their follower count keeps rising.

Here’s another example: Spammer #2 is following 7,986 people and has 12,800+ followers, but has only written 3,852 tweets. They’re all one liners that first-time comedians would be embarrassed to use, with absolutely no interactions or retweets. Just constant one liners. I’ve had better conversations with my television.

May 16, 2014 - Following 6,996 people.

May 16, 2014 – Following 6,996 people.

 

May 21, 5 days later - Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

May 21, 5 days later – Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

Again, this stayed within Twitter’s rule of “following no more than 1,000 people per day,” but you can see the effect it had on this person’s follower numbers. As they followed more people, their follower numbers rocketed too.

What about their output? How much are they tweeting? Spammer #2 is averaging 3 or 4 tweets a day, but peaked out at a big ol’ 5 for two days in the middle of May; Spammer #1 has “written” 57,700+ tweets, averaging 47 tweets per day of #AutomatedLeadershipQuote after #AutomatedLeadershipQuote.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what they’re tweeting. I won’t even speak to whether their tweets are interesting or not (They’re not. So much Not Interesting in one place. I haven’t seen this much Not Interesting since high school algebra.) What matters is that while they’re following the letter of Twitter’s rule, they’re doing everything they can to work around it and look like they’re important and/or interesting.

Except they’re not. They’re frauds. They didn’t earn those numbers, they cheated. You can’t buy value, you can’t buy your reputation. But you can apparently click your way to a false sense of accomplishment.

The Solution? Drop the Spam Hammer

I vet every single person who follows me before I follow them back. I check out their Twitter profile, and if necessary, look at their Twitter feed. If someone has a too-high-to-be-real follower count, especially if their tweets number in the very low 4 figures (or fewer), I spam-block them. If they have a high follower count, but their tweets are inane, nothing but retweets, or a one-sided conversation with no responses to anyone, I spam-block them.

I do it without hesitation, without remorse, and without pity. And I giggle with schadenfreudic delight every time I do it. I even unblocked one guy just so I could hit the Report For Spam button again.

Twitter is not going to get any better. It’s going to become the AOL of short form communication one of these days. Already, networks like App.net are coming online, ready to fill in the gap after Rome Twitter collapses. But we can extend its lifespan and its usefulness by getting rid of these Follower Junkies who are cluttering up the network for the real users who want to actually benefit from it.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He co-authored three social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.