Curing Spam on Twitter With Better Follow Limits

spamI posted this over on the Twitter developer mailing list to try and get a discussion going. I thought I’d post a copy here for my readers to discuss – maybe you have more ideas than I do. I want to make it clear that I do not condone what some users of SocialToo are doing to gain Twitter followers. Will I stop them? I can’t – as long as Twitter allows them to do it, I can’t make a decision one way or another on who is doing this and who is not. No matter what, I have to respect my users, and most (almost all) of them are using Twitter for legitimate reasons. I do think changing the limits to what I suggested in the e-mail (below) will fix the problem Twitter is trying to solve though:

Let’s discuss the follow limits. I feel, as developer of a tool that allows people to auto-follow, I have a bit of insight into this. While there are many, many legitimate users that auto-follow others, and have good reason to do so, some are using it as a way to game the system, build followers quickly, break the Twitter TOS, and reduce the meaning of follower numbers for many other users just using the service legitimately. I see this daily, amongst a few of my own users, and while, due to our privacy policy I can’t share who they are, I do have some suggestions that would make the API follow limits make a little more sense. Maybe you guys can provide more insight.

-Currently the follow per day limit is 1,000 follows per user per day. There is no limit on the number of unfollows a user can do per day (that I know of), and it appears as though there is also a limit of around 10% for the number of users a person can follow more than follow them back. The users taking advantage of Twitter have figured this out. So here’s what they do:

A “gamer”‘s typical activity is that they will follow as many people as they can – most up to the 1,000 limit they’re allowed per day, until they hit the ratio of 10%. The higher the follower base they gain, the longer they’re able to do this. They then hope a good portion of those 1,000 people follow back. Those that don’t use tools like mine (which weren’t intended to be used this way) to unfollow everyone who is not following them back. This is often much greater than 1,000 for the users that are really good at it. The process then starts over. They’ll use tools like Hummingbird (Google it) and Twollo to find people and automatically go out and follow them. This is why I refuse to create auto-follow filters to find new people on my service. It’s way too spammy if you ask me.

Why do they do this? 2 reasons: 1, “supposedly” having more followers means more visits and clicks in whatever you’re trying to promote. (I don’t believe this) and 2, many of these people also have auto-DM set up to send links and messages to each person that follows them back. Back when I offered this service (we disabled it for this exact reason) people told me they were seeing significant clicks on the links they would send to people via DM after they followed them. Therefore, more follows==more clicks==more revenue. I don’t blame them if that’s what they’re really seeing.

So for this reason I think having limits in place is a *good* thing. I don’t think the follow limit is in place due to traffic reasons, since there are many more calls that cause more traffic on the API and there is no limit to unfollows, so I really think Twitter is doing this for the purpose of reducing spam and “gaming” of Twitter. This is a good thing.

However, I think Twitter may be approaching the limits the wrong way. Here’s what I think would be more effective, and beneficial for the legitimate users that want to follow back and at the same time not allow those who want to game the system to use the methods I described. Twitter needs to impose limits based on whether the individual is following the user back or not.

For instance, if I follow @dacort and he is following me back, that shouldn’t count against me as a hit against my follow limit. However, if I try to follow @dacort and he is not following me back, it should count against me as a hit against my limit. With this, users could easily auto-follow back if they choose to, and it would still be difficult for the users trying to game the system and spam Twitter. In fact, you could significantly *reduce* the limit this way and make it virtually impossible for these users to use Twitter in that manner. If you were to look at the relationship between the users when counting against limits, you could probably reduce the follow/day limit all the way to around 200 per day instead of 1,000 per day. I don’t see any reason for the 10% follow/follower ratio with a low limit such as that.

However, as stands, the more followers you get, if you are using Twitter legitimately, you have no way to extend the courtesy back if you choose to do so, since after a certain point you will be following many more than 1,000 users per day. And even if you aren’t, it will take an extremely long time for many individuals to finally catch up to follow those following them if they want to at 1,000 follows per day.

I know there are some that disagree with the auto-follow concept. However, I also know most of you also want Twitter to be an open environment where people can choose to use it as they please. Doug, Alex, etc. I’d love it if you guys could at least consider changing the follow limits as I mentioned. The current limits are doing nothing to prevent the spammers – my suggestions I believe will, and will keep it an open environment for the rest of us.

Sorry for the long discourse – I would really love to hear others thoughts and suggestions.

@Jesse

Feel free to chime in on the developers mailing list, or let’s discuss here – what suggestions do you have? Are there any holes in my proposal?

20 thoughts on “Curing Spam on Twitter With Better Follow Limits

  1. I think everyone is so spam phobic! I love having lots of people to follow so that I can meet more people. I've actually been building relationships on twitter and love following lots of folks so that I can at any given time of day meet new interesting people.

    It there's just a gigantic problem (which I have NOT experienced at all) then 2001 follow limit to me is just so dumb. If it's really, really making that big of a difference in the spam (which I DO NOT encounter) then at the very least, do what this guy says and allow us to follow back those that are following us – and not have that count against us. That is only fair. I just can't believe there's that much of a problem – I have nearly 2,000 followers thus far and only seen a couple spammers.

    Like

  2. Robin, do you ever see yourself following more than 200 people a day though
    (besides following people back that have followed
    you)? The 2,000 limit I don't think is necessary either with my proposal.

    Like

  3. Excellent suggestions!

    To me, the inherent value of Twitter is in the “conversation” – the sharing of information. I auto-follow as a courtesy to those who have bothered to follow me. I am not looking for huge follower counts, unless they want to communicate and participate. But lately, I am finding that I am spending much time either filtering or skimming past tweets that are designed simply yto get me to purchase something, usually a product designed to inflate my follower counts.

    I have adopted a new personal policy. As I see tweets come in that have a sole purpose of selling me something, I check the stream for that individual. If their stream is more than 10% sales, they are immediately unfollowed. I am not opposed to some sales. But when the vast majority of your contributions are simply there to separate me from my hard earned cash, I don't need the noise.

    Good luck on your mission to improve the signal-to-noise ratio!

    Like

  4. Have you thought through how a delayed follow would affect your proposal? For example, let's say that you follow me on Tuesday. I may not realize that you're following me until Wednesday or Thursday, and then I happily decide to follow you back. In the meantime, however, your Tuesday follow presumably counts against the limit because of my slowness to respond. Does the proposal still work in this instance?

    Like

  5. John, yes, my proposal would still work. Because you weren't following me
    in the first place (in your example) that would count against my follow
    limits. I would only be allow to follow 200 people a day that aren't
    already following me. However, if you were already following me, there
    would be no count against my follow limit for following you back.

    Like

  6. I don't want people auto following me. I choose whom to follow based on common interests. If they follow me back, the common interest is validated. I always have the option to block those who are selling or promoting stuff.

    I like Twitter the way it is. Let's not get all Obama about it and try to control every action.

    Like

  7. Serenity, politics aside, I respect your opinion. Unfollow me if you don't
    want me to follow you back. However just as you should be allowed to follow
    whom you please, shouldn't I be able to do the same? The current Twitter
    rules don't allow that, and in fact they favor the spammers over the
    legitimate users.

    Like

  8. I've said several times that allowing a new user to follow 1000 per day is extremely spammy. People create accounts simply to do this. I've said also that I think the follow limits should be a ratio Period.

    I do wholeheartedly support your 2 ideas in here: Unfollow limits. and return-follows not counting against follow limits.

    But, in Twitter's defense, some of the stars that would like to do this, probably put a fair strain on the systems when they follow 10s or 100s of thousands back per day. So, there should perhaps be a limitation of how many you can return-follow in one day (again a ration, and not a hard number). This should be based simply on Twitter's actual ability to support the process.

    Like

  9. But to add one more point. I really don't think that any kind of limits on following or unfollowing will kill or even reduce Twitter spam. The entire system of Twitter lends itself to spam, and the management of Twitter fundamentally doesn't care.

    Like

  10. Jesse,

    I am just not understanding. Why should someone be considered a spammer if the follow tons a users a day and then eventually unfollow them in the future if they did not follow back. It is like outreaching for an audience. Spamming is not getting followers, it is the content you put out. I have more then 24K followers and I got them using automated system, although I do not just go out there and “Pimp” stuff all the time. I legitimately post good information and have conversations with some people on Twitter. I have days where I just post inspiration quotes, other days just BS with people and ask how they are doing, and ever so often I will mention a product i am selling.

    Don't you agree that it shouldn't be the amount of following / unfollowing that is looked at, it should be the content of your tweets that gets you defined as a Spammer.

    Like

  11. Jay, I think it is more about how you are getting your content out to your
    audience. Did they legitimately opt-in to receiving your content, or did
    you force them into it by following them, letting them follow back to be
    able to get your content, and falsely inflating your numbers in order to
    gain more people like that. I think Twitter a) wants to put everyone on
    fair grounds, and b) to ensure everyone is actually opting-in to receiving
    the content they are following. The minute all that becomes automated is
    the minute Twitter loses its value and people stop paying attention to that.
    It also places unneeded stress on their servers to constantly follow and
    unfollow. I think that's their viewpoint, and I know many that agree.
    As with all this, I don't have a view point – I just have to understand
    Twitter's and support what they do. It's one of the reasons we let the
    users decide on that stuff in SocialToo – I can't decide for anyone. I can
    just provide the technology.

    Like

  12. Not sure what problem you are really trying to solve here except maybe an issue with your business model. I practice what you describe here for my magazine and it works really well. I follow 750 every couple of days and about 40% (300) of these choose to follow me back. I never follow the same user again after they have chosen not to follow back. Don't see how this is “inflating” follower numbers or how this can be considered spam in any respect. It is just a good method of gaining exposure for your brand and offering users the ability to opt-in as followers or opt-out by not following back. Seems auto-follows is much spammier as it assumes “opt-in” without any user evaluation of the quality or source of the content being followed.

    If anything Twitter should go the other way, promoting user evaluation of potential follows and reducing ability to auto-follow as this promotes poor content providers gaining followers through lack of follow discretion from their targets.

    Like

  13. Not sure what problem you are really trying to solve here except maybe an issue with your business model. I practice what you describe here for my magazine and it works really well. I follow 750 every couple of days and about 40% (300) of these choose to follow me back. I never follow the same user again after they have chosen not to follow back. Don't see how this is “inflating” follower numbers or how this can be considered spam in any respect. It is just a good method of gaining exposure for your brand and offering users the ability to opt-in as followers or opt-out by not following back. Seems auto-follows is much spammier as it assumes “opt-in” without any user evaluation of the quality or source of the content being followed.

    If anything Twitter should go the other way, promoting user evaluation of potential follows and reducing ability to auto-follow as this promotes poor content providers gaining followers through lack of follow discretion from their targets.

    Like

  14. John, yes, my proposal would still work. Because you weren't following me
    in the first place (in your example) that would count against my follow
    limits. I would only be allow to follow 200 people a day that aren't
    already following me. However, if you were already following me, there
    would be no count against my follow limit for following you back.

    Like

  15. Excellent suggestions!

    To me, the inherent value of Twitter is in the “conversation” – the sharing of information. I auto-follow as a courtesy to those who have bothered to follow me. I am not looking for huge follower counts, unless they want to communicate and participate. But lately, I am finding that I am spending much time either filtering or skimming past tweets that are designed simply yto get me to purchase something, usually a product designed to inflate my follower counts.

    I have adopted a new personal policy. As I see tweets come in that have a sole purpose of selling me something, I check the stream for that individual. If their stream is more than 10% sales, they are immediately unfollowed. I am not opposed to some sales. But when the vast majority of your contributions are simply there to separate me from my hard earned cash, I don't need the noise.

    Good luck on your mission to improve the signal-to-noise ratio!

    Like

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