Bad Bots, Bad Bots, Whatcha Gonna Do?

February 18, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Branding

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Twitter is infested with bots. Dirty, dirty, bots!

For the past couple of weeks, the Twitter spam bots have been out in full force, often hitting accounts with handfuls of new cleavage-baring followers per minute. There’s been a lot of conversation about it on Twitter and lots of complaints things are spiraling out of control – but that’s all been from users. With so many folks complaining about the rise in Twitter bots and Twitter spam, I can’t help but think we haven’t heard much from Twitter. Where are they and what are they doing about it?

Perhaps, I thought, I had just missed the announcement. I looked around.

Any word on the @twitter account? Nope.

Anything on the official Twitter blog? There were some great posts about translating Twitter into more languages, Twitter for Android and the #superbowl, but nothing about why my Followers page was starting to look like the Nevada Bunny Ranch (not linking that, sorry).

Houston, we have a problem.

While Twitter’s out denying Google and Twitter acquisition rumors, their site, the one these multi-billion dollar brands are dancing around acquiring, is going down the tubes. It’s happening because they’re not doing right by their users. It doesn’t matter how sexy you are to Google, Facebook, your mother – you have a problem when your core users can’t accomplish basic tasks. Right now the influx of spam bots and fake accounts hitting the site are hindering user experience. People are getting swamped with spammy followers, numbers are being inflated, and we have to watch which keywords we dropped to not get hit even harder. And nothing is being said about it.

Twitter, this is when you need to step in.

All brands inevitably reach this point; it’s the point where you’re either eaten by yourself or you take serious action.

We saw Sphinn do it. They noticed their site was being overtaken by low quality articles and decided to take it back. You may not love Quora, but they’ve taken steps to prevent becoming ridden with spam, upping the barrier for new user participation.

Twitter, on the other hand, seems to have abandoned the gates.

By allowing fake users to enter your site and get in the way of your core users, you open yourself up to a world of

  • Thanks to auto-follow bot (another awesome creation), fake accounts come in and immediately build up perceived authority, gaining hundreds of auto-follows a day. This fake reputation can then be used as capital to shill their own products, the products of others, or the accounts can be sold off to “social media experts” to shill themselves.
  • Fake users = increase in fake @ replies that people need to sift through, making it harder for them to find their real conversations and use the site.
  • Fake users (not to be confused with Kenneth Cole) manipulate Trending Topics, again, making it harder for real users to find the conversations they’re looking for, while also inflating perceived authority.
  • Spam bots often work in packs to manipulate Trending Topics, creating fake relevance and passing around low-quality (sometimes dangerous) content.
  • Fake users throw garbage all over the lawn that real users have to walk over. Until they get tired of it. And then the real users leave crying about how your site just became the new MySpace.

Twitter needs to protect the quality of its service, especially if they’re looking to cash in on its value via advertising or partnerships. Would adding a captcha or some other authentication to Twitter’s sign up process help? It would. For a bit until the folks responsible for the fake accounts would up the ante. But it would be a start.

Maybe Twitter needs to dedicate more resources to spotting these spam circles, and finding ways to infiltrate and remove them. Hey, if they need help they can use Erik Deckers’ post on 10 signs for spotting Twitter spammers. Perhaps there’s a way to create an algorithm of sorts that looks for patterns, unnatural follower/following rations, etc, and creates a Google-esque authority score.

Or maybe Roger Dooley is right and it’s up to USERS to be more proactive about reporting spam or to at least stop engaging with accounts that clearly aren’t natural.

Though not everyone agrees with that.

I don’t know what the ultimate answer is, maybe you do and you’d like to share it. What I do know is that it’s a critical
point. At the same time Twitter looks to be anticipating some major steps into adulthood, their quality is dropping. It’s time to get the crap off the lawn because people are only willing to step over your drama for so long. The “social media experts” may hang around, but the regular people, the people you need to push toward mainstream adoption, they’re gonna head back to messing around on Facebook.

The ball’s in your court, Twitter. Whatcha gonna do?

As a user, what do you want to see Twitter do? I want to know.

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