Since Twitter has been reaching the mainstream in a big way lately, there are more and more ways people are trying to “game” the system. The most popular method for this is the follower/following count scam.
There are a variety of ways to pull this off. There are several “programs” and “systems” that promise thousands of followers in a short amount of time. Some even promise fame and wealth as well. (No, I still maintain I won’t link to these or post their names as my small way of not helping them along.) There is the follow/unfollow repetition game which is designed to annoy people into following you back so you will stop popping up in their inbox (there is a block button on Twitter, people – learn to love it for the spammers).
Then, when all else fails, there is the “I am doing an experiment on [following more people] [following less people] [following no people] [adding xx number of people] [insert other favorite here]” announcement. This usually precludes someone who is trying to get more followers or to gain more pseudo-credibility when they have little experience to back it up by thinly disguising a stunt as an experiment. I see this all the time on Twitter. Generally, I tend to stop listening to people who pull repeated stunts, though I just mute the user if it is their first time. There is also the “Help me get to XX number of followers” request, but I think this is more about not “getting” Twitter as a trust network and cutting corners, and less about scamming in most cases.
How do you make sure these stunt-pullers and follower-gamers aren’t polluting your stream with their hot air and dirty pool tactics? It’s all about using the tools you have at your disposal. Tools I recommend becoming familiar with:
Common Sense: It seems basic to some, but there are a few people who think that there is a requirement to follow all who follow you. Twitter is a la carte – you do not have to reciprocate! If you get your notification email, and it says “@username has 27,000 followers and is following 27,000 people with 100 updates” – that’s a person to not follow. If you have been on Twitter a long time, have organically built a trust network of thousands, and are not a bot, that ratio will look more like “@username has 27,000 followers and is following 27,000 people with 47,000 updates”. The updates indicate participation and conversation. If you still aren’t sure, go to their profile and read their tweets – you can tell if they are a link baiting bot, a spammer, a scammer or just someone you flat our don’t want to hear in your stream (or maybe you do, but check). Another red flag for your common sense: Following thousands, but only 10 follow back.
Twitterholic: this tool is valuable for telling you how long someone has been on Twitter, and graphing their interaction. For me you can see I started in the second wave of early(ish) adopters in May 2007, and you can watch my follower and following numbers organically grow as I tweeted more and more and interacted with more people, building my trust network. The scammers and spammers show as short bursts and spikes after little involvement.
Twalala: If you already follow someone who doesn’t always “get” Twitter, and who does sometimes pull a stunt, but occasionally has interesting things to say in spite of that, you may not want to block them outright. For these people, try using Twalala to surf Twitter while they are monkeying around with their stunt. This is also handy for muting people or hashtags during conferences and bitchmemes.
TweetDeck: This desktop client is based in Adobe Air and lets you sort people using columns, groups and more. It listens to a variety of your social networks, including FaceBook and 12 Seconds. Most importantly for this discussion, it allows filtering in each column. Those buttons at the bottom of the column let you add hashtags, keywords or user names to filter In or OUT of your stream. Very handy for temporarily shutting a stunt-puller down in your valuable brain space.
Block Button: This feature of Twitter serves several functions. It blocks scammers and spammers from being able to add you and remove you repeatedly to game their numbers. It blocks unsavory stalker types. It blocks bots. It blocks whoever you tell it to. Also, Twitter tracks blocked accounts. If an account receives massive amounts of blocks? They are booted for being spam.
@Spam: Follow Twitter’s official spam channel, @spam. You can use it to report spammers as well as to receive updates from Twitter on how they are handling site wide issues.
Patience: Often, you can spot a spammer or scammer or stunt puller before the trouble begins. Give yourself a day delay, minimum, in follow back decisions for new follows. You’ll see the scammers and spammers bounce in and our of your inbox like pin balls if they are trying to game you. In the same vein, before you go blocking or yelling at someone you already follow for starting to pull this kind of stunt, give them a day. Chances are they will figure out how transparent their attempt is and stop on their own. If that fails, then unfollow, block or otherwise mute the issue.