Twitter ‘spam’ threat leads to paranoia

Folks, I’ve tried to stay out of this, as I know my opinion isn’t popular, but I just can’t take it any more. Over the last few weeks, I’ve increasingly seen the term “spammer” used to describe some users on Twitter. That’s true despite the fact that you’ll never see a single tweet (post) unless you choose to follow that person, and moreoever, that nobody can even follow you unless you give permission. In my view, the whole thing is paranoid almost beyond belief.

Sure, it’s annoying to get e-mail notifications that someone is following you if you don’t consider the follower to be welcome. And yes, I can imagine a world in which we Twitter users (I’m @annezieger) are swamped with thousands of followers, which effectively translates into e-mail spam since the notifications land in our inbox. (I do hope Twitter’s management is prepared for that eventuality, and has tough enough security in place to prevent mass follows by creepy folks.) So I understand why people are concerned.

That being said, why on earth has a segment of the Twitter community decided that virtually any follows by corporate Twitterers (say, @JetBlue) constitute spamming?

What right has any one segment of the Twitterati to decide that they, alone, know how many people you should follow and how many must follow you if you’re to be a “legit” Twitter user? (What, you didn’t know that the Twitter clique plans to ostracize you if you follow too many folks and they don’t follow back? Well, guess what, they do.)

And how dare some self-appointed zealot(s) create a Twitter “blacklist” which purports to protect me from undesirables? I’m quite offended by the idea. OK, I realize that some people are thrilled to ‘make the list’ and dub it a piece of cheap PR for them, but I doubt the list’s creators had that in mind.

You know, we went through this whole thing almost 15 years ago or so when the Internet started being swamped by commercial interests. (Remember Canter & Siegel spamming Usenet in 1994?) People went insane and started turning on each other in much the same way we’re seeing today–and look how effective that was! E-mail spam disappeared for good, right? (Uh, not exactly.)

Haven’t we learned anything from the experiences of the last decade and a half? If the first wave of spam showed us anything, it taught us that you can’t change a medium by lashing out at people who use it in ways you don’t approve of–it’s a waste of time and often, changes the character of the medium in ways that do significant damage.

Please, please, let’s be smarter when it comes to Twitter? — Anne

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11 responses to “Twitter ‘spam’ threat leads to paranoia

  1. You’re right that the bots and corporates are not spammers but I think that many are just waiting until they get an opportunity. Why else would you have no posts but follow 20,000 people?

    Your post gave me a vision of a horrible future where the signup CAPTCHA is cracked and then the bots set up accounts named “buy-cheap-meds-at-bobs-pharma” which will be emailed to every new followee.

    Aaargh! Just as I was typing this comment, I got a follow from http://twitter.com/Insurance_Jobs Nooo!

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  3. Thank goodness there’s someone else out there thinking the same thing!!! I almost cut off Twitter entirely because of one user’s Direct Message to me on Twitter calling me out as a spammer and a .

    In short, I have 2 Twitter accounts. One is my “personal” one (NunoXEI) in which I follow people whom I have close affinity to, either personally or on a high interest level or fanboy level.

    The second one is my “podcast” one (@TheLowdown) in which I follow groups of like minded people whom MIGHT either have an interest in my video project OR end up being someone I’d have liked to look further into but would never have found out about. For those who DO like my work, I encourage them to feel free to get to know me more personally by adding my @NunoXEI account as well.

    On that later point, I’d like to define said Twitter accounts (more followings than followers) as “listener” accounts. I ENJOY scanning my podcast account and quickly reading through the textual noise. If anything I actively launch myself into a torrent of self-inflicted spam pools seeking for nuggets of golden information or inspiring/helpful links. I say “spam-pools” because Twitter–on the BEST day is filled with people typing mundane and negligible stuff (on a public level); stuff like “my cat just ate his food” or “a man is screaming on the street” or “I’m swarty”…

    It’s ultimately MY choice to be bombarded with all that. To those I follow: I never understand those who blindly follow people who follow them and then COMPLAIN about what they have to read. 1. Don’t follow strangers, 2. Set your account to Private, 3. Stop using Twitter if you don’t like strangers reading your thoughts.

    Anyways, my rant is over now :). Thanks for getting your thoughts out there… I may yet do a Lowdown on this topic if this phenomenon continues!

  4. Andy:

    Your vision of Twitter spam-bots is terrifying, agreed. πŸ™‚ I hope it never comes to pass. Do you have any sense of whether that’s technically possible in the near future?

    Nuno:

    Sorry you’ve already run afoul of the self-righteous types on Twitter. Nothing you’ve described sounds abusive to me, but even if it were, as we’ve both noted, people can easiy tune it out–so where’s the hostility coming from?

    By the way, while I’m not really a podcasting person I’d be interested in yours. If you need a guest I’m totally ready, baby. πŸ™‚

    -Anne

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  6. True you don’t have to Follow them and therefore don’t have to interact with them. However you still get emails saying Veronica69 is Following you, see her profile here. Then you have to block that Follow so you don’t end up with a bunch of faux-Followers. Other than wasting your time, they could put in appropriate image in their profile thumbnail. They may be small but they are still there.
    I just wrote about it after getting a dozen in one day:

    http://mdurwin.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/twitter-spam-it-had-to-happen-sooner-or-l8r/

  7. It’s true that this whole thing is a little alarmist – advertisers’ mere presence in social media doesn’t constitute spamming. Having said that, I think it’s an understandable response to what some undoubtedly see as an invasion of their personal space. Since Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and whatever else have actually become significant parts of many users’ lives, it’s no wonder having ads subtly inserted into them causes knee-jerk revulsion. We’re used to being sold products non-intrusively through billboards, TV ads and banners, and when that leaks into our social lives next to our friend’s tweets about their cat it can be jarring.

    There’s a natural skepticism about this kind of thing among the younger, tech-hip set, due in part to the ubiquitousness of spam (though, yeah, legitimate companies almost never actually spam) and viral marketing. It’s scary when marketers blur the line between advertising and reality, and everyone who has ever fallen for a viral ad naturally becomes a little more skeptical.

    So, what? Should they just give up on advertising through social networking? I don’t think so at all, if only because most users are totally okay with this kind of thing (it seems like every five minutes one of my friends on Facebook is becoming “a fan” of this product or that). Even if they weren’t, getting frustrated with the target audience’s wariness isn’t any more productive than their outrage is. I think it’s up to the advertisers to work around that and present their product or service in a way that actually makes people want to accept them. Google Adsense and (I think) Facebook have been doing this for a while with targeted ads, but there’s only so far you can take that. One of the last posts mentioned coupons and discounts, which is a great idea if presented in a context where it makes sense (though I disagree about the survey aspect).

    I think what this comes down to is two things: ads that utilize social media have to be a) (relatively) non-intrusive and b) self aware. People don’t want to be sold things when they’re trying to interact with their friends or family (see: club promoters or telemarketing calls during dinner time). They also can’t go to lengths to hide that they are, in fact, advertising something. It feels disingenuous, and is likely to turn just as many people off as increase awareness. And anyway, aren’t the funniest commercials the ones that know exactly what they’re doing and venture into the completely ridiculous? They’re funny because we’re more comfortable when people are talking straight.

    If we have this same discussion in ten years, it’ll be entirely different. I wouldn’t be surprised if people were fine with all sorts of things that are now considered unacceptable or bizarre. Regardless, this is the climate that marketers have to deal with at the moment, and while I think breaking into markets like Twitter and Facebook is a step in the right direction they’ve got a long way to go.

  8. Hi RTabak:

    I really liked your observations about the current skepticism about advertising online–and that rather than complaining endlessly, marketers have to spend energy figuring out how to make ads palatable.

    I’m also sure you’re right that young folks, in particular, are way to hip and jaded where online stuff is concerned to buy any sort of deceptive approach. Humor, silliness or even straight ahead pitching, sure, but sneaky or sleazy, no way.

    Have you had an experience where someone pitched you online (in a social medium or not) in a way that felt deceptive? I’d love to learn from it, and I’m betting my readers would too.

    -Anne

  9. Well, the prototypical example is probably paying bloggers to write about you. I’m not sure what the marketing term for it is (though I’m sure there is one), but it’s essentially buying advertising in blog posts as opposed to having it placed separately from the actual content. The aim is to have the ad be the content.

    The problem with this is that it relies entirely on the reader being duped into thinking the blogger supports the product or service and is promoting it of their own free will. That’s a problem ethically, but it’s also a terrible idea because it destroys the company’s credibility if they’re found out. Internet users aren’t getting dumber, and schemes like that won’t work for very long.

    I don’t think that’s exactly what’s going on with Twitter, but it can give the same feeling. Advertisers are not(yet) social entities and in order to capture that market they’re going to have to try something other than pleading with users to be their friend.

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