January 19, 2011 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Twitter follow-bots: I don't get it.

There was a similar question in July, but rather than piggyback on that, here's a new one:

I guess I don't get what the spammers get out of this. They don't get to spam me directly, since I'm not following them. Do people really have auto-follow-back bots that they're trying to trick? Seems like they'd get one message out before even those people blocked them.

In most cases I've noticed, these nothing-but-spam feeds seem to have over a thousand followers - how is that possible? I have noticed that lately all of them are fairly new, with about six tweets which are obviously a series of blindly cut/pasted sentence from some wikipedia article, then the spam urls start rolling, all on the same day.

Are they hoping that if they get a bunch of followers, they can then sell ad space like a magazine? I can see how TCOT would hope they'd stumbled on someone who will follow them, but the straight-up spam url generators - there's no content. I just don't understand how they think that's going to work.

Should I even bother blocking them? What are they getting out of following me if I don't follow them back?
posted by ctmf to Technology (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It seems like glancing at their page long enough to investigate and block is giving them more attention than they'd get if I just left it alone. Is that their theory - one time shot at spamming me with their profile page? Is that enough to report as spam even though they didn't actively send me a message?

Like I said, I'm baffled. Fortunately it doesn't clog up the medium like email spam.
posted by ctmf at 12:25 PM on January 19, 2011

Enough people auto follow back to make it worth their while. The eventually build up an army of followers that give them some degree of credibility even if most of them are follow bots themselves.
posted by turkeyphant at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2011

I'm just guessing here, but could it be possible that anybody who unfollows / blocks the more pointless ones may get onto some kind of list of 'active' Twitter users, in the same way that anybody who loads an image in a spam email confirms that a human is looking at it?
posted by randomination at 12:34 PM on January 19, 2011

Even people who don't have auto-follow bots often just click "Follow" on anyone who follows them. It's like a mutual admiration society, a way of inflating the number of followers you have so you can claim to have more "influence" or credibility, as turkeyphant posited.
posted by limeonaire at 12:37 PM on January 19, 2011

When they follow you, you get a notification. I bet many people will take a look at the profile of their new follower - I certainly do! Some of them might be enticed to click the ad links. Remember the economics of spam e-mail: it costs nearly nothing to send millions of messages, so even if just a tiny fraction of the receivers take the bait, it is profitable. Similarly spamming Twitter might be worthwhile.

Instead of just blocking, I think the correct thing to do is report the spammers. In the New Twitter, below the blocking option there's "Report [this account] for spam". It also blocks them.
posted by intellect and romance at 12:41 PM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

There are a few reasons why some spammers use autofollow bots.

1. There are enough (real) twitter users that will follow back.

2. A lot of users (spammy or fake) that auto follow back.

This is only part of it, but both of these reasons alone make you look more popular after you execute the third reason.

3. Most twitter autofollowers will also unfollow users that unfollow you and users that don't follow back. It makes it easy to keep your ratio around 1:1 and look like a real account.

4. Google and Bing have both said that stronger social media accounts (twitter/facebook) influence their ranking algorithms. So more followers = stronger page = leg up in SEO.

So since it's so easy to set something like this up, there's no reason for spammers/affiliate markets/some SEO's to set it and forget it. It's easy to create a twitter account, have it pull tweets from RSS feeds, and start following/unfollowing on its own. You can set that up and come back in a few weeks to see you have hundreds of followers and plenty of tweets.
posted by babble at 1:07 PM on January 19, 2011

I guess I don't get what the spammers get out of this. They don't get to spam me directly, since I'm not following them.

You're not the only one they're doing this to. Other people aren't as good as you are at spotting spammers. Some people might realize it's spam but be genuinely interested in what the spammer is selling. It's so common for Twitterers to have the ulterior motive of trying to sell something that I wouldn't find it odd if some ordinary users just don't bother to distinguish between spam and legitimate Twitterers.
posted by John Cohen at 1:58 PM on January 19, 2011

If it makes you feel any better, I don't understand it either. At all. The behavior can't possibly, in my mind, result under any circumstances in anything resembling a transaction that would earn the perpetrator any kind of money, and yet they do it anyway. Baffling.

I think SEO is the road to hell.
posted by goblinbox at 2:11 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I block and report as spam every time. I don't know if it helps but it makes me feel better. Definitely don't @ reply to them, that increases their reach and exposure which is pretty much exactly what they want.

Twitter seems to do a pretty good job of hunting down these accounts and killing them off within a few days. No doubt partially in thanks to the block and report as spam notices.

I think they are phishing with a very, very wide net in the hopes of getting a tiny percentage to bite at their spam bait. They don't need much to make it worth their while.
posted by fenriq at 2:20 PM on January 19, 2011

That must be it: the notification that you've got a new follower IS the spam, and their profile is the payload. If you ever want to see who an unfamiliarly-named new follower is, you have to look at them at least once.

Maybe Twitter should put out honeypot profiles that periodically tweet something like "real estate automotive marketing ED work from home SPAM TRAP DO NOT FOLLOW THIS ACCOUNT" and then vaporize the profiles of anyone who follows them.
posted by ctmf at 7:04 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Where can we have a Euro-reception in Southern...   |   Daybeds turning into daypads Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.