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Reclaiming Twitter

Wed, Jun 24, 2009

Twitter

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Yesterday, I did something that runs counter to my standard recommendation for clients: I locked my Twitter updates. My move to privacy was one of desperation, not desire.

Twitter has experienced phenomenal growth in recent months. Unfortunately, a large part of that growth is due to an influx of self-proclaimed social media gurus, affiliate marketers and assorted get-rich-quick schemers. Oh, and there’s the porn.

Twitter update

@conniereece Twitter update 6-23-09

My Twitter account has over 6,000 followers–certainly not celebrity status, but far more than the average user. Because I have been on Twitter since the early days (January 2007 for me), and because I’m very active on a number of social networks, my Twitter following has steadily grown. On an average day I get about 20 new followers and lose at least 15, most of whom are probably using automated services to follow people based on keyword then unfollow those who don’t immediately follow back. (See this post by Kami Huyse (@kamichat) and this podcast from Jim Turner (@genuine) if you’re curious about how people are gaming Twitter to amass followers.)

Each day I go through my list of new followers to see which ones I might be interested in following back. Sad to say, it’s maybe 1 in 20. The rest are trying to sell me something. Or the account has no photo or bio. (I recently quipped that the Twitter equivalent of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” is “no bio, no photo, no follow.”)

Or perhaps the new follower doesn’t appear to share any common interests. Like the one yesterday whose Twitter bio mentioned necrophilia. Isn’t that charming.

The last straw was learning that my friend CJ Romberger’s Twitter account had been hacked by a porn spammer. If you try to access her Twitter page, you see an error message: “that page does not exist.” Her account was taken over, the user name was changed, and tweets with links to porn started appearing in her timeline. The same thing happened to Guy Kawasaki and others.

Guy was evidently able to post to his Twitter account again late yesterday, but CJ is still locked out. I don’t expect her problem to be resolved any time soon, given Twitter’s track record of customer service. Bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon had her Twitter account hijacked about six weeks ago, the day before her latest book was released. Instead of porn, the hacker started posting insults and threats.

Kenyon filled out a Twitter form to report the problem, filed a police report, and her lawyers tried to contact Twitter; their email was returned as undeliverable. Finally, 12 days later, Kenyon got a form response from Twitter saying they hadn’t been able to get to her email. They did, however, suspend the hacked account.

Here it is June 21 and I still have no real resolution from Twitter. While I finally do have a live person to email– who hasn’t emailed me back for weeks now, I still don’t control the accounts. So I’ve made the decision not to spend my valuable time developing a page that could be taken away from me at any moment and one that can be used to hurt or threaten my fans while the people who own Twitter twiddles their thumbs. (full post here)

I still love Twitter. Still recommend it to clients. But it definitely comes with strong words of caution now on how to guard your privacy. I hope that protecting my updates for a while will reduce the amount of spam accounts that try to follow me and bots that want to retweet me. My intent is not to be exclusive, just to reclaim some control over my Twitter experience.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

This post was written by:

Connie Reece - who has written 152 posts on Every Dot Connects.


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30 Comments For This Post

  1. Darin R. McClure Says:

    Same thing has happened to my sisters twitter account. Sent twitter a dm asking for help. alas I am not Guy…

    My advice, Strong Passwords.

    d

  2. Heather Padgett Says:

    Connie,

    I followed your trials and tribulations with spammers and interesting followers withy sympathy. I have far fewer followers than you, yet still am inundated with spam, spam and more spam! You got necrophelia, I got an LA swingers club (living in NJ and not a swinger!).

    I agree that Twitter has not stayed on top of complaints, and it amazes me that people actually follow and click thru on some of these (obvious) spammers.

    Aside from having your account hijacked, which is horrid, the quality of those who follow us is similar to the quality of those we follow. We are judged by our company. We recommend Twitter to clients telling them that if you provide good content you’ll get good followers. Now it seems that for every good follower you’ll see 3-5 spammers.

    What scares me is the account that often has good info, but 3 out of every 5 tweets is a spammy message (that is repeated in rotation indefinately!). I don’t want to unfollow and miss the nugget of wisdom, but I also don’t want to see the same spam message over and over again.

    The one thing I don’t agree with is the ‘no photo’ part of your non-following mantra. I don’t have a photo, I have a pint of Guiness as my avatar. I have no decent pics of me, and would rather have a pint than post a horrid pic! I may put my biz logo in place of the pint, but most likely any pic I put up will be fuzzy, dark and far away! I agree 100% on the no bio no follow mantra though!

    Enough of my ramblings though… I respect your decision, and am glad that I am still able to follow you and get some nuggets of wisdom! Best of luck, and keep the world updated on your findings!

  3. Connie Reece Says:

    Darrin — strong passwords, indeed. And change them if you have the least suspicion you might have fallen for a phishing scam.

    Heather — I should clarify: no avatar. I follow a lot of people who have logos or something besides a photo, but I won’t follow someone with the default o_0 icon.

    Usually I will unfollow someone who provides the occasional nugget but frequently posts links to whatever they’re selling. The ratio of valuable content to marketing messages needs to be high to warrant my interest.

  4. Annie Heckenberger Says:

    Depressing.

  5. Kami Huyse Says:

    All I can say is WOW.

  6. Wesley Faulkner Says:

    Twitter has started rolling out, to some people, verified accounts. I think if they rolled out paid accounts it would put enough of a barrier to entry to kill most of the fly by night spammers. With a paid account it should come with some level of service. Linux has been free for years, but it is not on the product that they make money, it’s the service. If you call someone on the phone, or send an e-mail an know that your issues will be addressed, I would pay for that. I find it very frustrating that you have to “know” someone to get help. I know I would love to vet non-paid accounts when they try to follow me.

  7. SexCpotatoes Says:

    Maybe twitter could institute some sort of user-policing policy, where you could click on a link by a tweeter’s name to “report” them. Each report would be limited to 1 per IP address per 24 hours and would add up to limit a person’s use of the service. 100 reports in a day, 1 week suspension on account access, 200 gets your account and IP blocked almost forever.

    They could figure something out, I’m sure, but do they care to.

    It seems “social media” wanker websites are birthing earlier and aborting faster these days. It’s only a matter of time before the scam/bot/whore people show up to ruin your party.

  8. Connie Reece Says:

    Wesley — I’ve said for over a year that I would gladly pay for a “premium” account on Twitter (a reasonable price).

    Potatoes — Twitter will suspend accounts if they get too many blocks in a short period of time. Someone (I think it was Dusty Reagan) suggested Twitter institute a captcha for new accounts. Something that would prove the account is a real person, not a bot. That would help.

  9. RaMurph Says:

    One thing I will say in Twitter’s defense (a very mild defense) is that they’ve grown so much, so fast, I wonder if they are capable of following up on all the issues. I follow less than 100 people and am followed by less than 100 people. Every time I unprotect my updates, I get inundated. (I unprotect when I want to end up in the trending topics for Tweet to Remind-type things.) It is always a relief to go back to protected status. I DO hope that Twitter is able to do something, though. It is a shame (but NOT unexpected) that people are using Twitter to promote pornography, get-rich-quick schemes, etc.

    Here’s to safe, unprotected updates… someday… SOON!

  10. Katie Van Domelen Says:

    I totally agree that the things you listed are totally frustrating but I don’t understand the move to protect your updates. Can you explain more how you think that will help you to regain control or cause these things to stop happening?

    The high-jacking of accounts is probably made possible by giving access to too many third party apps via your twitter ID and password. At the beginning third party apps were all fun and I admit I signed up to a boatload to try them out and see what they did, but then I changed my password, only updated it on those that I use and have since stopped signing up to a third party app until I see some positive buzz about it. The high-jackers can’t get in based on being able to see your tweets – they somehow need to get access to your password.

    As for spammers, if they follow you and you don’t follow back, no harm no foul. They’ll likely unfollow you soon after because you haven’t given them the follow they need and as long as you don’t follow them you can’t get their spam messages (either in your feed or in DM)

    As far as I can tell, protecting your updates only prevents legitimate people from finding your account and deciding to follow you. It also requires that you wade through more follow requests because you have to accept/deny rather than just choose to follow back or not.

    Don’t get me wrong – I respect your decision. I just feel like I’m missing something because I don’t understand how this step will positively affect the ills you listed above. Can someone explain how it helps? Because if it really does I would consider it as well – it’s a shame that some people have to ruin all the fun for the rest of us.

  11. Connie Reece Says:

    RaMurph — totally agree that Twitter has faced huge scaling problems. But they are longstanding. This time last year there was a mass exodus from Twitter because of long downtimes. I question some of their priorities, which problems to address first. They seem to want to pursue massive growth via celebrities (Ashton Kutcher, Oprah) at the same time they can’t keep the database stable.

    Katie — you’re right about not being visible to legitimate people, and that’s why this is such a drastic step. I don’t intend to stay invisible too long, but already the flow of spam has stopped. Instead of having 20 new follows in 24 hours, I’ve had 5 or 6. That’s because pulling myself off the public timeline makes it much less likely that the automated services will find me and add me to spam lists.

    My account was not hacked, it was a friend. And she’s not exactly inexperienced. CJ writes a tech column for Austin Woman magazine and has been online for a long time. But even Web-savvy users are prey to the phishing scams on Twitter, Facebook, etc. So using strong passwords and changing them frequently addresses that problem.

    While it’s true that it’s a 2-click process to follow someone back, I can make the decision in one pass of my follower requests. My plan is to stay invisible for a week or two and spend some time pruning both following/followers. I use FriendOrFollow.com to find people I’m following who haven’t updated recently. In most cases if they haven’t updated in 30 days, I will unfollow them.

    I’m also going through the list of people who are following me, and if they seem the least bit spammy and overhyping their own stuff, then I will block them. When Twitter first started exploding in growth, I gave up on trying to vet followers–so there are at least 2,000, maybe 3,000 followers that I never even looked at when they added me.

    I wish Twitter made it easier to prune my followers by letting me see which ones are inactive–there could be hundreds of my 6,300+ followers who haven’t posted in months. That’s why it’s a mistake to equate follower numbers with influence/authority.

    I’ll post an update when I go public again. This is my business, so being invisible is not something I want to do. But if Twitter becomes MySpace …..

  12. Dave Shaw Says:

    Thank Connie. You’ve got me thinking about the double edged sword of wild west social networks. I follow CJ and saw this happen and it’s horrible. It’s disappointing to hear that Twitter hasn’t been more helpful. I’d remind them of the famous quote from Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

  13. Karen Swim Says:

    Connie, it’s funny I’m a Twitter old timer too and with growth has come good and bad. I found myself not posting at all for stretches for many of the reasons you stated. I have not protected my updates but I did opt out of Auto DMs, which was a move I’d never considered in the past. I also once auto followed but as you mentioned it’s out of control. I’m tired of seeing messages on how to make money from Twitter and gain 1000s of followers. I view Twitter as a place to meet and connect with a diverse group of people. I have been spending time in quieter places, enjoying facebook conversations and skype chats. I still love Twitter and I would also pay a reasonable amount for a premium account just to get better service.

  14. Sherry Carr-Smith Says:

    Connie, like you, Kami and others, I’ve been on Twitter since the early days. I was surprised to see the lock next to your avatar, but as soon as I did I thought you must be trying to get away from all the spam going around.

    Because I don’t have nearly the number of followers you do, I am able to check people out and decide whether I reciprocate. And, while I don’t get to talk with each follower individually, I am able to have actual conversations with people regularly. Which is the entire reason I was drawn to Twitter in the first place (um, after Kami explained it to me back in the day).

    Thanks for your insightful post. I’m off to change all my passwords!

  15. CJ Um I GOT HACKED ON TWITTER Romberger Says:

    Yup, that’s right, I’m the one that got hacked, and this is really deplorable. And you’re dead-on that my password was obviously not strong enough. Or maybe it happened because I signed onto a third party Twitter software and someone phished me from that. I don’t know for sure. Midnight all was well, 2am, someone nailed me, and it wasn’t pleasurable.

    Point is, Twitter needs to do something about this, or people who are interested in making valuable contributions to this social community are going to get frustrated and leave.

    I’ve been trying for three days to get Twitter’s attention. I’m NOT Guy, but I’m not chopped liver either. I try to give back to the Twitter community, I interact, I look diligently for new friends.

    I’ve also spent a SERIOUS amount of time in the past few days fielding phone calls, and answering emails from friends who are telling me my account got jacked. Now I’m spending time writing this blog. Sure, I get that it’s a lesson for me, and one I can pass on given my position as a web developer and Gadget Girl, and as someone who, like Connie, speaks to people about social communities.

    In addition to that I’ve spent a pile of time trying to contact Twitter. Auto-responders to auto-responders.

    And now that I’m frustrated? I can’t even TWEET about it.

    Twitter would be able to deal with this easier by putting 2 simple things in place. I suppose I should blog about what they could do so I’m not putting technical garbage all over Connie’s blog. But it would be simple, simple to fix a large portion of the underlying cause, and resetting it once it goes wrong.

    In fact, for Pete’s sake, if I’d spent the time writing the code I think Twitter needs to write to fix their problem, it probably would have taken me less time than it’s taken me trying to deal with getting Twitter’s attention and responding to people contacting me because I’ve been hacked.

    The two simple things?
    1) Restrict what people can use for passwords – no dictionary words, no passwords = usernames. More advanced: no letters or numbers only, but a mix.
    2) Put auto-reset code in place for returning accounts to owners. (Maybe they have this, but it ain’t working too well!) I have all kinds of technical ideas on how this could be EASILY done, but this isn’t a tech blog, so I’ll leave that off.

    3) On a more advanced level, they could implement application username/password verification like Facebook has for third-party apps. You NEVER give your username/password to a third party app on Facebook. It gets authenticated a different way. More protection.

    A 4th simple thing that would stop this? I’d pay for my account in a MINUTE if I knew it would keep the spammers from signing up. If it’s free, someone will use it to scam/spam. There’s no barrier to entry. Why shouldn’t they???

    Connie, hope you don’t mind me blogging all over your blog. :) Besides being hacked on Twitter, I’m obviously hacked ABOUT being hacked on Twitter.

    And I’m not above begging and beer. If anyone thinks they can get this fixed for me, sure would be nice. I’ve had a few chats back and forth with @guykawasaki, but I don’t have enough clout to get him to pull strings for me. :) So, from my lowly status, I’ll just have to jump up and down and shout as loud as I can hoping SOMEONE will hear me.

    Connie, thanx for blogging about this. When I speak I talk to people about how these social communities are neighborhoods. There’s some bad people in a neighborhood and some good people. You hang with the neighborhood, participate in the neighborhood, contribute to the neighborhood. But when too much trash moves into the neighborhood, and you’re not trash? You move out.

    Twitter is doing what so many big companies have done. They fail to remember how important each good neighbor, each good customer is. They have so many, they don’t realize how valuable they are. But once the customers start leaving, even the ones who didn’t “pay”, the value of your company goes down. Maybe it’s incremental, but eventually you become MySpace. :)

    CJ

  16. CJ Um I GOT HACKED ON TWITTER Romberger Says:

    In the beginning of my comment, I meant “writing ON this blog”, not “writing this blog”. Poor editing. Sorry!

  17. Connie Reece Says:

    CJ, thanks for taking the time to make a comment about your horrible Twitter experience of having your account hijacked. I’m just amazed at the total lack of responsiveness on Twitter’s part. Have you seen The Onion’s latest parody of Twitter, re: Iran? “We never intended to create anything useful.” Evidently so.

  18. Alycia de Mesa Says:

    Thanks for the post and stories, Connie. I have to say, I’m not a huge Twitter fan even though I use it lightly. The one thing for everyone to keep in mind is in this age of protected pages and other security measures, why would Twitter be any different and why would you (the general public) leave yourself or your brand vulnerable? Porn, spam and the riff raff will infilitatrate any new medium for a quick buck. But what concerns me more is Google showing every Tweet – however half-hearted or thought-out – in search listings, right next to that great article you (I) slaved away on for hours. Not a recipe for success, in my opinion. I really am a proponent of protected Twitter accounts for all of the above. Followers will be lower and that’s ok in my book!

  19. Lisa Kelly Zuba Says:

    Connie,

    Thanks for writing this and bringing to everyone’s attention. I’ve supercharged my password, but as far locking updates, I’m not there…yet.

    I too have grown sick of the people/computers trying to sell something. I accidentally (swear it was an accident!) clicked on someone called Trump that was following me and promising me riches. It completely took over my computer. Took me over an hour to get it back. Trump is blocked!

    Would be best for Twitter to charge a reasonable fee. Get rid of the bad apples.

  20. Jake Says:

    Who would have thought a simple web application could have exploded in the way that it did. Very interesting article, thanks!

  21. francine hardaway Says:

    Great post, Connie. I have stopped following people back automatically, and I post fairly deep content, often not about social media, often links to the Wall Street Journal or some obscure health care pub, so maybe I’m not interesting enough to spam. I also don’t count followers or pay too much attention. Twitter is like a great flowing river that suddenly has gotten very fast. Fortunately, I am still able to locate people. I do block bots who upload the same tweet endlessly or tweet in large clumps.

  22. simon Says:

    I just join twitter recently and have some traffic flowing in, hoping to get success with it, great post and thanks!

  23. Kim Hollenshead Says:

    Ahhaaa. I see. And totally understand.

    When I recently moved accounts from @kimhaynes to @kim_hollenshead there were so many people who were fast to tell me I did it wrong. They explained that I would be losing my continuity and followers, but like you my followers over the last few months on that account and now even on my new account aren’t people I’m interested in following back many times.

    So, actually setting up my new account I’ve become MUCH MORE selective of whom I follow and no you won’t find me following spammers, social media gurus who have only been on Twitter for less than two months or people with only one tweet and no bio, pic, or url.

    Good for you.

  24. Beth Harte Says:

    Connie, sorry to be late here… I was wondering what was going on, thanks for the insights. It stinks that Twitter has turned out this way for you and MANY others (and that the folks at Twitter, seemingly, could care less). But, I suspect a lot of us have known this was coming with the spammers.

    I have noticed a bunch of people are protecting their updates AND rethinking how they use Twitter… I think that might be an ongoing trend, what do you think?

    Have a great weekend Connie! Stay out of the heat… ;-)

    Beth
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs
    @bethharte

  25. divepam Says:

    What a great article – somebody RT; Beth Harte, I believe – and it gave me many points to ponder on a sunny Friday.

  26. Luis Antezana Says:

    Connie – I am glad to see you replying to posts here. It’s a big determiner for me whether I chose to read someone’s blog.

    I was going to post my thoughts but @Katie Van Domelen said it all for me. You responded but didn’t really address all her questions. Outstanding for me is why you care who follows you, especially since you don’t auto-follow.

    Part of the beauty of Twitter is anyone can follow you but you choose whom you follow and thus what shows up in your feed. I have a bunch of spammers following me but I don’t have the time to go through and block them nor the care to since it doesn’t affect my experience.

    Perhaps an argument could be made that when people are deciding whether to follow you or not they are gauging the quality of the people who are following you, but that is a shallow device. I doubt many have time for that.

    An insignificant quibble: I don’t get unfollowing tweeps just because they don’t post often. If they don’t post, then it has no effect on your experience.

    The reason to unfollow, in my opinion, is when you don’t find someone’s tweets valuable.

    Too many people are too concerned with numbers of followers and following. Tune your follow list so your experience is optimal. That’s it. I have had a lot of people unfollow me simply because I don’t follow them and they’ve staunchly defended that, while I think it’s an irrational flat rule.

    I only follow people who make interesting contributions, but I also cap it at a pace I can keep up with, regardless of the number. It’s more about number of tweets vs. number of people I follow. I could have 200 people I follow if they all only posted once a day, but many post multiple while some post monthly. Either way I already have a hard time keeping up so have pruned my follow list lately. My point is I want to read what my tweeps say and I want it to be good (and I want to make good tweets as well).

    I do not get at all anyone who follows hundreds or thousands of people. I find it an immediate clue that they are not interacting with their audience because it’s physically impossible to sincerely keep up with that many tweets. These are the one-way broadcasters who will not respond to @replies. It doesn’t mean I won’t follow them (because they could still have interesting tweets), it’s just that I don’t get them, and I don’t believe they completely get Twitter either.

    You say you don’t follow people who pitch a product often. Guy Kawasaki is a notoriously frequent promoter of AllTop on Twitter (I unfollowed him because I couldn’t take it), and many great PR/ad/marketing people who tweet well also shamelessly promote their firms/services/blogs on a daily basis. Every single company who is represented on Twitter is trying to sell product, but some contribute while pitching and some mostly just pitch. I think you’re really just not following people whose products you don’t care to support, which is totally fine, just a bit more specific. Again, it’s about the content/contribution, not just another flat rule.

    Anway, thanks for sparking conversation. I’m looking forward to reading more from you here. I would say I’ll see you on Twitter but your updates are locked, so I can’t gauge whether your tweets are any good :)

  27. Marcy Says:

    This doesn’t only go for Twitter. The risk of sites getting hacked are always going to be there. The only thing you can really do is try to prevent it.

    I guess this happens more with the more popular sites though.

  28. Twitter Rookie - LA Tax Attorney Says:

    You are confirming some of my twitter hesitations, but I’m still interested in being part of the growing social media world. There must be a compromise out there.

  29. solventa Says:

    What can Twitter actually do for my business?

  30. Ian Says:

    Sadly Twitter’s popularity has also made it very popular with spammers. The fraction of all things Twitter that is now just marketing or spam is probably pretty high. It’s a shame because the concept of Twitter is still really great.

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