The Menace of Twitter Bots and What It Means for Social Media

Twitter BotTwitter has a tough new challenge to beat these days. And no, it’s not the emergence of a competitor that challenges the social network’s dominance – it’s the good old spam. The recent times have seen an astronomical increase in activity generated by bots on Twitter. All this is thanks to tools that make it super-easy to create these officious programs and leave them in the Twittersphere. They keep a sharp eye on your tweets, start following you as soon as you write something relevant, and even are not shy of striking a conversation. However, as any active tweeter will tell you, they are just a pain.

Twitter gets very serious about spam

Twitter has not taken kindly to this blatant pollution of the micro-blogging platform. The case in point is that of Gerald Harris, a spambot operator who managed to run a network of 129,000 (yes, that many!) accounts to run fake campaigns and try to swindle people. Twitter has filed a lawsuit against Harris for breach of terms of service, and a federal judge has given the trial a green signal.

Note that there are still grey areas like whether anti-spam laws apply to social networks, and if so, what exactly would constitute a clear-cut definition of spam. Even then, Harris can look forward to a very tough time indeed! Twitter has also filed suits against several other spammers, and it working aggressively to develop anti-spam measures. Just how effective they will be, only time will tell.

Recognizing bots on Twitter

Congratulations, you’ve just earned a new follower on Twitter. But before you do a jig of ecstasy, it’s recommended to do some research and find out if it’s not a bot that just became your fan. Here’s how you know your latest fan is nothing more than an automated spam-machine:

  • Names and descriptions are too flashy: Is your follower some obscure personality with too much of a “hip” name or description? If so, it’s likely a bot that wants to appear cool and get into the your network.
  • Suspicious tweeting: Go and check the person’s tweets. If they have too many tweets that are random gibberish, you’ve just come across a bot.
  • Very low followers to following ratio: Because bots have nothing interesting to offer as compared to a real person, they will normally be following hundreds (even thousands) of people, with a handful of followers in return. Note that it’s not always true, as a spambot operator like Gerald Harris can use thousands of bots to follow each other.
  • Replies are super-quick and pointless: If your new friend often replies to your tweets within seconds, and that too with nothing more than “That was great!”, “I agree!”, etc., you’re wasting your time with a bot.
  • Suspicious Links: Avoid clicking on such links: “Hey there, someone is talking bad about you on web: randomlink.net/skdjfm” this might come from your friends too. It doesn’t mean that they are bots, just that when a bot sends you a link and you click on it you allow the bot to access your profile and spam your friends! Scary no? Remember, they are often sent in DMs.

What it all adds up to

Spamming is undermining the credibility of social media in a big way. But I choose to be on the positive side. It’s just that these things are happening for the first-time, and soon there will be preventive tools. Not that spammer and bots will disappear altogether, but the clutter will definitely be swept off by a good enough margin.

Have you ever been the victim of a bot attack? Post your interesting stories and point of view in the comments!

 

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