Dealing with fake followers and spammers on Twitter

Twitter Spam

Twitter Spam (Photo: Juanlarzabal on Flickr)

The last couple of weeks a mixture of work, family obligations and a cold that wouldn’t end have kept me occupied, but now I’m finally back on my feet and I’d like to share two tools with you that I have recently used to remove fake accounts from a client’s Twitter-followers:  Manageflitter and Twitblock.

How do you identify spam/fake accounts?

There are number of services that help you clean up your follower list. To identify spammers and fake accounts, they normally use a number of criteria that they weigh differently. Among the most common criteria are:

  • Standard-avatar (egg) or photo?
  • If there is a photo:  Is this a photo that has been used by many other accounts?
  • Number of tweets
  • Time of last tweet
  • Has the bio been filled out?
  • Has the location-field been filled out?
  • Does the account follow much more people than are following it back?
  • Is the account only broadcasting information or engaged in conversations?

Based on these criteria, the different services calculate a score from 0 – 100 %, describing how likely they think it is that this account is a spammer or fake.

Do you need to remove spammers?

Twitblock screenshot

Twitblock is very clear on why a user profile has triggered the spam filter (click to enlarge)

As long as you are not following them back, spammers and fake accounts can’t really do you much harm. However it can be a little bit embarrassing when services like http://fakers.statuspeople.com/ show that a significant portion of your followers are fake. More importantly, it distorts the perception of how many people you can reach through your Twitter account. And it’s not fun to explain to your management: “Yes, we have 50,000 followers. But only 30,000 of these are real!” So it can make sense to periodically clean up your account and remove the obvious spammers.

Spammers and fake accounts can be a real issue if you are automatically following users back or aren’t paying attention to whom you follow. But hopefully you are not doing that anyhow. Keeping in mind that the people you choose to follow say something about you, NGOs and non-profits should  be wary of the company they keep.

Twitblock or Manageflitter?

If you are managing a comparatively small account with no more than 3,000 followers, then Twitblock is probably your best choice. Twitblock is free and I really like that it is very transparent about how it calculates the score. Personally, I find that the best criteria for spam is whether a profile image has been used on many other accounts and with Twitblock you can easily see where that is the case. Unfortunately, Twitblock has a limit of 3,000 followers it looks at.

 

Manageflitter screenshot

Manageflitter’s strength is that you can bulk-block large numbers of profiles.

Manageflitter (affiliate link) on the other hand can handle large accounts. The flipside of this is that it is not free (at least not if you want to force people off you followers list), however the 12 USD price tag is hardly prohibitive.  One of the best things about Manageflitter is that you can block a large number of followers simultaneously. While most other services ask you to select users that you want to block one at a time, Manageflitter allows you to select 100 users at a time and force them of your follower list. If you want to block thousands of fake accounts, then this make a real difference. Obviously such a bulk approach bears the risk that you also accidentally block legitimate users. And indeed, false positives are an issue. However I found that Manageflitter is fairly accurate for spam scores in the 80 – 100 % range.

  • http://unjobs.org Ken

    Hi Timo – I disagree that this is an issue. When I first created a Twitter account I remember worrying about how it looked when we were followed by fake accounts and I rushed to block them.

    I believe this kind of spam is mainly driven by auto-following-back, which should be discouraged and in my opinion betrays a poor understanding of the medium. Even if one takes care to organize the accounts one follows into lists, or by means of some other tool, what is to be gained by following tens of thousands of Twitter accounts? Mindless auto-following has spawned services like TrueTwit, which forces users to jump through hoops when following a Twitter user. This is just dumb! By now I think everyone knows that spam accounts may be among one's followers, and it should simply be agreed that it's not important.

    • http://sm4good.com Timoluege

      Hi Ken, and thank you for your comment. I agree, it's not a big issue and as you said a lot of these accounts are created in the hope that you follow them back so that they can DM you a link to some dodgy, virus-infected site. As long as you don't follow them back it's not a real issue.

      However, I do think there is a value in not having a too huge gap between how many people you seem to be able to potentially reach and how many people you can actually reach. Not so much if the Twitter accounts is your personal account, but I think it can be an issue if you run an organization's account and your boss thinks you can do much more than is actually realistic.

      However that risk has to be weighted with the risk of blocking people accidentally because of false positives.

      Personally I think it also depends a little bit on the account size. If you can easily cut a few thousand fake accounts from your follower-list without spending too much time on it, then why not do it on some slow day in the office.

  • tweet

    You can use http://followersbegone.com/ to mass remove followers. Unlike other apps, there's no limit to how many you can remove in one day. Use Chrome or Firefox with this one though.