the spambots on twitter are completely out of control

A few months ago, Twitter changed their @replies tab into something called @mentions. This had a significant impact on a lot of us who use Twitter, especially those of us with a large number of followers.

Originally, I'd only see a message with @wilw in it if that's the way the message began. It worked very well, and there was much rejoicing.

Then someone at Twitter decided to change the way it worked. From that day forward, whenever someone used @[your twitter name] anywhere in the body of the message, it would show up as a "mention" in tab that was until-recently-known as replies.

I know a lot of other Twitter users with lots of followers didn't like the change, because for many of them it turned an already-busy replies tab into an avalanche of mentions that was nearly-impossible to keep up with. I can only speak for myself, but I probably only see 10% of the actual @wilw messages that are sent now, because there are so many of them, I just can't keep up.

I have always said that Twitter is a free service, and it's pretty unseemly for us to complain about it because we're not paying for it, but I've also begged Twitter to let me give them money in exchange for a few features, or even just because I love the service so much. So far, my pleas have fallen on deaf ears (or maybe they're so buried in mentions that they never see them.)

Anyway, about a month or five weeks ago, I started to notice a severe spambot problem on Twitter. Obviously, some mother fucker douchebag pile of shit figured out a way to write a script that exploits weaknesses in the signup process, and every Friday (maybe to hide among the higher-volume "follow Friday" Tweets) my @mentions tab is flooded with these goddamn spam bots. 

For example, here's a screenshot of my @mentions, taken just a few minutes ago:


I hope that Twitter is taking proactive steps to do something about this, but I don't see any mention of it on their official blog or status page. I hope that they're not just ignoring it, because it's not like there's a whole lot of random crap that needs to be sorted out here: The bots all post from API, they all use identical phrasing, and there is certainly enough of a pattern to the abuse that someone at Twitter HQ should be able to automate blocking them. I've reported dozens of them to @spam, but it doesn't seem to be having an effect.

It's gotten so frustrating that I'm not using Twitter until the problem is resolved*. I genuinely enjoy the interaction I get to have with other people via @messages (I often call Twitter "time-shifted, asynchronous instant messaging") and I since this started yesterday, it's just too much work – and too infuriating – to dig through all the goddamn spammer bullshit to find the legitimate messages.

I've used nest.unclutterer, but the spambots are smart enough not to follow too many accounts. I've tried to use Twitblock, but it chokes before it can finish (that looks like it's going to be an incredibly useful app, once it's out of alpha and beta and gets to lambda lambda lambda.)

I know other high-profile Twitter users have been targeted by these scripts, and I know that a lot of them are expressing similar frustrations. I don't know if they use Twitter the same way I do, but for those who use it as an actual communication tool, and not just a broadcasting platform, it's got to be just as annoying as it is for me.

I love Twitter, and I am incredibly grateful for how it's helped me reach out to and interact with hundreds of thousands of new people. I just hope that someone at Twitter is listening, and is trying to do something about a spam and abuse problem that is threatening to overwhelm an otherwise-awesome service.

* I want need to clarify: THIS IS NOT A BOYCOTT, and I wish people would stop suggesting that it is. This isn't some kind of stupid threat, or the suggestion that I'm taking my football and going home. It's more like deciding not to go to a place you've always loved until the owners clean it up, because it's gotten so filthy you can't stand it.

88 thoughts on “the spambots on twitter are completely out of control”

  1. I know that @davenavarro6767 and many other famous tweeters out there have now protected their updates so they don’t get that crap. They also block any that manage to sneak through too. Maybe you should do that? True fans would understand.
    <3 @pandora114 on Twitter and @MrsAlphaOne on City Of Heroes.

  2. I’m glad you posted this, because until now I just didn’t get what the big deal was about twitter spammers – I figured, if you didn’t follow them back, how would you even notice they were spamming you? Now that I see how they do it, I get it.
    And you’re right. That is VERY annoying.

  3. Something else that has been creeping me out about Twitter lately (and it is not like I have huge followers on Twitter) is the amount of #FF recommendations I get from people who are not even following me.
    But to combat this problem, have you thought about FriendFeed (if you are not using it already)? A friend of mine swears by it and is has been trying to convince me to switch forever, if not use it as well.
    Better than Twitter and is like FB without the apps. But now that FB bought FF, who knows what will happen to FF. Only reason why I haven’t signed up for FF yet is because it has nothing like Tweetdeck or Tweetie
    Spambots truly suck. As I have said many times, it gives a whole new meaning to “Autobots Engage!”

  4. Not having that many followers or legitimate mentions, I just don’t see this kind of spamming, and hadn’t pictured this as an exploit they would use, but that is horrendous!
    The fact that it abuses your name in such a way to catch users who might see it and think it is a retweet makes it seem all the more malicious too. I’m glad I don’t see much of that sort of thing, but definitely hope they sort it out. It is a strangely great thing when it works as it should…
    If IRC worked on a delay I’d still use it, but handling IM over such delayed periods, like email chess is perfect.

  5. I’m sorry to hear how annoyed you ar by the spambots. I only have a few (4 actually:() people following me so I haven’t had a problem with it. I understand the annoyance because my spam box is always filled when I log in and it takes so much time to go through and delete them all. I’ll never understand why people feel the need to come up with these things.
    Your tweets will be missed, but I understand the principle and reasoning behind it. Hope to see you back there soon Wil. In the meantime, maybe you’ll be able to blog more:)

  6. No need to give up hope. He can protect his tweets, and authorize the real fans (us!!! hehe) to read it, and they won’t be in the general timeline. Smartest thing to do for him.

  7. word.
    wil, it took me a while to warm up to twitter. your tweets often make me lol — especially the random obscure warner brothers cartoons quotes (omg, ‘pronoun trouble’ triggered a serious case of the giggles), and you are one of the reasons i became a regular. unfortunately, the spammers became problematic for me early on, so i protected my tweets. thanks for raising the visibility of this issue. i’ve got better things to do with this service, and my time, because i’m just a support engineer, you know?

  8. I would go with protected updates. I know it might be a pain for a while as you go through the request to follow you but in the end, it will be worth it. I went to protected updates a few months ago because of the spam.

  9. I am SO with you on this one! I am serious. Last I checked, I had more porno people following me than “non-porno”, what ever that means…I think you understand. I am sick of it. For real. I am not even famous…I only have 41 followers of which 60% are from the spam bots. Argh!!! I am not an old man looking to get laid…geez. Actually, I am not even a man…hah! Irony, right!? I want it to stop! Please don’t stop twittering. It is way too amusing and I would, truly, miss it!

  10. A few weeks ago I got pissed off at the deluge of spambots on a trending topic I was following, and blocked a couple of dozen and then starting reporting them to @spam. I fully copied one of these messages to @spam, and was rewarded for good Twittenship with an account suspension. I was further rewarded with crickets for the next couple of weeks as I continued to send emails pleading my case. Then I find Twitter has zeroed out both the my followers and my following.
    Since this unfortunate series of events, I have found my way back onto The Twitter. Even figured out how to rescue my main email address from the suspended account. And I don’t use the @spam feature any more.
    Twitter’s got a big problem here, and they don’t quite know how to handle it yet. TY for shining some light on this Wil.

  11. The Twitter spambots are getting ridiculous. It’s gotten to the point where my friends and I can’t even talk about furniture without a spambot following us (I shit you not, that actually happened) or throwing its wooden two cents in. Hopefully, Twitter finds some way to better take care of these assclams. If all else fails, at least I still have texting and (LE GASP!) actual phone calls.

  12. I, too, am frustrated with the rising level of spam happening on Twitter. I don’t mean to plug my own application (well, yes I do, if I’m to be honest), but the next feature I’m putting into Ambeur is social graph tracking, including automatic blocking of new followers that appear to be spam accounts. Ambeur can also take back the @replies tab to make it behave like it used to. That wasn’t a planned feature, but now you’ve got me thinking it’s probably a good idea.
    I tend to put features into Ambeur that I want and that I think others will want. Since I’m not a celebrity I wasn’t really aware of the size of the problem with the new handling of @replies, but now that I see what a problem it is for some people, I can easily create a solution and likely will.

  13. I, for one, will be very sad if you have to leave Twitter completely. Here’s hoping the Twitter powers-that-be are listening, and are doing something about this!

  14. I, without being seemingly repetitive, will overwhelmingly agree with you Will, although the problem doesn’t seem limited to Twitter. Bots have become a problem on just about every major socializing site these days. I’m sure there has to be a solution somewhere but the originators of these sites seem unwilling to implement them in fears of losing legitimate users in the process. Don’t really understand that one but it is a fuck’d up world anyway. The ones I hate the most are the “nude celebrity” bots… don’t ask me how they get in as a follower every damn day, I block em and they show up again tomorrow. WTF! Do people actually get off on looking at fake nude celebrity pics? Even if they were real… what the frack! Get a life folks! Thanks for the soundoff Will… you still rock… uh oh and… glad to see my pic didn’t end up on your spambot screen LOL

  15. I’ve been getting hit relentlessly all week with p0rnbots and honest to god: If I need internet p0rn it is EVERYWHERE and Twitter is not the place I’d go to get my fix. Dear. God. I think I blocked about 40 of them yesterday. All clearly from the same account. It’s getting old. I, too, would gladly pay for Twitter in order to weed out things like this. Here’s hoping the powers-that-be are listening!
    Spam-a-lot. Heh.

  16. I don’t think anything I’ve posted about here will come as any kind of surprise to everyone at Twitter. Like I said, I’m sure they’re doing all they can to combat the problem.

  17. Wil, sucks that you’re running into this problem. I got a taste of this unpleasantry the other day when I was following the #songsincode trend, I can only imagine how much worse it is when it’s actual mentions. It’s so bloody obvious that they’re spammers. Even my rudimentry coding skills could detect the pattern and block the accounts, so I’m sure someone much smarter than me at Twitter could do it too. I’m hoping my account doesn’t get suspended, because I probably reported a dozen or more accounts to @spam in the last couple of days too.
    I’m tweeting your post out with an @twitter mention and a request to RT. Sorry that it’ll increase your mentions, but I figured since you’re not really looking at those right now anyway, it might actually do some good.

  18. Wow, that really sucks that you won’t be twittering, but I can understand why. I have to say that your tweets never cease to entertain. Hopefully the problem is taken care of soon so that we can get back to hearing from you on twitter.

  19. I’m by no means have as many followers as you do but I do have around 3,500 and I’ve been getting hit with them too. Hoping they get this under control soon.
    I otherwise like the change from @replies to @mentions since I’m narcissistic enough to like to know when someone retweets me or otherwise mentions me.

  20. I have noticed that a number of celebrities have stopped using twitter that much. I’m not sure if it is boredom with it or if they are also being overwhelmed by spam. I have also noticed a huge increase in abusive posts and other sorts of trolling behavior. I guess as they say the minute you idiot proof something they just build better idiots.

  21. I was really happy about this change. Maybe 3 out of my 600 followers actually start any reply to me with my username. Most of them say “blah blah blah @myname blah blah.” So, FINALLY, I can see all my replies. It was so annoying before to miss 99 percent of my replies because they HAD to put my name first for me to see it.
    Also, it’s fun to know who is retweeting or mentioning you…I meet lots of new people that way.
    I suppose, with 40 billion followers, it’s harder to keep up. Maybe if Twitter gave the option to do @replies or @mentions. :)
    I’ve only received one spambot (if I’m understanding you correctly)…a RT that wasn’t really a RT. I never posted the tweet they claimed I had. But that’s the only time it’s happened to me.
    They probably use your name because you are more prolific and well-known. :)

  22. I just recently signed up for Twitter and I’m still trying to figure it out. I guess it’s inevitable that the spammers end up peeing in the pool and ruining it for everyone.
    In reference to your Pink Floyd cover band tweet the other day, you should check out the Austin Lounge Lizards do their bluegrass version of “Brain Damage”…

  23. Neil Gaiman and I both asked Twitter to make @replies or @mentions a choice for users (something we could change in settings.) I don’t know about Neil, but I never heard back from anyone at Twitter about it.

  24. @wilw Ha! Just had to do it. I have been a twitter before it became Ashton Kutchers voice and contest. I know that twitter has some messures to try to combat the problem, BUT I think that your correct… I think and this is just me that the twitter needs to do more. I watch everyday now I don’t have thousands of followers where some of these spam/porn/assholes try to get on MY site. I try to look for those that are varified persons, and if they are or they are not someone I know for sure, then I block them. I truley wish that it would go bwck to the way it was, but the CAT has been let out of the bag no pun on your cat. I feel that the Spammers/pornstars/assholes will turn Twitter into another crap on line site. Unless The owners get a hand on the problems….I glad that YOU see the problem and maybe YOU, BRENT, ASHTON, DEMI, and some of the others that have a great volume of followers and follow others make your voices heard..
    Thanks Wil for allowing me to speek my thoughts

  25. I wouldn’t fancy trying to sort through a list of 1,150,345 followers to find the real fans.
    Good solution if you only have a few thousand, but I just don’t see how that is possible for someone who has such a huge following.

  26. A really simple change they could do with little effort would be to give you two mentions pages, one from people you actually follow, and one from everybody else.
    Would still be annoying, but at least it wouldn’t make you miss messages from friends.

  27. I’m sick of the spambots on Twitter and constantly having to block the douchebag jackasses who want to follow me. I’ll just go directly to your blog, it’s on my bookmark bar anyway. Twitter isn’t fun when I have to spend so much time blocking people. I will miss your posts from your pets but until Twitter allows filters, I’m done too.

  28. At least you can use your twitter. My account was suspended on the 7th and they seem to be ignore every email I send (support request open 12 days without response)!.
    I’ve done nothing even close to breaking the regulation (unless blocking spam accounts is against the rules) and its such a crappy way to treat ones users. Not even an email to say why, just a note on screen saying “Account Suspended
    This account is currently suspended and is being investigated due to strange activity…blah blah blah”
    I don’t use it much compared to facebook but I did use it to keep up with local bands n things and its just so frustrating.
    Facebook might be bad at customer service but at least they’ve heard of warnings and can actually be bothered to reply.

  29. Actually, for all that “Tips, Tools, Status” is most likely a bot (certainly looks and acts like one) the tip they gave there about the custom search might actually do the trick. I just tested it out with my account, and a search like that will give you exactly the functionality you used to have. No good at getting rid of bots, obviously, but you can at least filter out mentions and still see replies.
    FWIW I have also had random follow friday mentions from people who don’t follow me, and other weird retweets. But with such a minimal number of followers, they really don’t hassle me.
    I agree with th3Maw, too. Assuming 30% of your followers are spam, filtering through the 700,000 requests would be a major pain, that shouldn’t be necessary.

  30. I don’t get as many spam/porn bots as others but I do occasionally and it is getting annoying. I’m trying out HootSuite and it makes it simpler to report spammers than other programs I think, rather than just blocking them which it also allows. Independent programs are our hope for a better Twitter experience, not Twitter itself, at least not for now. TweetDeck seems to work ok too, but I like to try different things and compare. I think HootSuite is ideal for both users with one account or multiple accounts, whereas TweetDeck seems more practical for multiple accounts and less necessary for users with only one account.
    All of the programs have a long way to go as does Twitter itself. Hopefully they get their act together soon.

  31. Out of the 130something people that follow me, I think maybe a third of them are real. I dont get a lot of spammers anymore, but I do get a load of ‘business’ followers.

  32. I tweeted this to you, but you’ll probably never see it through the flow of spam so I’ll also post it here. I was in a thread on some random forum yesterday and clicked a random link someone posted (’cause I ain’t afraid of no link) and ended up in twitter reply mode with some “RT @wilw Check this out” or some other rubbish already filled in. It was strange and then I saw your post about going offline due to spam and figured maybe the two were related. Seems like someone’s out to get you.

  33. At least they’re cute, right? Seriously though, I’m lucky I don’t have all of those @mentions, but I’m having to block quite a few “people’ porn sites from following me, which in and of itself is rather annoying.

  34. You’re not the only highly-followed person I’m following that pissed about this problem. I’m totally up for a boycott until they at least announce plans to address the problem.

  35. I think @spam is pretty effective at blocking the ones reported to it, but the problem is that there are so many more… They need to implement something to keep the bots from signing up.

  36. I honestly think that Twitter is run by robots. There is no customer service; I don’t see any evidence that real people have anything to do with it. Do you know how many months ago someone, probably using a computer-email-address-generator, used my daughter’s email address to set up a long-abandoned Twitter account? Many months, that’s how many. Has anyone from Twitter ever responded to anything I write? Have I even received an automated response? Of course not.

  37. Another customizable setting for high volume “followeds” could be to block @reply unless the follower has been following for 2 weeks (time period configurable) or is followed back.

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