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. All this talk about spam is making me hungry. Time to call in the bot to fry me up some spam and eggs. I’ll take from the cook book of Scalzi and get me some Red Vines and Coke Zero too.

  2. Even so it might do the trick and maybe they were honestly trying to help, there are better ways of offering a suggestion.
    FWIW, they could have signed into Typepad with a real person account with their twitter ID in their profile like others who want links to their site and twitter in their profile, instead of it being blatantly obvious to be some sort of bot. That is just my humble opinion.

  3. hi WW, it is still a nasty problem for anyone, i just reupped at twitter and two or three porn flickers were on my follower list instantly, and i am a nobody in particular :) i watch your Weakest Link video often, Robert and LeVar killed :) why don’t you relax and visit us future millionaires in Vegas Sept 25, maybe you can star in my new movie :)

  4. I absolutely understand you Wil and I’m very sorry. I agree it’s best to wait until Twitter hopefully resolves the problem. However, there is on odd thing:
    I registered to Twitter in July this year, so I’m a rather new user. I don’t see any @mentions -tab, only @replies, followers, following, tweets, home, direct messages. Did Twitter already switched back at least for new users like me?
    Even I get spam bot-users at least once a day. I hope this is not also part of DOS-attacks-“strategy” behind it.
    All the best,

  5. I had no idea just how bad the spam-bots can be. I only follow a few friends and a few famous people (Who are all very entertaining Twitters.
    I hope Twitter get their act together and fix this problem!!!

  6. 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,

    They ought to let you choose whether you want to see replies or mentions. Since I don’t have a lot of followers, I like to see every time someone mentions my name.
    Mike Perry’s advice above seems like a great workaround.

  7. I can see how frustrating that’d be.
    I get a spambot daily adding me to follow and it irks me to no end, I can’t imagine having dozens all the time.
    Though, “True Blood” is a pretty awesome show, spambots aside *lol*

  8. I don’t have very many followers, but I have received quite a lot of spam private messages. I really hope they can nail those bastards to the wall. Little piss-ants like that aggravate me to no end. Sorry about your flooded @replies tab, I know I’ve only sent a few.

  9. That’s got to be so frustrating. Good entry and I’d do the same if I were getting those kind of messages on my Twitter. Lucky for me to be just a no one lol. Hope the problem gets solved sooner than later!

  10. Use the link Mike Perry posted above, it looks awesome. It is like old twitter,
    shows only those sending messages to you. Or search to:wilw
    And I sent a message to @ spam to bring you back, only RT exactly what you said.
    To get them to take care of the spam!!!

  11. I think Twitterrific might have a solution for you:
    By @Twitterrific: Tip: Have tons of followers and only want to see @ replies to you? Edit that account’s settings and turn off “Timeline”.

  12. If ya’ remember, this same situation happened to a messenger application called ICQ. And ICQ was a hit in the days and everybody was using it.
    People were getting spammed so bad that they dropped it altogether. Which led to their demise.
    I’m just saying if Twitter doesn’t act now They’ll be going, “Uh OH!”

  13. One of Felicia Day’s followers on twitter just posted a tip that I think will really help you. If you do a search for “to:wilw” (without the quotes, obviously) you will get all the replies without the mentions! Give it a try!

  14. I don’t know if you saw the tweet at Felica Day just now… If you search on “to:wilw” you get only replies, as it were, without all the mentions. Ought to cut out some of the spamboterificness.
    Ah, was beaten to it… The page didn’t update properly (downloading NFL games I think). Thought it odd that my post was still the last.

  15. Thanks for this post Wil, it helps to get the word out about a growing problem that Twitter will need to deal with if its going to continue to thrive. It doesn’t just affect big users, if a topic get trending, its not long before the spammers start tagging along on a #hashtag. Notice the great #songsincode trends this week, after a day or so the spam comments started showing up and hiding the real content. Twitter needs to use some aggressive machine learning to analyze users and whether they are spammers or not. Maybe allow all tweeters to vote on a user. Any users that have high spam votes get temporarily suspended barring an email from that verifies there identity with a real human interaction. Its a bit of work, and some people will cry “censoring!” but we need a twitter to be a nice, rambunctious bazaar, not anarchy. Some order is necessary for useful discussion.
    Another approach you may want to take is calling up other famous people on twitter and organize a your call out for change a bit more.

  16. There’s a problem if you decide to protect your account.
    Unless someone is following you already, they won’t see any @ replies or mentions from your protected account. (Which I think is asinine, since people want to say something occasionally to non-followers — lazy coding if you ask me! And most celebrities don’t follow back, so you need a public Twitter-feed to “say” anything to them that they can see.) I ended up creating a separate Twitter-feed just to do @ replies to people I follow who don’t follow me back, which is a right royal pain if I want to @ reply someone I’m following. :-/
    I’m not giving up my protected status for my main account though — it’s nice to write a tweet and know that the whole internet is NOT privy to it, just those I allow to read me. Twitter really should set up something where you can choose to make an individual tweet either protected or public, like you can make a friends-only LiveJournal entry. Intead it’s all or nothing. 😛
    Anyhoo, if you want to read me, you’re allowed. 😉
    I’m @theentwife for the protected account. (Public one is @theentwyfe and 99% of the tweets there are @ replies to someone not following me on my main account.)

  17. I think a more clear (dur grammar dur) way of phrasing your stance might be something like “I’m letting my friends know I won’t be hanging out with them at our usual place until it goes back to the 5 star service I’ve become accustom to back in the good ol days.” It’s not like your outside the doors telling strangers not to eat there, or telling all your friends to hang out elsewhere. You’re just choosing to stay home on the nights your friends decide to eat there.

  18. Wil, I agree this sucks big time. I am just a nobody and I get the stupid spam bots every now and again. There is the one that just RTs everything you say. It makes me feel like one would feel with a younger sibling repeating everything you say. Only you can’t wack a spam bot one good time. This does seem to be getting worse instead of better. A lot of the people I follow have been complaining about it.
    I saw an interesting post on Laughing Squid about a Twitter conference next month. I did not know if you were planing to attend or if you had the time since you seem to be wicked busy as of late. The article can be found on I have no idea how to make a fancy link so the world will just have to cut and paste.
    I would not mind for someone to tell me how to do it for next time. :o)

  19. Dear Wil with one L :)
    this might help with Twitter DM spam…
    ‘DM Inbox: Archiving & anti-spam Twitter direct message (DM) inboxes are incredibly hard to keep clean, especially with so many irrelevant messages. This feature lets you archive messages over 7 days old — they will be deleted from your Twitter inbox, and we will store them here for your perusal at any time. We also offer sophisticated DM spam-fighting filters.
    Please note: the DM count you see on the right of your page is often inaccurate. When you archive…’

  20. Damn. Looks like I picked the wrong time to try and contact you via twitter. It was my first @anybody message and I was very excited about it. I’m glad I saw your tweet.
    Anyway, I wrote a blog post about how I would like to be friends with you (and LeVar Burton). And then I sent you a tweet, ensuring you that I am not a crazy person.
    It was not my intention to out myself as a supernerd here, but oh well. If you read my blog and decide you’d like to be digital friends, well, that would just be the coolest.
    Errin Marie

  21. I maintain the @ICHCheezburger account and I agree that it just keeps getting worse. While we used the public feature to broadcast our RSS, we would actually use the @replies and DMs to communicate with our fans. That job is becoming more and more cumbersome when we have to filter through a dozen pages of spambots first.

  22. I signed up for twitter last Thursday to follow you, WilW. Otherwise I have almost no other reason to be on there.
    The first tweet I recieved was from you asking someone to tell @SPAM to stop the spam…essentially. My next 2 tweets were from porn (I am guessing) spambots. I was really hoping to avoid spam on twitter…
    From Monty python.
    “Customer: Can I get something without any spam in it?
    Waitress: Spam Spam eggs and Spam doesn’t have much spam in it”
    Anyway, I despise spam and it seems like common sense would restore the Replies functionality or make it an option. If Twitter is not helping then all we can do is pray:
    Saint Vidicon of Cathode, Help us in our time of need…

  23. Wil, have you heard of a Firefox add-on called Clean Tweets? It provides a way to filter out spammers from Twitter search based on the age of the twitter account (most spam accounts are gone in a few days) and tweets that are loaded up with trending topics (a common technique used by spammers). Both settings are configurable. So if you install that and set up a saved search on @wilw (instead of using the Mentions page), that might cut out some of the noise. FYI – I asked the Clean Tweets guys if they plan on getting this to work on the Mentions page too. Haven’t heard back from them yet.

  24. I don’t have that many followers, but find that I get a lot of the porn spam followers, unfortunately. Since I don’t get even close to the traffic you do, I don’t have the problems you do with trying to sort through the chaff though.
    I know it doesn’t solve your problem of being able to read your spam messages, and for you, policing accounts that follow you is probably not a good option – you have too many followers, with too many adding all the time. But… passing the word to your followers could help. I’ve seen that one of the best ways to help, at least somewhat, with the spambots, is to flag them each and every time one gets added. I find that when I do, the account is deleted from Twitter, sometimes within hours. I think the number of blocks an account has gets a lot more attention than a note to @spam. And it has the added benefit of not attracting more attention from the spambots.
    If more people would block these accounts, instead of keeping them to artificially raise their follower counts (and I’m only talking about people like me, who reasonably can, not people with thousands or tens of thousands of followers), the spam problem on Twitter would probably go down a lot. Not go away, but the quicker the accounts are deleted, the less spam they can produce. And the more blocks the accounts get, the quicker they will be deleted.

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