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Twitter 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:” 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.
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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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