Tweet Goodbye to Your Spambot Followers

Twitter's new war against spam will get rid of a huge chunk of your followers, probably.

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Twitter's new war against spam will get rid of a huge chunk of your followers, probably. Yesterday, the company announced a sweeping spam-bot takedown, filing lawsuits against "five of the most aggressive tool providers and spammers. With this suit, we’re going straight to the source," the company wrote on its blog. "By shutting down tool providers, we will prevent other spammers from having these services at their disposal. Further, we hope the suit acts as a deterrent to other spammers, demonstrating the strength of our commitment to keep them off Twitter," the posting continues. Less useless porn-bot followers sounds like a wonderful move. But, it will also mean a decline in popularity for everyone across the board, and some more than others.

Spammers don't discriminate. Twitter superstars and Twitter peons alike attract spammers. An analysis by PeekAnalytics, a firm which measures these sorts of things, found that only 35 percent of an average tweeter's followers are real humans. That means those with both big 90,000 followings and paltry 340 person followings will see a big chunk of their followers disappear. For the person with just a few hundred, though, the dent might hurt more, since every follower feels more important. The numbers don't work out quite as neatly on an individual basis. Only 8 percent of Newt Gingrich's followers qualified as real, according to PeekAnalytics report last August. Back then he only had 1.3 million followers. Now he's up to over 1.4 million. And when PopularMechanics's Douglas Main did his own hand analysis, he found that 20 percent of his own following was faux, the other 80 percent real. And, his colleague John Herrman, who had four times the followers of Main at the time, had a reversed pattern with 61.4 percent of his followers turning out fake and the other 38.6 real. (That's an ego-crusher!)

So perhaps there's some sort of exponential thing happening here, where those with more followers attract a higher number of spammers? That's how Main explains it, at least. "Part of the reason Herrman has so many more bot followers than I is simply that he has a higher overall number of followers, and he is more active on Twitter," he writes, explaining that bots follow people who tweet certain key words, so more active tweeters would attract more spam. After Twitter's crackdown, we'll see who has real following and those who have a collection of porn-bot followers. Will those with more followers still have such great followings? Herrman will still have more followers than Main, for example, but not by as much of a margin. No matter what, though, everyone will lose something.

But calling this a loss isn't really the right way to put it. Getting a spam bot follower, even if it makes one look more popular, doesn't help one's twitter presence. Spam bots don't engage like the rest of us. They don't RT or follow links we tweet out. They don't share valuable information. And sometimes they trick us into clicking scams. They're an annoyance at best and harmful at worst.  You can probably live without them.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.