Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Monday, 23 November 2015

Twitter's spam reporting leaves a lot to be desired

I have recently spotted a lot of identical or suspiciously similar tweets on the #homeopathy hashtag coming from 'bots' (automated fake accounts). They are indiscriminately retweeting and favouriting positive and negative tweets about the subject so it's not clear if they're on a particular 'side' or what their purpose is. They are also tweeting more generally about health and weight loss so I would have to assume they exist to tweet a particular link or two and are covering their backs by tweeting other health-related stuff as well, ie hiding in plain sight. It's a popular tactic.

As they deliberately avoid sending spam tweets blocking them 'for' posting spam is not quite right and Twitter's options for reporting them correctly are therefore a bit limited.

The accounts are almost always female (according to their avatar) with digits at the end of their name, eg Jodie123. Their bios look similarly cut and paste with liberal use of dividers like ✦, ✶ or ✪ (I have to admit I use | and / in my bio, or did until I recently changed it).

Examples below
  • TV addict ✦ Professional Speaker ✦ Soccer fanatic ✦ Subtly charming geek ✦ 53 Countries since 2012
  • Social media fan ✶ Author of fantasy books ✶ Travel consultant ✶ Beauty appreciator ✶ Technology lover
  • Advocate for human dignity ✪ Spirituality ninja ✪ Sunglass fan ✪ Detoxification ✪ Nerd 
They are mostly retweeting genuine tweets so their spam-like behaviour is more subtle and probably only noticeable if you are the one whose tweets (or tweets you're mentioned in) are being favourited ('liked') or retweeted - it's not apparent just from looking at their timeline, you have to be aware of several similar accounts to get the full picture.

In other words you can only really see the spam if you're in a position to be able to see the spam!

An example would be that you've tweeted about #homeopathy and a lot of similar-looking accounts retweet it. I suppose it's a tiny bit like #EverydaySexism which is largely invisible unless you're a woman who regularly experiences a range of men making comments at you. Different people moving through an otherwise identical space see and experience it very differently.

I am reporting these accounts as spam though I've not seen many of them being removed (I suspect Twitter just disagrees with my assessment because each account doesn't, individually, look particularly spammy). I'm not sure if Twitter pays attention to my pattern of reporting (ie several similar accounts in a short space of time) but I wish they did because then I think they'd notice the problem.

Perhaps Twitter isn't particularly bothered about these types of accounts. They aren't very harmful, beyond spouting nonsense into the Twittersphere (but let's face it we all do that too), they're not abusive and they're not posting the same tweeted link over and over again. But they don't contribute to the ecosphere.

While we're at it I still hate all those Sumall and tweets that thank a bunch of strangers for tweeting (and do it in such a way that the tweet is visible to ALL of the tweeter's followers, and not just the strangers they're thanking - ugh).

What a depressing thought that future internet archaeologists will be left with the "(insight by" tweets which, by volume alone, must surely be taking up plenty of Twitter's server space. Have a scroll though some of them and despair ;) Drivel.


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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).