When #Twitter Gets Creepy: People Who Force you to #Autofollow

18 05 2010

The third Twitter post in a row. But this one ain’t positive.

It is about privacy and spam.

Let’s first explain some basic things about Twitter.

People can follow you without your approval, at least if you  have a public account. You can follow them back if you like.

You just have to click on the follow button, that is all!
Everyone with a Twitter account can follow Barack Obama, for instance.

If Barack Obama followed me (whether I followed him or not), I could dm (direct message) him. He (or rather his staff) will receive a private message from me in his inbox.

Only people you follow, are able to dm you. This is to protect you against dm’s from whichever fool, Spam and Bots.

Barack Obama has many followers:  3,964,789. This is no surprise, because he is the president of the United States and everyone wants to know what he has to say.

Some people especially in the marketing sector find the numbers of followers that important that they will do anything to assure a lot of followers. They are even willing to pay for it.

There are several companies who specialize in it. Here is a list of paid Twitter services and their rates (from http://zacjohnson.com/buy-twitter-followers/).

  • BuyTwitterFriends.com = 10,000 Followers for $49.99 (0.0049 each)
  • TweetSourcer.com = 10,000 Followers for $60.00 (0.006 each)
  • UnlimitedTwitterFollowers.com = 10,000 Followers for $74.95 (0.0074 each)
  • Twitter1k.com = 5,000 Followers for $104.97 (0.0209 each)
  • SocialKik.com = 10,000 Followers for $150.00 (0.015 each)
  • USocial.net = 10,000 Followers for $447.30 (0.044 each)
  • Tweetcha.com = 10,000 Followers for $474.99 (0.047 each)
  • PurchaseTwitterFollowers.com = 5,000 Followers for $249.99 (0.049 each)

Buying followers….. that is rather shortsighted. My mother always used to say: “You can’t buy friends” (no real friends anyway).

What are followers worth who don’t follow you because you’re tweets are so interesting, or the stuff you sell is so good, etc… Do these followers really ‘follow’ you, in the sense that they follow what you say? And do they keep following you?

Moreover how are those followers recruited? Are they asked to do so? Are they offered money?

Well I don’t think so. There must be easier money strategies.

But how can you make people follow without asking?

Well there may be a sneaky way to force people to do so, without them being aware of it.

At least I think that has happened to me.

Saturday I got this dm:

I was alarmed.

  • First, somebody sends me a dm with a link to a marketing gift. I never click such links, you never know where they lead to. Even if it comes from someone I trust, it may be that his/her account has been hacked, so I have learned…
  • Second,  I’m not following this guy, at least not any longer….
  • Third I have blocked him before, after a similar dm.

The first time I got a dm of @jonathanvolk I thought I made the mistake by accidentally following him. But now (having blocked him before) I was sure that that wasn’t the case.

Out of curiosity (and to block him) I checked his Twitter account. Here I found several people complaining to him about the very same thing (the first tweet appeared later in response to my tweets).

@SorbetDigital appeared to have similar problems, not only with @jonathanvolk, but also with @JohnChow (see her post).

@JohnChow did ring a bell. Didn’t I block him in the past and didn’t I see his tweets rolling by lately?

I quickly checked Friend or Follow, a fantastic program, that shows you the people you follow and don’t follow you in return (following), your fans (who only follow you) and your friends (reciprocal relationship).

And who did I see there? John Chow, plus another guy that I presumably didn’t follow voluntarily: @MrGatherSuccess.
[The 2nd robot to the upper left also isn’t kosher, as I found out today.]

Their Twitter pages ((below in blue and pink) have texts according to expectations.
Their follower/following ratio is absolutely skewed (557:1 and 1090:1 respectively)  so apparently their approach works in the sense that they got more followers, probably recruited in much the same way as they “recruited” me.

Strikingly@jonathanvolk and @Shoemoney are among the 100 people John Chow has chosen to follow. @Shoemoney (follower/-following ratio of 1355:1) and @Chow are also almost the only people followed by @MrGatherSuccess. By the way there is also “College Pages”, that links to Online Colleges, you know the site I warned you about on several occasions (Beware of Top 50 “Great Tools to Double Check your Doctor” or whatever Lists and “Vanity is the Quicksand of Reasoning: Beware of Top 100 and 50 lists!”)

Oh and “the robot” tweeted this today

Common features of these people:

  • they are  all Internet marketers,
  • All have let me follow them, (without following me back)
  • Some have sent me dm’s
  • they have many followers, some having skewed follower/following ratios
  • they “know” each other and may refer to each other

Strikingly @jonathanvolk has a post in which he explains how to get 25,000 Twitter followers with “Twitter Followers for Sale”. Juicy detail: Shoemoney gave him the tip. Vice versa at shoemoney.com, Shoemoney advocates to download the affiliate marketing guide of Jonathan.

Are these the guys behind the link services?

Not necessarily. In a recent post (Something Fishy Goin’ On Here… Paid Twitter Followers) @Jonathanvolk seems sincerely surprised about the pissed of reaction of his forced followers. Quote:

The other week I made a post about Paid twitter followers.

In the post I outline a few methods I have used to essentially pay for twitter followers and how much it has cost me per follower. With the methods like paying twittercounter.com, for example, you know exactly where your twitter followers are coming from.

Recently my follower count has been increasing steadily (and fairly rapidly) without me paying for any more services.

I’ve received a few @ messages before saying the person didn’t follow me and they were unsure how they did. I usually brushed it off as a… how can I put it lightly… computer illiterate person.(emphasis mine)

I think however that one of the services I used is using some sort of application access to automatically make users follow those who pay for the service.

The only problem is, I’m not sure which service is doing it… or if it’s just someone trying to get my account banned.

Since I have no way of know knowing… I have no way of stopping it.

Kinda crazy. Either way, be careful buying followers unless you know explicitly where the users are coming from!

——————

Kinda bullshitSince I have no way of know knowing… I have no way of stopping it.” …. Booh!

Let me give you one tip, guys (assuming that you are honest about this): go sit around the table and see which follower-robbering service you share, and do something about it!!

How people can force you to follow is a technical issue, I know little about. Jonathan refers to a follow bug in Twitter that they have found but should have been fixed.

Indeed @librarianbe told me the same in response to my “tweets for help”. He referred to an article in Gizmodo explaining how to force anyone to follow you on Twitter. Apparently the bug was not fixed (yet?), or there is another leak still to be discovered.

Twitter handled the p @  r  n-spam well. I hope it will find a solution to these problems too.

For such forced following and marketing dm’s are not only annoying, and an intrusion on our privacy, they are also bad for the credibility of a tool like Twitter.

So I’m going to block these guys (of course) and report them to Twitter using the ticket file @mrgunn advised me.

Similar problems? Here is the link to file a ticket with Twitter: http://help.twitter.com/requests/new

Meanwhile I advise you marketer guys to reassess the value of your followers. Do you only care about the size of the flock? Is it just the number of sheep? Do you want to impress by numbers? Or do you care about by whom you are being followed? And if what you’re tweeting does matter to them? Because only then you will have value as a twitterer and deserve to be followed. Otherwise, how can I put it lightly…you’re  a bit sheepish.

Added 18-05-2010

According to Twitter Status the bug that permitted a user to “force” other users to follow them was resolved & cleaned up May 10th. However Jonathan send the dm May 15th (although he might have forced me to follow him longer ago).

If you are still seeing folks you are following who you didn’t choose to follow, Twitter advises to use the block or unfollow tools as a remedy.

However, these buttons do not work effectively as @jonathanvolk and @johnchow keep resurrecting again after a total block.

@jonathanvolk reappeared in the Following Tab of Friend or Follow this very night, about 3 days after blocking (see comment).

Twitter, I hope you listen…

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