Spambots: Twitter takes action
In recent months, we’ve seen actions taken by numerous large online brands, Facebook and Google, in particular, to clamp down on improper uses of their services. With users being constantly annoyed by inorganic content which dilutes genuine posts and degrades the user experience, digital giants are turning to increasingly sophisticated means to get rid of the content which gets on people’s nerves.
Twitter has now followed suit and will be taking a similarly militant approach to misuse of its own platform, in particular, against the scourge of automated ‘spambots’.
For many of us, the problems with aggressive automation have been apparent for a while and some will say that the changes are long overdue, particularly in light of the allegations that various social platforms Twitter amongst them, were used via armies of bots to manipulate opinions during various election campaigns.
So all automation is bad now?
Not quite. Automation IS allowed and will continue to be ok, however, ‘aggressive automation’ is not ok.
For the most part, the new updates should lead to better enforcement of Twitter’s existing policies, rather than creating new rules. If you’re already complying, then you’ll probably have nothing to worry about.
Automating and scheduling your tweets, so that your followers receive regular content from you, or accounts you control, without you having to manually tweet each time, isn’t a problem, that’s allowed.
Having a bot automatically respond to interaction is fine also. However, where your account, or multiple accounts you control, start engaging in similar or identical actions, filling up feeds, or artificially making certain accounts or opinions appear to be more popular than they are isn’t allowed and this is likely to attract the attention of the Tweet Police.
Posting identical or substantially similar tweets
Look at any popular or trending topic and you’ll likely find a post that’s repeated over and over during a very short period of time, sometimes from the same account, sometimes from multiple accounts. This has the effect of drowning out all the other posts on that topic or trend.
Repeated following and unfollowing
Following an account purely to influence the user to follow back is manipulation pure and simple. Especially cynical when automating a process to unfollow those who haven’t followed back during a set period of time.
Posting multiple updates on trending topics
Monitoring trending topics and automatically/repeatedly posting to them to drown out other messages or subvert the purpose of the trend is specifically forbidden.
Drop your bad ‘bots by the deadline
The anti-bot updates to the Twitter API come into force on the 23rd of March, so developers who might be worried that their apps could be tarred with the ‘bad bot brush’ have at least a little time to make any changes in advance of the clampdown. While the updates are specifically aimed at spambots, it’s worth re-checking the Twitter T&C’s to make sure your app’ and ‘bot use stays within permitted guidelines.
What happens to those caught using Spambots?
While the new rules become active in late March, Twitter is already actively hunting down spambots and the effect of their efforts has already been noticed. Despite declaring themselves apolitical, there have been high profile users on the ‘right wing’ side of politics who’ve noticed their followership declining substantially and disproportionately. Naturally, they’re calling foul. We’ll avoid drawing any conclusions!
Future violations of Twitter’s policies will result in the offending account or accounts having their tweets filtered from search results or even having the account suspended entirely. For the most part, developers with useful apps should either be unaffected or be able to make changes to keep compliant.