Twitter's other spam problem: Username chaos

A few months ago, Twitter published a State of Twitter Spam blog post. It claimed to have reduced spam from fake accounts to little more than 1%, lowering the number of offers for prescription drugs, dodgy online scams and invitations from busty babes. We complain about Twitter more than we praise them, but this deserves a “well done!”

What’s on the increase and quite possibly trickier to control is the noise created by users who don’t understand how Twitter works – usernames in particular.

There seem to be a few trends:

Retweets as replies

Users in Malaysia and Indonesia seem to use retweets as a way to “thread” conversation. As a result, the oldest words get truncated. As Veronica seems to be a common name, I’ll often have more misappropriated foreign tweets than real @replies in my stream.

Failing to understand usernames

The next flavour of Twitter spam is due to users who don’t understand that @Vero or @Jake or @Bob are really someone’s usernames and use them willy nilly.

I often see “@Vero’s house for a party” and hope that some stranger isn’t on the way to my place with a couple of crates of beer for an impromptu gathering.

What’s next?

I’ll be interested to see how Twitter tackles this kind of issue. Having steamed past the 100 millionth user some time ago, the noise level is quickly becoming deafening.

Unlike classic spam where a user publishes the same thing hundreds of times, this can’t be fixed as easily as it’s a user education issue.

How could Twitter handle this?

6 thoughts on “Twitter's other spam problem: Username chaos

  1. Neil Crosby

    Unfortunately for you Vero, I don’t see twitter ever doing anything about this particular problem for one reason only – the number of people it affects must be minuscule (and far far smaller than the 1% of fake accounts).

    Why? Because it’s only going to affect to any real degree those very early twitter adopters who were able to choose very short twitter account names (and by the very fact that they were early adopters were probably using twitter before the @ syntax was being used colloquially, let alone officially). And, whilst those users are likely to be quite vocal themselves, unless the problem is directly affecting a bunch of people in twitter HQ themselves, I don’t really see anything being done about this – the cost benefit ratio just doesn’t look like it adds up.

  2. Vero

    You’re probably right, Neil. It’s really not going to affect that many people but a lot of the ones with 1-2 character usernames are either Twitter staff or friends thereof. Always makes me wonder whether it stacks the odds in favour of the issue being tackled in some way.

    Maybe not.

  3. Moof

    I’ve seen spaniards doing what I call top-posted retweets, which you describe above.

    I can think of four things Twitter can do to help there:

    1) Explain how retweets and replies work, in an introduction to the site, after signing up. Maybe new users could even gat a “Are you sure you want to RT like that?” message.
    2) Make conversation threads a more prominent thing, and something you can link to. I often find myself trying to link friends to particular conversations on twitter, and none of the third-party solutions seem to be any good.
    3) A common use case for more mature twitter users is to add a comment before a retweet, which makes them use old-style retweets. This makes them not use new-style retweets, and avoids the benefits that has. If twitter were to also make a reply to somthing that’s been retweeted apear on the same timelines that a new-style retweet would appear, people would be less tempted to do so.
    4) Make new-style retweets not appear as old-style retweets on search streams. IT makes people think they’re nomal.

    As for namespace pollution, not sure I can think up anything to help there…

  4. Farhan Rehman

    The only solution I can think of, is to be able to ‘block’ people in a country, or people who are not following you, from tweeting you..
    That way if someone tweets @username, and they’re not following you, then it won’t show up in your ‘reply’ user stream.

  5. Paul M

    I’ve already likened twitter to people standing on their roof and shouting, hoping that someone passing by will take an interest, and it isn’t getting better.
    The good thing bout twitter is that it has reduced the crap on usenet and irc!

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