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12 sure-fire ways to spot a dirty Twitter spammerIn recent weeks I have seen a definite increase in Twitter spam, and it's something that I think Twitter needs to get on top of and smother. Make no mistake: spam is always a threat to the user experience.

Sometimes spammers will follow you. Other times they’ll just send you a tweet. All of the time they totally suck.

It’s not at all difficult to spot a spammer... here are 12 ways to identify one of these timewasting losers on Twitter. Spam, be damned.

They have no avatar

If you can’t be bothered to upload a picture of any kind then it sends a bad message. My brain instantly tunes out to all tweets that I see that are not accompanied by an avatar.

They have a sexy avatar

A common tactic among spammers is to grab a picture of a nubile girl and use that as their avatar. Hotpants and cleavage are trending in this area. 

They have a ridiculous following-to-follower ratio

A tried and tested way of spotting a spam account is to look at the following to follower ratio. Following 2,000 accounts in the hope of a few autofollows back is the name of the game. It’s a sucky game. More often than not you'll see accounts with zero followers. Quite the giveaway. 

They have posted no tweets

Nobody in their right mind follows hundreds or thousands of people but fails to use Twitter to tweet! That said, spammers are wrong-minded…

They post the same tweet over and over and over and over and over again

Spammers love repetition. They can’t get enough of saying the same thing. CTRL+V is the spammer’s favourite weapon of choice. 

They use the same link in all of their tweets

Sometimes the messaging will be mixed up, but the links will all look the same. In an age of URL shorteners it's a telltale sign that the account owner is playing the numbers game. And that's what spammers do.

They aren’t followed by any lists

Automated – or low-rent - accounts tend not to be added to Twitter lists created by other users.

They include a random number string in their user name

You see this a lot. Numbers in user names set off alarm bells in my head. More often than not they are an indicator of spam. 

They don’t bother with conversational tweets

Most human-powered Twitter accounts will mix things up a bit. There will be tweets with links, and tweets without links. There will be retweets. There will be @replies and conversational tweets. If you don’t see enough variety in a user’s tweetstream then it could be that the account is powered by rules and built on feeds. Never a good sign.

They don’t have a bio

Some genuine people don’t do bios, but most do. Many spammers don’t bother.

They have a dodgy bio

Alternatively, some spammers include a bio that will often include the phrase “make money”. Run away, as fast as you can!

They camouflage their bio link

I’m always a little nervous when I see a Bit.ly (or other URL shortener) used for a bio link. However I’ve used one in the past, simply to track click activity, so it’s not always a sign of a spammer (I use an about.me now, which has a great stats dashboard). If you are ever unsure of a Bit.ly link just add a ‘+’ onto the end of the link and you’ll access the stats page, where you’ll also see the long link.

What did I miss? How else can you spot a shyster?

[Image by smemon via Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 25 February, 2011 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Mark Shaw

excellent post.. you may also want to mention what peeps should do when they come across such spammer type accounts.. please report them to Twitter... Twitter will then remove them if they are deemed to be nothing more than a spammer....

Mark

almost 6 years ago

Pauline Randall

Pauline Randall, Director at Florizel Media

One I'm noticing is that they refer to your username in a tweet that isn't a response to anything you've said and they won't be following you either. I guess that way they turn up in your @ mentions list.

Whatever their modus operandi they're a pest and I have no qualms about hitting the report for spam button!

almost 6 years ago

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Digby Killick

Some of the smarter spammers create lists of generic tweets to avoid your 'no tweets' spotting technique. These are also very easy to spot e.g. 'muesli for breakfast', 'ugh monday', 'can't stand work' (no real information) and despite being more than 0 tweets, it still looks iffy when they are following 2000+ people and have 37 tweets.

almost 6 years ago

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Rob Hayden

Don't think you've mentioned; if they tweet anything about a popular gadget you may have mentioned in a totally different context (try saying something about the iPhone if you haven't seen this in action) or getting anything free, with you @mentioned, flag them without hesitation. Don't even bother checking their profile.

almost 6 years ago

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Tim Pearson

Hi. I actually don't tweet. But I follow a lot of people. I use twitter as a news feed following people who have my interest. They are normally quite well known in the media so it is not any different than reading many many papers each day looking for interesting things. Instead, follow interesting people on twitter and they will find the interesting stuff for you.

I actually have no avatar and have a very high following to followers ratio (I have nothing to tweet anyway, I like reading). And encourage other people to do the same to keep up with news (social issues, activism, economics etc)

almost 6 years ago

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Mark Wilson

Tim Pearson makes a good point - and I know other people who "lurk" on Twitter too, particularly as they try to understand it.

I guess the point is that not everything here makes you a spammer, but they are common traits to spot one. At the very least, a genuine avatar and bio will help to identify real people who are "listening", not "talking" - at least until you feel ready to join the conversation

almost 6 years ago

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Judith

I too am new and trying to understand and not appear an ignoramus until I get this down. This helped me out, I have caught several people latching on to my username and spamming so check my email often to see who follows and investigate and block only who I think I can trust. I started for the same reasons Tim P. did for real time news but I'm getting the hang of it and tweet more. Thanks for the tips.

almost 6 years ago

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T.

Some other signs of spammers: 1) In addition to the sexy-girl avatar, the bio reads like a generic personal ad from every man's dream woman: "Fun-loving gal, 22. Zest for adventure. Adore sunsets, long walks on the beach, puppies, and living life to its absolute fullest!" Oftentimes it will be cut off in mid-sentence by the character limit, as if a nonhuman created it and didn't realize it was too long to fit. 2) The tweets are all well-known, worn-out proverbs, quotes and pithy sayings, like "A soft answer turneth away wrath," "A penny saved is a penny earned," "United we stand, divided we fall." They are not accredited to a source. 3) The account name just doesn't sound like a name, often because the last name is of some kind of word that you just generally don't see as a surname, like "Rebecca Fixture," "Cynthia Makeup," "James Effective," etc. It just doesn't ring right--it's like it was chosen at random by some nonhuman algorithm.

almost 6 years ago

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T.

One more thing about those "personal-ad" Twitter bios: they oftentimes actually include a phrase like "Looking for a man who can share the magic of life with me!" or something like that. I guess this is all the better to try to trick men into thinking that if they follow the account, they can get better acquainted with this dream girl--when, of course, she's not even real.

almost 6 years ago

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Ben Smith

Thanks. Sound advice. Spammers on Twitter are so easily spotted though, I must admit I don't find they have a big negative impact on my "Twitter experience."

almost 6 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

I'm worried my avatar is too sexy now.

almost 6 years ago

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Kathy Lawrence

As a fairly new Twitter user, I've noticed all the above in the last couple of weeks, and thanks to you all, I now know I'm looking at spam. But I don't get the point of this type of spamming. What do these people do with the knowledge that they can follow me?

almost 6 years ago

Mike Gomez

Mike Gomez, SEO Analyst at Epiphany

Good points Chris.

For me, I'll generally just look at the "new follower" email alert. If they are following loads of people and have very few followers in return, I'll ignore or block them.

Same goes for if their bio promotes something like finance services or they haven't tweeted. If it's someone I don't know anf they tweet with a random link, I'll always check the profile first so I don't end up on a random affiliate, pornographic or even malicious website.

It's a shame spam is becoming more and more of a frequent annoyance. I'm sure Twitter do their best and I do find sometimes that by the time I look at their profile (should I want to), it's been banned. You do sometimes think that there should be better measures in place beforehand though.

Mike

almost 6 years ago

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Daniel

Nothing makes me feel better than the automated spammers who come up whenever you say a certain word. I wrote 'lose weight' in Twitter and I had about 10 replies offering me clickbank products.

almost 6 years ago

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Doug

If it helps, twitsweeper.com can also help to find spammy followers. (disclaimer: I am associated with it, but it is related to the point of the article regarding how to spot spammy twitter followers) If you consider this comment to be spammy, then please just delete it.

almost 6 years ago

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Go Inspire Beauty

I have been getting so many spammy @ replies/ mentions lately. Glad to know it's not just me. I feel really bad reporting so many for spam- what if I report a legitimate account?
And does anyone know if the links in those mentions are viruses or are they just selling something?

Thanks for the humorous and informative post!

almost 6 years ago

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Cannes news

I must admit, the reply spam surprised me at first. But by the third I had it sussed. The thing about spammy accounts is that they really are quite obvious. What's sad is a genuine Tweeter I know has been using the same techniques, probably having read somewhere that this is the way to get followers.

I suppose I should pull him over to the side of the room for a quiet chat at some stage.

almost 6 years ago

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Magic Spells

I'm so glad to see you cover this. You give some great, simple ways to help spot and put a stop to the ever increasing amount of spam. It's nice to know I'm not the only one losing patience with this. Thanks for the tips :)

almost 6 years ago

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Janice

Spammers - They post random words with no meaning or continuity for reading them.

Oh, yes, and "Follow Me Back" - No, don't!

almost 6 years ago

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T.

Here's another pattern I've noticed recently: if a follower's tweets are all RTs of various tweets that all contain one word in common (it can be anything: "Soviet," "tree," "child"--anything), it's a spammer. The spambot program is set to harvest a bunch of other real people's tweets based on some search word or other. The search word doesn't really matter--the goal is just to get a bunch of tweets that don't all look exactly the same and thus appear to be from a real person. However, if you look closely, you'll see that all this follower's tweets are RTs (no originals) and they all contain the word "smile" or "tell" or whatever. It's harvested one of YOUR tweets this way, and is now following you.

over 5 years ago

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mari

Recently I was hit with a rash of them. the bios were too general "I'm a nice girl looking for a guy" (which is funny, I am a woman). The statuses looked as if they had been cut from blog posts or news articles. Not even full sentences.
there were the one or two male named ones with busty female pictures. that said they were fun girls (hmmm)
But the biggest one. Every single one of them RT the same persons tweet about a tornado. As their last status. I felt sorry for the user they RTed, I looked up her profile, she seemed legit. But they had used her for at least 50 profiles. I know I blocked each one of them.

over 5 years ago

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Patricia Scott

Thanks for being specific about their techniques. I would add: 1) The spammers sometimes reply to non-existent Twitter accounts. 2) They tweet the same tweet that 10-40 other bots have tweeted recently, without bona fide links from a reputable source. Just take a short phrase from one of their tweets and do a Search on http://search.twitter.com/; see how many other *accounts* are tweeting the same thing. I DM @spam when I find this evidence, and include the the URL for the search result.

over 5 years ago

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Rees

Artistic presentations of love basically are too
impressive. I love quotations that relate to love since they find a way
to target innate needs inside most people extremely competently.
It's kinda unusual how as I read a love quotes I get seriously affected with feeling, specially the depressed types. Take care of yourselves!

over 4 years ago

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