Twitter‘s Fake Account Problem

Is now my problem

Over the past two months, at least one of my Twitter accounts has gotten full up of fakes. Eggheads, no photo, no followers, no want. However, there are now so many that I have to spend 15 minutes a day deleting them to keep up, and I can’t keep up.

This is a problem. Have a look:

In March YAMU’s number of new followers suddenly quadrupled and then quintupled and sextupled. Great except not great, because those followers are fake. Here’s what a typical new follower looks like:

They all follow the same-ish people (55 seems to be the magic number, and they’re fond of Otara) and no one follows them. The formula varies a bit (maybe they’ll have a picture and one tweet), but the vast majority of these accounts are obviously not real people.

The rules above are so basic that a computer could follow them, but for a human to repetitively remove accounts is maddening. Basically, this is something Twitter should be doing.

But they’re not. They don’t even have a clear option for reporting fake accounts.

None of these options is ‘this is a fake account’. None of the options really fits, which means that Twitter is not even getting clean information about the problem.

So What?

So yes this is annoying, but my account gets more followers, Twitter gets more users and these accounts don’t seem to do anything. Who cares?

Well, I do. These people follow a mix of connected (celebrities, athletes, publications) and political (politicians, commentators) accounts. When the time comes (ie, election time) all of these accounts can get activated and make it seem like there is a swell of popular support/rage where there is in fact just a marching army of empty eggs.

And that’s just the nefarious scenario that I can think of. Who knows what else you can do with a bot army.

I think the world is aware that fake news and bots can cause a lot of damage, but what troubles me right now is that I can see the problem happening everyday in my notifications and Twitter isn’t doing anything about it. And it’s a really easy problem to solve (at least right now, when the bots aren’t even trying to hide).

Facebook is getting beat up for their role in making the world suck more, which is partly why people like me came back to Twitter. But it’s hard to see that Twitter is a much better actor. Their fake account problem is obvious, and they are obviously not doing anything about it.

It’s a problem now, but give it time and this can be a full out business-threatening scandal. In the meantime, for an average user it’s annoying as fuck, watching in slow-motion as a community gets replaced by spam.