While I’ve used Twitter since 2007, I was generally a fairly passive user. One account I used was mainly automated postings from another blog of mine, and the account I’m now using was largely dormant. My original account I just used to follow people and read their tweets. Recently, I’ve decided to build up @trauring as my tech-focused account, and I’ve been trying to learn the intricacies of the world of Twitter. As part of that I’ve been trying to watch who follows me, and in general I want to determine what I do that causes more people to follow me. When I post an article on this site or tweet a tweet, what topics result in more followers? It’s a bit narcissistic perhaps, but I look at it as a temporary experiment and challenge. Eventually I’ll get the hang of things and leave well enough alone.
It was thus with some amusement that I’ve been watching some of the accounts that have been following me. I say accounts, not people, because clearly some of these accounts are not real people. Today I noticed two new followers, Reita and Jed. What was so unusual about Reita and Jed? Here’s what I saw:
The funny thing was, I had even seen the same photo before in a previous follower. I tried to check back and see if the account was still there, but couldn’t find it. That could be because the account was closed by Twitter as a spam account, or it could be because one of the scripts I’m experimenting with for my account automatically blocked it because it determined it was spam. I also might have manually blocked the account thinking it was spam. Truthfully I don’t usually do that because I want to see if they get blocked automatically. Twitter it seems requires maintenance, and I’m hoping not to have to do it manually. In a few weeks I’ll go back and review manually what spam accounts still exist and try to figure out why they’re still there.
What of course jumped out here was that that there were two accounts with the exact same photo. And a woman named Jed. Whoever is programming these spam Twitter accounts isn’t trying very hard.
Interestingly enough, while I’ve been writing this post I’ve been peering occasionally at my followers list and seeing if anything changed. At first I noticed both accounts were steadily rising in the number of accounts they followed. About 40 when I first looked. About 50. About 75. Both accounts were always within a few follows of each other, so it seems they were being generated at the same time, automatically following accounts. The Jed account actually got a follower at one point. Then I noticed the Jed account disappeared. Did the creator of that spam accounts realize that a woman named Jed wasn’t a good idea? Did they realize they were following the same accounts with two different fake accounts? I’m not sure, but I tried loading the Jed account and it has been suspended. I’m not sure if that could be that the user deleted it, or if it must mean that it was deleted by Twitter as a spam account, but in either case it’s gone.
Reita is currently up to following 193 accounts, and holding steady. I guess Twitter hasn’t figured out she’s a spam account yet. Perhaps the spam account owner stopped following at 193 to keep below some follow limit that triggers the attention of Twitter. Maybe it will continue following more accounts tomorrow.
Wait, no, I was wrong. She’s up to following 296 accounts, and has 2 followers! Who knows where she’ll be tomorrow. I’m guessing suspended, but you never know…
It’s two days later and Reita’s account has been suspended. Today, however, I have a new follower – Adelina:
She’s following 148 people and has 7 followers already. Maybe we’re watching a new spammer who is learning the ins and outs of creating more believable accounts? Maybe they realized following over nearly 300 people in a day brought the account to the attention of Twitter? You’d think they’d come up with another photo, however.
Update 2/16/2014 (#1):
Oops. my mistake. This spammer isn’t learning anything. Adelina is suspended, and Melissa and Silvana have taken their place:
Each are following over 200 accounts, and have 5 followers. Like the others, neither has tweeted at all yet. It’s probably a big red flag for Twitter when accounts follow hundreds of people without having ever tweeted. I’m guessing these accounts will both be suspended within a day or two. Seriously, how dumb is this spammer?
Update 2/16/2014 (#2):
As soon as I posted the above update I noticed both accounts were already suspended. I wonder how many other accounts have been created and followed me when I wasn’t watching that got suspended before I noticed.
Update 2/16/2014 (#3):
The day is not over yet. Anjelica and Treena have joined the gang:
Anjelica only has 7 followers, but Treena who has no number at the end of her Twitter name has 22 followers already. I wonder if the spammer will learn something from that or not. Neither account has tweeted yet. I don’t expect either account to make it through the day.
Update 2/16/2014 (#4):
I have to say, I thought Anjelica would be booted first, but apparently she’s still around while Treena (who peaked at over 30 followers) has been suspended. Anjelica now has 20 followers (and is following 356 accounts).
Update 2/17/2014 (#1):
Anjelica is still going strong. She has 43 followers now, and is following 357 accounts. I thought it was strange that since yesterday she only followed one more account, so I took a look at her followers. The odd thing is that the last three accounts she followed are all protected. How does a spam account follow protected accounts? It seems unlikely that someone who checks every follower would allow a spam account like this, who has never tweeted before, to follow them – unless perhaps they are also spam accounts. Here are those accounts:
The really odd thing about the accounts is that there is very little odd about them, and very little in common (other than being protected). One is from Brazil (Beatriz), one from the US (Alessandra), and one from Turkey (Esra). The Brazilian one has tweeted 50 times, the US one twice, and the Turkish one 2828 times. The Brazilian account has over 400 followers, and follows over 500 accounts. That doesn’t look particularly spammy to me. The US account looks like a spam account or the account of someone who set up an account and never uses it, having only tweeted twice and having very few followers. (of course being protected doesn’t help). The Turkish account has under a hundred followers, which maybe is odd for an account that has tweeted 2828 times. So what are these accounts? Are they spammer accounts too? Why would three protected accounts accept a spam account as a follower at the same time? Maybe it’s just coincidence that three protected accounts allowed this spammer to follow them at the same time?
While away from my computer I noticed another spam account, which I took a screenshot of on my phone, but was gone by the time I was back on my computer. Giovanna joins the crew, if briefly:
Apparently having only one account is never enough though, as I did find Leonel waiting as a new follower when I got back to my computer:
Leonel is already following 399 people, and is followed by 1 account. I suspect Leonel won’t make it very far.
I think I’m going to have to give up following what’s going on with these accounts. I didn’t think there would be this many. I guess I should just be happy to realize that eventually Twitter suspends all of them,, and I don’t really have to deal with them myself.
Update 2/17/2014 (#2):
As soon as I published the above update I noticed a new follower, which based on the name and its spelling I took a look and sure enough:
Leonel, by the way, is already suspended. That took, minutes?
Update 2/17/2014 (#3):
Wait, Jacqulyn isn’t alone:
Okay, now I really need to stop following these accounts. While at the beginning it was interesting to see if I could figure out the strategies the spammer was using to gain real followers, now it just seems like there are no strategies at play here, at least no good ones, or ones that learn from mistakes. At the very least I won’t be updating this as often. Maybe I’ll check back in a few days and see if any of the accounts still exist.
So this will likely be the last update on this particular spammer. As I mentioned in my previous update, there appears to be no strategy at play here, and newer accounts don’t improve on older accounts in their ability to not get caught as spam accounts. I thought at first there was a perhaps a real person creating the accounts or at least adjusting the algorithms used to create them, but now it seems clear that no human is involved here, and no changes are occurring to the algorithms to improve how realistic the accounts are to casual observation (or Twitter’s automated checks).
The worst thing is what makes these accounts so obvious to the human observer – is that they all use the exact same photo. That it is still using male names for an account with a female photo avatar is also pretty bad. They haven’t entered a description into any of these accounts, nor tweeted a single time from any of the accounts. I don’t know what the point of all these accounts are, but either there isn’t one, or the person trying to make these accounts is really really dumb. In any case, I think this topic is no longer particularly interesting. Short some huge change, this will be my last update to this post. As a parting gift, here are all the accounts I’ve noticed in the few days since my last update:
Oh, and Anjelica Rattner is amazingly still around, with 59 followers currently. Almost all of the other accounts above have been suspended.