Cross-post: Ragan.com article on Twitter spam

Published: 7/10/2009

Minimizing spam (or coping with it) in Twitter feeds
By Ari Adler

Screening your follows is a good first step, but other methods can help protect you, too

Spam—a nefarious word that sends shivers down your spine whenever you sign up for something online or are asked in a store to share your e-mail address. It’s gotten so pervasive on e-mail that some estimates suggest 90 percent of all e-mail traffic is composed of unsolicited junk.

Now, spammers are stalking you on Twitter, too. The microblogging site known for its 140-character tweets and meteoric rise in popularity has become a place for spammers and get-rich-quick artists to seek you out.

The same basic rules of thumb you follow to protect yourself anywhere online apply to Twitter as well. Don’t give out personal information involving your financial accounts, and don’t share your Twitter password with a third party. Note that there is third-party software out there that is legitimate, and Twitter is trying to help by putting verified, reliable products on its Downloads page.

Even if it’s not a product or a follower that’s been officially blessed by the little blue bird, you can usually tell the good, the bad and the ugly quickly. A few things that should raise a red flag are when someone has zero updates, does nothing but provide links or is following thousands with few or no people following them back.

If you end up being followed by someone, there’s a natural urge to follow them back. Many people will tell you that’s the proper etiquette in a social networking environment, but those same people are probably getting a lot more spam than safe tweeters.

Plenty of references have been made comparing Twitter to a cocktail party. You should think about new followers in that way, too. The first time someone says hello to you at a cocktail party, do you hand over your business card and invite them to come by your office any time unannounced? Of course not—so use the same common sense on Twitter.

Unfortunately, too many people starting out on Twitter don’t take it seriously enough to engage fully, so their profiles can be misleading and may make you think they are a spammer.

A recent study by HubSpot, creators of Twitter Grader, found that a little over 9 percent of Twitter accounts are dormant. Even for those accounts that aren’t dormant, HubSpot found that 80 percent of users failed to provide a home page and 76 percent have not entered biographical information in their profile.

Can you avoid spammers?

Protecting yourself from spam on Twitter is not difficult, but then it’s not foolproof either. No matter how careful you are, spammers and marketing scammers can find you. When that happens, you can report them with a direct message to @spam, the official reporting account for Twitter. They’ll check out alleged bad guys and deal with them appropriately, if it’s determined they indeed are causing trouble.

In addition to Twitter’s own enforcement, there’s a new sheriff in town called TwitChuck. Using this new system, you can type in a user’s Twitter handle to get a score that will help determine whether they are “good follows” or “bad follows.” You could do the same thing yourself by simply viewing their tweet stream before clicking the follow button, but TwitChuck is there if you need an authority figure in your life.

The bigger issue from which there is no real relief yet is the marketing schemes being dreamed up by companies looking to get attention on Twitter. Often enticing your friends with dreams of a free product, they encourage them to tweet often, using a word or phrase they can track. It’s not really spam, because it’s a tweet from someone you usually want to follow. But it can be annoying just the same.

If a friend ends up doing this too much, you could always raise the issue with them or simply unfollow for a while. Or you could put their name on a sign-up sheet for a time-share condo sales meeting and call it even. Maybe then, they’ll get the message.

Ari B. Adler is a media relations professional with experience as a newspaper reporter and editor as well as a government and corporate spokesperson. He is the communications administrator for Delta Dental of Michigan and an adjunct instructor at Michigan State University. You can follow him on Twitter at @aribadler.

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