Twitter has long been plagued by fake accounts and spam posts, but that could be coming to an end. At the end of last month, Twitter has explained in a detailed blog post that they will be clamping down on posts which go against their posting policies and affect other users’ experience on the platform.
The social media giant has invested in new technology and specialised staff to combat spam accounts, and reports that its improved processes have challenged more than 9.9 million accounts per week in May which were potentially automated or spam. That figure is 6.7 million greater than the equivalent from September 2017.
What is spam?
Spam has a number of different forms and definitions, but essentially it is any behaviour which is repetitive and impacts other users negatively. This could appear as creating multiple accounts; posting a large number of updates or repeatedly posting duplicate updates; liking, replying or mentioning accounts excessively. However, this list is not exhaustive and as platforms develop so will the tactics of spammers.
This increase in proactive investment has also been justified by the number of reports of spam from users themselves. Twitter has announced that reports have “from an average of approximately 25,000 per day in March, to approximately 17,000 per day in May”.
This is a clear indication that the change in approach is working, and not just to remove inactive accounts but to make a difference to the experience provided to their users.
There are four areas that Twitter staff are focussing on:
1) Reducing the visibility of suspicious accounts in Tweet and account metrics
This, in simpler terms, is an effort to make suspicious accounts less likely to be seen by other users while under investigation. The numbers of pages following and following this account will be hidden and the associated metrics on linked accounts will be updated much more quickly than in the past. This also drops the priority of the investigated account’s tweets in timelines so other users are less likely to see the posts. This is particularly important for those posting malicious updates, with infected links or untrue information.
2) Improving our sign-up process
Twitter will be shortly introducing a requirement to authenticate an email address or phone number when creating a new profile on the site, making it harder for those who create multiple spam accounts. However, in the interest of safety for those in a high-risk environment where anonymity is important, the site are working with their ‘Trust and Safety Council’ and a number of other expert organisations.
3) Auditing existing accounts for signs of automated sign-up
Similar to the tighter controls on the sign-up process, this action aims to target accounts created through an old sign-up process loophole which bypasses some checks, allowing spam accounts to be made. This is most commonly used by those creating multiple accounts automatically. Their goal is to “ensure that every account created on Twitter has passed some simple, automatic security checks designed to prevent automated signups”.
4) Expansion of our malicious behaviour detection systems
The automated system used to detect spam posts has been refined and will now automatically challenge accounts with suspicious activity. Suspicious activity may include a exceptionally high-volume of tweets published with the same hashtag or using the same username mention with no reply from that account. Depending on how the detection system classifies the case, different levels of authentication will be requested. A simple reCAPATCHA process or password reset request will be required for less serious infringements on the site’s rules. This confirms that there is someone directly monitoring the account and removes automated profiles. More serious cases are automatically directed to a review team.
Inauthentic accounts, spam, and malicious automation disrupt everyone’s experience on Twitter, and we will never be done with our efforts to identify and prevent attempts to manipulate conversations on our platform.
What can you do?
To ensure that you are not targeted by malicious activity, be aware of common tactics used by spreaders of malware.
- Only click on links to external sites from trusted sources with logical web addresses
- If you are followed by an unknown account, be aware of their activity. Look at their profile and see if there are tweets which are relevant to you. If you are unsure about the content or intentions of the account, you can report the account. Click the overview icon (three vertical dots) then follow the instructions.
- If you receive a private message from an unknown account, do not open any links or reply to the message. Again, if you have concerns then report the account.
- If you see a suspicious post appear on your timeline, report the post in the same way that you would when reporting an account. This could be a tweet with a link that seems out of the ordinary, an excessive number of posts from the same account or posts which are duplicated across a number of accounts which are otherwise unrelated.
By reporting tweets, you will be helping the wider Twitter community by flagging these potentially dangerous spam posts for review. Even though the site are working hard to combat automated spam accounts, human review is always the best judgement and can spot things that automated systems may not.
Read more into the efforts that Twitter are making to improve users’ experience here: https://blog.twitter.com/official/en_us/topics/company/2018/how-twitter-is-fighting-spam-and-malicious-automation.html