How to spot a twitter spambot from 82 miles away(and then some).

In addition to my hard selling tactics I spend a lot of time sifting through my followers list so I’ve developed a keen sense of who is a spam bot and who is not. Now of course this list is not exhaustive but this is a solid start.

Basic Bot Spotting:

The most obvious bots can be detected without even reading a single one of their tweets.

The bots who aren’t hiding anything:  these will generally have at least 3 of the following characteristics, unless they meet item 6, which means they are always a bot, ALWAYS

  1. Ridiculously skewed following to followers counts, like 1449 following and only a 100 followers. If they haven’t tweeted anything yet, they are spam bots. If they have, they probably  still are spam bots too(or just horrible feeds).
  2. No bio. This is another key almost all obvious ones have.
  3. If they have an egg profile pic, though there are some non-spam egg users, they’ll have a bio.
  4. twitter handles that are either jibberish,  common names with long numbers on the end or random sounding first and last name combinations
  5. If they have profile pic, its of a young attractive female(this is only a dead giveaway when combined with the other characteristics).
  6. they @ you out of the blue with links. The bots will never meet item one, as they follow almost no one and no one follows them, but they have 8 billion tweets.

My pet peeves:  The online marketers, inspirational quotes and team follow back.

online marketer bio  keywords and phrases dead giveaway: Networking,connecting, marketing, money, Entrepreneur, SEO(and similar abrriviations), “showing ___ how to…” “connect with ___” “Increase ____”

Inspiration/self-help: Potential, inspire, success, goals, happiness, quotes, achieve, mentor.

Teamfollowback: any bio with a permutation of word “follow” in it EXCEPT those that say “will not follow back”

All businesses(for profit or not) are spambots in practice: They are there to market to you only and do not give the least bit about anything you have to say. You can follow these if you’re interested in them, don’t expect any friendships even if there is somebody on the other end.

Again there are exceptions, but as you’ve figured out by now, there are all always exceptions.

Other bio giveaways: If somebody tells you they write an amusing or entertaining feed, or how they’re here to make friends, you’ll find just the opposite. I don’t mention how crazy awesome my feed is in my profile, it should be self-explanatory after awhile. Also be wary of anything like “Keeping you informed of” that is all that feed will do.

Intermediate Bot Spotting:

Now we come to the bots where you have to read their tweets. This is intermediate because there are tons of cases where the people here are not bots. However, everyone here will use twitter automating software to some degree.

Crafty bots: These bots have bios that don’t have the usual keywords. Read their tweets. If they talk about their family and fishing, but tweet about twitter software, they are bots.

Auto following/unfollowing: Look at the ratio, if a feed has roughly 25k followers and 25k following, they are using the software. In fact most non-celebs with high followings use this software(hi there). All of the basic bot spotting bots use this. The hard part is not everyone who uses it is a spam bot.

Auto tweets: Now we come to the feeds of real people but who have automated their feeds to the point they don’t tweet themselves anymore. They key here is ratio of automated tweets to non automated tweets.

Promo Links: These almost always have hashmarks on them and sound like promos. Not hard.

single @ thank you for following messages: The message sets the tone of the overall feed. My DM thank you message is very impersonal and sounds like an auto-tweet. but it’s “in universe” which means my feed might be very interesting.  Here are a few general pointers.

  1. Are they are selling you stuff off the bat? They’re probably going to bombard you endlessly with promos as a general rule.
  2. Do they want you to connect elsewhere, such as face book? In that case, their twitter feed is generally auto-tweet only as its a means to funnel.
  3. Do they use your name? My name is Noah Murphy. If I tweet says “thanks for following, Noah’ These are not autotweets, though they might be copy/pasted, which can be fine because it means someone is still driving the wheel.  If they say, “thank you for following Noah Murphy,” that is an autotweet.
  4. You can’t tell much from DMs as its just you, but mention column thank yous can be telling because of reasons that should be obvious by now.

Single @ other thank yous: Frequency and repetition. Will always be mentions

Multi-@ mentions and thank  yous: The rule of thumb is how  often. Many times these are hand-crafted, but they won’t be the only thing in the feed.

Retweet only feeds: I hate these feeds, I find them lazy, and with 8500+ users, I’d do more service RTing some of them. Not all of these are spambots. Often times its just someone who picks and chooses what to autotweet. Figuring out whats a spambot and what is not is virtually impossible so don’t take guesses. Follow at your leisure.

Quotes and news links: Same deal. Frequency and repetition.

Don’t forget, some feeds will use a mixture of all of those components.

Advanced Bot Spotting:

This stuff only comes with experience:

True-Twit Validation: You get these DMs that say “___ uses True Twit Validation please go here and validate.” The intention behind the service was for real people to use to sift out the bots. Instead, most people don’t use it. Its become a way for the spambots to make sure only real people are following them.  If someone uses true-twit, 9/10 its a bot and I unfollow.

Protected Feed: Protected feeds,  unlike true-tweet feeds, are always real people as there is an manual step involved on the part of the feed(accepting the follow request).  As far as I can tell true-twit can’t force an unfollow.

Lurkers: These are the accounts which have not tweeted in a long time but recently followed/followed back. There are two types. One is a real person, one is not. If the following/following count is low, real person. If the count looks they use software, bots.

Dates and Times: People have lives outside of twitter. When I’m busy with other things, I might not tweet much at all for days but leave my software running, three latest tweets twitter shows you might not be enough.  You’ll have to look down their tweets a good ways to get an idea, but it will always come out.

Sounds like a person: A few months back, I got a huge rash of spambots that tweet random comments about their lives, with only a very occasional promo. The only way I spotted them was because multiple bots tweeted the exact same identical comments about their boyfriends, down to the punctuation.

Sounds like a bot: These feeds I’ve mentioned before, real people crafting tweets that sound like autotweets but are merely cut/paste jobs.  In one case, I mistook a real guy for a bot.  The way to tell here, reply to them, if they respond back in a casual manner, then they’re cool(like with that guy). If they don’t, move on.

Don’t speak English(or whatever): There are lots of languages on planet Earth. I, due to my disability, can only understand one. As much I truly would like to learn Spanish, French, Hebrew or any other foreign language, its not going to happen any time soon( I was pretty good with Latin in high school, but nobody uses it outside of academia except for Catholics). Unless I have reason to suspect otherwise(like profile is in English, tweets are not) on the block list you go. What you do is up to you, because you very might well be bilingual.

Won’t go away: Some spambots will never unfollow. Others will refollow you again and again. That is why I block so much.

Feed Funnels: On many occasions one feed will be used to funnel to another Like one case, i followed one feed to get a DM that said to the effect of “please follow @____ as this is only a dummy account, I will not follow back.” I blocked both feeds. Bio terms to watch out for are “affiliated with,” tweeting for”  or “Please follow.”  The feed funnels are rare, but when you find them, they are some of the worst  you can find on Twitter.

These may sound like I’m just blabbing on about the obvious, but if you think that, chances are you have less than 500 and certainly less that 2000 followers. Once you go above 2000, the floodgates will open and the bots will come, and it will only get worse and worse.

But why care about spambot followers at all? Because followers read your stuff and only real people will care. For me, sifting is essential, because every follow is a potential sale. And even if you’re not trying to make money off the feed, do you really want to shout into a vacuum? I think not.

Now if you excuse me, I am have some bot blocking to do.

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  • Reply
    1389 (@1389)
    February 14, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    You just started following me today. I assure you I am an actual human being! I’m what you would call a hard-news junkie. I very rarely tweet or blog much about myself, partly because I believe that revealing too much about one’s whereabouts or identity online can attract stalkers, burglars, and other criminals (as in, “Hey, everybody, we’re away from home, you can go ahead and burglarize our residence.”) Also, I don’t think the whole world really wants to hear about it every time I go to the dentist or the supermarket or whatever.

    Most of my tweets are links to articles and videos (mostly news and political, but not all) that I discovered and liked. I also retweet some links from my own followers that I’ve viewed and consider to be worth passing along. I use no automatic Twitter software, because I think that defeats the whole purpose of Twitter. I do tweet articles from 1389 Blog (written by myself and others) but I generate them myself.

    I take a look at the Twitter profile before I follow anybody. In general, I unfollow anybody who unfollows me.

    • Reply
      Noah Murphy
      February 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      Its a question of frequency and repetition. I follow people who tweet articles, but they automatically tweet it.

    • Reply
      Noah Murphy
      February 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      Its a question of frequency and repetition. I follow people who tweet articles, but they automatically tweet it.

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