Twitter is a mess. Maybe it’s just me, but in the last few weeks the vast majority of my new Twitter followers were bots or people promoting something. Perhaps that’s not unexpected. After all, I’m sure an even higher percentage of my email is spam. In this day and age, it’s a certainty that any free medium will attract abuse. But the problem is that there are lots of enablers for Twitter abuse. Are YOU an enabler of bad behavior?

(As you may have noticed, this post is a departure from my usual neuromarketing theme. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to brain-based marketing next time.)

Why do I say there are enablers on Twitter? Because many of these marginal accounts have thousands upon thousands of followers. I’ve seen accounts with 50 low-quality, impersonal tweets that have 20K followers. While it would be nice to think those are all other spammers, they aren’t. Many are real people posting quality tweets themselves who automatically follow back anyone who follows them.

I think it’s going to take a village, or more precisely, a community, to clean up Twitter. Here’s my simple, two-step prescription for cleaning up much of the dreck on Twitter.

Step 1: Treat Twitter as a Community

Maybe I’m like a surgeon who sees cutting as the solution to every health problem, but as a long-time Web community builder I think one part of the solution is to act more like a community. We all need to look beyond our own tweet-streams and do what we can to help the entire group. If I follow back some idiot who is auto-posting motivational quotes, news feeds, and links to some money-making scheme or a tool to get more followers, I’m encouraging that behavior. In addition, the more of those low-quality tweeters I let into my tweet stream, the less likely I am to see tweets from my Twitter friends who are real people and actually have something to say.

So, my simple suggestion is to look at the people who follow you, and use the “block and report for spam” and “block” controls for anyone who looks automated or of very low quality. While you might be losing the occasional automated retweet from one of these accounts, that’s a small price to pay for not having them pollute your timeline with mindless quotes, useless news, and self-promos. (Hint: if their bio mentions making money, MLM, or “helping YOU” don’t read any farther, hit the block button. And most “social media experts” are anything but.)

Some tweeps fall into the “semi-human” category. That is, they DO interact with other users, but still post a lot of junk tweets. Their follower counts often suggest phony growth via automated tools. I rarely follow one of these, but I will sometimes not block them. If the want to read my stuff, fine. If they want to interact, they can send me an @ message. But in most cases they will unfollow me after a few days as their only reason for following was to add another follower to their own count.

In short, I strongly suggest you block, or at least ignore, anyone who follows you that isn’t entirely human. Block any jerk who auto-DMs you. Watch your timeline, too, for low quality tweets and check out the sender’s profile; if they are tweeting mainly junk, block or unfollow them. (I find spammers popping up in my timeline; likely, they looked “real” at first glance. I tend to give new followers the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes a bad actor slips through.)

When you block a low quality account, your actions send a signal to them, and perhaps to Twitter too, that you won’t put up with spam just to keep a follower.

Different Strokes. Some people are starting to do this, albeit in an extreme way. Lately, I’ve seen more users “declaring Twitter bankruptcy”,, nuking all the people they follow, and starting over from scratch. Others keep the number of people they follow very low, as described in Lisa Barone’s Twitter Snob post. (I prefer to follow back more people mainly to afford those followers the ability to send me a direct message, and because I do sample my full timeline throughout the day. I keep a tiny watch list for those folks I want to read more of.)

Whatever your strategy, do SOMETHING to discourage low quality tweeting. (But don’t do anything as extreme as my pal Edward Lewis, aka @PageOneResults, who, to the great detriment of the community, dropped out completely. Edward was very tough on spammers and promoters – check out his Twitter TOS – but the unreliability of the service itself apparently pushed him over edge.)

Step 2: Twitter Needs an Algo

Twitter could be collecting and using all of its data about who gets blocked, who gets unfollowed, who gets RTed, and so on to score accounts by quality. We know that if Google didn’t have an amazingly sophisticated algorithm for scoring sites and pages, its results would be irrelevant and full of spam. Twitter needs to start focusing on their users and finding out who the humans are. I’d like to see Twitter experiment with some options to screen out the automated accounts and the promoters. A few random ideas:

  • Calculate (and display?) a quality score for each user.
  • If a user’s score is too low, don’t display his tweets in searches.
  • Tightly restrict the number of people a low-scoring user can follow in a specific time period.
  • Use a more sophisticated algorithm to stamp out automated follower-building.

There has to be a way to keep Twitter both human and keep the promotion to a minimum, and right now Twitter is doing nothing beyond deactivating the least-sophisticated automated spammers.

Be Part of the Solution!

One thing I don’t foresee is Twitter hiring a big staff of quality control people to look at every account or tweet. It’s incumbent on the community to clean up our own timelines, and, by doing so, send Twitter data that it can use to automate junk account removal or downgrading.

What are YOUR ideas for cutting the noise on Twitter?

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