June 28, 2012, 6:00 AM — So I logged onto my favorite microblogging service a few days ago and was greeted by the following bit of news. It seems I had been followed overnight by five hot Twitter babes.
Why do these things not happen to me in real life? Oh, right – because I’m old and cranky. But also because four of these accounts are bots; only one is not. Can you spot the difference? That’s the subject for today’s lesson in social media management.
Twitter bots are actually easier to identify than Facebook bots, in part because there is less information to verify and the warning signs are more obvious. Take “Pamella Bullock,” for example:
1. Pamella is a babe. While spambots aren’t exclusively female or attractive, in my experience the vast majority of Twitter bots are designed to appeal to hetero men, even though 59 percent of Twitter users are women. (Which could be attributable in part to all these fembots.)
2. The Twitter handle is nonsensical and doesn’t relate to the name of the account holder. Again this is something that occasionally happens with genuine accounts, but not very often. Also: “Pamella” isn’t usually spelled with two Ls. Duh.
3. The Web site is a dead giveaway here, of course. But many bots are used to drive Twitter users to less obviously spammy sites.
4. The low number of tweets indicates the account is relatively new. Bot herders have to continually generate new accounts as their old ones get nuked.
5. The ratio of Following to Followers is about 10 to 1, which is pretty high. High ratios are true of massively popular Twitter accounts like @charliesheen or @ladygaga. But with accounts like this one, it’s a sure sign that the bot owner is following people at random in the hopes they will follow back. (When the number of people followed exceeds 2000, Twitter starts monitoring this ratio to suss out bots, so spammers respond by creating lots of little bots that fall under that threshold – another reason why many appear to be new accounts.)
6. The tweets lack actual content. There are two kids of bots: The ones that tweet out spammy links, usually obscured by some link-shortening service; and the ones that tweet out things that could be mistaken for real tweets but are simply brain-dead aphorisms like “It’s the hardest thing to let someone go when you have no other choice but to let go.” This bot exists for one reason only: To get horny guys to click on the photo and visit that porn site.