Why You Don’t Need TrueTwit and the Problem with Fake Followers

Many people use TrueTwit or other follower validation services to try to ensure that all their Twitter followers are real. In Twitter’s IPO filing, the company estimated that up to 5 percent of Twitter users were fake. You may wonder what fake followers are, and why they exist. Generally, fake followers exist only to spam you. Additionally, fake followers might assist bad guys in stealing your identity.

So the concern is real. But why punish real people because some unscrupulous people might follow you, especially when there are alternatives?

What is TrueTwit?

TrueTwit is a service with one purpose: To ensure that that Twitter account that just followed you is managed by a real, live human. Unfortunately, in order to accomplish this, TrueTwit (and other similar services; don’t mean to bash just them) make you do the Stupid Human Tricks.

You know the Stupid Human Tricks. You’ve seen them all over, and you hate them. Here’s an example, from TrueTwit from a couple of years ago. This is called a CAPTCHA, short for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.

CAPTCHA example
CAPTCHA example

Incidentally, the Turing test is named after Alan Turing, the brilliant cryptology hero of World War II who was recently pardoned (which was nice and all, but the British government castrated him in 1952 due to homosexuality, and he’s been dead for 60 years; but I digress).

Turing proposed a way to tell if the person on the other end of a communications line was a human or a computer, and that’s what CAPTCHA does, and what TrueTwit is really all about.

TrueTwit no longer uses CAPTCHAs like the one above exclusively. Now they have you type or respond to one of several types of phrases:

  • Marketing messages (probably from their advertisers)
  • Multiple choice (which of these is a number?)
  • Other random phrases

They also post a dizzying array of content and ads on the validation page, making it just a little bit harder to figure out what you need to do to be released from TrueTwit prison.


TrueTwit example screen

Don’t Insult Your Potential Followers

So let’s take a look at what’s going on here. Someone sees a tweet of yours, or otherwise decides that you might be a pretty cool person to follow on Twitter. Your prospective new follower innocently clicks the Follow button and receives an email similar to the following:

TrueTwitExample

What the heck, your potential follower thinks. If they decide to go through with their inclination to follow you, they click the link. But it’s likely that they just abandon their quest to do you the favor of receiving your tweets.

Now let’s leave aside the irony that TrueTwit, in addition to being accurately named, is basically a robot that determines whether you are a robot or not. Let’s think about the hostile act you’ve just committed by putting potential followers through the TrueTwit wringer: You’ve insulted their humanity. You’ve made them run a gauntlet before allowing them to follow you. You’ve subtly declared that you are way more important than they are.

Great.

What’s Wrong with Fake Twitter Followers?

Now I’m not minimizing the problem of fake followers. I get dozens of them a month. I take care of the problem by reviewing each new follower’s profile and if it looks robotic, I don’t follow them back, block them and report them for spam.

It’s quite easy to block someone and report them. Just drop down the little arrow to the left of the Follow button on their profile page and select either block or report (which also blocks).

Twitter blocking a user

This is an altruistic action as well as a practical one. If Twitter gets too many spam or block notices about a profile, they will suspend it, and another spammer is discouraged, if only for a moment.

Now if you don’t want to take the trouble to identify your new followers, first of all, I have to ask you: Do you really understand what social media is all about? It’s social media. It’s about creating relationships, not amassing huge numbers of people you don’t know and who aren’t actually reading what you post.

See our books (http://bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson) for more on how to Be a Person on social media.

However, even by checking out your new followers on a regular basis, some fakers are likely to slip by. This can be a problem for several reasons.

  • If you follow back fake followers, they can spam you via direct messages with malicious Web links and even try to hack your account. It’s generally not a big problem, but could be. And if you don’t think having loads of fake followers can be a problem, just ask Mitt Romney . . .
  • If you and the spammy fake follower follow each other, you might receive phishing direct messages like this one:
    Phishing example
    Often these phishing scams lead you to a page that looks like a Twitter login page, but which enables the bad guy to steal your credentials so they can impersonate you and perhaps worse.
  • Even if they are not malicious, fake followers can be annoying. I recently got this tweet less than a day after following someone: “@MikeEllsworth By 2015, it’s estimated that up to half of all online purchases will befrom mobile devices. tinyurl.com/CLICKBANK-OFFI… ends 1/15”
  • Fake followers (or spammy real followers) can post spam on your timeline. This hapless guy forgot to put the dot at the front of the message so that all my followers would see it, but I think you can see the problem. Incidentally if you don’t know that trick, here’s the deal: If you start a message with a user’s handle, Twitter will make the tweet visible only to those people who follow both you and the recipient, which is likely to be a small number. So the recipient’s followers who don’t also follow you never see it. Beginning a post with any character besides an @ will show the post to everyone who follows the recipient and everyone who follows you.

Free Tools to Identify Fake Followers

The final reason not to use services like TrueTwit is that there are plenty of free services that will help you divest yourself of fake followers. Some to try:

So if you’re thinking of using a Twitter user validation service, think twice.

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