How To Get Your Twitter Account Suspended

I managed to get my Twitter account suspended! No idea why, and no big deal as I'd only recently started to use it, but has given me the opportunity to delve into the more unseemly side of Twitter. Every social networking site is full of antisocial behaviour and every website has systems in place to try and mitigate its effects on the average user. Twitter is no different, but the number of aggrieved people who have had their accounts suspended means that Twitter needs to have a long hard look at the systems they have in place. The issues below are a summary of some of the cases I have found online.

The first place to look to see what behaviour can get you banned is the Twitter Terms of Service. There are some fairly obvious things not to do, such as impersonating a real person (although satirical spoofs are accepted so long as it is obvious), publishing or linking to pornography or any other illegal activity, publishing people's private details and, of course, spamming. But it is this latter category that seems filled with potentially nebulous definitions that can get you labelled as 'antisocial' by the Twitter corporation.

Many users have found their accounts suspended for being antisocial. This is somewhat ironic for a social website but all Brothers and Sisters must conform or be banished from the social organism! But let's have a close look at what it takes to be a social outcast.

From Twitter's definition of spam: "If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates." This is the most worrying one. Anybody who uses Twitter to send updates about their blog or website is going to fall foul of this, and yet, follow any mainstream website and all you get are links to their articles. This is a huge case of double standards. Are these corporate websites paying to send out their spam? Is any of it really spam if people are willingly following you? Sending out garbage that nobody reads is a waste of time. Many of the people I was following just sent out links to interesting stuff. Twitter demands that anybody who uses Twitter solely for marketing links must contact them to request to do so. Anybody who has not made such an official request is liable at some point to fall foul of this rule. To show how random this can be, one guy was accused of having all his links point to one site. When he told Twitter that was obviously because it was his blog they reinstated his account!

"If you have followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time." No numbers are given but this could mean anything. Getting followers is a long and sometimes tedious process of building a network from users you already follow. There is always someone who follows first, then the person followed can decide whether to follow their follower... or not. Following on Twitter is a one-way arrow and not the same as the two-way 'friends' thing on Facebook. It is easy to follow a trail of people each of whom follows the previous user. How many does one have to follow in one sitting to fall foul of the Twitter police? Nobody knows.

One consequence of the above rule is that anybody who doesn't like what you write about can flag you as a spammer just for accidentally joining them. I'm not saying most people act this way but I am saying that this can happen and from what I've read, Twitter acts first and then thinks about it in their own sweet time. The internet is full of low-level information warfare that many people are just not aware of. Whether it is Anonymous v $cientology or Christians v Atheists there are spam wars out there to remove or promote content on various social websites. In the instant world of Twitter's follow/unfollow it shouldn't be a sin to follow the wrong person. If after a few tweets you find someone isn't of interest it is a simple matter to unfollow. No ill feelings, no harm done.

However, if one combines the previous definition with the fact that "The number of spam complaints that have been filed against you" also count, then you can easily become a target for people who don't like you. "If a large number of people are blocking you" is also a way to flag an account without formally sending admins a spam report. The lesson here is perhaps to have a good long read of a user's tweets and not just look at their cryptic profile. For example, imagine you're an atheist geek and tweet about both. You follow someone because you've seen some interesting geeky tweets; he then follows you back. He suddenly reads your atheist tweets and gets offended because he's a Christian. Who's fault is that? Does that warrant being flagged as a spammer? Just unfollow and walk away.

I found one user accused of being part of a spam ring. Twitter did reinstate their account on this occasion but the reason is revealing. One spammer is less effective than a whole group. Following each other may, on the face of it, seem pointless but it does give each of them a veneer of sociability that a lone spammer needs to work hard to achieve. If you accidentally find yourself following a few of them Twitter's spam algorithm may well flag you as part of the ring. It may seem strange that someone would willingly join a spam ring but there are many areas in which legitimate information and spam can easily blend. Areas such as personal finance and health are filled with both information and spam. Again, don't just follow people for the sake of it - take a long hard look at how long they've been on Twitter and what their recent tweets look like.

"If you have a small number of followers compared to the amount of people you are following." This could be the profile of a spammer, but what use is it unless you send private messages to all those people, and then you will surely be blocked or flagged for spam. But if, for example, you've started using Twitter as a kind of aggregated RSS feed for lots of news channels then don't expect those accounts to follow you back. You could easily end up following over a hundred twitters without any of them following you back. The lesson here is to build up who you follow slowly and more or less in step with the number of people following you.

I'm sure Twitter doesn't take any one solitary condition as a trigger to suspend accounts - at least I hope not! But there are enough bemused users out there to show that the current system is far from perfect. A real spammer isn't going to bother to complain; they'll just open another account with a new name and fresh email address. Just be careful you're not the target of Twitter's shoot first policy.
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