Twitter is now cause for account suspension, according to a message on the Twitter developers email list from a company support team member.One of the most controversial practices widely used to build up influence on
Using third party software to systematically add a large number of social connections each day, then break those connections with anyone who doesn't reciprocate, is a method used by some number of Twitter users to create an appearance of legitimacy for subsequent new connections. Twitter's Doug Williams said last night that such practices will now risk account suspension. Some users will be unhappy about the policy, many others will probably applaud it. There are valid arguments on both sides of the position.
The issue was raised last night by developer Jesse Stay, one of the most consistently outspoken critics of Twitter policy and creator of the service SocialToo. Twitter's Doug Williams replied simply that "There is no limit to the number of unfollows. Using software to constantly churn followers in a repeated pattern of following and unfollowing will however risk suspension."
Critics have long complained that many people on Twitter have artificially inflated their social network despite producing no meaningful content on the site. The use of friend-inflation software has put unscrupulous marketers in particular in a position to broadcast their messages to a much wider network of people than they have "earned." It's been effective because a quick glance at the friend-to-followers ratio on someone's Twitter account profile page has been the easiest way to judge the legitimacy of a new social connection. Getting a new connection and evaluating whether it's worth reciprocating costs time and energy - so most users don't appreciate impersonal automated social connections.
Combine the ego-boost of having a stranger "follow" you with the fact that lots of other people are already following them back, and new users are often happy to reciprocate a new connection. It must be a good party I've been invited to, you might say, look how many other people are already here. All too often users end up feeling fooled into attending the Web 2.0 equivalent of a multi-level marketing pitch session.
There's a widespread belief that "followers" on Twitter ought to be earned by a user's history of high-value contributions to conversation on the platform. The ability for users to discover other high-value people took a hit last month when Twitter made public replies from one user to another invisible for people not following the user being replied to.
Media hacker Dave Winer argued this morning that Twitter itself is the biggest offender. By sending hundreds of thousands of people to follow accounts on its Suggested User List, Winer contends that the company engages in the same kind of unfair artificial inflation of follower numbers for a select group of accounts that haven't necessarily earned that high profile with high quality content.
Users of automatic friend inflation software seem particularly offensive, though. They are often the most craven attention-seekers on the service, sometimes self-proclaimed "social media experts" who claim general legitimacy based on their large number of followers.
On The Other Hand
Not everyone will be happy with the Twitter policy of suspending accounts that have grown with the help of software. To draw a more favorable analogy, how different is this from automated promotional activities in other media?
No one is forcing people to follow-back accounts that friend them unexpectedly and have a lot of followers already. Shouldn't savvy users be responsible for evaluating an account's content quality themselves? When a social network has tens or hundreds of millions of users, is it not legitimate for businesses to use automatic methods to reach out to them?
A discussion of the policy would seem to be a good idea, instead of an arbitrary suspension of accounts based on Twitter HQ's apparent belief about how the service ought to be used. There is a small cottage industry formed already around "friend acquisition software" for Twitter. On one hand, it's an old-world business person's dream come true - just throw a little money at some software and gain thousands of friends! On the other hand, Twitter is an important new communication platform that represents the democratic and meritocratic hopes of many innovative people. It's also just a nice place to hang out and talk with friends, without someone trying to sell you things. Should we all be left to our own devices for building status, if that's important to us, on Twitter?
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