Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘blocking

I have been around the Twitter block since January 2007. I have learnt that sometimes I have to block and report other Twitter users.

The first category is scammers and spammers. Both might be bots or semi-bots that send scams and spam to #hashtagged chats, or to @handles publicly or via private DM. Blocking this group is essential for a clean and focused Twitter experience.

The spammers and scammers are easy to spot. They tend to have:

  • nearly identical messages sent out to different people
  • identical or nearly identical messages sent from different accounts
  • different profiles but the same personal website URL
  • dubious-sounding claims, promises, or links

The second category is trolls. This is an ugly, venomous lot. They tend to be attracted to celebrities and the entertainment industry, but a few wander into the edu-Twitterverse. Trolls need to not only be blocked but also reported to Twitter so that they can be blacklisted or removed.

The trolls are tend to be negative, but not critically so. The problem with this definition is that what is negative depends on how tolerant a person is. A tweeter can be negative but constructive, and that does not make him or her a troll. Trolls tend to attack people instead of ideas. It is best to observe that person over a period of time to gauge overall behaviour and monitor the responses that others may have.

The third category is people who do not know how to use the right handles. This might be something reserved for people with unique handles like me (@ashley). I get lots of misdirected tweets and retweets every day. Make that every hour. No, make that every minute.

Sometimes this is an honest mistake. Other times these tweets are from Twitter newbies or lazy tweeters.

If the tweeter seems to have made an honest mistake or is a newbie, I take less drastic action by muting instead of blocking.

I block recalcitrants. If I do not block or mute these folk, I suffer a slew misdirected messages from them that were intended for someone else. The messages can be abusive, personal, x-rated, or otherwise undesirable.

In the last year or so, I have noticed a surge of poorly curated “myfollowers” lists. This is when people I do not know or follow add me to their “myfollowers” list. These folk could be spammers, scammers, or newbies.

If they are not educators, I tend to block them. If they are and have added me by mistake, I remove myself from their lists (original guide).

  1. Visit your profile on Twitter
  2. Click on lists and then on “Member of”
  3. Visit the profile of the person who created the list
  4. Block that person for a few seconds
  5. Unblock them

Why not simply grin and bear with the spam, scam, trolls, misdirected tweets, or improperly curated lists? I know that ignoring the problems will not make them go away. Not doing anything is defeatist and irresponsible. I choose to be empowered, not helpless.

Blocking people and bots on Twitter is an underrated feature. I bet most people do not use it because they think that blocking is anti-social or it will reduce their follower count.

I counter those notions. Blocking is social responsibility.

Bot or semi-bot accounts are getting cleverer.

Some engage in seemingly harmless practices like adding you to “myfollowers” lists or favouriting your tweets. I block accounts that do these because they ultimately affect my reputation as measured by Twitter data.

Bots or semi-bots used to be “eggs” (the default profile picture) and their postings were quite obvious. Now they have human avatars, believable profiles, and proper names as handles. Even their tweets look less spammy.

But such bot or semi-bot accounts are easy enough to identify if you do a bit of investigative work over time.

Recently I was followed by several such accounts (see image). It might be hard to tell at first glance why I blocked them. When I examined their tweets, I noticed patterns.

One clear pattern was a similar number of tweets which started at roughly the same time. Another was the content of tweets. While there was a range of topics, they all were about similar things.

Not blocking a few of these accounts led to more of such accounts following me. After I started blocking them, the flow of such spambots slowed to a trickle.

Such bots or semi-bots seem to have an ant-like algorithm. If you do not kill their scouts, they create a trail to you and swarm.

Ant Dinner Is Served! by giovzaid85, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  giovzaid85 

People and bots that distribute spam do no good. They artificially inflate Twitter counts, reduce the reputation of Twitter (and by association yours as well), and they increase the noise to signal ratio.

It is difficult to control email spam because we have little control as single users. For example, we need the might of Google to stem spam email near its source. However, we have a social responsibility to block and report spambots or other offensive accounts in Twitter. That human element is still critical.

Social media is not just social because you can disseminate to a much wider audience, it is also about having more creative and critical dialogues. Spammers and spambots in Twitter do the former but not the latter. They also decrease the quality of content and conversations. It is not enough to ignore them. We should not be afraid to block them.

Block Head by iluetkeb, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  iluetkeb 

This ZDnet author thinks that Google+’s best feature is the power to shut fools up. He goes on to describe how to follow only the people you want to hear from and how to block those you don’t.

As I read the article, I wondered if blocking on Twitter did not do the same thing.

I have mentioned before that I actively 20 to 50 block people and “people” everyday. This results in a loss of 600 to 1500 potential followers every month. It is a good thing I do not play the numbers game.

I block because people are following the wrong @ashley and I do not want to lead them astray. I block because some followers are spammers or bots. I generally block those who are marketers, have private accounts, or do not have anything to do with education.

Call me a block head if you wish, but I think that is part of responsible Twitter account management.

I used to remove some of my “followers” on Twitter. Now I block them ever since Twitter made changes to its site. It’s like culling crows.

Removing them reduces my follower count, but I do this because:

  1. Not all followers are authentic. Some are bots, some are spammers, some follow me thinking I am some other “ashley”.
  2. Some folks might refer to my list of followers for ideas on who else to follow. I do not want to mislead them. I only wish to share with a PLN of forward-thinking educators and other stakeholders who might push pedagogy.

Doing this takes a fair bit of effort. It is easy to process and consume large volumes of information everyday. It is much harder to curate, but I think that it’s worth the effort.

Here are the tools I have used for culling/blocking, in order of preference:

  1. site: once at your list of followers, it takes 2 clicks to block someone
  2. Tweetdeck in Chrome: 2 clicks to block, but occasionally suffers from API errors
  3. Twitbird Pro mobile app: It takes 3 taps to block
  4. Tweetdeck client: 2 clicks to block, but suffers from API errors
  5. Twitter app on iPad: It takes 4 or 5 taps to block
  6. Twitter app on iPhone: It takes 6 taps to block

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: