How to spot a Twitter bot

Is that hottie really just a bottie? Here are six ways you can tell the difference between real and fake accounts on Twitter.

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.

Now contrast “Pamella” with the one non-bot in that lineup:


True, this account has some things in common with the bots: a babalicious picture, a high ratio of follows to followers, and judging by the small number of tweets it appears to be a brand new account.

But the name and Twitter handle make sense, and the Web site listed below them isn’t spammy. There is also actual content in the tweets – even conversations with other Twitter account holders. Spambots aren’t typically very chatty.

Conclusion: Carol P. is a living, breathing human tweeting on behalf of her employer. (And a good sport for letting me use her Twitter profile in this post.)

There are three key differences between how Twitter deals with fake accounts versus how Facebook does it, and in each case Twitter handles them much better.

One is that Facebook routinely recommends bots as “People I might know.” To this day Twitter has never recommended a bot for me to follow.

Twitter is also much much better than Facebook at policing these things. When you spot a bot, you can report it via a single click on the drop down menu next to the Follow button. That click both blocks the account and reports it to Twitter.


Facebook makes it much harder to report bots. The reporting link is buried below the bot’s friends list, and you have to click through five (count em, five) screens to complete a report.

Finally, in my experience, Twitter bots have a very short shelf life. At least a third of the time when I go to report a bot, Twitter has already nuked it. Contrast that to Facebook bots, where fake accounts I reported weeks ago are still active.

And there you have it. If you are still plagued by Twitter zombies after this, you have only yourself to blame. Unless you simply enjoy deluding yourself into thinking you are being followed by a bevy of beauties, fake or otherwise.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

Now read this:

Facebook botnets have gone wild

Inside a Facebook botnet

When blonde zombies attack, Facebook responds (sort of)

This story, "How to spot a Twitter bot" was originally published by ITworld.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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