Some people say robots are the future for mankind. But not on Twitter. Bots are a pain in the timeline. They infiltrate your Twitter account and, before you know it, you’re being swamped by an army of robots who spout more nonsense than your really annoying school friend who tweets non-stop about their cat. Not just that, Twitter bots encourage other fakes to follow you – like you’re some kind of robotic Pied Piper of Hamelin. And when they’re following you, these robots never even say ‘Good morning, how are you today?’, like all those polite robots in the movies. No. They just shout at the world and don’t want to listen to anyone else – like that guy you worked with, who got a promotion.
I’ve been battling bots for the last 18 months across my five Twitter accounts (including my writer’s account @IamTheHuman and my novel’s account @IamTheNovel). I’ve spent the last 18 months tracking down fakes, Blade Runner style, and dealing with them in much the same way that Rick Deckard deals with replicants. I blast them. Well, I block them…but I like to pretend it’s blasting. It makes me feel like I’m Harrison Ford.
So here are the different categories of fake followers, as identified by this experience-hardened, Twitter Blade Runner. Bots will usually display several of these characteristics. So it’s easy to keep your account bot-free, if you become familiar with them.
The ‘Buy Followers’ Bots– These are the worst kind of fakes. They encourage real people to be followed by hundreds and thousands of their own robot kind – because that’s what you get when you buy followers; 100% fakes; not a real person among them. So there’s a simple rule: if the user’s profile urges you to buy followers (usually in a weird typeface) it’s 99.99% going to be a fake. (Lately, I’ve noticed one or two offer Facebook or Instagram followers – treat them exactly the same.) Even if they are a real person, they trade in fakes. So they should get what they deserve. Smoke ’em.
Advertisers – These robots are smart and will often have genuine-looking usernames and well-written biographies. But all they do is re-tweet content from a small pool of websites – often tedious corporate nonsense or lightweight features of the “10 things you don’t know about…” or “5 silly photos of…” variety. While they can be tricky to initially identify, they are almost all non-likers (see below), so combining these two tests will get you your bot.
The Formulaic Biographers – These fakes have computer-generated personalities. Their Twitter biogs are a list of their favourite things with a word attached to highlight a strong interest. Common things include: internet/web, Twitter, alcohol, coffee, ice cream, beer, bacon and zombies (which is ironic really, given that they’re the Twitter undead). Common highlighters include: addict, aficionado, evangelist, expert, fan, guru, practitioner and specialist. So, if your follower is an ice cream addict, bacon specialist and internet guru, they are a guaranteed fake. You know what you’ve got to do.
Nonsense Tweeters – Any account who tweets a mish-mash of letters and/or numbers is a sure sign that the robot’s programming has gone crazy. Or their tweets cut off halfway through a sentence. Or they refer to comments, links or photos without linking to them. Put it out of its mechanical misery. Blast it to kingdom come.
Non-Likers – These bots appear to be established accounts, with large numbers of followers and / or followings. But when you click on their ‘Likes’, it’s a big, fat, robot zero. That’s because churning out automated tweets and re-tweeting is easy. But ‘liking’ other accounts’ tweets is much tougher. In fact, Twitter’s robots very rarely like anyone. Which isn’t a surprise. Because we don’t like them.
Non-Repliers – Another sure sign that the accounts are bot broadcasters, rather than human listeners, is that they never reply to anyone’s tweets. (In other words, they never start a tweet with someone else’s username.) These imposters don’t belong in your world. Do what Rick Deckard would do. Even if they have a pretty face like Pris the snake lady. Show no mercy.
Blanks – Your Twitter profile is how you gain more followers and tell the Twitter-verse who you are. But blanks are an unsophisticated breed of bot who don’t have a profile. They may also be an egghead (see below) or have a profile photo lifted from the internet – often a good-looking male or female. Real humans can decide not to have a profile – but that’s a pretty dumb move when there are Blade Runners around. A bit like not carrying your human ID in Los Angeles, 2019.
Eggheads – These guys are simple bots that don’t bother with a profile photo. Think of it like a faceless android. There are plenty of humans who choose to hide their identity behind the egg mask, too. So use it as a sign, rather than definitive proof.
Copycats – These accounts lift tweets from other accounts. It won’t be immediately obvious. But if you copy one of the individual’s tweets and paste it into Twitter search, it will produce at least one search result that is not from them. Experience will teach you what kind of tweets are copied, but they are usually of the ‘Me, me, me’ or advice for life variety. And no one needs a stream of that in their Twitter feed.
The Feb 2015 Crowd – Don’t ask me why, but many fakes I encounter have a last tweet from around this date. Maybe this is when the Twitter war between humans and the Twitter replicants began? In practice, if the last tweet is more than about a year old, it’s suspicious. So proceed with caution, trainee Twitter Blade Runners.
Twitter Bombers – These robots issue a constant stream of regular tweets, often with no relevance to each other. Real people who have no idea what they’re doing on Twitter can, occasionally, imitate this behaviour. Check their most recent tweets for other tell-tale signs of automation. Once satisfied it’s a genuine Twitter bomber, you only have one option. Neutralise it.
Name / Username Mismatchers – Their name is John Smith or Jane Green, but the username is different or a string of total nonsense. Or maybe the photo is of a male and it’s a female name, or vice versa. Don’t waste time with this particular breed. Even if they’re as good-looking as Rutger Hauer. Blast them to Twitter oblivion.
Some additional advice for you all, my budding Blade Runners. If in doubt, put the suspect account under surveillance. Don’t follow back. Just keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. During this period, as well as the characteristics above, one thing to look out for is other suspicious accounts following you. That’s a sure sign that the suspect is a bot and is calling in his buddies.
So, that’s it. You’ll soon develop an almost sixth sense for who’s real and who’s fake. Just like Rick Deckard did for replicants. So good luck on your Twitter travels, my friends. And don’t forget your blaster!
P.S. If you enjoyed this blog, don’t forget to check out my novel. It’s apparently quite funny. Thanks!