Twitter turns to its users for fighting spam

Ronny Kerr · October 14, 2009 · Short URL:

Implementing a Report as Spam tool, Twitter gets smart about killing spam

Tell me if this situation sounds familiar: You're browsing your Twitter account, reading some tweets, searching silly queries. You glance over at your side dashboard and you compare the number of "following" vs. "followers." Interestingly, it looks like twice as many people are following you as the last time you checked! It must've been that really clever tweet from last week. Out of curiosity, you decide to peruse your list of followers and find that there's an uncommonly large number of skimpily clad women taking photos of themselves in mirrors for their avatars.

You, my friend, are a victim of spam.

Thankfully, Twitter yesterday updated its site so that users like you and me can help the greater powers in the fight against these attention-seeking fake followers. Now there's a button underneath the "message" and "block" actions that allows anyone to report any profile as a spam account. In order to prevent potential abuses of the new feature, any reported profiles remain online until Twitter's Trust and Safety team evaluates the report and decides on a proper course of action. Either way, reporting someone automatically blocks them from following or replying to you.

report spam on Twitter 1

 report spam on Twitter 2

It's about time that Twitter launched this tool, as spam still appears to be a pretty significant problem on the growing social networking site.

Unfortunately for users, some manifestations of spam aren't as passive and harmless as the kind described in the scenario above. The most dangerous type of spam comes in the form of harmful links that have the ability to damage a computer's system or steal information stored on it. Thankfully, Twitter is addressing this issue by checking the real URLs that shortened URLs link back to.

Beyond those issues, duplicate Twitter accounts and repeat tweeters simply cheat the system, watering down the effectiveness of Twitter as a whole.

All in all, these new spam-fighting tools should definitely improve the quality of Twitter streams.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.

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