WordCount – Freelancing in the Digital Age

By Michelle Vranizan Rafter

An open letter to Twitter: stop the porn spam

with 11 comments

twitter_logoDear Twitter:

There’s not much I don’t love about Twitter. Since another writer convinced me to join last December, I’ve used it almost every day to find sources, do research, track events, report the news and kibbutz with friends.

But over the months, the amount of spam that’s showing up on the network has risen along with the number of new users. And more of that spam is X-rated

Yesterday was a new low. I clicked on the profile of someone who’d just started following me and saw the most graphic pornography I’ve ever encountered on Twitter, a photograph the spammer put up as their profile photo. It was a shock to say the least. And it could have been worse – my eight-year-old was in my office at the time. Good thing he was preoccupied with the TV.

I get that some people go online for porn. I also get that Twitter doesn’t want people to jump through a lot of security hoops to join, all the better for millions more to sign up.

But nobody should have to worry about what they’ll find when they open an email from Twitter notifying them of a new follower, or when they click on their Followers list.

So I’m asking, on my behalf, and for all of the other Twitter users out there who don’t want to be afraid of their inbox – stop the porn spam. Giving people a Twitter account to report spam is a start. Letting people block followers they don’t want to in their Followers list or to see tweets from is also good.

But it’s not enough.
Figure out some kind of pre-screening mechanism. Maybe some of the Twitter apps that are out there can already screen for this stuff. For the time being, I’ve turned off email notification so I won’t get messages about new followers, just in case.

I’ve done my share of evangelizing Twitter to coworkers, family and friends. But this is giving me second thoughts. My daughter’s on Twitter – what if she’d gotten that porn spam instead of me?

Come on Twitter, help us out.

Written by Michelle Rafter

July 8, 2009 at 7:22 am

11 Responses

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  1. Michelle: I agree that porn shouldn’t be bandied about on Twitter, but somehow I’ve managed to avoid it. Maybe it’s because I only click on someone’s profile if they seem legit (you can do this by looking at your list of followers and approving them through that). I also don’t read my new follower emails, because I’d never get any work done if I did! But I do try to approve followers every few days.

    What I find frustrating is that Twitter suspended the accounts of thousands of users (including me) on Sunday and there’s very little you can do if you’re being investigated for spam. You’re basically at their mercy! It turned out to be a mistake, but I was pretty peeved at the suggestion that I might be a spammer and the fact that there was very little explanation about why they suspected this. That’s a pretty scatching accusation!

    It’s ironic, really, that people with legit accounts got suspended for suspected spam and Twitter doesn’t do much to prevent porn.

    Susan Johnston

    July 8, 2009 at 8:51 am

  2. Thanks Susan. My beef is that I didn’t even have to click on a new follower’s profile to see porn – it was in their avatar (photo) and even at that tiny size it was obvious it was porn, and pretty disgusting at that. I had turned on email notification of new followers but have set up my email program not to automatically download photos with new messages, so I didn’t see anything in Twitter’s email notifications of new followers that I didn’t want to see – that’s another step someone could take. Now I’ve turned email notifications off as well, partly to avoid the spam problem, but also because the number of new followers I was getting was becoming overwhelming to look through everyday so I’d just been deleting them unopened anyway.

    Anyone else have suggestions for solutions, let me know.

    Michelle R.

    Michelle Rafter

    July 8, 2009 at 8:57 am

  3. That’s so lame that people have such a high sex drive that they have to post it on twitter becuase they can’t keep it in their minds. ugh. Anyway, I have had that happen to me too on VOIS.com which is a site for freelancers to look for projects. We have had to disable a few accounts because it was just too much.

    I was told that usernames like mine on Twitter appears to others as a Pornographic name, lol, when in fact I use Twitter to spread, market, and be a goof ball! Jesseeka4510 if you don’t believe me. This is a great article by the way- I mean Blog. = P

    Jessie F.

    July 8, 2009 at 12:34 pm

  4. It has truly become rampant, Michelle, and I am in full agreement with you. I accidentally clicked on one of them once and they haven’t let up yet even though I have since blocked the first one. Now, I just let them follow me. If someone does not have something that I can recognize in their bio, I am extra cautious in the possibility of opening them. Most of the time, these porn bots have something in their profile that alerts me to their nature. If there’s any doubt, I leave them alone and they can follow me. I’m afraid that taking any action at this point alerts other spammers that I’m paying attention to them and I don’t want that, so I leave them alone. But I will not follow them back. Seems like no matter the forum, there will always be some kind of bot or hacker or advertiser that doesn’t care about what others are trying to do. I’m glad that Twitter is making an effort towards wedding out these spammers, but they definitely need a better method for it. Thank you for ranting about this!

    Jared Lopatin

    July 8, 2009 at 12:39 pm

  5. In one way, it’s proof that Twitter has made its mark on society—the presence of porn proves its permanence.

    But, I have to agree, I’ve grown awfully tired of the spam twits, especially the bizarre porn spam twits. Twitter often pulls the plug on these accounts but their avatars still remain on your little iconic proof sheet of followers, just sitting there all smug and mostly naked, making you look like a pervert.

    As more kiddos get active on Twitter (there’s no age restriction, right?) the company will need to find ways to create parental controls—lest your eight year old click on that link himself.

    tewonawonga

    July 8, 2009 at 2:33 pm

  6. Lately, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable blocking people. Now if some new follower wants to talk to me about getting rich quick, boosting my Twitter follower numbers fast! or even has a suspicious looking Twitter account name, I do not give them the benefit of the doubt and just block them.

    Since posting this earlier today, I’ve discovered this Twitter customer support forum – if you follow the link you’ll see there are lots of other people on it talking about how fed up they are with Twitter spam, especially porn spam.

    Michelle

    Michelle Rafter

    July 8, 2009 at 2:45 pm

  7. I agree Michelle that lately Twitter has gone way downhill. Several months ago I went on a big ‘following’ kick, and proactively sought out folks to follow on subjects of interest to me. I easily was following 200 or more folks than were following me. And in the last 2 months or so I have been followed by so many porn, MLM, and scammers (that I never follow back), that I am now about even in following/follower ratio. Basically in 2 months I have picked up about 200 worthless followers. It is a bit sad.

    Steve Boese

    July 8, 2009 at 8:12 pm

  8. Michelle, I had the same experience that you did. My daughter is 9 years old and is a gymnast. When we saw Shawn Johnson on Dancing with the Stars talking about her twitter account I allowed my daughter to go on twitter and sign up so she could follow Shawn Johnson, who is her idol. Even though Twitter says you must be 13 to use the sight I let her sign up with the understanding that I would supervise. A couple of weeks ago she got an email she wanted me to see. It was from Twitter telling her that LuluBarrett was now following her and showed the pornographic icon that was her picture. What makes me so made is that we put my daughter picture on her id so it was obvious that this was a CHILD that was using the sight and this nasty person still picked her out to follow her and she was sent this pornographic email from her. I immediately cancelled her twitter account because of this filthy fool that followed her. Its a shame that a few ridiculous idiots can ruin something good.

    chaser4

    July 16, 2009 at 9:38 am

  9. Thanks for sharing this unfortunate story. I’m so sorry this happened, but it does point up one of the reasons why Twitter has age restrictions. I’m going to guess that your daughter’s account was followed by a spam-bot, so nobody actually looked at the photo in her profile, it was just a computer program following Twitter users at random. As Twitter continues to grow, execs there are going to have to figure out a better way to deal with porn.

    Michelle

    Michelle Rafter

    July 16, 2009 at 9:43 am

  10. I think you are probably right about the spam-bot randomly picking her out to follow but the age restriction being 13 doesn’t make me feel any better. I wouldn’t want my 13 year old seeing pornography either. If it is going to allow obscene material on the sight it needs to be an 18 and only website and require verification of age. My opinion is Twitter started the website, makes money off the site and it is their responsibility to keep it safe and clean.

    chaser4

    July 16, 2009 at 10:21 am

  11. Agree on all points but one – Twitter isn’t making money yet, unless you count the $55 million in venture funds they’ve raised. Maybe if they were they’d have some $$ to sink into better anti-spam technology.

    MVR

    Michelle Rafter

    July 16, 2009 at 11:26 am


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