Are you legitimizing suspicious social media accounts?

The great debate over what constitutes a suspicious Twitter account and how to tell if you are following any of them.

Illustration created by upklyak
The struggle is real….

Profiles of Suspicious Accounts

Part of the confusion around suspicious accounts is that there are two completely contradictory models of what makes an account suspicious.

Why does it matter if you follow them (or they follow you)?

A funny thing happened after my last post on this topic. My twitter timeline was flooded with posts from the community I had outraged for months. These were not tweets “@”-ing me, not replies, not even retweets or likes from my friends. These were posts being recommended to me by Twitter’s algorithm solely because they were tweeted by people my friends followed.


Today I’m opening up a tool I’m calling Netback to alpha testing. Netback looks at accounts connected to yours on Twitter — either followers or friends — and compares them to a profile you’ve defined outlining what you think a suspicious account looks like. It also lets you weigh each part of the profile so that certain characteristics have greater influence than others. You control everything about what Netback thinks is a potential bad account: what it’s looking for, how much emphasis it puts on what it finds, and the minimum score an account needs to be deemed potentially “suspicious.”

  • Number of Followers: with direction, meaning you can tell netback that anything over 100,000 followers is suspicious or anything under 5 followers is suspicious.
  • Percentage of Unoriginal Posts: Retweets for now because it’s easier, although a more accurate measure would also consider tweets with identical content to other users posted at virtually the same time …. a feature for the next version. Easy to implement but spends the Twitter rate limit fast.
  • Profile Pic: Do they have one?
  • Low Posts: Are their total number of posts too low?

Grooming Your Web Presence

Netback only looks at accounts that are connected to your own. It’s intended to help you find accounts that you are following or are following you that might have malicious intentions, and by doing so empower you to remove them from your orbit. But it’s also an interesting experiment in how you would identify suspicious behavior -vs- the reality of who you consume content from on the internet.

Author of Kill It with Fire Manage Aging Computer Systems (and Future Proof Modern Ones)

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