(ABT) is confused as to why its account was “temporarily suspended” yesterday afternoon (Wednesday, January 27, 2010, at approximately 3:56pm) for investigation due to “strange activity.” ABT’s recent activity doesn’t fit any of those restrictions listed as violations of Twitter’s rules for its users. It was simply following the network of people who have been following it. It has not engaged in spamming nor has it published any harassing or vulgar tweets. Furthermore, ABT has been an active user since it first activated its account in the summer of 2009. The ABT project is a legitimate social/intellectual project with great value for the Twitter community http://www.americanboytour.typepad.com.
As the co-founder of ABT, I think it is important to address some of those questions or concerns that Twitter has given as cause for suspending or deleting accounts listed in its “Twitter Rules” http://help.twitter.com/forums/26257/entries/18311. Under what Twitter deems “Content Boundaries and Use of Twitter:” impersonation, trademark, privacy, violence and threats, copyright, unlawful use, and verified accounts, ABT has violated none of Twitter’s general boundaries of use. So, I am compelled to analyze what Twitter considers “Spam and Abuse.”
Twitter claims the following general statement:
“Twitter strives to protect its users from spam and abuse. Technical abuse and user abuse is not tolerated on Twitter.com, and will result in permanent suspension. Any accounts engaging in the activities specified below are subject to permanent suspension.
* Serial Accounts: You may not create serial accounts for disruptive or abusive purposes, or with overlapping use cases. Mass account creation may result in suspension of all related accounts. Please note that any violation of the Twitter Rules is cause for permanent suspension of all accounts.
* Name Squatting: You may not engage in name squatting. Accounts that are inactive for more than 6 months may also be removed without further notice. Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be name squatting are:
- the number of accounts created
- creating accounts for the purpose of preventing others from using those account names
- creating accounts for the purpose of selling those accounts
- using feeds of third-party content to update and maintain accounts under the names of those third parties”
Twitter provides a disclaimer on what I am calling “plain old spam”—the general meaning of the term under which all ‘new’ variations or varieties are classified. In other words, bread is bread even if it has raisins in it (raisin bread). Twitter gives a list of possible variations; a kind of spam menu. It is as follows:
“Spam: You may not use the Twitter service for the purpose of spamming anyone. What constitutes “spamming” will evolve as we respond to new tricks and tactics by spammers. Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be spamming are:
- If you have followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time;
- If you have followed and unfollowed people in a short time period, particularly by automated means (aggressive follower churn);
- If you repeatedly follow and unfollow people, whether to build followers or to garner more attention for your profile;
- If you have a small number of followers compared to the amount of people you are following;
- If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates;
- If a large number of people are blocking you;
- The number of spam complaints that have been filed against you;
- If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account;
- If you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #;
- If you post multiple unrelated updates to a trending or popular topic;
- If you send large numbers of duplicate @replies;
- If you send large numbers of unsolicited @replies in an attempt to spam a service or link;
- If you add a large number of unrelated users to lists in an attempt to spam a service or link;
- If you repeatedly post other users’ Tweets as your own;
- If you have attempted to “sell” followers, particularly through tactics considered aggressive following or follower churn;
- Using or promoting third-party sites that claim to get you more followers (such as follower trains, sites promising “more followers fast,” or any other site that offers to automatically add followers to your account). “
Of all those varieties of plain old spam it seems that we might have cooked up one of the two varieties quantified by time and another quantified by number. It seems that because we “followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time” we might be accused of committing what I will term “time spam.” And, because when we started following we“[had] a small number of followers compared to the amount of people [we were] following,” we might be accused of committing what I will term “population spam.”
Returning to the bread analogy, we might say that because our bread was baked at 365 degrees for 1.5 hours it’s not good bread. However, this is exactly the time and temperature for baking Friendship Bread. To take it one step further, as long as one follows the basic recipe for making Friendship Bread, using the correct measurement of ingredients, he/she can add raisins or walnuts or chocolate chips, or jellybeans for that matter. The point, here, is that whatever the kind of bread one has to be given a recipe (which is something like a formula) and a list of ingredients to make it. While I have never made spam, the actual processed, meat food after which the technology metaphor is derived, I will assume that like bread there is a recipe (a formula) for making it.
The problem with Twitter’s broad definitions and rules for spam is that they don’t include a recipe. If Twitter is going to have more than 16 varieties of spam that “Tweeps” (twitter users) can identify as being violations of its rules, shouldn’t it have a detailed description of actions (a formula or recipe) of how such spam is made or committed? In other words, is spam made just by having “followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time” (is this time spam) or by “having a small number of followers compared to the amount of people [we] have following (population spam);”or, is it any one of those things plus one or two other things? The point, here, is that there is no given time span for how much time is enough to qualify the act as a “short amount of time.” Is it one minute, one hour, or one week? Neither does Twitter give an exact quantity for the ratio of “small number of followers” to “amount of people you have following.” Is it a 1-2 ratio, a 1-3 ratio, or a 2-5 ratio?
Twitter states that its policy dissuading an abuse of the ‘follow’ feature, the rate of following (time spam) and the ratio of followers (population spam), is intended to “respond to new tricks and tactics by spammers.” ABT understands “new tricks and tactics” to be an inference to new innovations in spamming software that employ the use of “twittbots” to litter the “open source media” domain with a placement of unwanted advertising and promotions; not one person going through and clicking one-by-one on a list of followers within its network of followers. How else does one build their lists or engage in conversations if they’re not following another entity or ‘person’? Twitter gives no restrictions for the amount of people that can be followed at any given time period. In other words, there is no specification that you can only “follow” 50 ‘persons’ a day.
It is possible for a person to make a stir-fry with a general set of directions and ingredients: throw these ingredients in a hot pan and toss them until they’re ready. But, to bake bread one must have an exact recipe with an exact measurement of ingredients. Otherwise, how is one to know whether that bread batter has the potential to turn out good bread or bad bread? I imagine determining whether a policy is good or bad, or whether one has made spam or hotdogs, for that matter, is the same.
Up until now, ABT has been asking specific questions to a general population on Twitter, as they relate to its ‘identity project’: exploring the construction, performance, and expression of masculinity in the 21st century. In other words, it has not been engaged in direct dialogues with individuals unless they were prompted by the entity or ‘person’ it was following or being followed by. While there might have been some question or concern about the ‘lag-time’ between ABT’s tweets, it should be observed that ABT has a Twitter account that is linked to its Facebook account. So, while it does frequently update its followers and friends, it is not always through its Twitter account. Almost without exception, all the people who follow ABT on Twitter are Facebook friends. ABT did not see a problem with following the ‘Tweeps” that its followers are following. While there is a policy restricting “spam,” ABT fails to see how one entity or ‘person’ following people (who either have or don’t have private accounts) can be misconstrued as “spamming.” The followed entity or ‘person’ can simply choose not to follow us in return.
Furthermore, there is a gray area of Twitter’s standard policy for suspending accounts, based on the number of entities or ‘persons’ that “block” the entity or ‘person’ following, that ABT would like Twitter to consider as potentially discriminatory. How can Twitter know whether or not a ‘person’ or entity is blocking someone simply because they disagree with the thought, ideology, or appearance of the follower? This would seem to have very little to do with what ABT understands as the intention of the policy standard for “blocking:” to prevent harassment or violent content, etc. The ‘person’ or entity could be offended by ‘differences’ in opinion or appearance, for example, which have nothing to do with one’s intention to violate or harass.
One can easily imagine how Twitter’s policy for qualifying “spam” can be manipulated to censor a ‘person’, entity, or members of a particular group. Someone who is not violating any of those rules of decency nonetheless poses a threat to someone who thinks that ‘open source media’ is an open invitation for them to practice bigotry and xenophobia by clicking the “block” feature. What is to keep a bigot, xenophobe, racist, misogynist, or homophobe from spamming in a number of complaints to Twitter (with the help of their followers) simply because they don’t want to ever have to deal with an Afro-Latina/Asian, lesbian, working-class Jewish person appearing on their list of followers? Is Twitter going to be the new territory for the same old antiquated paradigms of oppressive power we saw with the Culture Wars of the 1990’s?