Cure for Twitter spam: Worse than the disease?

Twitter spam is annoying, and so is the act of blocking offending followers one by one through Thankfully, those days will soon be over.

Article updated on 4/28/08 with new information.
Twitter spam isn\'t yet easy to remove.

I've been very popular on Twitter lately. Too bad it's not personal. Many subscribers seem to be gaining more attention than they've earned, and probably a good deal more than they want.

This past month has seen a surge in Twitter spam, subscriptions from followers who have created faux accounts to advertise their links or wares. The noticeable uptick has alarmed the blogosphere enough to warrant journalistic notice, off the record in intra-office chatter and on it. The disingenuous among my own modest list of followers don't appear to be peddling anything other than URLs, but it matters little. I have declared them a nuisance. The squatters must go.

Twitter spam
These \'people\' are not my friends. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Unlike Facebook, which requires dual authentication before friends make it onto the social roster, Twitter attachments can be single-sided. I've never had reason to block anyone before, but scooping off the scattered scum is proving more tedious than it should. From the list of followers on there is the option to subscribe to a user's updates or to block them. Blocking one user resets the follower list, putting you back at the starting point of your multipage count. That's fine if all your new "pals" cluster on Page 1, but crummy if they're spread between Pages 4, 7, and 10. Simple pagination would simplify the task, as would the ability to batch process blocking.

Up until about a week ago, Twitter's API was itself the meta-blocker of a different sort, barring developers from building the rejection feature into third-party services. Now the capability is turned on, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone confirmed, though documentation won't be broadly shared until "some time next week." At that point, third-party services like Twhirl, a desktop client that adds all sorts of goodies to the Twitter experience, would be able to let users block stalkers by hovering over their icons from a scrolling interface.

For a service this popular, better native blocking tools should be a no-brainer. Hopefully they will be before the spam really catches on. In the meantime, you can at least pick out the fictitious followers using Twitter Twerp Scan, an app we learned about from DownloadSquad. Twitter Twerp Scan quickly calculates the ratio of friends to followers for each of your fans. Subscribers with high ratios follow many more tweeters, but are not followed in turn. The raked popularity count makes them likely spammers who you don't have to feel guilty about cutting out.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.