I recently increased my activity on Twitter (meaning I started following a lot of people). After my flurry of activity I noticed something strange: for roughly every 10 people I followed, I had about 1 person follow me. Notice I did not say “follow me back.” In my case, these were some kind of bots that randomly follow people. I checked and they did not have people in common so it’s not like they just follow everyone that Guy Kawasaki follows, but there’s a definite spike in following based on twitter activity.

Here’s a crudely formatted profile from one of the spammers:

College student majoring in marketing. High sex drive and just not satisfied by guys my age. Love foreplay and all night fuck and suck sessions.
0 Tweets 516 Following 75 Followers

Whenever you navigate to Loren’s profile page, you see a link to an adult site. I’m baffled by the whole situation. Some questions keeping me up at night:

What is the ROI on an outfit like this? Sure, you can automate virtually everything and you can mechanical turk out captcha solving and account creation for pennies, but do you gain anything from a twitter bot that randomly follows people (and nothing else)?

What is the purpose of following people? It seems they simply want to drive traffic, but in the example above only 516 people would have seen the site. As I understand it, you won’t gain any search engine cred beyond the twitter backlink (some think that retweets–abbreviated RT–might convey some power), and the bot’s Klout score is insignificant at 0-1 so they have virtually no influence.

Who would a real person follow these spammers back? With 0 tweets the bots are simply not adding any value, so why would you want to connect with them? If you google for twitter users who follow back, you’ll find a lot of people willing to trade follows. The most ridiculous I saw was a guy claiming that he would win a car if he could get enough followers. If you simply want to game the system and appear larger than life, this is one way to do it I guess… I’d guess a lot of the people following the bots are bots themselves.

Why not automate tweeting too? The programmers clearly have the Twitter API down, so why not pause for a random number of seconds then tweet something like, “<site name> is <adjective to draw people in>” and repeat. Even 1000 nearly identical tweets would look more reputable than 0.

How many accounts have been banned for the bot masters to fine-tune this process? I suspect that following too many people at once would trigger a bot alarm and get your account banned; perhaps automated tweeting can be detected and squashed too. Given the amount of utter garbage being generated in bite-sized chunks, I don’t think they have a filter in place :)

Capitalization and punctuation, really? I must admit that I have a better impression of this twitter bot than I did of some previous ones that with descriptions that were hardly English. Again, I imagine this is a data driven decision so I would love to know how many accounts they tried with broken English/poor grammar and punctuation. Did foreigners and young people relate more to the informal style?

Who is behind twitter bots? Is this all the work of HBGary and their persona management system under development when they were hacked by Anonymous? Probably not! I suspect the people in charge are not that sophisticated, although their motives are unclear to me.

How are the names chosen? I figured the names were random, but then I dug a bit deeper. Interestingly enough, @lorendisorda70 is a fairly popular person so the @lorendisorda710 handle may be a ploy to attract typo prone or easily confused users.

Anyone have any thoughts?