Figure 1 - Click to enlarge

Yesterday I had a an interesting sequence of events happen within my Twitter footprint that I had not seen previously.  I had 11+ new followers, all who had over 100, some over 1000 followers.  These new followers all arrived in my follower list in sequence over the course of the early morning.  Each of these *individuals* had sent between 2-10 tweets, none of which were original content – all of them being RT (re-tweets) of pieces from trusted sources such as Mashable.

The Twitter handle/name had the format of “given name” + “3 to 5 random characters”.  Click on the Figure-1 o the left to see all of these names which arrived in my follower list and you’ll understand the naming convention.  Every single one of these names is a “bot” generated name.

Figure 2- Click to enlarge

Some individuals have their settings arranged for an automatic follow-back. Others have placed them on lists such as “new-follower”.  All who are “following” these individuals are unwittingly (one would hope) aiding in their malevolent activity.  I find it remarkable, but not surprising, that in a social network where engagement is the key ingredient, bots proliferate with regularity.  See Figure-2 to the right for the example the bot created profile, how this *individual* has followed 902, has been followed by 177, and has managed to be placed on two lists.

Why should you care?  I’ll give you two reasons:

  • The more nefarious scenario is that this activity is setting the stage for malware/crimeware insertion into you or one of your follower’s computer.  You see, while you may not follow this individual,the fact that they are following you is displayed to your follower when they inspect the profile of the *individual.*  By inference you are associated with the *individual* and you haven’t done a thing.   You are a trusted name, perhaps sharing expertise regularly, with thousands of bonafide followers, all of whom obtain value from your twitter-stream.  It is only human nature for someone to see that if you are being followed by this *individual* and I follow you, then perhaps we have something in common and I will Follow-Back.  If you have your Twitter setting arranged such that it auto-follows, then you’ve basically thrown your followers under-the-bus.  Your follower will see not only does this *individual* follow you but you follow them back.  Human nature being what it is, if my trusted source of information on xyz is following this *individual* there must be value there
  • The less nefarious, but certainly predatory avenue – these bots are the “guaranteed” followers the “social media” growth marketeers are guaranteeing to some unsuspecting novice in the social media arena, for a fee – after all isn’t it the goal to have your thoughts and interests shared across the greatest number of followers?

In both instances, once your follower is following this *individual* in comes a tweet or RT with a shortened URL, and when your follower clicks on this link, they are literally on their way to being exploited.  The more benign might have the link resolve to today’s get-rich-quick scheme, the more malevolent, will give you a dose of malware injection with that offering.

What to do?

At a minimum you need to “BLOCK” these individuals when they show up in your stream.  If you are in search of social network or social media advice and assistance do your due diligence and know who you are dealing with, and what they are guaranteeing.  Frankly, if someone is providing you a guarantee of 1000’s of followers on Twitter or any other social network – don’t walk-away – RUN.  The quality of your content or offering will draw you the 1000’s of followers you seek.

Twitter is a great place to interact, follow folks who bring you value, and know that individuals are following you based on the value you bring to the table.  Let’s collectively try and keep the criminal activity out of our respective Twitter streams and followers.  Remember, ignoring their presence actually feeds into their success quotient.  Nirvana for the criminal is for you to Follow-Back; second best is for you to ignore their presence and they lose  if you BLOCK.

Enjoy the day, perhaps today is a good day to prune your followers of those bots.