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Social Media McCarthyism: Twitter's Witch Hunt
Posted on October 31st 2013
With Halloween (and an impending IPO) fast upon us, perhaps it’s fitting that Twitter is quietly engaging in a modern-day witch hunt, whereby user accounts are being indiscriminately purged, sometimes within days of creation, and seemingly in violation of the social media giant’s accepted practices.
In what can only best be described as Social Media McCarthyism, this deliberate and systematic cleansing of 218 million active users ensnares unsuspecting account holders with aggressive tactics reminiscent of the infamous 1950s-era Red Scare.
Much like the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, Twitter callously acts without proper regard for evidence, targeting both newly created and long-established accounts by imposing follower limits and outright suspensions based upon infractions only Twitter can identify.
These spurious account suspensions and randomly imposed follower ceilings appear to be nothing more than Twitter’s thinly veiled attempt to rid the social media site of perceived spam accounts in an effort to maintain continuity and eliminate any hint of downtime leading up to its mid-November IPO.
A disruption in service would have a deleterious effect upon the projected preliminary price range of $17 to $20 per share for Twitter’s initial public offering, an estimate that values the San Francisco, CA-based company at $10.9 billion.
According to Twitter’s published policies and procedures, Twitter doesn’t “limit the number of followers you can have. However, we do monitor how aggressively users follow other users.”
What does that mean? Within one day of establishing a new user account for my local collegiate alumni association, Twitter decreed that this fledgling account was detrimental to its stock price, I mean, business model. The account (@JHU_York) was suspended in less than 24 hours!
Twitter support sent me a form e-mail stating that this account was suspended for aggressive following behavior, in violation of Twitter’s “best practices.” For some unknown reason, however, my two original tweets remained visible. And I could always follow Oprah, Pitbull, and almighty Twitter itself, if the account had not been suspended, that is.
It’s worth noting that Twitter’s best practices also require new users to follow at least 10 established accounts upon initial registration. This includes a step to “find and follow 5 well-known people.”
I followed 12 accounts in total and was smacked down. Branded a spammer. An aggressive, unrepentant rule breaker. Could it be I just chose poorly? For the love of Pitbull...
But wait, there’s more. Of all the super users, celebrities, and verified accounts on Twitter, there has not been one report of account suspension, follower limitation, or other unspecified adjustments that merit a trip to Twitter, Inc. CEO Dick Costolo’s Bay Area office for a stern talking-to, or rather, tweeting-to.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. According to Twitter:
“Finally, follower violations are one tactic that spammers often use to abuse Twitter. Monitoring for abuse is one way to reduce spam on Twitter.”
Another abusive tactic is strong-arming your user base with unsubstantiated account limits and suspensions, enacted under the guise of monitoring in order to protect your stock price.
Even Pitbull knows that’s spammy.