Twitter just took another big step to help boot spammers off its platform: it’s cutting the number of accounts Twitter users can follow, from 1,000 per day to just 400. The idea with the new limit is that it helps prevent spammers from rapidly growing their networks by following then unfollowing Twitter accounts in a “bulk, aggressive or indiscriminate manner” — something that’s a violation of the Twitter Rules.
A number of services were recently banned from Twitter’s API for doing this same thing.
Several companies had been offering tools that allowed their customers to automatically follow a large number of users with little effort. This works as a growth tactic because some people will follow back out of courtesy, without realizing they’ve followed a bot.
The companies also offered tools to mass unfollow the Twitter accounts of those who didn’t return the favor by following the bot back. Other automated tools were often provided, as well — like ones for creating those annoying auto-DMs, for example.
Twitter at the beginning of the year suspended a good handful of apps for violating its rules around “following and follow churn.” But booting the companies only addressed those that aimed to profit by providing spammy automations as a service that others could use.
To really take on the spammers, the limits around how many people Twitter users can follow also had to be changed at the API level.
However, some people believe Twitter hasn’t gone far enough with today’s move.
In response to Twitter’s tweet about the new limits, several have responded to ask why the number “400” was chosen, as that is still far more than a regular Twitter user would need to follow in a single day. Some users said it took years to get to the point of following hundreds of people. Meanwhile, the business use case for following 400 people is somewhat debatable, as DMs can be left open and companies can tweet a special URL to send customers to their inbox to continue a conversation — no following or unfollowing needed on either side.
While smaller businesses may still employ mass following techniques to attract customers, this at least puts more of a cap on those efforts.
Twitter explained to TechCrunch why it chose the number.
“We looked at follow behavior at various thresholds, and selected 400 as a reasonable limit that stopped most spam while not affecting legitimate users,” a spokesperson said.
These new limits and the spam dealer crackdown aren’t the only changes Twitter has taken in recent months to tackle the spam problem on its platform.
The company also updated its reporting tools to allow users to report spam, like fake accounts; and it introduced new security measures around account verification and sign-up, alongside other changes focused on more proactively identifying spammers. Last summer, Twitter also purged accounts from people’s follower metrics it had previously locked for being spammy.
Combined, the series of actions is designed to make spamming Twitter less attractive and considerably more difficult to scale. This impacts not only those who use spam for capital gain but also the new wave of fake news peddlers looking to topple democracies and disrupt elections — something that now has the U.S. government considering increased regulations for social media.
The short-term impact of these changes could be a drop in Twitter’s monthly user growth (a number Twitter recently stopped sharing), but it’s a bet on the long-term health of the platform instead.