Twitter – how to avoid dodgy accounts

This is another post in my “Social media and Farmers” series.

There’s two main types of dodgy accounts rural people are likely to encounter. One is the group that everyone on twitter has issues with – spammers (trying to sell you something iffy).  The second are animal rights extremists.

Today someone queried an account they came across with the words ‘Beef’ and ‘Australia’ included.

It’s a dodgy account; animal rights extremist-related.

How do you tell?

These are the obvious signs of a dodgy Twitter account:

  • Odd account name
  • Odd bio wording, or none at all
  • No location, or stupidly vague (eg ‘world’)
  • Dodgy profile image, or no image at all

The above is why I encourage everyone one in agriculture to include their real name (at least their first name), plus a location, bio and image (which can be a landscape or whatever else illustrates personal interests); to avoid being mistaken for a dodgy account holder, up to no good.  And this information should be included right from the outset, when you first set your account up.

The more cunning fanatics/spammers choose a twitter account name that sounds plausible, write a likely-sounding bio, and include a plausible-looking image or logo. 

So what are the more specific dodgy Twitter account signs to look out for?

  • A massive number of tweets in relation to the number of followers the account has.  For the above-mentioned account, only 2 people are being followed, there are only several dozen followers, but nearly 20,000 tweets have been sent out.  That’s a huge amount of tweets to hardly anyone listening!  This fact alone, for this account, screams ‘very, very dodgy’.
  • Check who is following the account, and who the account is following. You’ll usually find a raft of very dodgy accounts, some particularly nasty, usually mixed amongst some genuine ones (who have either been careless, or who have set up an automated ‘follow back’ system. Some politicians, very unwisely, do this.)  Dodgy account holders-unlike genuine account holders-just want sheer follower numbers, there’s no concern for quality or safety, so no weeding out of followers occurs.  (It’s also likely they’ve got multiple accounts, so they don’t have time anyway).  Most importantly, go right back to the very first few dozen people the account followed, and the first few dozen followers.  Often this will lead to a whole web of dodgy accounts, all following one another, to boost numbers and increase the impression of credibility amongst casual observers.  You’ll see the same automated tweets being sent out by these linked accounts.  And if you see someone you know is following an account you’re sure is dodgy, you might like to send them a private message to let them know. It doesn’t take many reports to get a bad account shut down.
  • Read the tweets. Is the account holder having any conversations with anyone else, or is it just one-way broadcasting?  Most importantly of all, are the same messages being sent out multiple times? Dodgy accounts holders often use automated systems to send tweets out at regular intervals.  (Hence nearly 20,000 tweets sent out, for the above-mentioned account, though there’s only a few dozen followers!)
  • Lastly – never click on the links anyone tweets unless you’re sure they’re from a legitimate source, and sound plausible. Often you can google the topic and find the link that way, thus avoiding clicking on a link included in a tweet.  Many people have had their accounts hacked by clicking on a dodgy link (‘did you see this photo of you’ is a classic account hacker tweet people find hard to resist.)

The most important rules regarding followers & who to follow:

  • Always check who is following you.  Immediately block and report any you are certain* are spam-this helps rid twitter of people up to no good. If not sure, keep an eye on the account and see what tweets are sent out in future. (* Do take care when blocking & reporting – obviously only do so when you’re certain.)  You can also ask other people you trust about whether they think another account is genuine or not, especially if they are following or being followed by it. Or send the account holder a public message asking them to identify themselves.
  • Always check very carefully before following anyone else. Are they having conversations with people you know?  Don’t presume that because people you know are following them, that the account is legitimate…because others may have been careless. As is the case with the dodgy account discussed above – which has a number of legitimate rural account holders as followers, amongst the trash. Some rural people have seen the account title and presumed it was legitimate, without checking more carefully.
  • Trust your gut instinct. When you’ve been poking around on the internet for a while, especially on twitter, you develop a good sense of what’s written by someone with a genuine interest in and understanding of the bush and what has been written by someone pretending.  Imposters just don’t get the wording right.

Does it matter if you follow a dodgy account? Well it’s not the end of the world. You’ve accidentally helped boost their numbers, and someone you know may end up following them too because they’ve seen you do. And obviously it’s not a good idea to associate with anyone getting up to no good; you’ve probably increased your chances of encountering a dodgy link leading to having your account being hacked.  And, of course, you don’t want anyone to mistakenly think you are supporting animal rights extremism.  Ultimately – twitter would be a much better place if the dross was weeded out.  Helping to get rid of people up to no good, helps make it better for everyone else.

Bottom line: we all make mistakes, this is relatively new, so it’s still evolving. Don’t forget to ask questions and help others.  Twitter is a fabulous bush grapevine that’s having a hugely positive effect on people involved in agriculture.

Note: written May 2013; since updated.

Summary of blog posts with tips on how to best use Twitter: