Let’s face it, spam is the very definition of Twitter, but most types of Twitter spam can be combatted. The majority of spamming ploys carry significant risk for the spammer, and are easily penalised, directly, by the recipient. For instance, you can unfollow someone who spams you with Direct Messages. Or you can report a spam tweet, which can, if enough other users do likewise, see the perpetrator’s account suspended. You can even Mute users whose tweets are annoying and/or of no value.
But List spam is different. It slips under the radar, evading penalty, and leaving the recipients with no useful recourse. Because there’s no recognised recourse, there’s no deterrent. I briefly mentioned indiscriminate Listing in my Worst Twitter Marketing Mistakes post, but here I want to look at the practice in more depth, from the recipient’s viewpoint.
Oh wow - just mentioning the word 'education' gets you Twitter list spam now. Find a hole and bury yourself in it, spambots.—
Ghost Vulpine (@lejmatthews) August 14, 2015
WHAT IS LIST SPAMMING?
List spamming is employing the public Twitter List feature purely as a means of invading other users’ notifications. The spammer sets up one or more public Lists, gives each List an ego-baiting title (‘Great UK Photographers’, for example), then indiscriminately – normally through the use of automation – adds users to the List(s), based on matching hashtags found in their tweets.
The idea is that the people added to these Lists will be flattered into following, or at least taking an interest in the spammer. I did, however, find one List spammer (well, they found me, obviously) with a list of thousands of names, and just a handful of followers. This would suggest that in itself, List spamming is incredibly ineffective. It’s like paper.li – only an absolute cretin would see any point in using it.
List spamming is most typically employed by very low-end marketing wannabes with zero empathy and no ideas. The kind of people who regard LinkedIn as the Mecca of the Internet but can’t get any attention on there. They read the advice of online marketing gurus, but are too stupid to realise that…
- No successful marketer is going to give away the real secrets of their ongoing success for free on the Internet, so everything they read is throwaway page-filler, and…
- Everyone else is following the same advice, so none of it would retain any impact even if it were of any use in the first place.
lee colleton (@sleepylemur) September 23, 2015
WHY DO THEY DO IT?
Low-level, cut-and-paste ‘marketers’ use the List spamming technique because they consider it a means of gaining followers without risk, and without leaving obvious visible signs of their methods. They don’t have to follow large numbers of users and then unfollow them again. They don’t have to Favorite/unFavorite riduculous numbers of tweets (yes, some ‘marketers’ Favorite in bulk and unFavorite again – you may need a facepalm break here, so come back when you’re ready). They don’t have to message anyone and risk their messages being directly reported as spam. They don’t have to bury their own me-me-me-ing and self-promo under a tidal wave of Retweets.
List spamming leaves very little evidence visible to casual onlookers. Most people don’t consider or look at other users’ Lists, and even if they do, they don’t see spamming – they just interpret the List as a manifestation of the individual’s personal interests.
List spamming is a failsafe means of invading other users’ notification timelines. There’s no way of switching off List notifications.
This Twitter list spam is getting very annoying! http://t.co/wXoPPlF6q0—
Terence Eden (@edent) September 22, 2015
OUT OF CONTROL
The practice of List spamming is hugely annoying, and without question getting a lot worse. For the recipient, it does absolutely nothing. It doesn’t increase their follower count (remember, List spammers typically don’t simultaneously Follow, RT, Fav or Reply), it doesn’t increase their Klout, it doesn’t promote them… All it does is puts them on a compilation feed no one cares about or looks at.
What List spammers overlook, is that the very thing which makes the practice great in their eyes, makes it annoying to the people they spam. You don’t mind getting notifications if they benefit you in some way. Listing, however, is the one notifications invasion that does nothing at all for the recipient’s profile page. Follows, Replies, Retweets and Favorites all show as marks of credibility when people explore the recipient’s activity. But Listings are pure spam, and they relate only to the spammer’s profile.
“Hey, I added you to an incomprehensibly massive list of names no one ever looks at!”
How am I supposed to react to that? Other than…
“GET OFF THE INTERNET YOU ANNOYING, USELESS MORON!”
Twitter’s attitude to List spamming is to pretend it doesn’t exist. They persistently ignore calls for a means to switch off List notifications. Twitter Support have acknowledged the request publicly, but never acted upon it. They also provide no means for users to specifically and conveniently report List spam as spam.
List spam /( http://t.co/bFINQ5Ke8l—
Sarah (@PurplefacePhoto) September 17, 2015
HOW DO I STOP GETTING LIST SPAM?
At the time of writing, you can’t prevent List spam. The best you can do is to report all List spammers for spamming, and block them. Annoyingly, to do this you’ll have to visit the profile page of every single one of these clowns, because there’s no block or report option on the notification itself. Be prepared for every single profile page to be exactly the same too, because as I say, List spammers are a creative void. Excruciatingly dull people who live life by numbers and are quite happy to be publicly represented by a piece of simple software.
Another measure you can take is of course to avoid the hashtags that attract List spam. #digitalmarketing, for example. I recently posted a #digitalmarketing tweet on a very low profile account. No Replies, no Retweets, no Favorites, no Follows, 9 instant List spams. The spammers couldn’t have assimilated the tweet and manually added the Listings in the few seconds it took for the notifications to flood in, so all were blatantly automated.
But why should we be restricted in the hashtags we can and can’t use, when Twitter knows full well this is an unchecked pest and won’t address it? Some List-spam-prone hashtags can attract good, genuine engagement. Why should people sacrifice that engagement in order to avoid spam?
Simon (@siverra) September 30, 2015
We shouldn’t really be angry at the idiots who perpetrate this annoying scourge, or even the ‘marketing gurus’ who suggest the technique to others. This is entirely Twitter’s fault. It would take one tick box on the Settings page to free users from the misery of List spam, but for reasons best known to themselves, Twitter will not add one. Any caring site would either add the means for users to prevent List notifications, or start suspending the spammers for using automation. Twitter know exactly who’s using automation, they know it’s against the Terms of (lip)Service, and yet they let it flourish. Then they wonder why growth is persistently slowing.