Twitter is flexing its muscles, and some businesses are pissed.
Twitter has suspended three prominent social media companies that enable clients to rapidly follow and unfollow accounts using the Twitter API. This is a popular strategy for increasing followers, but a practice that’s largely seen as spammy.
Twitter says that the companies’ actions were a violation of Twitter’s terms, and it is enforcing the rules in its effort to improve “conversational health” on the platform, and as part of its larger effort to crack down on spam. But representatives from the companies are pissed, saying that they received no warning, and claiming that they have complied with Twitter’s communications and requests in the past.
The incident could be a touch point for Twitter disrupting a social media economy of bots and inflated follower counts that it has allowed to flourish through lax enforcement in the past.
Another problem is going through your own follower list via twitter is impossible. Can take hours….
— Carla R ✍🏾📖 (@CarlaRK3) January 31, 2019
Following and unfollowing users is a well-known social media tactic for gaining followers. The idea is that following someone might prompt them to follow you back, and then unfollowing them gives you a better ratio of followers to following. Automating this process, by using Twitter’s API, allows companies to put this process on steroids, which results in non-genuine follower attempts and potential notification fatigue. However, as the companies point out, Twitter has approved their applications for using the API in the past.
But now, Twitter is making a change. As confirmed by Twitter, it suspended Managefilter, Crowdfire, and StatusBrew, for violating its terms.
The controversy has played out in a Twitter feed started by social media consultant Matt Navarra, who spotted and confirmed Twitter’s policy change. Navarra first wrote that Twitter had revoked the API access that allowed the companies to engage in their rapid follow/unfollow tactics. He pointed out that if the change is permanent, it could hit their business hard.
Twitter ended up confirming Navarra’s observation in the thread, citing its past efforts to enforce rules of engagement and improve the health of conversations on the platform.
Stopping spam and abuse that comes from the use of our APIs plays a big part in keeping Twitter healthy. These apps received previous warnings for violating our API rules and have been suspended. They can reapply for access with a new app that’s compliant.
— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) January 31, 2019
Here’s the portion of Twitter’s rules that the companies reportedly violated, engaging in “aggressive following and follower churn.”
Twitter began an effort to crack down on spam, bots, and fake followers in earnest in 2018. Celebrities and brands lost millions of followers last summer in what was known as the Twitter “purge.” It also instituted new rules around harassing and discriminating behavior, and released a four-point plan for fighting disingenuous behavior, which included removing accounts who were abusing the API.
However, Twitter for inconsistently applying many of its rules. This has allowed hate speech and spam bots alike to flourish on the platform. Now that Twitter could actually be enforcing its rules more diligently, that could constitute a huge disruption to companies who have built their businesses around what some might call shady, and others might call efficient, practices.
The CEO of Crowdfire rebutted Twitter’s claims that it had warned the company about violating its practices. He tweeted that the suspension was abrupt and inconsistent with their past communications.
Sep 2017: Twitter themselves approved our app after their platform policy changes
Sep 2018: They provided us with Elevated API access.
Jan 31st 2019: Abrupt suspension with no prior communication
We’ll email you entire convo soon so you see the complete picture 👍
— Nischal (WazirX) ⚡️ (@NischalShetty) February 1, 2019
Twitter has an “Official Partners” program that vets companies who use Twitter’s API. The companies associated with that program were reportedly not affected. Beyond that, it’s not clear why some social media companies who engage in follow/unfollow tactics were spared — and some were given the axe.
No, fortunately we’ve been approved for every client use case we have but wish the best for fellow vendors as they align to Twitter
— Amir Zonozi (@Zonozi) January 31, 2019
Cracking down on abusing the API is a positive step in Twitter’s efforts to make the platform more genuine; the more real people and real engagement you have, the less opportunity there is for abuse. However, the controversy shows the fumbles and consequences of Twitter’s past enforcement strategies. These companies should never have built their businesses on shady practices, but Twitter also shouldn’t have allowed it to ever occur in the first place. Now, once again, it’s users who are paying for Twitter’s mistakes. Even if it is ultimately for the greater social media good.