Twitter – Do Following Limits Protect Or Stifle Our Social Websites?

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So Twitter is undoubtedly ‘up there’ with the top social media websites in the world, possibly second only to Facebook.  Twitter ‘following limits’ get a lot of bad press but is this well deserved?  Do the following limits protect the website from being abused by spammers?  Or do the following limits harm legitimate users more than they hinder spammers?

The Problem?

Twitter enforces certain limits on how many accounts you can follow in total and over a specific short period of time.  It also has rules over how many changes you can make to who you follow.

Twitter - Following Limit

So, the basics are:

  • Each account can follow 2,000 other accounts.
  • You are unable to follow more than 1,000 accounts in any one day.
  • You are not permitted to ‘aggressively follow’ other accounts.

So each account can follow 2,000 other accounts – that’s fairly self explanatory.  Now I know what you are thinking, you’ve seen other accounts following more than 2,000 accounts?  Right, yes, it is possible – but it becomes quite complex.

Each Account Can Follow 2,000 Other Accounts.

No matter what you account is, verified or not etc you can follow 2,000 accounts in total, no questions asked.  After that, the amount of accounts you can follow over 2,000 is determined, on a basic level, by the number of people following your account.  The number of followers you have gets put into the ‘Twitter formula’ which then calculates the total number of extra accounts you can follow over 2,000.

You are unable to follow more than 1,000 accounts in any one day.

Now this one really is self explanatory (and probably the one we agree with the most).  There’s no exceptions to this one.  You can’t follow more than 1,000 accounts a day – and there really is no legitimate need to…. unless you’re a spammer of course, but that’s precisely why these rules are in place! ;).

You are not permitted to ‘aggressively follow’ other accounts.

So, you’re also not permitted to ‘aggressively follow’ other accounts – but what does this mean?  Does this mean you can’t send a tweet to people you follow with a menacing, threatening picture?  Well not quite (although that’s probably not a good idea either!).  ‘Aggressive following’ refers to lots of following / unfollowing over a short period of time – basically a tactic used to negate the effects of the other rules.

Why would you do this though?  What benefit could it possibly have for you?  Well, lets investigate.

Those of you that have an account on Twitter and have been on there a while will probably know that sometimes, when you follow an account, they follow you back and vice versa.  For users who have account notifications turned on, they will also get an e-mail about your new follow.  The e-mail will contain a link to your Twitter account and a link to follow the person back.

Bearing this in mind, and to ‘circumvent’ (of a fashion!) the rules above, a previous typical spamming tactic was to follow and unfollow thousands upon thousands upon thousands of accounts.  This would trigger the e-mail notification and show the other account that you were now following them in their ‘Interactions’ area.  Then, if you follow back, they unfollow you (which doesn’t trigger any notifications) and follow someone else.  They do this again and again and again……

Then, they can end up building followers up quite fast and more followers = higher number of accounts they can follow.  And this in turn means they can do the trick above to more accounts concurrently.  And so the circle repeats…..

Is it really a problem?

Well the topic is definitely a controversial one.

Firstly, the rules do appear to stop some spammers – but by no means does it actually stop spam.  We still get plenty of it.  But maybe the problem would be a lot worse if these rules were not in place?

Does it hinder legitimate accounts?  Probably.  SME’s for example are likely to follow more than they are followed as they startup or break into a new industry.  They are likely to be caught by the following limits.

Do the rules have any other effect?  Well, we think so.  The rules can make people ‘stingy’ with their followbacks.  Something that someone may ‘Like’ on Facebook, they may not follow on Twitter.  Why?  Well to preserve their follows – they will also have a limited number don’t forget!

In Conclusion.

In conclusion, its probably fair to see that the following limits both protect and stifle our use of the site to some degree.  But which would be better?  Following limits or no following limits?  Well, we’re not too sure.  Obviously it’s annoying to hit a follow limit if you are using your account legitimately.  But equally, it would be annoying to be spammed all the time.

Twitter are most likely trying to protect themselves from the deluge of spam that normal comes with running a popular website.  Remember MySpace?  At one point they seemed to be getting totally overrun with spam – so you can’t really blame Twitter for wanting to protect themselves from this threat.  After all, they would not want to face the same decline in usage as MySpace has done over recent years.

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