I’m writing this so that someone is under attack by spam reporters can know what to do to preserve their account and prevent it from being suspended, and if it is suspended, help restore it and prevent it from being easily suspended in the future.
The most important thing you need to know is this:
Don’t send a lot of @ responses to people who are not using your @username in their tweets, or to people who don’t follow you.
If you do that too much, and they report you enough for spam, you will be suspended.
But: lots of people reporting you for spam where there is NO communication between you and them, will NOT get your account suspended in the absence of other factors, particularly if your account is well-established and hasn’t been suspended before.
If you react to tweets from people that don’t follow you or don’t mention you, then they report you for spam, you are much more likely to be suspended. Same with following then being blocked.
So the dirty trick some people play is to tweet nasty things (without including your exact Twitter username) that you will personally object to, hoping that you will hear about it and tweet to them, so they can then report you for spam to get you suspended. Any way that gets you to tweet to them will work, but usually they will try to get you angry.
Disclaimer: This is based on communication from Twitter, and investigating different situations people have shared with me. I’ve combined those investigations, my experience and the statements from Twitter into this post. Twitter has not yet posted a public policy statement regarding all situations of these types, so realize this is NOT a statement of official policy from Twitter.
There are a LOT of combinations of reasons that accounts can be suspended. Automated following and unfollowing is one of the big ones. Auto follow and unfollow and you can quickly be suspended, even if there are no other flags against your account. And if your account is hijacked Twitter may reset your password, suspend your account, or do nothing. It’s not always possible for Twitter to tell whether you’ve been hijacked.
Also, Twitter usually provides very little information when they suspend your account, and this is very frustrating. But don’t believe everything you hear people say about “why” they were suspended. If Twitter didn’t tell them why, they don’t know. So don’t be tricked by misinformation.
1. How Auto-Suspension Due To Spam Reports Should Work
First of all, you can’t get someone suspended in an obvious way: You can’t just get a bunch of people together, then all start reporting an established, never-suspended account as spam. That will NOT work, because Twitter doesn’t want that to happen. Is it absolutely impossible? No. Twitter adjusts their auto-suspension algorithm all the time, so anything is possible. But it’s very, very unlikely. It’s been tried and failed many, many times.
2. How Twitter Wants Auto-Suspension To Work
Again, we’re not covering all scenarios here. Just the mass spam reporting situation. And again: there are lots of reasons an account can be suspended.
If an account continuously spams people that it has no engagement with, and those people receiving tweets continuously report the account for spam, Twitter will auto-suspend the account at some point. The three main factors that determine how quickly it gets suspended are:
- Less-established (newer) accounts are suspended faster.
- Accounts that send a lot of tweets to people they are not engaged with are suspended faster than accounts that send few tweets.
- The faster and more people in total who respond to unwanted tweets by reporting for spam, the faster the account is auto-suspended.
3. How To Prevent Groups From Getting You Auto-Suspended
To get someone’s account suspended, you need to trick them into looking like a spammer repeatedly and then report them repeatedly from the accounts they are tweeting to. (Twitter calls this “multiple unsolicited mentions.”) Reporting from non-engaged accounts won’t work.
Let me repeat that: Sending spam reports from accounts that are NOT receiving “unsolicited” tweets won’t get accounts that have never been suspended before suspended.
So just getting a group of people together to report an established account that hasn’t been suspended before as spam WON’T get the account suspended.
The “dirty trick” that must be played is to trick the account into looking like a spammer repeatedly and then report them repeatedly from the accounts they are tweeting to. One method is by saying things that they might want to respond to. Typically terrible, nasty things
But the key is: You can’t use the username of the account you want to get suspended (much). The reason is that if you do, when they respond, it looks like a conversation—a tweet went out with with their username, they responded. Twitter’s automated system then thinks everything is okay.
You need to say things that get them to respond without using the username you want to have suspended.
4. Your First Step In Protecting Your Account
So, if this happens to you, the first thing to know is this:
DO NOT rapidly send tweets to lots of people that will likely not want to hear from you.
If you do, and many of them respond to your tweet by reporting you for spam, you’ve fallen into their auto-suspension trap: They’ve made you look like a spammer. Unfair? Absolutely!
What you CAN do is create a new account with a variation of your name, and respond from that account.
It will likely be suspended, but since you don’t need it, it doesn’t matter. But don’t create more than two or three accounts from the same IP address in a short period of time, because Twitter may suspend them, suspecting you are “mass creating serial accounts.” If you need to, have friends create accounts for you. (Twitter allows you to have many, many accounts, but will suspend them if created quickly one after the other for “serial account creation.”)
Alternatively, you can have friends reply on your behalf. But they also need not to send too many tweets. Mostly this happens in the form of someone telling their community that bad things are being said, and them community members decide of their own accord to communicate with the “evil-doers.”
5. Is This Real? Does This Work?
Someone that sends enough “unsolicited” tweets that are then marked as spam will absolutely be suspended.
So yes, it’s a real and serious problem.
Twitter is essentially tying your hands from sending a lot of @ responses to people who are saying nasty things if they are not using your @username in their tweets.
The more important question is can your account be suspended solely because a lot of people that you are NOT interacting (non-engaged: not following/followed, no conversations) with report you for spam. In other words, do you have to fall into their “trap” of sending them “unsolicited” @replies that they can then mark as spam?
Here other factors have to be taken into account:
For example, if you have a newer account, lots of spam reports from non-engaged accounts CAN get you auto-suspended. No “trap” is required.
But, if you have an account that is several months old with lots of engaging tweets, it is impossible for spam reports from non-engaged accounts to be the sole reason your account is auto-suspended. At least, that’s how Twitter wants things to work, and they make serious efforts to see that this IS how it works.
And, if your account has been suspended before, for whatever reason, it’s easier for it to be suspended again (see point #8 below).
This often confuse people, because once you get suspended and unsuspended, it’s MUCH easier to get suspended again. You have to ask Twitter to intervene manually if you’re under an attack from a group trying to get you suspended (and they have a pretty good track record of intervening to protect accounts—although they don’t respond very quickly anymore).
6. Your Second Step In Protecting Your Account
Don’t @reply to lots of people in under an hour or less!
How many is too many? Very hard to say. But if you send just 5 unwanted tweets in a short period, and all report you as spam, you will almost certainly be flagged by Twitter’s algorithm. The exact number and time that leads to auto-suspension is always going to be unclear, because Twitter tweaks their algorithm regularly.
But, if you don’t want to create a new account, don’t want to engage your community in the “fight” (and don’t want to simply ignore the tweets against you), at least avoid the main trap! Spread your tweets out.
Whenever I see an account suspended that has sent several “unsolicited” @replies just before receiving a suspension warning about sending @replies, this is the most obvious cause. Here’s what that looks like:
While Twitter is accurate in saying you “sent multiple unsolicited mentions to other users” they have no way of knowing that you may have been baited into doing so by folks waiting to report you for spam when you send them a mention.
Fair? No, not in many scenarios. But it’s hard for Twitter to tell the difference between you and a spammer when this happens.
7. Why Does This Get Your Account Auto-Suspended?
When an account created to send out spam starts sending it, it knows it will be suspended shortly. So spammers test how many spam messages they can send before they get suspended, and how quickly then can send them. The reason speed often works in their favor is that people don’t see and report as spam right away. Every minute they can keep sending is valuable to them. So a bunch of tweets close together that all get reported make you look a lot like a spammer.
Of course, Twitter tries to combat this by adjusting their algorithm to guess if tweets are spam, even in the absence of immediate reports. It doesn’t work very well yet in this scenario, sadly. The spam reports are still an important part of the system in most scenarios.
But the takeaway is the same: don’t be tricked into looking like a spammer.
8. If Your Account Gets Suspended
At this point, there is very bad news, and very good news.
Watch Out For Repeat Suspension!
The very bad news is that once your account has been suspended due to a group that you have sent tweets to reporting you for spam, it will very likely be suspended again. Although I’ve only researched a handful of these scenarios, in all but one case the account was suspended three times.
(Again, this isn’t about all scenarios. We’re talking only about the scenario where people are reporting you for spam. Although regardless of why you were suspended, getting suspended once makes it easier to get suspended again.)
The good news? Once you contact Twitter, they will often intervene manually to protect your account from additional auto-suspensions. (And then you can @reply to those people without easily being auto-suspended again. Not that I recommend it.)
So, what can you do?
Open a ticket with Twitter via http://bit.ly/TWICKET and let them know you believe people are using mass action to try to get your account suspended. Also contact sympathetic media or bloggers who can report the likely mass action against you. Twitter will see your “error” in sending “multiple unsolicited mentions”…but they typically also check to see the mass action at work, and protect you.
This is an important step! Just entering the captcha in the form and reactivating your account is not enough! Because what did NOT work to get your account suspended the first time—unengaged people reporting you for spam—WILL now be able to get you suspended again, whether you tweet or not.
Also, do NOT send multiple tickets to Twitter. Just send one, and reply to the automated email you get in reply that you still need help, and describe your situation. If you do not get an automated email response, check your spam folder, and check to see what email you are using with your Twitter account (in case you have forgotten).
You MUST get that email and reply to it and wait. If you create multiple tickets, each will cause the previous one to be deleted (yes, that’s Twitter’s policy) and your new one will go to the back of the queue.
Don’t get tricked into “multiple unsolicited mentions,” and if you do, contact Twitter right away, as your account is in serious danger of being repeatedly suspended, and you will need Twitter’s help.