New From Twitter – Auto-Following, Even If You Didn't Want To

Alien NationMost of my Twitter interaction comes via Seesmic Desktop – prior to using this great application, I was all about TweetDeck.

When I’m on the road, I use Dabr. During my lunchbreak at work, I use Twitter.com, or TwitterGadget.

Why is any of this important? Because your experience on Twitter changes dramatically with each application.

Specifically, you see things on one kind of application that you don’t with another. With Seesmic or TweetDeck, my primary focus is on my userlists/groups, and while I do observe the stream it’s very much secondary to keeping up with my inner, inner-circle.

With Dabr, Twitter.com and TwitterGadget, there is no group functionality, so my focus is entirely on my stream – in other words, everybody in my network. These differing points of entry to the platform afford me the opportunity to notice different things.

I follow a little under 800 people. That’s enough to keep things interesting and position me fairly well on the information curve, but not too many to be a distraction or lose all that wonderful signal amongst the noise. I feel like I ‘know’ everybody in my network – meaning, I can recognise them in my timeline from their avatar and/or name.

Yet, with increasing regularity, I see people appearing on my stream that I don’t recognise. That I cannot place at all. That I’m pretty sure I’ve never followed.

At first, I put this down to senility. Then I started to assume that some of these folks had radically changed their usernames and avatars, the former of which remains one of Twitter’s most retarded options. But it’s happening so much of late that I’m pretty sure it’s a major bug.

Indeed, Twitter acknowledges this as a known issue, at least in part.

If you have un-followed someone who has tons of followers, they may keep coming back.

This has definitely happened to me, too, but I’m getting people on my list now that I know I have never followed. That I never would follow – you know, the mass-marketer, every-other-tweet-is-about-their-system type. Yesterday, I had to unfollow five of them. Are they gone for good? Who knows.

I’m not isolated in my concerns. People are pretty frustrated about this. Check out some of the (occasionally amusing) comments on Twitter’s help page. Check out who is being auto-followed.

Some of these folks have reported success with repetative blockings of the account in question, but that seems to me a little bit of a drastic measure.

As said, I assume this is a bug, and Twitter are, as usual, working on it, but let’s throw a little conspiracy into the mix – what if they’re experimenting with sneaking people into follow lists? And big people, at that. I mean, isn’t it just a bit of a coincidence that it’s only those with large numbers of followers who are appearing in our networks? It’s not people like you and me; it’s @NewtGingrich, @DrDrew, @EOnline, @TheEllenShow and @JohnLegend.

You know – people who appear on the suggested user list.

One of my favourite conspiracy theories of all time surrounded the popular movie and TV series, Alien Nation. The notion was put forward that the aliens in the show weren’t actors – they were real, had been amongst us for some time, and the US government was using the series as a way of gently introducing the visitors to the public as a way of gauging their reaction.

Years later, just thinking about this crackpot theory makes me smile. I mean, as if.

But when I see people appearing on my Twitter timeline that I am 100 per cent confident that I have never followed, I start to notice a disturbing parallel. This year we’ve seen many examples of celebrities blaming ‘hackers’ for bizarre behaviour and posts on Twitter; what’s to stop Twitter themselves blaming radical policy changes on a ‘bug’, to gauge the public’s reaction to alien behaviour? You didn’t like it? Hey, it’s a known issue. We’re working on it.

You didn’t notice? Ah.