Twitter Bug Torches Follower Lists

Friendly fire or bigger oops?

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[ Social Media]

A slew of Twitter users posted this morning the disappearance of significant portions of followers and followees from their accounts. Has Twitter lost swaths of user data? Or is it the side effect of ousting "aggressive followers," who Twitter equates with spammers? Are followers worth much?

A quick, church-sermon-esque Twitter search on "lost followers" reveals hundreds of tweets about them. Some have lost in the tens, others in the hundreds, and others report losing half to 75% of their follower lists.

Twenty or so disappeared from my own account. Jeff Pulver, who is also a Twitter investor, reports the loss of 400 followees and 700 followers overnight. The subsequent resounding question throughout the abbreviated Twittersphere: WTF?

I lost 400 people

On Monday, founder Biz Stone published notice of Twitter’s new vigilance in seeking and destroying so-called "aggressive followers." These are users who have created thousands of accounts, posted thousands of the same links, or aggressively followed "too many people," all of whom "stick out like a sore thumb" to the support team, especially if blocked by enough followers.

According to that post:

"To combat aggressive following directly we have recently imposed new limits on following—spammy accounts following too many users have been drastically curbed. Those that existed prior to this new limit await review."

While the spam initiative has some interesting timing in relation to this morning’s phenomenon, it was clear early that not only spammy followers were lost, but also friends. Anna, who goes by ShoeSmitten on Twitter, says she lost 120 friends, accounting for half of her list. She told WebProNews many of them were "dear" friends and "far from spammers."

Pulver, too, indicated some larger problem. "I seemed to have lost 400 people who followed and 700 people who followed me," he said via email. "I’m still at 5,000+ ‘real people’ so maybe that is ok. I don’t know yet who got removed by accident and how many of these people where designated as spam.

"This issue is a sign of a bigger problem/challenge/learning that is ongoing."

Pulver also said that when Twitter launched in 2006, the founders "could not have appreciated the space they would be filling in the life of others and the unintended consequences that would prevail." He said this was part of the challenge of maintaining a "real enough time (RET) communication network."

Stone responded to request for comment saying the data loss was not because of recent spam efforts, but instead is a bug. "The followers/followees bug is unrelated to our spam initiatives," he said. "We worked on it last night but we’ll be looking more into the follower bug today."

There is a broader question here that may be very difficult to define. In April of this year, Rocketboom founder Andrew Baron briefly put his Twitter account up for auction on eBay, which brought into question whether one’s list of followers/followees has real monetary value. Baron pulled his auction, so we may not know, but bids reached about a dollar per follower. Could Twitter be liable for lost data then?

Pulver declined to put any specifics on the value of a Twitter account, but agreed there was value, however you define it, in them. "I believe that our social graphs have value. Understanding and levering your social graph is the subject for a fun conversation. But with 5,000 friends on Facebook and 5,000 followers (post twitter spamm issue) I believe there is ‘value’ there.

Posed the same question, Stone had not yet responded by press time.

UPDATE: There was a notice on the Twitter corporate blog early this morning warning of a loss of follower counts: 

"We’re still in the process of recovering from the missing follower/following problem that occurred earlier today. Over the next several hours, you may see inaccurate counts or timeline inconsistencies as the correct data is propagated to all parts of the system."

Twitter Bug Torches Follower Lists
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  • Roger D

    Shoemoney has it right from the horses mouth on what happen:


  • Jason Lee Miller

    Baron responded a bit too late for publishing but I thought his email was interesting. He’s uncertain about follower value on Twitter, especially if a spammer; then again, like some other A-listers (Scoble for example), Twitter is soooo 2007. Here’s what he had to say:

    “Value? If they are all spammers or people who added me so I would add them, then they are valueless so perhaps if Twitter did flush them out, the new numbers are better not worse for reflecting actual, real value.

    “But I haven’t really been using Twiiter or trying to grow my account there, Ive migrated over to Friendfeed and just use Twitter as a legacy platform to communicate with the behind-the-times-people. :D

  • eldon

    i’ve seen a similar bug in facebook actually….just noticed it this morning…..sometimes my friends list shows 73 n sometimes 68….what’s that all about??

  • eldon




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