More People, And Inevitably Scammers, Are Using Twitter

2010 thus far has been a year of milestones in terms of online population, with Facebook hitting 500 million active users and Twitter reaching 100 million users. This growth explosion is not without its dark side; a rising tide lifts all boats, even the more miscreant ones.

According to a report by Barracuda Labs, both general and questionable activity is increasing on Twitter, due primarily to the company’s open API and easy account set-up. With more than 50 million tweets per day, and 600 million search queries per day, user activity is at an all time high: Nielsen posits unique visits to the site have grown at a rate of 45% compared to last year.

Highlights from the report:

– Only 28.87% of Twitter users have tweeted more than 10 times, have more than 10 followers and more than 10 friends.

– One in every eight Twitter users has at least 10 times more followers than they are following.

– Only one in 10 users is following more than 100 users, and almost half are following less than five.

– Half of Twitter users tweet less than once a day, yet one in 10 users tweet five or more times a day.

– 30 percent of Twitter accounts have never tweeted.

– 15.8% of Twitter users have no followers, 47% decrease from June 2009 when it was 30%.

– 33% have 10+ followers, a 65% increase from June 2009 when it was 20%.

“True Twitter Users”, which Barracuda defines as people who have tweeted at least 10 times, who have at least 10 followers and in turn follow at least 10 people, have increased to 29%, up from 21% in January 2010. Less people now have zero followers (15.8% of all users) and more people have 10+ followers (65% of all users) than in June 2009.

These new levels of user interaction are inevitably punctuated by an increase in “Twitter Crime”, or the percentage of accounts created per month that are eventually suspended by Twitter. According to the data, this rate is now at 2.38% vs. 1.08% in February 2010, which could mean simply that Twitter is ramping up deletions. The average rate of account suspension for the first half of 2010 was 1.67% of all accounts.

June 2010’s numbers are comparable to the high crime rate during Twitter’s “Red Carpet” era in January 2010 (i.e. the @aplusk celebrity dogpile) where a similar growth explosion lead to a 2.20% account suspension rate. Just like in real life, when populations become more dense, malicious activity tends to follow suit by increasing.

According to Barracuda Labs, some strong indicators of illegitimate account growth are a low Followers (people who follow you) minus Friends (people who you follow) number and a low Followers/Friends ratio – presumably because no one wants to follow a SPAM account – as well as a high volume of tweets. Data also shows that a high volume of tweets and a low volume of followers are directly correlated (basically, STFU if you want to increase followers).

Both scammers and legitimate users are engaging on Twitter more, as in tweeting and gaining followers. While illegitimate account deletions do seem to be increasing, perhaps this is because of better policing on Twitter’s part. By paying attention to patterns in scammer behavior such as the correlation between the Followers/Friends ratio, Follower – Friend delta and frequency of tweets,  Twitter could perhaps enact measures that would lower the possibility that your next Twitter follower is @sexyfreeipod.