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Why Twitter Needs A Spam Filter

Twitter is doing a lot to combat spam. The dedicated @spam and @safety teams work their little cotton socks off identifying and removing suspicious-looking tweets and accounts, and there are many ways that users can help out, either by reporting spam directly to Twitter, or using a third party app.

However, it’s not enough. It seems like you can’t comment on anything that’s popular and in the mainstream on Twitter – iPads, iPhones, Starbucks, BMW and KFC Double Down sandwiches (just me?) – without getting a loosely-related, keyword-alerted tweet from a spambot a few moments later. And while it’s certainly true that users can and should be playing their part in battling this menace, it simply isn’t viable that we have to rely on Twitter to then manually take care of everything for us.

No, what we desperately need are email-like spam filters on Twitter. And we need them now.

The problem of spam doesn’t pose the obvious solution that you might expect – you can’t just switch it all off. You see, as with most things in life, spam isn’t equitable. What’s blatant spam to you and I, and thousands of other people, might be a more than welcome golden opportunity to somebody else. Like hamburgers and sex toys, there is no one-size fits all solution.

So, what I’d love to see Twitter do is let users set up their own spam filters, which automatically scan and interpret tweets that are received (both in the timeline and via an @message) and if the alarm bells go off they get stored in a junk folder. This folder is perusable by the user (and only them), and if any tweets found inside are false-positives, the user can ‘unmark as spam’. Voila: they’re back on your timeline.

I mean, how easy is that? But how incredibly useful would it be?

What I like about this system is that if you could set your own filters you could dictate what YOU think is spam. The sorts of messages that you believe are junk, and unwanted. In other words, you could educate your personal spam filter to automatically remove any tweets you don’t want to see in your timeline or inbox. And it would just go ahead and take care of this for you, like some kind of beautiful, crap-hating wizard.

I’ve written before about how my choice of username on Twitter leaves me inundated with messages from people of the land professional wrestling fans. This happens on a daily basis, flares up overwhelmingly during major WWE events, and is a real pain in the ass. But with this filter, I could assign all tweets that mention ‘wrestling’ (and various other, related keywords, like “lol” and “Arby’s”) as spam, and Twitter would parse and hide them accordingly. I’d make it a daily habit to check my junk folder, and unmark anything that shouldn’t be in there.

(Which, to be honest, wouldn’t be much.)

Over time, Twitter would learn about what I did and did not want to see on the network – MY network – and my experience would be enriched accordingly. Bottom line: everybody wins. Including Twitter, as the users would be doing a lot of their work for them.

Spam isn’t going away. It’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger. But that doesn’t mean it’s a completely unsurmountable problem. Google’s Gmail software handles spam really, really well, but it also lets the end user decide what they think is spam, too. So there’s your model, Twitter. I know there’s been some bad blood, but why not give the guys at Google a call?

This filter wouldn’t be completely replacing the job that Twitter is doing now. Instead, it would work nicely alongside, complementing the system they already have in place. As I said above, one man’s spam is another man’s lifetime opportunity. But ome submissions on the network are so obviously malicious that you’d still need a Twitter-wide overlord and spam/safety team to tackle this issue.

But personal spam? That’s personal to me. And it makes absolute, perfect sense that I should be the person best placed to take care of it.

(Spam image via Shutterstock.)

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