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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Is Twitter out of touch with its users?

Like many people on Twitter, I have more than one account in order to keep my various interests separate.  I wrote on here, not long ago, about having one account suspended and being unable to determine exactly what the rules of Twitter are.

Just before Christmas, I discovered, when I tried to access it, that another account had been suspended.  This time it wasn't just a question of ticking boxes to say that I'd be good.  I had to make contact with the 'support' desk.  It seemed a good opportunity to ask questions.

I received a form email which said "If your account was suspended for aggressive following behavior, you should have received an email notification to the address associated with your Twitter account"  (which I hadn't) and it continued "You'll need to confirm that you've removed all prohibited following automation from your account, and will stop any manual aggressive following behavior."

I replied, saying that, as far as I was aware, I had remained within the rules of Twitter.  I pointed out that the Twitter guideline of  "if you don’t follow or un-follow hundreds of users in a single day, and you aren’t using automated methods of following users, you should be fine" was very vague.   And I noted that, since the beginning of December I had unfollowed an average of 31 people a day and followed an average of just under 60 a day - not hundreds.  Finally I asked for some concrete advice on  the numbers that are acceptable.

The email I received in reply to this was, again, a form letter telling me that as I'd agreed not to follow aggressively in future, my account would be reinstated.  There was no reference to my request for advice or, indeed, to anything that I'd said in the letter.  I was left wondering whether anyone had read it.

I tried again to contact Twitter and get an answer but all I got was yet another form letter telling me that this particular correspondence had been closed.  And it was then that I realised how well-nigh impossible it is to contact Twitter.  Many of the links in the 'contact us' section lead only to pages with generalised answers in particular areas.  There are very few questions that one can actually ask Twitter direct . . . and "how many people is it OK to follow at any one time?" is not among them.

I was annoyed . . . but at least I'd got my account back.  But when I actually accessed that account again, I was furious.  Because I realised that the reason I'd been suspended was because I'd been hacked.  Only direct messages sent after the account had been reinstated were accessible but, among these, there were well over 200 saying 'thank you for following'.  Now, normally, I can expect perhaps ten or twenty per cent of those I follow to send me a direct message.  So how many must have been followed in this account's name for there to be over 200 - not counting, of course, those that came in before the account was suspended.

So I had been suspended because someone had hacked into my account.  But why did Twitter not query the fact that someone who'd been going along quietly for the best part of a year following 150 or 200 every two or three days, suddenly seemed to have followed perhaps 2000 on one day?  Did it occur to no one that it was out of character?  Or is everything that happens at Twitter automated?  The 'support' emails that I received certainly seem to suggest it.

And, of course, this leads me to wonder why everything is automated and why there is so little genuine support.  Could it be because Twitter is free?  Well, personally, I'd be happy to pay a small amount each year (and with the number of people on Twitter, it wouldn't have to be more than a few dollars) if they'd supply a decent support service.  I'm really angry that I can't email someone to say "I didn't transgress the rules . . . you punished me because my account was hacked".

I'm thinking of writing a letter to Twitter by snail mail  . . . there is an address provided.  Meanwhile I have changed all my passwords and am keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn't happen again.

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