Twitter follow bots cut off from API, as accounts disabled for spreading misinformation from Iran and elsewhere

Graham Cluley

Angry twitter thumb

Twitter follow bots cut off from API, as accounts disabled for spreading misinformation from Iran and elsewhere

Twitter has revoked the access rights of three services that automatically add or remove followers from users’ accounts.

ManageFlitter, Statusbrew, and Crowdfire have had their access to the Twitter API revoked for allegedly helping users abuse the service, aggressively and repeatedly following and unfollowing large numbers of other accounts. This is a tactic frequently employed by Twitter spammers.

Twitter reserves the right to rate limit, suspend, or terminate developers’ access to its API if it believes they have violated its automation rules.

As TechCrunch describes, the three apps attempt to boost the number of Twitter followers an account has by automatically following a large number, waiting a few days, and then unfollowing any who do no return the favour by following back. Accounts wishing to use such a service typically pay a monthly fee.

Social media consultant Matt Navarra was the first person to bring the suspension to wider attention, after Crowdfire warned users that it was “experiencing some issues.”

The CEO of ManageFlitter has posted a thread responding to Twitter, claiming that his company cannot find any record of warnings from Twitter and that his service’s suspension “came out of nowhere.”

The news of the follow apps’ suspension comes as Twitter revealed that it had deleted thousands of malicious accounts spreading disinformation or attempting to suppress voting. The accounts were believed to have originated in Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, and some of the messages posted by the accounts appear to have been targeting the US midterm elections late last year.

Vote suppression tweet

In all, 418 accounts thought to have originated in Russia were removed before the US midterm election day in November. Meanwhile, 764 accounts originating in Venezuela (some of which tweeted over 50,000 times about the US election, while others focused on a “state-backed influence campaign” in Venezuela itself) were disabled, as well as 2,617 accounts seemingly linked to Iran.

More details of the abuse Twitter saw are detailed in the company’s newly-published 2018 U.S. Midterm Retrospective Review.

There’s no point tweeting your misinformation, of course, unless you have a good number of followers. I wonder how these accounts managed to accrue enough followers to make their efforts worthwhile…

In a clearly co-ordinated announcement, Facebook has revealed that it has also “removed multiple Pages, groups and accounts that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram”:

This activity was directed from Iran, in some cases repurposing Iranian state media content, and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior targeting people across the world, although more heavily in the Middle East and South Asia. These were interconnected and localized operations, which used similar tactics by creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.

Graham Cluley Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

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