Like weeds in a garden, bots and trolls impact Twitter to a degree not seen on Facebook, or other platforms that attempt to verify a human identity behind their accounts. No one really knows how many of Twitter’s accounts represent an individual, human user. Estimates range between 40-90%, depending on the criteria and the methods of measurement.
Not all of these non-individual accounts are deliberate trolls. Companies and organizations often set up accounts, many times assisted by bots, to manage their communications. But if you’re a woman or a member of a minority group on Twitter, you’ve likely had your threads hijacked by swarms of mindless garbage accounts. Jews in particular often find themselves targeted, having relatively routine tweets buried under dozens or hundreds of hostile, sometimes threatening, and often merely nonsensical replies.
Say, you encounter an account on Twitter that looks like this:
Stock-footage image of a pretty woman. Half a dozen coded emojis. No name and a long list of conspiracy-driven hashtags. Just navigate to their followers list and press the Twitter Block Chain button in your browser. The app will exclude accounts you are already following from the block list.
Twitter Block Chain works best on your medium-sized MAGA-bots, accounts with fewer than 20,000 or so users. Chain-blocking the followers of Sebastian Gorka or Jack Probosiec may feel gratifying, but a lot of legitimate or semi-legitimate accounts follow them just to keep an eye on their activity. You might not want them all cut off. Also, beyond about 10,000 accounts it starts to get slow. This tool is more useful against phony or spam accounts that lack any human followers who aren’t idiots.
Once you’ve blocked two or three of them, you’ll notice something cool on your next try. A large percentage of that next account’s followers are already blocked. Go a few steps further, and you’ll encounter accounts whose followers are blocked at rates of a third or more. The lesson? These are troll accounts, often operating in concert, using each other’s feeds as cues to swarm. Block one, and you’ve hindered dozens. Block two or three, and the impact magnifies exponentially. That fact is key to understanding why blocking is so important to basic Twitter hygiene.
By the time I got to the followers list on this garbage account, I discovered I’d already blocked half of them.
Careful blocking of troll accounts, adopted en masse, creates a kind of herd immunity. These phony accounts set up to crush online communications depend on open access to operate. Large-scale blocking darkens their nodes, slowing their response time, access and effectiveness. Plus it’s fun.
The next frontier, of course, is the growing network of #Resistance trolls. One step at a time.