Keeping your account safe on Twitter – some reflections

Since the General Election, there has been a steady stream of pro-EU and #FBPE accounts who have had long Twitter restrictions or lost their accounts. It is perhaps a good idea to take a moment to reflect on what might be causing this, and, importantly, what we can do to protect ourselves from having this happen to us. Lost and suspended accounts are lost to the campaign, not just the owner, and getting suspended is not a badge of honour in any way at all.

It is my opinion that much of the reporting that is behind this happened during the General Election, and it may have come from the far left as well as the far right. Twitter may be simply catching up with a backlog, but it is clear it is still happening, and it is probably the far right that are now mostly responsible. This means it is organised and widespread.

So what practical things can we do to make it less likely this will happen to us? In writing this I am not defending or judging the Twitter rules, they are what they are, it is their site and they make the rules.

So first point, Twitter reporting and disciplining works on the “No Smoke Without Fire” principle. The more a tweet or tweeter is reported, the more likely they are to have action taken against them. The only defence against this is to NOT BREAK THE RULES AT ALL.

Most people probably think that they obey the rules pretty much, or that there are far worse things than their offerings that Twitter should be paying attention to, but here are a few things that pro-EU accounts do without thinking about too much, which will get tweets pulled if they are reported.

1. “Play the person not the ball” . First rule of survival, don’t call people names or insult them. This is different from criticising them,  “you are an idiot” as against ” Your suggestion that Boris Johnson is truthful is idiotic because (insert evidence) “. The second is fine, the first breaks the rules. Calling Blue-tick accounts abusive names in replies to them will almost always get you an immediate restriction of some kind. Best to kick a wall instead.

2. Incite pile-ons. Twitter take this pretty seriously. This involves going and finding all your friends and asking them to attack another tweeter.     Publicly summoning a group of people to report an account also fits this, but in cases of abuse that seriously need reporting Twitter may be less harsh. However, it is always better to summon help in     behind the scenes groups. Though it is best not to ask people to pile on to people in most circumstances anyway. Asking people to defend someone counts as this too. If the same five or so accounts commonly hunt as a pack in threads with arguments in them, this does not look good either.

3. Misleading people over elections and voting. Saw a few pro-EU accounts in a jokey way suggesting that Leavers voted for both the Brexit party and the Tories in the election, all I know that did it got 12 hour bans. It was right that they should do so, it is giving someone misinformation about voting and breaks the rules.

As a footnote to this, if you try to use humour or jokes in tweets, always read it back  “without understanding” the joke, and if it looks bad, don’t tweet it. Irony doesn’t work well on Twitter, especially from not-well-known accounts. I have lost count of the times I have read something as a straight tweet, when it was intended to be funny.

4. Swearing a lot. We are all swearing a lot more, but I have noticed that if a tweet with swear word is reported, chances are, if enough report it, it will be pulled. Safest thing to do is to try to avoid using strong swear words in tweets.

5a. Spamming, especially by tagging a lot of random people into a tweet. This is a contentious one, but it is important. Making the substance of a tweet into a list of twitter handles without much substance to the tweet itself, is spam. There are always times when we want to attract the attention of someone, famous or not, and we add their handle to a tweet, but a tweet which consists of “Good morning all” followed by a list of users, is spam. If it is reported, you will be sanctioned. I will even tell you why this is,     it games the algorithms, and Twitter hates that. One way that you can notify people without filling the tweet with names is to attach a picture image to the tweet, and notify 10 people on the picture. That is permitted and also doesn’t fill the character space up with the names.    
5b. Spamming with petitions, crowdfunders or notifications of events. Again, something well-meaning and enthusiastic tweeters do, is find all the big threads and add a post to each with a notification of something of this kind. Sadly this is also spam. If you are someone who does this, be careful how often you do it.


Of course Twitter rules are largely common sense, and I expect that few people have read right through all of them, what I have picked out above are the things I see most often from pro-EU accounts. Awareness of all of these will help keep your account safe if it is singled out for attack.

Just to stress as a last point, this is not a comparative thing, there is no defence of “but my tweets are not as bad as the nasty fascist ones”. I see streams of people saying this every time an incident occurs. What matters to twitter is how much you are upsetting people or how many you upset, and unless they know otherwise, bots and trolls reporting posts are “people” too. The more the merrier. The more times something is reported, the more likely it is to get looked at closely and possibly removed. Similarly, Twitter do not actively police the site, they are reactive, so they look at tweets that are reported to them, not at everything.

Again, if someone is trying to get your account taken down, they will search back in time. Recently I looked for an old tweet of mine to quote tweet into a thread, and was surprised to see it had been removed. It had been pinned to my account in the past for months and had had hundreds of retweets, all of them over a year previously, but it had gone. So if my warnings here make you want to go back and selectively edit your back-history, do go a long way back.

This does work in reverse too, if you find a nasty account and want to report it, get a big group of people to help, the more that report it, the more likely it is to be removed. Remember, that they will do the same back to us, keep that in mind when you tweet. However, do not find your big group of people to help you by appealing on open twitter for people to report someone or something, because that is, as stated above, piling onto someone!

Another point to remember is that important, well known, famous people, politicians and organisations have social media teams.  They search for mentions of the people or groups they are paid to look after, and if you attack these accounts, your attack will be reported.  

So, go well, go safely and keep yourself around to take part, by taking some elementary precautions. They won’t always save you against a really strong attack, but they will help.

This article was written by @Fish_in_a_hat