...and so must all other tools that do the same thing. I don't know which is responsible for the sudden flood of new Twitter followers I started receiving the other day, so I'll name the one I found most prominently mentioned in a recent blog search.

Hummingbird is a Twitter Spam Tool

I'm sure I'll get some disagreement on that, but fear not--I'm going to explain in detail why it's absolutely true, and suggest something to do about it.

First, what does Hummingbird do? It automatically adds you as a follower to thousands of people in the hopes of getting them to follow you back. If they don't, you can have it unfollow them.

So tell me, what is the purpose of trolling for followers this way? To build up a list of people to send marketing messages to. Surely there can be no other purpose.

Are you really going to read the tweets of thousands of people you have no reason to listen to?

Are you really going to respond if these people direct message you? (I don't mean, is some $0.50 an hour hired minion from the third world going to send them some inane response -- I mean are YOU going to respond).

I didn't think so. No, you're just taking advantage of two things in the nature of Twitter:

  1. Many Twitter users follow anyone who follows them out of a sense of social obligation (many even use automated tools to do it).
  2. When you follow someone on Twitter, they think you're telling them that you want to hear what they have to say.

Some will argue that anyone who follows you back does so by choice. But if you're deceiving them into making that choice, is it really their choice? Yeah, they can unfollow you, but that doesn't undo the fact that you lied to them.

So here's why anyone using these kinds of tools deserves to be called a spammer:

  1. They're using a lie to convince people to give them permission to send them marketing messages (like how email spammers use a bogus "unsubscribe" link to validate email addresses of people who open their spam).
  2. They're stealing Twitter's resources to deliver massive amounts of their lies (like how email spammers cost businesses billions of dollars every year).
  3. They're destroying the value of a communication medium by flooding it with unwanted marketing (like how email spammers clog inboxes with their messages).

So, what do we do about it?

Reader Comment:
Antone Roundy said:
Hi Doc, Thanks for your comment. While I certainly respect your right to disagree with me, and while I hope that in the years since I wrote this post, things have changed, and while I hope (and trust) that SOME people are using Hummingbird in ways...
(join the conversation below)

First, here's how to recognize a Twitter spammer -- when you get the email notification that they're following you, open it up and click through to their Twitter profile. If within an hour they're following another 50 or 100 people more than the email says they're following, then their obviously using an automated tool to add followers -- you've got a spammer.

Second, here's how to strike back. Follow them back and send them a direct message asking a question that a $0.50/hour hired minion can't answer by themself. Ask if they'll give you some feedback on your sales page or something (maybe don't give them the URL in your first DM -- just ask whether they'll do it). If they respond intelligently, go another round to see whether they're really willing to follow through on the promise they made when they followed you.

If so, don't bug them anymore -- they're legit. But I GREATLY doubt that you're going to get a real response from more than a tiny handful of these people. If they don't respond, start sending them a bunch of direct messages every day till they see the wisdom of unfollowing you. If enough people do this, they'll soon see the wisdom of changing their evil ways.

Twitter spammers have given us a tool that email spammers haven't -- in effect they've sent their spam from their real email address. We can't shut down email spammers by flooding their email in boxes with messages because we don't know their real email addresses. But perhaps we CAN convince Twitter spammers to go back to using legitimate marketing methods by testing their commitment to the promise they make when they ask us to get involved in their social circle.