Most people have heard of facebook, twitter, linkedin and the dozens of other social networking sites that have popped up over the past decade. As more and more people move towards online, and more particularly, online through Andriod based mobile devices, the scope for social networking seems to have no limit. Millions of people across the world post comments, pictures, stories billions of times a day.
This phenomena gives people connectivity in ways like never before, instantly connecting the population of the planet. The basic principle underlying this is, of course, advertising to mass audiences, but more particularly, targeted advertising. When we sign up to the various social networking sites we hand over lots of personal information (at least, we do if we are honest). This information is used by the service providers to sell targeted advertising and to generate revenues.
So what about the rest of us? Are we just commodities to be sold en mass to advertisers, or can we ourselves seek to benefit from building an audience? There is scope beyond advertising. For example, the Times of India reported that “Potential candidates for the soon-to-be-held student union elections have begun preparing their bio data encompassing their latest updates on popular social networking sites — Facebook and Twitter — along with press cuttings to show their involvement in protests and demonstrations”.
The social benefits of giving everyone connectivity are pretty obvious as well as profitable. Indeed, free Internet access is helping to drive increasing audiences. For example, The Hindu Business Line reported that “Sistema Shyam TeleServices (SSTL), which operates under MTS brand, on Thursday announced a new internet plan to provide free access to three social networking sites, including Facebook”, and this is happening all over the place to make it easier for people to connect (or to become commodities depending on how you look at it!!).
The famous are able to command large audiences off the back of their high media exposure. Actors, singers, politicians, authors and the such generate audiences with little effort on their part, but can an audience be built through social networking? Lots of people, including me, are seeking to build up an audience. Lady Gaga got hundreds of thousands of twitter followers off the back of high profile media exposure, but what can the rest of us do? Well, there is scope to build an audience, but there’s a catch (of course).
Sign up to Facebook or twitter or linkedin and after handing over lots of personal information so that advertising can be targeted to your interests you want to start building your audience. The problem is that these providers limit what you can do. Twitter has following limits. Facebook imposes a very strict system wherein you can be banned from friending people for a week. Indeed, there is something of a mixed-message approach going on. Remember, when you are logged in to your profile, there are dozens of messages prompting you to friend more people, to follow more people, to invite more people to join your particular network. How many people have actually looked at the terms and conditions that come with these social networking sites? Twitter’s terms and conditions, for example, state that:
“You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).
Tip This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same.
You agree that this license includes the right for Twitter to provide, promote, and improve the Services and to make Content submitted to or through the Services available to other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter for the syndication, broadcast, distribution or publication of such Content on other media and services, subject to our terms and conditions for such Content use.
Tip Twitter has an evolving set of rules for how ecosystem partners can interact with your Content. These rules exist to enable an open ecosystem with your rights in mind. But what’s yours is yours – you own your Content (and your photos are part of that Content).
Such additional uses by Twitter, or other companies, organizations or individuals who partner with Twitter, may be made with no compensation paid to you with respect to the Content that you submit, post, transmit or otherwise make available through the Services.
We may modify or adapt your Content in order to transmit, display or distribute it over computer networks and in various media and/or make changes to your Content as are necessary to conform and adapt that Content to any requirements or limitations of any networks, devices, services or media.
You are responsible for your use of the Services, for any Content you provide, and for any consequences thereof, including the use of your Content by other users and our third party partners. You understand that your Content may be syndicated, broadcast, distributed, or published by our partners and if you do not have the right to submit Content for such use, it may subject you to liability. Twitter will not be responsible or liable for any use of your Content by Twitter in accordance with these Terms. You represent and warrant that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the rights granted herein to any Content that you submit.”
Now, assuming that you understand what all that means (since that is the basis of your “rights” on twitter), there are a number of restrictions. For example, Twitter’s terms incorporate “the Twitter Rules”:
“Please review the Twitter Rules (which are part of these Terms) to better understand what is prohibited on the Service. We reserve the right at all times (but will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, to suspend or terminate users, and to reclaim usernames without liability to you. We also reserve the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as we reasonably believe is necessary to (i) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request, (ii) enforce the Terms, including investigation of potential violations hereof, (iii) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues, (iv) respond to user support requests, or (v) protect the rights, property or safety of Twitter, its users and the public.”
So, in other words, having “contracted” with Twitter for their service and having received what appear to be reasonable rights to use the service, the restrictions that limit you are not contained in the terms, but in a separate document which is referred to in the terms. This is not uncommon and is a method that has developed under the law of contract, but other than providing access to terms and the rules, Twitter does not provide any “key features” information to highlight important parts of the terms and rules – which most people don’t read anyway.
Twitter’s “Rules” are in themselves fairly straightforward and do state that “these limitations comply with legal requirements and make Twitter a better experience for all” (although that seems like a very subjective argument!). The Rules seek to prevent impersonation (and yet how many accounts have we all seen which are indeed impersonations), trademarked user names can be reclaimed, personal information (such as bank details) are meant to be protected, no threatening of violence will be tolerated, no unlawful use of the service (which is not defined) and no misuse of official twitter badges. Ok, sounds comprehensive, but in reality, monitoring and enforcing these limitation is far from straightforward and in many cases will be retrospective.
In addition to limitations which “protect”, there are other limitations to avoid “spam and abuse” which include serial accounts for disruptive or abusive purposes, username squatting (creating accounts for the purpose of preventing others from using those account names), not using Twitter.com’s address book contact import to send repeat, mass invitations, no buying or selling Twitter usernames (despite there being several other sites that actually provide this service), no publishing or linking to malicious content intended to damage or disrupt another user’s browser or computer or to compromise a user’s privacy (this is very broad indeed and could be interpreted to cover almost everything), but the next one “Spamming” is where the biggest limitation appears to exist:
“not use the Twitter service for the purpose of spamming anyone. What constitutes “spamming” will evolve as we respond to new tricks and tactics by spammers. Some of the factors that we take into account when determining what conduct is considered to be spamming are:
If you have followed a large amount of users in a short amount of time;
If you have followed and unfollowed people in a short time period, particularly by automated means (aggressive follower churn);
If you repeatedly follow and unfollow people, whether to build followers or to garner more attention for your profile;
If you have a small number of followers compared to the amount of people you are following;
If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates;
If you post misleading links;
If a large number of people are blocking you;
The number of spam complaints that have been filed against you;
If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account;
If you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #;
If you post multiple unrelated updates to a trending or popular topic;
If you send large numbers of duplicate @replies or mentions;
If you send large numbers of unsolicited @replies or mentions in an attempt to spam a service or link;
If you add a large number of unrelated users to lists in an attempt to spam a service or link;
If you repeatedly post other users’ Tweets as your own;
If you have attempted to “sell” followers, particularly through tactics considered aggressive following or follower churn;
Creating or purchasing accounts in order to gain followers;
Using or promoting third-party sites that claim to get you more followers (such as follower trains, sites promising “more followers fast,” or any other site that offers to automatically add followers to your account);
If you create false or misleading Points of Interest;
If you create Points of Interest to namesquat or spam.”
Wow! This pretty much covers any action by any user at any time on twitter. But hang on, they, like facebook, encourage you to follow more people and grow your “network”, every time you log into your account. So, with such heavy restrictions on the “rights” you were granted in the contract, combined with a relentless campaign to encourage you to follow more people and invite people, how can anyone be expected to build an audience within the terms of the contract? Twitter provides some guidance about follow limits. Now, as I understand it, this is guidance, it does not form part of the contract which does not contain the phrase “follow limit” which is also not present in the Rules which are part of the contract. You see, the thing is, a contract can import terms which are expressly referred to (such as the Rules) but beyond that, anything else is not necessarily part of the contract – but I don’t think it has any real practical weight anyway, since Twitter can basically do whatever it wants whenever it wants with any user it wishes because of its rights under the contract and the limitations placed on your rights, which are neither properly defined or properly policed and enforced.
So, the “guidance” cannot form part of the contract, but it doesn’t really seem to matter. The follow limit guidance says:
“Why you can’t follow anyone:
You’ve probably hit a follow limit. Twitter has imposed reasonable limits to help prevent system strain and limit abuse. If you hit a technical limit, you’ll see an error message when you try to follow. Remember that you cannot follow a user who is blocking you. We do not limit the number of people who can follow you.
Twitter’s technical follow limits:
Every account can follow 2,000 users total. Once you’ve followed 2,000 users, there are limits to the number of additional users you can follow. This number is different for each account and is based on your ratio of followers to following; this ratio is not published. Follow limits cannot be lifted by Twitter and everyone is subject to limits, even high profile and API accounts.
Every Twitter account is technically unable to follow more than 1,000 users per day, in addition to the account-based limits above. Please note that this is just a technical limit to prevent egregious abuse from spam accounts.
Accounts are also prohibited from aggressively following other users. Our Follow Limits and Best Practices Page has more information on Twitter’s following rules.
What to do if you’ve hit a follow limit:
If you’ve reached the account-based follow limit (2,000 users), you’ll need to wait until you yourself have more followers before you can follow additional users. Follow limits are system-wide; Support cannot remove or adjust your follow limits.
To follow one or two additional users, unfollow a few accounts you’re currently following. Please note, however, that regularly following and unfollowing many accounts is a violation of the Twitter Rules and can result in account suspension.”
To my mind the important bit is “Every Twitter account is technically unable to follow more than 1,000 users per day, in addition to the account-based limits above. Please note that this is just a technical limit to prevent egregious abuse from spam accounts.” I read this to mean that I can follow 1,000 people every day because Twitter allows me to reach that limit and this is important because I am not a robot or spambot nor to I post misleading links or am trying to get people’s personal information. I want to build an audience. However, the “guidance” also states that “regularly following and unfollowing many accounts is a violation of the Twitter Rules and can result in account suspension” – look back at the “spam” section of the Rules.
Now, what is “regular” and what is “many”. Remember, twitter actively encourages users to grow their network and to follow people. It also has many many thousands of users who have as many followers as they are following (many of which are several hundred thousand, or millions) – so what is “many”. I can’t see 1,000 as being “many” if 1,000 represents 0.0000000001% of the number of users. What is “regular”, every day? Every hour? Twitter encourages regular use and supports third party apps which promote regular use via computers and hand held devices. To my mind, as long as I am not a robot, am not trying to steal people’s personal data or impersonating someone else or using a trademark, I can follow 1,000 people every day to build my audience – but ultimately its up to Twitter whether or not to allow me to use their service.
If you want more twitter followers then you may want to have a look at a method that I believe is within the Terms and the Rules and that can generate up to 1,000 followers a day: twitter.4ourthplinth.co.uk