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Monday, May 10, 2010

Will Twitter 'Follow' Bug Raise Credibility Questions?

Posted By on Mon, May 10, 2010 at 11:45 AM

Sadly, Justin is wrong. He's still the shit.
  • Sadly, Justin is wrong. He's still the shit.
It seems like the folks at Twitter are still struggling to deal with a glitch that had tech geeks buzzing this morning. After a brief period in which users' accounts were "reset" to display zero followers and followees -- the blog TechCrunch, for example, lamented the loss of 1.4 million followers -- those numbers are once again being displayed. But they might not be accurate.

This whole thing started with the uncovering of a bug that let Twitter users "force" anyone to follow them, bypassing the normal process by which you get to choose whose updates appear in your Twitter feed. While Twitter dealt with the problem, all accounts displayed zero

followers. Now Gizmodo reports that people who were "force-followed" in this way before the reset are still showing up as followers, although the trick is no longer working. (I just tried to force Barack Obama to follow my Twitter feed. No dice. If only he knew what he's missing!)

What's the big deal, you ask? In the world of the technorati -- and increasingly in media and politics -- one's number of Twitter followers is an important status indicator. The analogy's not exact, but this would be sort of like a major metropolitan newspaper suddenly having no idea what its circulation was, and thus having no way to sell ad space. Twitter's usefulness as a broadcasting system depends, in part, on readers' ability to gauge the reach and prominence of those they follow.

Turns out the whale actually forced the little birds to carry him...
  • Turns out the whale actually forced the little birds to carry him...
Twitter, some wise observers believe, is here to stay. But it will be interesting to see how today's muck-up, once it is more fully remedied and explained, affects the service's reputation -- and particularly its credibility as an indicator of its users' popularity and influence.

In the meantime, follow us on Twitter at @petejamison and @thesnitchsf. (But only if you really want to.)

UPDATE: Gizmodo has got the rundown on how the bug was discovered -- by some Turkish guy, apparently -- as well as some musings about how it could have happened (the glitch is likely a legacy of Twitter's original system of text commands) and what it could mean for the service.

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