Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Spam on

It took me a while to get used to, especially to having random people I'd never met or who weren't even in my field following me, to the etiquette for following senior scholars, and to some of the inefficiencies of the internal search engine. Eventually I stopped having the reflex reaction of looking over my shoulder when I got an email that said that someone was following me; I even grew to like the statistics (although those have been offline more than not lately).

But a new issue has cropped up and I'm pretty unhappy with how they're handling it. I'm all of a sudden being followed by a very obviously fake profile: "Que Ball" from Amherst, MA. No academic affiliation. A few interests are listed that coincide with mine — it's tailored spam, but it's still spam. It's not following anybody else, and nobody is following it. Posted by one of those people who doesn't know the difference between cue, que, and queue. Honestly I'm equally weirded out by the possibilities that somebody is playing a joke on me or that such a level of spam sophistication has made it through onto

This is meant to be a professional site, and I think it looks really unprofessional and jokey to have such an obvious fake following me. Nothing happened in response to my flagging it as spam and as fake. (In fact, I wouldn't mind if other site users were also to flag it as fake; perhaps a critical mass will get their attention.) After I reported it manually by email,  some support person wrote back to me and said that there was no activity on the account; I wrote back to her saying that seemed like all the more reason to remove it as fake and mentioned how unprofessional I felt like it made my profile look by association.

To their credit, they wrote me back. Demerits for the answer, though:

"Due to privacy reasons, we cannot go into a user’s account and change his settings without justification. I apologize for the inconvenience, I understand that it must be frustrating to have an unwanted follower. We currently do not offer a way to block/ hide fake followers, but our team is brainstorming ways on how we can include this feature onto our platform!"

It seems to me that being so obviously fake (Que Ball?!) is a justification; what's the point of having a "report fake profile" option if it doesn't lead to anything being done? As for ways to allow users to block followers, fake or otherwise, the technology obviously exists: Facebook and Twitter both offer that option.* I could understand a professional site wanting to make it harder for users to block legitimate followers: it becomes a less useful service if, say, for example, some hot-shot full professor were to block all followers whom he deemed not worthy of his status. But there has to be a happy medium to allow users to "force-unfollow" obvious fakes.

It's not that big of a deal in the grand scheme, but it's also a bit more than frustrating. The fact that this is a professional site makes a difference. And as a young, new, female professor, professional image matters and I'm trying to keep mine as polished and as much in my control as possible.

I'm not like I'm asking them to dump an undergraduate off the site or somebody whose work I disagree with. I'm not even asking them to dump this fake person off the site; just to make him stop following me.

It's not enough for me to quit the site yet, because I do think it's useful. But I'm uncomfortable and unhappy about the situation, and, as somebody who is perfectly comfortable with creating a basic web site on her own with any number of digital publishing sites, it won't take much for me to find reason to leave, only use my own personal professional site, and keep track of the current research in my field on my own.

*ETA, 8:30 pm: As if to make my point for me, a Twitter account called @NYUhotties just started following me. Even though I tweet more informally, my account is related to my teaching and research life here at NYU and so it would be dramatically inappropriate for me to be anywhere near that account: not even not following it, but also having it not follow me. (Nevermind that it's gross and creepy and I wouldn't have wanted such tweeters following me regardless.) In two clicks, the problem was solved and I had blocked the account.


  1. Hi S.J.,

    We apologize for this delayed response. This post has just recently come to our attention, so we wanted to reach out to you and provide you an update. Our team understood the concerns of our users on privacy and on preventing unwanted followers from following them on the site. We now have a "blocking followers" feature on the site :) Please let us know if you need any help learning how to use it!

  2. Hi! I have the same problem and would love to know how to block these phantom followers. I have not been able to locate the "blocking followers" feature, although I once reported a "follower" whose profile pic consisted of a nazi ss officer and this "individual" was subsequently removed.

  3. I think the block followers option is great if it wasn't that it seems like academia notifies unwanted followers that you are blocking them. I used it a couple of times and in both occasions I got emails from the followers highlighting that I was blocking them. They were either very bored and very conscious about their list of followers at all times to know it was me, or someone sent them a notification. Whilst that may work with spammers it's not very polite towards normal users who you just happen to want to exclude them from your updates.