Does it pay to be honest on Twitter?

twitter followers

Does it pay to be honest on Twitter?  Increasingly, the answer may be “no.”

In the past, I’ve written a blog post about my life in social media each time I hit a milestone on Twitter. 10,000 followers, 20,000 followers, etc.

Last week I hit 50,000 followers so I thought I would reflect on one of the philosophical issues I’m dealing with. Maybe it will help and support you in your journey too.

I hit this milestone exactly one year after I hit 30,000 followers.  If you do the math, that’s 400 new followers every single week.  And actually, it has been a lot more than that because I still cull all the spammers out of my stream (with the help of my wife). So, to the best of my knowledge, all 50,000 of those folks in my Twitter audience are real people.

I’ve gone back and forth about whether it is worth the effort to evaluate every Twitter follower. In the long run, who cares if I let spammers in the door?  So far, I have taken some pride and comfort in knowing that there is nothing fake about my Twitter audience. It is real, it is organic, and it is a very engaging and supportive group.  So if I follow you, it means something. I am not “automated.”

But is worth it the time I put into it?

Why spammers help your business

This may sound counter-intuitive, but taking the time to cull spammers might actually be hurting my business and online reputation.

If I were not blocking spam Twitter accounts, I estimate I would be approaching 100,000 followers by now.  I’m convinced that the social proof of numbers like “likes,” “followers,” and yes, even a Klout score matter in our online world. Few, if any, people are going to take the time to examine my career and accomplishments before deciding to follow me, read my blog, or even buy my books. But they may look at 100,000 Twitter followers and decide that I am an authority. It is just the way of the world.

I was recently introduced at a speech like this:  “I’d like to introduce our keynote speaker Mark Schaefer. He is the author of Return On Influence, has more than 40,000 Twitter followers, and a Klout score of 72. Please welcome him.”  So, this idea of social proof even lends validation in the offline world!

Being honest. A fool’s errand?

So, in review, I am probably wasting resources by cleansing my Twitter account. Nobody really knows or cares about it, I’m probably the only blogger doing it, and it might even be hurting my business in some way.

But I’ve decided to keep doing it.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what other people think or know. It matters what I think and know.  I’ve come this far without “doping” my Twitter stream with fake accounts to inflate the numbers. I just can’t quit now.  If somebody asks me how many Twitter followers I have, I don’t want a voice in the back of my head saying, “yeah, but most of them are not even real.”

In 2009 I wrote a little manifesto called “Why I Block on Twitter.”  I still believe in this:

1) My Twitter Tribe matters. If I follow you, I choose to do so. No auto-follows, ever. Before I follow, I have read your bio, some of your tweets and probably clicked your link. I have a quality audience and it’s staying that way.

2) I want an audience to be proud of. This probably sounds old-fashioned but I don’t want to do anything in my life that I wouldn’t be proud to disclose to my children. And if they examined my Twitter audience, I would not want them to see a bunch of nymphs peddling their videos. Anybody can see who you’re following. What does your audience say about you?

3) I want to protect you. If I block the spamaholics I keep them from my tweets and I keep them, in a small way, from you. I see so many of these folks who copy “Follow Friday” lists trying to lure followers. No. Stay away from my friends dammit.

4) Because I just do not want to play that game. I’m not going to be passive and imply that what they’re doing is OK.

Blocking sends a message. If we ALL blocked them, they would have to go away, right?

What do you think?  Would you spend the time to go through 400 new Twitter followers every week?

All posts

  • I know I would not, who has the time for that. Unless they are offensive or overbearing I don’t block either. Some day I hope to have to worry about 400 a day!

    I also agree that people pay attention to the number of followers you have to determine whether they perceive you as a leader. I personally go for content however it does make you stop and pause when you see many, many followers.

  • Great post as usual Mark, I try to be diligent with my meagre following. Tools like http://manageflitter.com help me to evaluate followers quickly. Better to have 500 legitimate followers than 500,000 fakes one.

  • The ones I automatically block are the ones of the woman inviting me to look at her dirty pictures (frequently in much more crude terms) and the ones sending me a spammy @ reply (usually when I post something with a hot hashtag). Like Lee, I look forward to the day I have the high class problem of 400 new followers a week. I do try and look at content of my new followers. If they have interesting content, I will follow back or at least add them to a list. The ones following 20,000 with 20,000 followers for example, I ignore. They aren’t worth the time. If I don’t follow back, the odds are they’ll unfollow me in a few days.

  • Just to be clear, I DO Block spammers. Maybe you misunderstood. Thanks for your comment Lee.

  • Thanks Joe. I do use that tool to find the inactive followers. Works well.

  • Thanks for adding your wisdom to the discussion Don.

  • In my opinion, the only people worth spending the time to block are the ones that send auto-DMs. I’ve fluctuated between 5,000 to 7,500 followers since mid-2008, and blocking auto-DMers has been probably the only thing I haven’t changed about my Twitter use.

  • I use Manageflitter to clear you some spammy followers. It identifies people that don’t had a profile picture, haven’t tweeted in a long time etc. I also look at every followers profile before following them back.

    I don’t get 400 followers a week, if I did then I’d get some external help to come up with a short list of relevant followers and then make the decision based on this list.

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  • Funny — I usually DON’T block those people. I tend to give them grace, figuring that they may be annoying but maybe at some point they will get a clue : ) Thanks Eric!

  • Yes to all of those ideas. I used to have a VA help me on the Twitter followers and recently moved this to my wife who is helping me on my business. Thanks Ian!

  • Spam clogs up the system, slows down everything, costs providers tremendous amounts of money (and in turn users – i.e.: us) and most importantly is the delivery mechanism for fraud, viruses, tracking mechanisms, phishing attacks and many other nasty things. A Twitter spammer “follows” you to get access to your
    followers, those who have connected with you, trust you and pay attention to
    what you are saying.

    Please also keep in mind that those “Spammers” are most likely computer bots, not real people. So please don’t really think that “cute chick” who sent you personal pictures (or a link to them – should be your first clue) is really interested in anything more than accessing your followers, your computer, your profile, your browsing habits and possibly, one day, doing real damage to you, your computer and your followers.

    This is NOT something new. If you actually received all of the spam that was sent to your email box, you’d never find anything you really needed to see. The carriers filter out most of it. Is that what you want your social streams to become?

    I’m sorry, but we must fight SPAM at all cost.
    And Mark, your approach is one key reason you have built the quality community you have because it is indicative of your whole approach to this marketplace.

  • I do the same, checking each new follower by hand. Well, not 400 a week, but arround 100. And I am checking myself, my wife unfortunatly is not intersted in Social Media 😉
    Every 2 weeks I try to check with tweepi or twitcleaner the quality of my followers.
    I found out that these tools are of help but not 100% exact. You have to get a feeling.
    As someone located in Germany and tweeting in German and English, it is not that easy to see, who is really intersted in your content.
    Its definitly not the number of RTs, even you do not get 50k RTs on each tweet.
    Kind regards from Germany
    Hansjörg

  • Mark, your dedication to keeping things real is commendable and totally amazing. Would I spend the time screening all new followers every week if I had 400? I would if I was using a tool to pre screen what I am looking for – or if it was something I could do in a manageable way every day because I subscribe to your same thoughts on this one. Currently I do take the time to look at each new follower mainly to understand where they may have come from and who they are. It’s interesting to me and it helps me make sure my content is in line with who I am attracting. I also do it for the purpose of following back. I don’t bother following spam accounts and what I have noticed is that they drop off usually within a week – so every few months I do a check for them- but just as they automatically follow the same tool seems to make them drop me – so they kind of do the work for me. I think the purpose they have is to get you to auto follow them- their little spam bots seem to drop you if you don’t follow back. Your account is significant enough (unlike mine at 3000ish followers) to actually do a little study on this. Monitor them and see if they drop off – you may in the long run end up increasing your efficiency here is instead of every day or every week you do a bimonthly verification of those you put into a twitter list of identified follower spammers – the information you gather in an experiment like that could definitely save you some time in the log run and make it a lot more efficient especially if you find out that 98% unfollows on their own…

  • To me, the most important part of your manifesto is in point 1: ” Before I follow, I have read your bio, some of your tweets and probably clicked your link.” I follow this same approach with my vastly smaller number of followers, not only to rid myself of spammers but more so to give myself a shot at actually entering in to whatever fraction of a relationship Twitter enables.

  • It’s good to hear the principles behind the voice, and the ethics matter a lot to most. I don’t have a big number, and I’m not in a hurry for that. Your post today answers a question I have often pondered. Thanks for letting me know how you handle your stream and lists and followers. I expect one day we all will have to hire someone to keep the trash out of our follows for everyone els’s sake.

  • I check all of my followers no matter what the platform (and block/remove the spammers). Part of that is because i am an introvert , i want to only follow/be followed by people that i can have meaningful relationships with.

    I think we sometimes forget when we are building our online brands (business and personal), that the best relationships in life and in business are the ones that are the most authentic. My father taught us (long before relationship selling was a buzzword), that the only way to grow yourself (as a person) and as a business was to have a meaningful real and authentic relationship with everyone we dealt with.

    So yes , i would rather only have 2000 real followers than 10 000 spammy ones!

  • Hi Mark,

    I had so many spammer following me that I have since protected my Twitter account. I know that being too honest online can come back to haunt you in many ways.

    You were one of the first friends I made on Twitter and I love the fact that you still get rid of spammers.

  • Hurray for you!! Thanks Steve.

  • Always great to see you in the comment section Hansjörg. Thanks for adding your insights today!

  • You know, this is about the most fun part of Twitter, isn;t it? A lot of fun to see what people are up to!

  • Certainly i did not set out to have 50,000 followers and many times I wish for the simplicity of the old days! But I consider it an honor that people are interested in me for whatever reason and will be respectful of that. Thanks for the comment Billy.

  • This is a fantastic comment Yaseen. Glad to find another person like me out there!

  • Mark, first of all, many congratulations! I do exactly the same, every other day I see who isn’t appropriate or seems fake and take the time. And although I only have 7000 followers, I respond to every single tweet and thank for every RT – if people take the time, so should i!

  • Always an honor to have you comment Nancy. Glad to see you are doing so much better these days!

  • I try to do the same Ana. I can’t possibly respond to every RT — hundreds a day at this point. In fact, when I tried to do that, people scolded me because it was so annoying. So I have to learn to live in a new world of big numbers! : ) Many thanks for taking the time to comment! Hope to see you in a few months!

  • Great post, yet again. I couldn’t agree more with your approach, Mark. I also take the time to look at who follows me, and I don’t always follow back. I think it’s a matter of common interest, possibility to engage and yes, honesty. Does honesty pay on Twitter, you ask? Does honesty pay in real life, I’d ask?
    Some folks go the easy way, short-changing along the way. But honesty and authenticity always pay in the long run. Thinking long term is the hard part, specially in this day and age of social media and mobile frenzy. But old principles remain true.

    Cheers from Quebec City,
    Frederic

  • Cynthia Herron

    Finally! Someone bold enough to address this!

    And I love your notion that you “want an audience to be proud of.” How refreshing!

    I’m finally realizing that it really IS okay to “block.” Though I have a small following at present, I still like being “intentional” about it, and I do try to stop eggs, spam, porn, etc. in their tracks.

    Thanks for reaffirming what I’ve believed all along.

  • I’m so glad I’m not the only crazy person who has resisted the auto-follow and still looks at each and every follower by hand. I couldn’t agree more that it’s important to protect the integrity of your Twitter base. A smaller network of real, engaged people is much more valuable than bloated numbers that impress a stranger, but don’t deliver you any real benefit. Oh – and I LOVE reporting spammers. I get a little thrill of satisfaction each time Twitter asks me if I’m SURE I want to report a spammer, and I get to say, “Yes, I damn well do.” 🙂

  • Yes!!!

  • Kev ?

    Thanks for your great post, Mark! I do the same thing you do. Every aspect of my business is designed to be “High Touch” and that allows me to create a much more personal relationship with my clients, potential clients and referral and networking partners. Not chasing high follower numbers, Klout scores, etc., hasn’t hurt my biz at all. Actually, it’s been just the opposite. Thanks again. You rock. ?

  • it remains to be seen whether the more difficult path is the best path but it at least puts my mind at ease. Thanks for your kind words Frederic.

  • Yay! Glad I could be supportive Cynthia. Thanks for caring enough to comment.

  • Oh you made me laugh at that one! When i “block” I am hoping that others are doing the same thing and they won’t know what hit them! : ) Keep Twitter clean!

  • That’s because you rock! : )

  • Cool to here. Thanks for sharing Kev!

  • As do you… Thank you Mark! : )

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  • It is difficult to reach 50.000 followers on twitter but I am sure you worked hard to reach this amount of followers…!! Anyway good luck to your business!

  • Your headline made me a tad nervous. I remember reading “Why I Block on Twitter” back in January, and the impact it had on me. I’ve used those practices not only in Twitter, but also for a Linked In group I formed for entrepreneurs. My wife thinks I’m nuts because I screen every request to join, but if your aim is to offer something genuine and helpful, then how can you not screen? I think doing the right thing pays off in the long run. Or perhaps my wife IS right, and I am nuts! :o)

  • I have always blocked spammers and reviewed followers before following back. I’ve never thought not to do so. I want real people to follow me and to follow real people. I’m there to be social and to provide and find useful information. It’s hard to be social with a bot. I could probably have twice as many Twitter followers if I didn’t. I follow the same procedure on other social media platforms.

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  • James Hahn II

    I completely agree. While it would look like I have a bigger audience if I didn’t block the bots, I would never want someone to look at my list of followers and be drawn into a world where they don’t belong. When I go to confession, I promise to “avoid the near occasion of sin.” I would be a hypocrite if I let my Twitter stream become a “near occasion” for someone else.

  • I think if you have a good and efficient system for identifying and blocking spammers then by all means do it. However, I am not too bothered by it unless they start filling my stream with mentions. The important point is how you advertise your follower numbers – do you obsess with having 40K versus 100K? For those individuals who do, the spammers are their friends! Anyone who is serious about making connections or building relationship will need to go beyond the twitter number.

  • Thanks for this, Mark. Indeed, I am one who frequently goes through my followers and followees. It is important to me that my community is authentic and organic. I will continue to do it whether others prefer numbers or not. It is important to me and in my social portfolio, I prefer to be me than to be manufactured.

  • I started by blocking spammers and now, when it’s obvious, I report them for Spam. I’ve always reviewed followers profiles, at least, to decide on following back. I like to meet people too, so normally I follow anyone local to me in the UK. I’m always on Twitter, socially and for business and to give, share AND find useful information for personal, local and business use. I use Twitclean regularly to weed out the unnecessary!

  • T

    I don’t auto follow. I will unfollow someone who gets annoying. I try to proof everyone before I follow them but sometimes I just add a bunch of people following or being followed by someone I like and respect. Still that an easily be undone. I block indecent users and those I find offensive or who only tweet at folks trying to lure them to off site pages.

    Maybe not everyone has time but I find downtime now and again to look at my follower list. I like to engage with people and know who I am connected to. I tell people to follow like I follow so I want them to be able to trust my lists. I think it can’t but help Twitter for those of us who are able to do what we can. There are tools as well like TwitCleaner etc.

  • David Sneen

    I have found that I get several times more reaction from my 450 Google + circlees than my 10K Twitter followers.

    As an honest Twitterer, I look for potential RTs. I want someone who converses, and will be likely to RT or mention me in return. As a community member, that is fair. I find those worthy of an RT few and far between.

    So, sadly, I thought I should share this observation:
    If you eliminate all the spammers, you might have 100 followers!

  • We will probably all learn from this journey you are on. As you grow we will too, if we are listening. All ears here…”)

  • And I thought I was one of the few who did this.

    I am very proud of my organically-grown Twitter Tribe.

    I’ve been on Twitter for four years and have “only” 10,000+ followers.Some of my colleagues who began in Twitter at around the same time I do, have 5 times the number of followers that I do but many of their followers are those spam accounts you mentioned. I would rather have a “smaller” number of people who are real, following me, than have a larger number, many of whom are not real.

    Mark, I suggest you keep keeping out the spam accounts from your Twitter followers and proudly announce to your audiences that your 50,000+ Twitter Tribe is made up of real people who faithfully follow you and enjoy your blog posts and Tweets. I am one of them.

  • Your manifesto – and you whole take on keeping your audience pure – is very refreshing, and the effort you put in is awe-inspiring.

    As far as the whole notion of follower count, # of likes, Klout etc goes: it’s simply the digital equivalent of the heuristics we use to judge/compare people. Let’s say we have user A with 100,000 followers and user B with 50,000. Given that it’s the ONLY information I have, I will either assume blindly that user A is more important, famous/ influential, or I will not make any judgment and say I have insufficient information to make an accurate comparison. However, I know I will NOT assume (from the follower number alone) that user B is more important. And I know that a portion of the population will respond in the former way, and not the latter.

    In a way, it is like marketing. A consumer sees two products with the same function. How do they decide? If one both says 25% more effective and the other says 10% effective, given time and resource constraints, we’d go for the former product too. We don’t know what the measure of “effectiveness” is, or 25% compared to what, etc – but we see a random metric and jump on it. (Numbers don’t lie but they can very much mislead).

    The response to this quandary of trying to ascertain the quality of your quantity is really up to the person. Some people will jump on the follower count (just like some people will jump on an opportunity to only buy only brand name clothing), while others will go your route and keep their audience pure (like some people will buy clothing that is comfortable, affordable, doesn’t use child labor to be made, environmentally friendly, etc). Those two aren’t inherently bad or good; I think it’s all about how authentic you are (although your method is waaaay more genuine and authentic).

    You firmly believe in keeping your audience pure and you stick to it. You help others who share your principles and values get to where you are, and that is the best part. I have seen people bash others with high follower count, but it was either envy-driven (they don’t DESERVE those followers, as if someone deserves fake followers) or simple bashing without offering remedies.

    Ultimately, those who win out in the end are those who stick to what they believe in (with an open mind of course). The brands, artists, products, etc that win out aren’t always those that tout big numbers; they’re those that make their supporters feel good about supporting them – and you’re doing everything to make this a real community.

    All I can say is, keep it up!

  • I always check new followers but I don’t block them if they are not relevant to me – I just don’t follow back. Many of them will unfollow after a while. If they are really bad spammers I’ll report them immediately, or if they’re obviously there to acquire a herd of followers. The great thing about reporting spammers is the moment you see them disappear… if you block them they’re still out there bugging other people.

  • Well said Mark ! My only concern is that the review may sometimes result in what is possibly the wrong result – you have rejected and blocked me, probably because I was using an account I manage for a client ! @harringtoncourt in case you want to check it out. Some great comments here too.

  • Yes, I do exactly the same however I am small by comparison about 100/month. If i ever get to the 400 statistic I plan to do the same, maybe this is a great part time job for a savvy intern to learn to check profiles etc…… I do get fooled every once in a awhile and wonder if you do, and what fools you?

    This is an important post and subject and on gong discussion in many of my online communities.

  • I would take the time to go through 400 new followers a week – why not? Especially when your following and engagement is so organic to begin with. The only thing I don’t stress too much is Klout. For me, Klout has just been a comical disaster: it said my specialty was ‘dolls’ and I’ve never written about a doll, GI Joe or even owned one. I know people love Klout, but it hasn’t really caught fire with a lot of my editorial peers – it seems a bit spammy and clumsy, but it’s clearly working for most! Always glad to read your posts, Mark.

  • itsjessicaann

    yes, absolutely! honesty goes a long way in the virtual world. Credibility used to be based more on perception (quantity of followers) vs. reality (quality of followers) just a few years ago. But the tide has started to shift and people are learning how to see through the cracks.

    Tools like Status People allow anyone to find the percentage of fake followers for a particular account. there’s even a “fakers list” on the homepage that calls the fakers out.

    it’s easy to achieve “perceived influence” with spam followers. the hard part is building a real community with engaged fans. People who do so with integrity (such as yourself) truly stand out from the rest. and the fact that you share what goes on behind the scenes helps to keep us all honest.

    thanks for keepin’ it real, as always, Mark! 🙂

  • Hi Mark. Interesting article. I think the idea of ‘social proof’ is very similar to a commercially successful artist in entertainment – you’d introduce someone in terms of how many albums they’d sold or what their films had made at the box office.

    I can see that describing people by their Twitter following or Klout scores makes some sense – there’s a kind of implicit authority or credibility – especially if you work in the digital world of social media, SEO, marketing, etc.

    But, like the successful artist above, I’d be concerned that there’s something… superficial about it. You’re not arguing that someone’s good, only that they’re popular.

    Regarding being selective about your audience, I can see blocking spammers and more bot-style auto-follows makes sense. But I wouldn’t want to take it too far – there’s a danger to deciding who’s ‘worthy’ of being in your audience.

    I am going to follow you on Twitter – feel free to follow back or not!

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  • I amazed myself at how quickly I could block and report a spammer with the old version of Tweetedeck…before the pop-up window was even gone. Tweetdeck has taken away that functionality now, but I get rid of them as soon as I can. Sometimes I’m reluctant to let gurus in who found me through a bot. It’s nowhere near perfect, but I think my account is probably 90% authentic and I work on the other 10.

  • That is actually a very good idea Mila. May try that. The one reason that I have aggressively blocked spammers is that i am hoping others are doing it too and eventually the account will be suspended. I have no idea if it really works that way, but that is the story in my head 🙂

  • I think the jury is still out on both of us Dave. Let’s re-connect in a year and see if we can maintain the pace !

  • Good for you. Glad to hear you’re keeping up with it!

  • Nice perspective James. Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  • Well said Abdallah. I don’t obsess with the numbers. Most of the time I have no idea how many friends, fans, followers I have. I’m too busy. Whatever happens, happens!

  • Thanks Judi and it was great catching up with you in Toronto! Love that city!

  • It’s nice to know there are so many other people out there who weed the garden. Thanks for speaking up about it Wendy!

  • That’s really great. I admire your dedication!

  • That’s really interesting. Maybe you have a lot of spammers in your Twitter stream, That could explain the lack of engagement. Or maybe you just did an outstanding job surrounding yourself on Google Plus. Either way, thanks for the observation David.

  • Thanks for the encouragement Lori. And thanks very much for reading my blog!

  • Yes, the dynamic you describe here is social proof, which I explore extensively in my book Return On Influence. These “badges” of influence like follower and likes do mean something — as much as we hate to admit it. So by keeping my stream pure I am killing my own social proof. But I think it is the right thing to do. Thanks Pavel!

  • Maybe I wasn;t clear enough. I don;t block everybody I don’f follow back. I only block obvious spammers. Sorry I was not more clear and thanks for pointing that out Claudia.

  • I did? Very strange. I will check into that and correct it. Thanks!

  • As I mentioned in the post, I do get help from my wife on this. She has become a Twitter ninja! : ) Thanks Caroline!

  • All good points on Klout. Despite the clumsiness, I do believe Klout is on to something. I wrote about this in my book Return On Influence. Here’s a different perspective you might enjoy: https://www.businessesgrow.com/2011/09/12/why-klout-matters-a-lot/

    Thanks Karl!

  • It is very strange how people can sniff out a fake a mile away, even without an algorithm! Thanks for taking the time to comment Jessica!

  • I love that analogy of the movie star Andrew. Social proof is very important these days! And of course I would be honored to follow you!

  • Good for you Brad. I use Hootsuite or even Twitter and it is pretty easy to do.

  • Hey Mark, you’re not the only one who values their Twitter community enough to take the time to rid it of douchebags. My wife also helps me with me rid my community of spammers 😮

    I don’t have 50,000 people in my community… (Not that I wouldn’t want 50K) – it’s just not the driving force behind my work and purpose for connecting.

    If that’s was the criteria for being someone of value or it in someway lent credibility of my person or my business, I would rather stay ‘unknown’ and out of business. Because it’s stupid.

    In fact, I’ve only followed a hand full of logo’s and only because I know the company or I get value in some kind of way.

    I prefer to connect with a ‘relevant’ face. I don’t follow all of the faces that pop up in my stream, because I quite frankly, I don’t really care what people ate for breakfast. .

    I’m here to learn and grow, which can be boring for many folks.

    I think spammers should be hung. I don’t like the fact that God gives them air to breathe. I wish one day I would wake up and they would all be DEAD.

    Sorry for being so negative and showing a dark side of myself here in the community.

    But I would gladly wrap the ropes around the necks of douchebag spammers anytime.

  • Thanks a lot for fixing that Mark. I look forward to seeing your tweets in my feed.

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  • I love this post! Spammers irritate me, so I’ve blocked them on Twitter and most even on Instagram. I feel the same way in that I feel like I’m saving others when I block spammers. If only we didn’t need a yin to our yang the world would be free of Spammers!

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