Incorrect "following" displayed on Twitter

Behram Mistree
Posted: Jun 26, 2012

Background

I noticed something uninteresting on Twitter a couple of days ago: my girlfriend was following Lea Michele (@msleamichele) ... except, she wasn't.

The two images below show that Twitter is presenting incorrect data, displaying a "following" relationship that doesn't exist.

(Screenshots taken June 8, 2012, but same issue verifed June 26.)

Click to enlarge

Why might this be a bad thing?

Because they're trying to social engineer us! Haha, just kidding. This is one of the Web's most-used social media sites. Of course Twitter uses basic social cues to influence our actions both to improve our experience and their bottom line. If you're uncomfortable with that, then you probably shouldn't visit half of the most-frequently visited sites on the Web.

Why this is actually a bad thing is that my girlfriend really does like Lea Michele and Dianna Agron and Glee. She goes on Twitter and views their posts and goes to fan pages too. However, she does not follow them because she made a conscious decision about the information that she thought that she was making available and sharing with others. Information that she thought she was privileging as sensitive is not only public, but also advertised.

(As a side note, it took a bit of cajoling to get her approval to post this, so if any serial killers are reading this, please don't try to infer who she is from the pictures above and serial kill her. If you must, please find someone else on the Internet and serial kill that person.)

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a bug???

I've written piles mountains of buggy code in my lifetime. When I (unintentionally) commit broken code, people I work with wince as if they just found a used bandaid in their fish tacos.

That's really bad, but it would be a lot worse if someone on the Internet took my broken code and wrote an entire blog post misconstruing my oversight as something malicious and intentional.

So instead, I'm contacting Twitter about the issue. Twitter's contact page doesn't provide an email address or contact form, only an address for writing them physical letters (with stamps and everything). But it also encourages users to tweet to @twitter and @support. Seeing as how this isn't 1893 (USPS burn!), I'm using Twitter. 144 characters seemed a bit limiting, so I'm writing this post and tweeting a link. If I ever get a response (and can figure out how to actually use Twitter for non-browsing), I'll update this page.