Coping With Twitter’s Unfollow Bug

I originally posted this on Techcrunch, and cross-posted here on the Web Strategy blog.

If you’re like me, you may have noticed that Twitter may be arbitrarily, randomly, and haphazardly, unfollowing people you fully intended to follow. Similarly, if you’ve ever noticed your friends and contacts unfollowed you, it may have caused a sense of confusion, dread, or self-insecurity. Before one spirals into a series of apologies or deep-depression, it’s likely not your fault, (whew!).

What’s causing this? I’m not sure, so I asked my proper contacts at Twitter who responded “This is a bug, and our team is working to fix it.” They also sent me a link to their support FAQ, which indicates the known issue. I’ll leave it to the team at Twitter to get this resolved, but in the meantime, let’s discuss how we can cope with this industry phenomenon.

Imagine this bug in the physical world: Your dear Aunt Margaret wasn’t invited to your wedding due to mail parcels gone missing, or your executive wasn’t invited to your big presentation meeting because your address book deleted him, or you couldn’t call your best friend to let them know about your funding announcement because his contact info went missing.

The act of following someone in Twitter is an important social indicator for at least three reasons: 1) A follow suggests the individuals content is worthy of listening to and you want to hear their thoughts –even the most mundane ones 2) It’s an important indicator that you’re willing to engage in deeper conversations by receiving direct messages and 3) At a broader social perspective, this is a gesture this person is in your broader social clan, your kin, your affinity.

Importantly, in my line of work (and probably in yours too), direct messages have become a mainstay of communications with clients; in fact, some overloaded executives ask me to DM them, rather than email them. In more than one case has a qualified business request come by direct messages requesting my research and advisory services. Unlike the overloaded email channel, direct messages are an important opt-in business communication channel of higher quality signal.

Despite the business communication opportunity losses, there are broader social impacts that may relationships around you. Just a few days ago, one of my dear colleagues Susan (@Setlinger) pointed out that she wanted to send me some information, but noticed I had unfollowed her and half-jokingly wondered if she’d offended me. This wasn’t any passive-aggressive maneuver by me, I had full intentions to follow her, and quickly apologized and refollowed her.

Yet, I wonder how many business, personal, and casual relationships are strained by the bug haphazardly unfollowing. It causes us to give pause and question the stability of the Twitter infrastructure, usage of my personal data and social network, and what important messages I may have missed from my trusted Twitter network.

So what can you do? If you find that you’ve arbitrarily unfollowed someone in Twitter (or maybe you need an excuse to escape the ex), and you’re in a potential embarrassing situation, I recommend bookmarking this blog post, and sending it your apparent victim, explaining the situation was out of your hands. Hopefully no relationships were damaged, and we can continue happily twitter-ing with relationships salvaged.

I’d love to hear from you, have you been a victim of the bug? How are you coping?

Related Links: My findings spread to Telgraph, Huffington Post, Mashable, Verge, cnet and many others.

  • http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell Josh Bernoff

    Unlike email, Twitter, Facebook, and Linked in are controlled by corporations. People forget that until stuff like this happens. We have come to depend on these platforms, but in the end, nothing stops them from making arbitrary changes, having bugs, and basically, doing what they want. That’s why everyone needs to have multiple communications channels.

  • http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell Josh Bernoff

    Unlike email, Twitter, Facebook, and Linked in are controlled by corporations. People forget that until stuff like this happens. We have come to depend on these platforms, but in the end, nothing stops them from making arbitrary changes, having bugs, and basically, doing what they want. That’s why everyone needs to have multiple communications channels.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Josh, it’s always great to hear from you.  Good point, nothing is ‘free’.  One reason why I self-host my own blog on my own host, with control over my own data :)

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Josh, it’s always great to hear from you.  Good point, nothing is ‘free’.  One reason why I self-host my own blog on my own host, with control over my own data :)

  • http://twitter.com/mikewhitmore Mike Whitmore

    I’ve experienced the same problem and felt the same reactions you’ve described so well. I continue to share with my network that this is a known issue and MANY others have experienced frustration with it as well. I appreciate your post on this Jeremiah and, as always, your thoughtful insights. All the best. 

  • http://twitter.com/mikewhitmore Mike Whitmore

    I’ve experienced the same problem and felt the same reactions you’ve described so well. I continue to share with my network that this is a known issue and MANY others have experienced frustration with it as well. I appreciate your post on this Jeremiah and, as always, your thoughtful insights. All the best. 

  • http://twitter.com/chrispycrunch Chris Lau

    I use twitter unlike anyone else: as a way to research share and revisit later. Whomever decides to follow gets the research info well-ahead of the materials that then gets published on sites with millions of viewers. Thus contacts are not “followed” on twitter. They are added to a list. Despite tools trying to converge, it’s still better to use email in addition to other sites for important communications.

  • http://twitter.com/chrispycrunch Chris Lau

    I use twitter unlike anyone else: as a way to research share and revisit later. Whomever decides to follow gets the research info well-ahead of the materials that then gets published on sites with millions of viewers. Thus contacts are not “followed” on twitter. They are added to a list. Despite tools trying to converge, it’s still better to use email in addition to other sites for important communications.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/tdgray Terrence Gray

    Jeremiah, thanks for this article.   Do you have any information on Facebook’s issue of punishing you for friend requests of people you don’t know … even when you didn’t?  I purposely didn’t send a single friend request for over 30 days and purged all pending requests .. and still have been “locked down” at least 5 times.   Very annoying.   Do you know anything about this?

  • http://twitter.com/crookedstamper leslie

    I HAVE been a victim of this bug! If Twitter unfollows someone for you, and that person has protected tweets, you even have to get re-approved. Total pain.

  • http://twitter.com/crookedstamper leslie

    I HAVE been a victim of this bug! If Twitter unfollows someone for you, and that person has protected tweets, you even have to get re-approved. Total pain.

  • http://www.afmarcom.com/ Angelique

    This bug is a CONSTANT pain in the behind for me and my Twitter connections. We joke about it all the time, but it’s really annoying. Actual convo: “DM me!” “I can’t; you’re not following me.” “Twitter strikes again! Okay, now I’m following you.” “Okay, sent you a DM… did you get it?” “Yeah, but I can’t reply because now YOU’RE not following ME.” “But I AM following you.” “Not since 2 minutes ago.” “Okay, I’m following you.” “Sent you a DM.” “Got it; can’t reply.” 

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Thanks Mike.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Thanks Mike.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    I don’t know anything about that issue Terrence. 

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Thanks Mike.

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    I don’t know anything about that issue Terrence. 

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    I don’t know anything about that issue Terrence. 

  • http://twitter.com/AnnStrini Ann Strini

    Jeremiah – Great post, and thank you for explaining something I thought was happening, though couldn’t pinpoint.  I appreciate your sharing this – Ann

  • http://twitter.com/AnnStrini Ann Strini

    Jeremiah – Great post, and thank you for explaining something I thought was happening, though couldn’t pinpoint.  I appreciate your sharing this – Ann

  • http://twitter.com/AnnStrini Ann Strini

    Jeremiah – Great post, and thank you for explaining something I thought was happening, though couldn’t pinpoint.  I appreciate your sharing this – Ann

  • http://twitter.com/AnnStrini Ann Strini

    Jeremiah – Great post, and thank you for explaining something I thought was happening, though couldn’t pinpoint.  I appreciate your sharing this – Ann

  • http://twitter.com/AnnStrini Ann Strini

    Jeremiah – Great post, and thank you for explaining something I thought was happening, though couldn’t pinpoint.  I appreciate your sharing this – Ann

  • http://www.bilal.ca/ Bilal Jaffery

    I love my first world problems. #win

  • http://www.bilal.ca/ Bilal Jaffery

    I love my first world problems. #win

  • http://www.bilal.ca/ Bilal Jaffery

    I love my first world problems. #win

  • http://mizzinformation.blogspot.com Maggie McGary

    I honestly think they’re meaning to do this as a way to power their follow suggestion thing. I have had this happen many times before–been following someone, then had them served up as a suggested follow. The issue I’m struggling with now is the bug where, if I click on a tweet, it shows the follow button as if I’m not following them. I then click the link to their profile, and I AM following them. So basically I have to click twice on every tweet to see if I’m following them….not a big deal for my personal account but a huge pain for the org account I manage.

    These issues defintely impact my trust of Twitter and confidence that the platform is stable and worth devoting a lot of time and energy to.

  • Leasa

    Just happened to my daughter and I.  We were wondering what happened.

  • Leasa

    Just happened to my daughter and I.  We were wondering what happened.

  • Victoria

    If you have this issue–and refresh the page to where it will show that you are following the person now–does that person receive an email indicating that you want to follow them EVERY TIME this happens?  If that’s the case–how embarrassing!!!!

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  • Shara

    I can see this causing some hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I have not been affected by this “unfollow bug”..yet. I agree with what you are proposing here. Send your “dumped” buddies a link to this and explain it was intentional and hopefully this will fix any burnt bridges!

  • http://webintensive.com/ Marlon Feld

    First of all, thanks for posting
    this—we’re going to keep an extra close eye on our Twitter follow
    list!

    Here’s a thought: as ways of
    communicating get more efficient, they carry less peripheral
    information with them. Phone conversations lack face-to-face presence
    (although Skype puts some of it back); email and SMS lack tone of
    voice; now Twitter and Facebook following/unfollowing lack any words
    at all. Miscommunication and mistaken offense get more and more
    common.

    Perhaps the solution is
    to stay in touch with your contacts with a periodic friendly hello.
    Seeing a direct message from you or hearing your voice can make it
    clear that next week’s accidental “unfollow” doesn’t come from
    ill will.

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  • Finnz Mail

    Nothing new here …
    as long as we don’t have control over Twitter & Facebook, we just have to stay calm to all these strange things, the owners from time to time through at us.

    They can call it:
    - a bug have invated our system
    - we are updating our system

    We can call it:
    - get a grip of your stuff
    - sorry, you lost me for good

  • http://www.bybe.net/ Web Design Bournemouth

    Still get this bug daily, I integrate twitter into many website designers for clients and this gets reported by my customers all the time, pain in the butt.

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