Jason Yormark

Twitter Direct Messages Are Useless

I want to be able to use DMs in Twitter, but really it’s such a vast wasteland oftwitter-spam spam that it’s practically impossible to do.  While I have a column for my DMs setup in Hootsuite, it’s really just for the rare chance that I may actually catch a legitimate message here and there.  And even that is highly unlikely.

What I fail to understand is that after years of being in existence, how is it that Twitter has failed to deliver absolutely nothing in the form of spam control or filtering for DMs.  It can’t possibly be that difficult. 

Some suggested features:

  • Give me some filter options to weed out DMs with links.  That would eliminate at least half of of the spam.
  • How’s about filter options that let me dictate what types of Twitter users can DM me.  Such as # of tweets made, followers, etc.  At least that way I can increase the likelihood of real users DM’ing me.  Not perfect, but a start.
  • Give me the option of only allowing those I follow to DM me.  Of course, this one probably doesn’t help those with large followers/following, but still could be helpful to many.
  • An option to block Auto DMs. Please, this one is a no brainer.  In fact, above all, I’d take this as it would probably get rid of 90% of what I don’t want to see.
  • If Twitter isn’t going to pull the trigger, how’s about Hootsuite or Tweetdeck offering these features?  I’m no technical expert, but I’ve got to believe something could be done.  Anyone out there using any tools that provide any of the features above that I’ve missed?

Jason Yormark
I'm a 20 year veteran of digital marketing & the owner and founder of Socialistics, a social media agency based in Seattle. My spare time is filled with writing, baseball, my boys and everything Seattle has to offer.


  1. How about the option to only allow DMs from accounts on a certain list? This way you can create a list of people you trust if you don’t already have one. To me this is probably the easiest solution for Twitter to add.

  2. What I don’t understand about DM’s is this. Why is it that all marketers seem to hate them, yet the best of the lot always send me one when I follow. I am thinking about starting a Spam DM gallery just to shame them. Perhaps pairing them with a blog/comment they have written about how awful they are. 

      1. I’d be really interested in a report like that too. I have a sense that most marketers will continue pushing annoying tactics even when they themselves find it annoying, only because there’s a big question in their minds as to whether it works. They don’t want to give it up for fear that it DOES work, and they’ll fall behind the competition by dropping it.

        Dan Zarrella would be the closest to that kind of data, but then again, he’s more attuned to public usages of Twitter. Hm.

    1. Sorry, Jeff, but I feel that is a bit short sighted.  People use Twitter in a variety of ways and I don’t think it’s that outrageous of a request for Twitter to implement some basic spam fighting tools.  Many Twitter power users have large followings and it gets practically impossible to weed out spammers.  And it’s not just “spammers” that many users would want to block anyway.

      You’re right however in that would be a fix to the solution on the user end.  I’ve considered taking the approach that Chris Brogan (http://www.chrisbrogan.com/unfollow/) & Michael Hyatt (http://michaelhyatt.com/how-i-unfollowed-108698-people-on-twitter-and-reclaimed-my-inbox.html) have in “purging” their following and starting from scratch.  However I’m nowhere near the big deal that they are so not sure if that’s a wise decision quite yet.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion.

      1. If they want to hear from you, Jason, they will follow you. Those who demand reciprocity as if you are putting candy in their Christmas stocking by following them are probably not so worthwhile to your pursuits anyway. I know the thinking on this, and I have even touched on it in a blog recently, but you really don’t benefit by following those who spam you or otherwise irritate you with noise. That’s my two cents, but I was probably wrong about somthing, sometime … I just can’t recall what it was. 😀

      2. Therein lies a key difference and one of the reasons I don’t have a problem with DM spam. I never auto-follow anyone. I always at least look at their past tweets, their pic, their name and bio. If they don’t pass that quick sniff test, they don’t get followed back. 

        1. Like I mentioned with Mark, I’m actually considering moving to a different method when it comes to my management of Twitter.  Out of curiosity, do you follow back if they “pass” the sniff test even if they are not sharing information that seems interesting to you?  Or does that play into it as well?

          1. Absolutely! They have to tweet about stuff I actually care about, OR be someone that I care about. I don’t just follow back because they don’t spam. I have to actually care about either them or their tweets. 

  3. I need to agree with Jason! This is an outgoing issue with Twitter and I think Twitter should pay attention to it. 
    I tried with filtering option in TweetDeck ( settings —> global filters) helps a bit coz you can filter out some words but the problem is that will not filter only DM but all your lists as well. 
    Has anyone try truetwit.com with premium service you can block all auto messages. I am going to try it and see how that goes. 

  4. Hmm, see, my DMs are totally useful. Couldn’t live without them.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I only follow people I personally vet and have had @-reply conversations with. I follow more than 750 people (and almost 1100 follow me) and never have problems with DM spam.

    I would hazard a guess that Twitter’s not jumping to implement DM spam filters like you’re talking about, because the percentage of people, and the (let’s be honest) type of people who would want that feature, in comparison to the vast majority of Twitter users who only ever follow people they actually want to hear from, is rather small.

    Spam filtering is nontrivial; I speak as a programmer here. They would have to devote significant engineering resources both to sculpting that code and to ensuring they have the service power available for it. Spam filtering causing fail whales would be pretty lame. And spam evolves in sophistication, as I’m sure you appreciate; they’d have to keep engineering on top of its latest methods.

    However, spam filtering is a perfect concept for a niche 3rd party app, who will happily, I’m sure, take your money or your attention (ads) to intercept your DMs and filter them for you.

    1. Great insight Naomi.  Quite frankly I’d be happy with the ability to simply block auto DMs.  Certainly that wouldn’t require that much development work would it?  Of course I’m not a technical person by any means so I can possibly be naive with all this.

      1. Well, can you describe to a computer what an auto-DM looks like? In a way that wouldn’t cause false positives, i.e. cause you to lose DMs sent by humans?

        Auto-DMs aren’t created within Twitter, so Twitter (the software) doesn’t know what an auto-DM is. Users sign up on 3rd-party sites to make auto-DMs happen.

        The way the 3rd-party sites do it is to collect login information from the users. So they then have a “token” to access Twitter through the API (think of it like the loading dock at the grocery store) on behalf of their users, and they use that to camp the user’s account to watch for reciprocal following events, sending that auto-DM for each one.

        And this is what Twitter wants 3rd parties to be able to do. That’s what the API is for. The fact that DMs are coming through the API is a normal, non-spammy thing.

        So at this point, the best we can do to describe an auto-DM to a computer is:

        * it happens when 3rd party software is using the Twitter API to send commands.
        * it happens right after a following event.

        So the best I could suggest would be to block any DM sent through the Twitter API within (say) 1 minute of the reciprocal following event.

        But of course, then the logic arms race begins. 3rd party sites will catch on and start sending auto-DMs after (say) 5 minutes.

        Have I missed anything? Because if you can think of a way that better characterizes what spam DMs “look like” such that it could be programmed, you would have a pretty good starting point for a business.

        1. Thanks for info. That certainly helps put some clarity around what is and isn’t doable.  I suppose that makes more sense now why they haven’t bothered to implement anything at this point.

  5. Actually, people cannot direct message yo on Twitter unless you follow them. That is the filtering option you are looking for. I get where you are coming from, and I know your frustration, but there is no logical reason to follow somebody unless you want to receive their messages. That is, unless it is only so they follow you, which is an equally bad strategy as them sending the spam.

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for stopping by.  Their are a handful of opinions on how to use Twitter and quite frankly, to each their own.  I won’t lie, I auto follow those that follow me.  Why you ask?  I suppose a long time ago I just decided that if someone was gracious enough to connect with me, I would return the favor, and after a few thousand people, Twitter becomes unmanageable manually.

      I use lists to curate what I want to pay attention to, so the size of those I follow is not of much importance to me.  Having a full time job and having to manage multiple social media clients, I do not have enough time in the day to do anything less, let alone identify spammers from those I end up following.

      Don’t get the wrong idea here.  I’m not implying that your reach is the be all end all, but anyone is kidding themselves if they say that having a large following doesn’t at least open some doors in and of itself.  Fair?  Not at all.  But that’s reality.  Of course you have to back it up, which I feel I personally have done (but of course know that plenty do  not).

      This post isn’t a complaint.  I just think it’s not asking a whole lot for Twitter to simply throw in a feature to block Auto DMs.  Perhaps it’s more realistic for that to happen on the 3rd party software side if doable.

      1. I do not agree with that perception of value in Twitter followers. I am not intentionally being a jackass by saying what I know to be true … I am just sharing truth, which can be confused by being a jackass.

        Having a large following does not provide a great value, and even Ashton Kutcher learned that, eventually. The perception loses all its glamour when truth is observed. Maybe it mattered in 2008, but not today, and I have run the numbers to prove it. I hope you will read the article I wrote titled “Twitter in Numbers: Marginal, Not Magical”.Back in 2008 and 2009 when I was consistently listed in the top 5 most retweeted people on Twitter for months on end, I had all the opportunity I could ask for to have hundreds of thousands of followers. I decided to forego that unicorn chase, so I did not refollow everybody, nor participate in the huge follower frenzy. Today, I know why I made that decision, just as I knew it then. It is not the great value people try so hard to tell themselves it is.

        1. Agree with you 99% on real value.  My numbers don’t reflect Twitter as a high engagement platform as well, and I really use it more as a supplementary broadcast channel.  I focus much more attention on writing on this blog and engaging with others on theirs. 

          As far as perception of value, I still disagree when it comes to those outside the know.  Which is quite a few people still these days.  It’s opened up doors for me in the past that otherwise would not have been (which ironically I quickly debunk with similar numbers that you share).  Of course those days are slowly coming to an end as more and more people figure out what you’ve already known for years and the meteoric rise of Facebook.

          1. I may be wrong, but it seems that I am seldom wrong for very long when it applies to marketing trends. Decades in marketing have taught me many valuable things, and one is that false perceptions may work with John Q. Public for a moment, but it will always put teeth in your ass given the persistence of time.

            I think you will really appreciate and recognize what I said in my most recent article about most of today’s marketing being lies. If you use them today, even inasmuch as using false perceptions as a perceived advantage, I believe it will scale badly over time.

            As for the matter of cutting DMs, here is my best assessment: Drop the dead weight on Twitter. It is not ever going to provide what you, or those fooled by it will expect when the body hits the mat.

          2. Was already on the fence about the following tactics.  I think this post and the conversations here have me leaning towards a “following purge” and trying to see if I can create better balance between Twitter being a broadcast mechanism vs. an engagement platform.  Thanks for the useful insights.

  6. Hello Jason, You probably aren’t following me because my DM box is filled with very interesting private conversations. (more than my timeline) I rarely get any spam and if I do it’s because someone’s twitter account was hacked. They usually figure it out, apologize and change their password. But as Jeff Hester says…I do my best not to follow any twitterers that appear to be spammers. I read their tweets before I decide if they are a real person or artist that I want to promote. Best wishes for happy tweeting!

  7. Disagreeing with you that messages are useless, the interface is crappy. I choose not to receive emailed notifications of incoming DMs — so I look at the messages list once in a blue moon. The last message I sent was over the summer. I prefer email.

  8. the reason why twitter doesnt have spam control options is because twitter is built around “volunteer” following. you can only receive DM’s from those you follow. if you are following spammers, well… twitter is trusting that you can moderate/manage your own life enough to click “unfollow” or alternatively, engage in a direct conversation with the spammer to try and prevent future spam. i sympathize with you, however i use twitter DM’s almost more than i do texting, and when i am confronted with spam, i take action on my own. (vs looking for some filter) . im actually grateful twitter has taken this approach.

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