Twitter has said it would no longer allow users to post identical messages from multiple accounts, in what seems like a crackdown on tactics used by Russian trolls and others malicious actors to make tweets or topics go viral.

Developers are now banned from using any system that simultaneously posts “identical or substantially similar” tweets from multiple accounts at once, or makes actions like liking, retweeting, and following across multiple accounts at once. Twitter will remove these options from its own TweetDeck app, and third-party developers have until March 23rd to comply.

In a blog post, the social media company said these changes are  “an important step in ensuring we stay ahead of malicious activity targeting the crucial conversations taking place on Twitter — including elections in the United States and around the world.”

The focus of these changes are third-party applications that use Twitter’s API to either simplify or automate sharing of content on the platform.

Twitter says instead of sending out the same tweet from multiple accounts, users can post a single tweet and have other accounts retweet it. But there are some strings attached here as well as people won’t be allowed to use “bulk, aggressive, or very high-volume automated retweeting.” The ban on bulk tweeting applies regardless of whether you’re posting a bunch of duplicate tweets at once or scheduling them across a longer time period.

The major exceptions to this change are “weather, emergency, or other public service announcements of broad community interest” — so cyclone warnings and earthquake reports, for example, are exempt from this.

Twitter ends it post by offering two guidelines on what is not kosher on the platform anymore,

  • Posting duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts you control, or creating duplicate or substantially similar accounts, with or without the use of automation, is never allowed.
  • Posting multiple updates (on a single account or across multiple accounts you control) to a trending or popular topic (for instance, through the use of a specific hashtag) with an intent to subvert or manipulate the topic, or to artificially inflate the prominence of a hashtag or topic, is never allowed.

The Twitter purge

Twitter has cracked down on other violations of its terms of service, including fake accounts by people inflating their following. This has led to some outrage in the US conservative circles, with some calling it a political crackdown. The company has said that its tools are apolitical and that it is working to restore accounts of real users who may have been flagged during this purge.

At the NAMApolicy event on ‘Fake News’ on Wednesday, Twitter India’s Mahima Kaul said that the platform catches 3.2 million suspicious accounts every week and these accounts are not added to the Monthly Active Users (MAUs) stat by the company. In an effort nix suspicious accounts at the point of creation Kaul added that 450,000 suspicious logins are dealt with every day.

In December 2017, Twitter had released guidelines to implement changes in their policy to reduce hateful imagery, violent threats and groups inciting or glorifying brutality.

The practice of ‘Tweetdecking’

Buzzfeed News had reported that teenagers and people in their twenties are making thousands of dollars each month by selling retweets.

The practice is known as “tweetdecking,” because those involved form secret Tweetdeck groups, which they call “decks.” Getting an invite to join a deck requires a follower count in the tens of thousands.

“Within these decks, a highly organized system of mass-retweeting exists in order to launch deck members’ tweets — and paying customers’ tweets — into meticulously manufactured virality.

Customers, which can include both individuals and brands, pay deck owners to retweet one or more of their tweets a specified number of times across deck member accounts. Some decks even allow customers temporary access to the deck, almost like a short-term subscription to unlimited deck retweets. Single retweets tend to cost around $5 or $10. Week- or monthlong subscriptions can cost several hundreds of dollars, depending on the deck’s popularity,” Buzzfeed News reported.

The steps initiated by Twitter cripple the ability of such influencer networks to drive engagement in the way they have been able to do so far.