People have long suspected that Twitter “unfollows” without human intervention (I’ve heard the stories for over a decade), but I never had any first-hand proof. Like the Google Ads Preferences Manager (they don’t use apostrophes in Mountain View) situation in 2011, where I initially doubted myself, thinking maybe I hadn’t opted out when in fact I had, Twitter had me thinking the same thing for years. Maybe I was never friends with that person. The technology wouldn’t have unfriended them—there would be little point. Maybe I only ever saw them in re-Tweets.
But finally along comes a case where I know for a fact I never unfollowed someone, and he says he never unfollowed me. (Please bear with me while I use the colloquialisms without putting them into quotation marks.)
I have a Twitter plug-in that tracks unfollowers and was very surprised when a real-world friend, Jordan, showed up on the list. I looked at his account, and, to my surprise, I wasn’t following him. I knew for a fact I was—this was one case where I was sure, and I had even replied to something of his last week. It is, as my fellow RNZ Panellist Andrew Frame put it, ‘Eureka!’ Or, to bring it out of ancient Greece and into language my contemporaries can understand: ‘You’re nicked.’ You can read the thread here.
So just like Google in 2011—which had likely been lying to the public for two years about opting out through its Ads Preferences Manager—I am right and the technology is wrong. Back then I really had opted out and Google deceptively opted me back in, something which I point out ad nauseam on this blog. Here, neither Jordan nor I unfriended the other.
Last year I wondered why I wasn’t following Peter Lambrechtsen, another IRL friend, but put it down to my own omission; I don’t believe that to be the case any more.
You may wonder how hard it is for a site to keep track of who follows whom, but I have long accused Facebook of having databasing problems, based on my experience as a regular user from 2007 to 2017; surely the same thing must afflict Twitter as it scaled to milliards of users. When in doubt, don’t: experience says that when it comes to these big sites, usually it’s not your fault, but the technology’s. Twitter is as fallible as Google and Facebook.