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79% of Twitter users are not real users of social networking

The study, from Barracuda Networks, analysed more than 19 million Twitter accounts, for their frequency and content of messages (tweets), as well as their general activity levels.

The report – which forms the bulk of Barracuda's 2009 annual study – claims to show that only 21% of Twitter users are actual true users of the social networking service.

By 'true user,' the networking security firm defines a real Twitter user as someone who has at least 10 followers, follows at least 10 people and has messaged (tweeted) at least 10 times.

Delving into the report – which is available from the firm's website – reveals that most of Twitter's registered users joined the site during what it calls the 'red carpet' era (Nov 2008 to Apr 2009) when a number of celebrities such as Stephen Fry made their interest in the services very public.

Now here's the bad news from the report – during the Twitter red carpet era, Barracuda says that misuse of Twitter soared to reach 12% of accounts in October 2009, indicating that one in eight accounts created was deemed to be malicious, suspicious or otherwise misused and subsequently suspended.

Commenting on the report, Paul Judge, the firm's chief research officer, said: "as social networking, and specifically Twitter, becomes more ingrained in everyday business, it is crucial to understand the nature of attacks happening on these sites, as well as how users and networks can be compromised."

In its security blog, Barracuda says that more users joined Twitter in 2009 following a massive influx of celebrities to the site – "and sure enough, the criminals followed the users in a forceful way causing the overall Twitter crime rate to spike."

Interestingly, the network security vendor says that only 17% of Twitter users have zero followers, which is a 40% increase in the number of users that now have 10 or more followers.

As millions of users flocked to Twitter during the Twitter Red Carpet Era, Barracuda says that so too did the criminals.

"During this time, numerous accounts were used for malicious purposes such as poisoning trending topic threads with malicious URLs (hidden by the ever-popular URL shortening services) aimed at luring Twitter users to sites carrying malware or other malicious content", said the company.

The report's Twitter crime rate is defined as the percentage of accounts created per month that are eventually suspended for malicious or suspicious activity, or otherwise misused.

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