In a first for the microblogging service, Twitter has gone to court in an effort to rid its site of spam.
"Twitter seeks to hold defendants and those who continue to ply the spam trade accountable for the costs of their misconduct, and further safeguard its platform and users from blatantly abusive activities," the company says in a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco.
The lawsuit alleges that three companies -- TweetAttacks (owned by JL 4 Web Solutions), TweetAdder (owned by Skootle Corporation) and TweetBuddy.com (owned by Justin Clark)-- allegedly distributed software "designed to facilitate abuse" of the Twitter platform.
Specifically, those companies offer software that enables the automatic creation of multiple Twitter accounts in order to send Tweets "to an enormous number of users," the complaint alleges.
Twitter also sued two individuals -- James Lucero and Garland Harris -- who allegedly operated automated Twitter accounts aimed at duping people into clicking on questionable links. For instance, Harris allegedly created more than 129,000 Twitter accounts that broadcast links to sites like http://troptiontrading.com "through which Harris provides online auction and online payment services of questionable legitimacy," according to the complaint.
The lawsuit accuses all of the defendants of violating Twitter's user agreement, which prohibit users from spamming others as well as from creating multiple accounts in order to send questionable tweets.
While spam generally refers to unsolicited email messages, Twitter says in its lawsuit that it also defines spam as posting Tweets with links to malware sites, and using @repy or @mention to send users messages they don't want.
"Spammers and the makers of spam software ... harm Twitter by negatively affecting Twitter users' experience, damaging users' goodwill toward Twitter, and causing Twitter users to terminate their Twitter accounts," the company says in its complaint. Twitter adds that it has spent more than $700,000 combating the defendants' alleged spamming initiatives.
Twitter says that it determines whether someone is sending spam by looking at factors, including whether they follow or Tweet many users in a short period of time, post misleading links in their Tweets, or post the same Tweet across multiple accounts.
The company is seeking monetary damages and injunctions against the alleged spammers and software developers.