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Twitter’s attempt to decide which brands you follow angers William Shatner

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By Seb Joseph, News editor

December 31, 2014 | 3 min read

Twitter is letting brands pay to appear in users’ following lists, an advertising ploy Star Trek actor William Shatner has become one of the first to highlight and critcise for violating the integrity of users’ accounts.

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The social network appears to be selling ad space in the lists of accounts its users follow.

Advertisers are placed into following lists with a “Promoted” icon next to the brand logo, even if the user is not following them. The ads only appear as listed and are not highlighted but it represents an opportunity for brands to extend their reach away from social network’s traditional timeline.

Twitter told Marketing Land that the feature is not new and added promoted accounts have been appearing in following lists since early 2013. However, the service is not listed in any support pages for marketers and instead available inventory across Timelines, Who to Follower suggestions and search results are the areas highlighted.

The lack of information around the tool is why Shatner’s tweets have caused many industry observers to notice it for the first time.

The science-fiction star noticed that Mastercard’s account appeared in his own following list without his consent and complained to Twitter co-founder and executive chairman Jack Dorsey that this could be seen as an endorsement on his part. Fellow actor Dwayne Johnson was used to demonstrate the point due to being served with a sponsored follow despite only following one person.

Shatner also highlighted how unsanctioned follows could lead to rivals appearing on one another’s lists after he found Mastercard among Visa’s followers.

Twitter appears to have removed the ads following Shatner’s comments, as they can no longer be found in the lists.

The move highlights the pressure on Twitter as well its rivals to extract revenues from both their existing networks as well as beyond their own walled gardens. Twitter is ramping up spend around mobile and ad targeting in an effort to boost engagement. Earlier this year, it revealed plans to make it easier for developers to weave tweets and other Twitter features into their apps as well as broadening its advertising offering to affiliated products such as TweetDeck.

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