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Why all your Twitter followers disappeared

By Chavon Sutton, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Twitter said Monday that it has identified a glitch that allows users to "force" other users to follow them.

As a result, users found that they temporarily had far fewer followers in their Twittersphere than usual -- most accounts showed 0 followers for an hour or so. However, logged-in users could still see activity from all those they follow by going to their Twitter home page.

The company quickly said it was working to solve the problem, which surfaced in posts from Gizmodo and other tech blogs drawing attention to the bug.

"We're now working to rollback all abuse of the bug that took place," Twitter said mid-afternoon on its blog. "Follower/following numbers are currently at zero; we're aware and this too should shortly be resolved."

Gizmodo received a tip about the bug from a Turkish Twitter user, whose account has since been suspended.

John Herrman, a tech reporter for the website, said Gizmodo receives hundreds of tips a day, many of which turn out to be "fairly ridiculous." But the magnitude of this one became clear after a few quick tests.

"It turned out that it was in fact a serious exploit," Herrman said. "It was working exactly as if the person was following you."

By 2:45 p.m. EST, the issue appeared to be resolved, but Twitter representatives did not respond to calls for comment.

Last week, Facebook reported a glitch that made some instant messages visible to a user's entire list of friends. But Twitter has been fairly immune to criticism about its privacy policies, Herrman said, since less personal information is used for the service.

Twitter said Monday that protected updates -- those users flagged to keep private -- "did not become public as a result of this bug."

Although the snafu is unlikely to have a long-term adverse effect on the company, it does reveal potentially serious weaknesses in Twitter's system, Herrman said. In the short term, the company will have to do some public relations work to appease users.

"This will be a black mark on its record in terms of privacy and will draw them into this [privacy] conversation, which now includes Facebook," said Herrman. To top of page

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