Twitter users might have felt a little devalued earlier this afternoon when their "following" and "follower" counts mysteriously reset to zero. As the latter number is the primary way people on the popular status-update-sharing site keep score -- it indicates how many other Twitter users see your updates when they log on -- seeing that vanish could have been distressing. (The former number indicates how many other people's updates you follow, and most people pay far less attention to it.)
The root cause of the hiccup was the discovery by some sneaky users of the San Francisco-based site of an old bug that let them force other users to follow them. That could allow for a fair amount of mischief, so Twitter management shut off its follow functions to close that vulnerability and posted a brief note on the site's status blog to that effect:
"We identified and resolved a bug that permitted a user to "force" other users to follow them. We're now working to rollback all abuse of the bug that took place. Follower/following numbers are currently at 0; we're aware and this too should shortly be resolved."
Within an hour or so, the site was back to normal.
Considering how rapidly Twitter has grown from its start-up roots, I'm somewhat surprised that this sort of glitch hasn't happened earlier or more often. And I'm relieved to see the site recover so quickly; things could have been a whole lot uglier in Twitterville.
It looks like Americans came together and supported each other in this very brief time of crisis. The following comments on the Twitter debugging story were posted to the WaPo's web site tonight:
I'm so relieved our nation made it through this terrible tragedy.
First the earthquake in Haiti and now this. Bad things comes in threes, so who knows what could be next?
Well done. I have never been prouder of my fellow Netizens.