5 ways to recognise a social media Bot

Bots are a big part of the Internet

An Internet Bot, also known as web robot, WWW robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet. Wikipedia

Whilst bots may be used to perform repetitive jobs on the Internet, such as indexing a search engine, they often come in the form of malware. Malware bots are used to gain total control over a computer, influence people’s social media activity, or political agendas.

However, bots are by no means limited to influencing big things such as the US elections or UK Brexit. If we are on social media at all then any one of us can fall foul of a bot driving someone’s agenda. Therefore it’s worth asking yourself: can I tell when I’m talking to a bot?

It’s not always easy to tell bot accounts from real ones even if you are smarter than the average bear because bot creators are getting better by the day.

How do I know I’m chatting with a bot

  • If the account claims to be representing a major politician or celebrity, check to verify that this account isn’t an impersonator. Most social media platforms will show a blue “verified” checkmark showing that those accounts are proven to be owned by who they claim to be. That said, the check doesn’t exist for all official accounts, so this method isn’t fool-proof. Still, when possible, look for the blue check.
  • Any account that has a generic blank user profile photo (the Twitter “egg”, or a generic ‘pretty’ girl, flower, illustration, etc) and an @ username that is a noun followed by a bunch of random numbers is very likely a bot.
  • Even a supposedly genuine looking profile photo can be deceptive. Many bots pull photos from public social media profiles or even stock imagery to give their profile photos an authentic veneer. Try doing a reverse Google Image search on a profile photo for a profile you suspect might not be real – chances are it may belong to someone with a completely different name.
  • One of the latest ploys bots use is generating biographies (the descriptive text underneath an account name) with random nouns and descriptors to make the profile look somewhat genuine. If the biography looks disjointed and doesn’t make much sense – e.g. the profile photo is of a young girl in a bikini, and the profile says ‘grandmother of 5’ or ‘devoted husband,’ that’s a big red flag.
  • Does this user engage with people in conversation in a meaningful way, or does it just spit out updates, hashtags and links without any real interaction with other users? Yes, more sophisticated bots can have something resembling a back-and-forth conversation, but most of the basic ones flooding social media are rather spammy and one-note – don’t expect a meaningful response if you ever comment or Tweet them.

I don’t have time to check everything I see

There are tools and websites that claim to track bot activity and some say they can check if an account is a bot for you. These tools can be handy to confirm suspicions, but keep in mind that any tool is ultimately an extension of its creator – a bot checker tool could be completely reputable and trustworthy, or it may have its own political agenda.

In the end, trust your gut if something feels off with the account you are interacting with, and if you feel so inclined, report any suspicious accounts or bots to the social media platform to help keep interactions online genuine and as bot-free as possible.

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