Jan. 1, 2019– Mary Greeley News – So, you live and breathe online and couldn’t be happier about it. But maybe, just maybe, your daily digital interactions across the social web aren’t quite as authentic as you thought.
Maybe you not getting notification of your favorite YouTube channel posting a new video.
No, this time around it’s not the algorithm’s fault, but rather the result of a different kind of bad actor mucking up the works: bots. The automated scourge has invaded practically every platform you love, and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But you can fight back.
Don’t be accused of being a bot.
One thing the A.I. looks for is email accounts ending with @joesmith, that’s just an example. Notice it don’t end with a gmail.com or a Yahoo.com account? It could be any of the other accounts that are not set up as private to stop spam we all hate. But using this type of email account (@big wheel another example), could get you account unsubscribed from you favorite persons YouTube or Twitter account by the A.I.
Bots, bots, everywhere
These days bots are an inescapable part of online life. Just last year researchers estimated that Twitter alone was home to around 30 million of them. There are automated spam accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and pretty much everywhere else.
Some appear designed to intentionally rile us up or to support specific political candidates, while others have purposes less clear. While the goals of their creators may vary, there are telltale signs that many bots share. If you can identify these, you can better armor yourself against their onslaught.
Fair warning: Doing so isn’t always easy.
Spot the bot
Some automated accounts will be easy to identify as such. For example, @EmojiMeadow straight up tells you that it is, in fact, a bot. “I am a bot” is literally the first sentence of its Twitter bio. We’re not talking about that kind of bot, however.
The automated accounts that you need help uncovering are the ones that are actively trying to trick you. Accounts like the now-suspended @jenna_abrams, which many — including certain media outlets — thought to be the account of a real person named Jenna Abrams. Spoiler: It wasn’t.
Thankfully, there are a few easy steps you can take to help you determine the authenticity of an account. And not be accused of being a bot and having your account closed.
Notably, none of these are foolproof, but a critical and discerning eye is something we’re all going to need to develop and hone if we are to survive as a functioning society.
So why not start here.
Things to make sure your account is receiving information you want.
First, check the account’s bio. Does it read like it belongs to a real person? That’s a start. Does it have a profile picture of a person instead of an abstract silhouette?
You can have a picture of your choosing. Your pet, the coffee maker etc. Use your own image.
Yes? Cool, now reverse image search that pic. The result should be telling. If the picture appears all across the web, it’s probably recycled from somewhere else and suggests there may be some bullshit afoot.
Next, check the account’s history. If we’re talking Twitter, for example, there are a few behaviors that scream automated account. Robhat labs, the team behind likely bot identifier botcheck.me, called out a few key ones.
“Behavior such as tweeting every few minutes in a full day,” the group explains, “endorsing polarizing political propaganda (including fake news), obtaining a large follower account in a relatively small-time span, and constant retweeting/promoting other high-confidence bot accounts are all traits that lead to high-confidence bot accounts.”
Don’t have the time to dig through the history of every last garbage account on Twitter? Try dropping the handle in the aforementioned bot-checking tool. It will give you back a report that says whether or not an account is probably (but not definitively) automated.
So, you’ve found what you believe to be a bot. Good job! Seeing past the lie is an important first step. But what to do next?
Not everyone has the time or inclination to thoroughly investigate every spammy account online, so getting the word out is important. Now, this does not mean you should start actively posting on that account’s wall or whatever (seriously don’t do this). Instead, try using the reporting mechanisms the platform provides to flag it.
Twitter’s definition of spam includes “many forms of automated account interactions and behaviors as well as attempts to mislead or deceive people,” so deceptive bots fall right in that category. Report the account by going to the profile page, clicking the “overflow icon,” selecting “report,” and then choosing “they are posting spam.”
Both Facebook and Instagram also have defined ways to report platform abuse, and feel free to avail yourself of those. Keep in mind that the social media giant in question will likely not do anything about your report, buy hey, you never know.
And anyway, you don’t need to knock a bot offline to beat it. Realizing it’s an automated account out to deceive you takes away its power to do so. Feel free to mute or block the account after you’ve reported it and return to going about your daily online business.
Both you, and the internet, will be better off for it.