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No surprises here, but the Internet is filled with fake bot accounts. Just to demonstrate how large and ingrained the problem really is, Twitter just deleted 2 million bot accounts. But how, exactly, are you supposed to know that you are interacting with a bot? Fortunately, researchers have come up with a few telltale signs.
Clue #1: The user profile is incomplete
This is pretty much a dead giveaway – if the user profile doesn’t contain a photo, it’s probably a bot. In other words, if someone just left a really mean tweet response to something that you posted, but there’s no profile photo for that user, then don’t worry too much – it was probably just some algorithm triggered to respond by a particular word or hashtag.
Clue #2: The account posts the same link or content, over and over again
Bots are not really all that smart. While some of them may indeed be created with a rudimentary form of machine intelligence, they are still essentially just simple algorithms, and their range of outcomes is relatively small. Thus, if you notice that one account posts the same content, the same link, or the same image, over and over again, it’s probably a bot and not a person.
Clue #3: The account is too active
While there are undeniably power Twitter users that post around-the-clock, bots take that definition to a whole new level. Thus, if you notice that an account has been posting non-stop, or that it posts content at all hours of the day and night, then that might be a bot that’s been programmed to do exactly that.
Clue #4: The account occasionally posts nonsensical content
Bots are really good at posting content that’s already been programmed into it – but have a much harder time responding to nuanced comments. Moreover, as you might expect, bots rarely catch all the nuances of jokes or humor. Thus, a bot might go completely off the rails based on a sarcastic comment you posted.
Clue #5: The account is followed by lots of other bots
If there’s one general rule of thumb to remember, it’s that bots attract bots. In other words, if you look at the social media network of a bot to see who it’s following, and who is following it, you’re almost certain to encounter many other bots. In part, that’s what makes bots so powerful – if you post something they don’t like, there is the potential for a whole swarm of bots to respond. That helps to create the sensation that the crowd is against you. No wonder it’s so common to hear about people deleting content after a negative backlash – it can be really disconcerting the first time this happens to you.
Even though Twitter has cleared out 2 million fake accounts, and Facebook has pledged to get rid of fake accounts, it’s almost a certainty that the practice will continue as long as the cost of doing so is close to zero, and as long as insecure social media followers feel that it makes sense to buy fake followers. But at least now you’ll now how to detect fake bots in your everyday social media interactions.