Are Social Media Bots Taking Over the Internet?
April 3, 2019
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the growing number of automated accounts hiding among actual users. They first gained notoriety for attempting to influence voters during the 2016 election. But what exactly are these things? Are they even legal? And how can you distinguish a real account from a bot?
In this article, our experts of content marking in Pittsburgh—Responsival—explain their purpose and how they will change social media as we know it. We will specifically go over:
- The purpose of a social media bot
- Concerns raised over the rise of bots
- How to distinguish a real user from a bot
- How a business might use one
What is a social media bot?
At its core, a social media bot is a software program that mimics the actions of a real human being using artificial intelligence, text mining, and data analysis software. Some bots even access online databases containing general information and current events so they can tweet or post more realistic content. You can even generate one yourself using free software online. They’re so well-programmed, that approximately 30% of users are deceived by a bot.
Most of the time, bots are bought to increase someone’s followers or amount of likes on a post. They are everywhere—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Google. But a bot can also include anything from an automated response machine added to a website to help with customer service to a program that tweets whenever your plant needs to be watered. Sadly, they can also be used to influence people’s opinions and limit free speech.
The public’s response to social media bots
Various investigations by social media sites and academic researchers found that bots are complicit in the spread of misinformation on the internet. The general public opinion on bots is negative, with 80% believing that bots are mostly used for malicious purposes and only 17% say they are mainly used for good purposes. Users are especially concerned about their presence in news environments. With the growing spread of fake news across the internet, their concern is definitely valid. Most people aren’t sure that they could even distinguish a bot from a real human if put to the test. Luckily for you, Responsival created a quick list for you to refer to if you ever find yourself second guessing whether you are interacting with a human or a bot.
How to tell if you are dealing with a human or a robot
Refer to this checklist if you are ever unsure if you have encountered a bot or a human who happens to overly active on social media.
- Does the account have a profile picture? Does its username make sense or is just a bunch of nonsense letters? If there is no profile picture, or the username is a jumbled mess of letters, the account is likely managed by a bot.
- Does the account tweet every few minutes? Quick spurts of tweets a day is also a common sign that you are not dealing with a real person.
- Did it acquire a large following in a short time span? New accounts don’t acquire several hundred followers in a matter of minutes.
- Does it endorse polarizing political propaganda or fake news? While real users have certainly committed these two acts before, they should still raise red flags in your mind before you consider engaging with or seriously looking into their content.
- Does it switch languages between multiple tweet bursts? Bots will try to reach users from various international backgrounds, hence their ability to switch between languages within multiple tweets.
How businesses use social media bots
While social media bots get a bad rap, businesses have used them when interacting with customers, legally of course. For instance, Facebook enables businesses to use custom bots in Messenger. Need to buy flowers? You can order flowers from 1-800-Flowers without having to call the number -- simply by messaging their Facebook bot. Subscribers to the Wall Street Journal can get live stock quotes by typing “$” in a message to the bot.
Some businesses and influencers try to appear popular by buying followers and likes, but we don’t recommend that. While it’s not technically illegal to buy them, doing so will cause current followers and fans to lose trust in your business. Additionally, having 1,000,000 followers means nothing for your business if none of them are converting
For better or worse, social media bots are likely here to stay. For more information on how your business can use them—legally—or how they can impact your business, contact our team members at Responsival.