What are bots?
Bots are software applications that have been programmed to carry out specific tasks automatically without human interaction. These tasks are often repetitive and are thus easily suitable for a computer program. Bots are able to carry out these tasks much faster and in much bigger quantities than humans are.
About half of all web traffic consists of bot activity. There is a huge variety of different bots. Some carry out legitimate and beneficial tasks that help human users and companies and other services. These bots include for example search engine bots, chat bots and monitoring bots.
However, there are also tons of bad bots, which are designed to carry out illegitimate and questionable tasks with great efficiency and in huge quantities. These include bots that carry out DDoS attacks, scan and bypass security measures and fake account bots.
How to spot fake accounts
There are many reasons fake accounts are made. Some are made for satire, some for scamming and some are used to spread fake news and misinformation. Many fake accounts are run by bots. These bots can like, share and comment on social media platforms just like any real profile can. Since they do not need to rest, they can continue to operate 24/7. Fake account bots are a big problem especially on Twitter.
Not all profiles run by bots are considered fake accounts. Fake accounts are intended to be seen as real people or organizations, and their actions are meant to be perceived as if a legitimate source is behind them. Some bots are meant to be seen as bots and are not supposed to confuse people.
Since fake accounts are often made to look like they are run by actual people they can be hard to spot. However, there are some signs that you can look for. These signs include: if the profile posts frequently and around the clock, is very new, has random characters and numbers in their account name, have no profile picture or bio included or follows a certain pattern when compared to other accounts.
These bots infiltrate social media platforms very effectively. The sheer mass of them combined with their seems-real appearance make them an effective tool for many purposes. Most people fail to spot the fake accounts and thus interact with them as they interact with real people in social media.
Trolling is an act of posting controversial comments designed to provoke emotional reaction and start fights. It is not at all done only by bots; humans can troll just as well. Trolling comments can be offensive, aggressive and stupid. They can seem ignorant and especially in political conversation they often represent some extreme. Trolling can try to make someone, or something seem ridiculous. They can be anything and represent any point of view as long as it will make people want to comment.
Trolling is a highly effective way to spread rumors and disinformation, create tension between different parties, alter public opinion and disrupt conversation. Now, imagine that there are millions of fake profiles run by bots with much faster capabilities than humans to share and comment (and troll) on social media platforms. That creates a very powerful tool, or even a weapon, to create tension and control public opinion. Sounds like some Orwellian stuff? Well, it’s reality nowadays.
Don’t feed the trolls
Trolls are not interested in having an actual conversation. Their goal is to create angry conversation as much as possible. A troll is not interested in winning the argument. If you start to have an argument with the troll, the troll has already won. Because the troll is aiming for high visibility, engaging in conversation is doing exactly what the troll wants. The only smart way to deal with a troll is to ignore it and not engage it in any way. As the old internet saying goes, don’t feed the trolls.