With billions of users on social media networks, they are incredibly populated. But do those people actually are "people"?
With the internet, there's no need to be face-to-face when talking to someone. With that ability, anyone can be anywhere at one time, but can communicate with others as if they were close by. This fact is what makes the internet a massively popular network of networks.
No matter how many people are actually on the web, many of them aren't actually real flesh and being. Bots actually made more internet traffic than us, and they their population is alarming that they can cause more problems than they can solve.
Before we dig down further, let's find out what bots really are. While on the outside world bots may seem to be real users, they apparently far from it. They are algorithms acting in networks, acting like visitors and humans, and can come in all shapes and sizes to perform perfectly as designed.
There are numerous services on the internet that uses bots. Like for example search engines use bots extensively to index websites. While some bots are good, many more are bad. Social bots can offer loads of automated services, like posting on your behalf, pretending to be (fake) followers, answering questions, and so forth.
Though some of these malicious software can operate autonomously, many bots can also be programmed to stay in touch with their creators to obtain operating instructions.
Social bots play an important role on social media networks. They stand as users, and can be pretty scary in pretending to be human - a third of human internet users can be deceived by bots. They are that good that people can even trust these bots.
In social media networks, these bots can be friendly. Since 1 out of 5 of us accepts unknown friend request, we're "kindly" accepting bots to occupy our social sphere.
There so many social bots that social networks think that they're worth fighting for, even legally. The problems done by these bots vary to many degree: from spamming, limiting free speech by pushing good information far down replacing it with its "purpose", influence people skewing what's trending, creating mischief by pretending to be human, mess up web analytics and many more. Many social media networks are also fighting against bot domination using their own strategy, or various machine-learning algorithm to counterfeit their growth.
Transaction for the High Figures
Have you ever see online ads that offer "friends" and "followers" for money? With only a few dollars, you can have thousands of friends and followers without much of a hassle.
These services may use friends and followers exchanging program in which you follow someone to get points, and that points are deducted when someone follows you. The points are the currency for sale. Some others do a more strategic attack by using bots to give you followers.
The creator of the bots, can have an army of bots at his disposal. He can sell them to people that wants followers. It's that plain simple. These fake accounts can be programmed exactly like human: they can tweet, follow others, and do pretty much anything else human users do.
Who actually buys this kind of service? Bots are a commodity since they can "pretend" to be humans. Numerous reports have found that celebrities, politicians and companies often buy fake followers to enhance their perceived importance online.
Spotting Them Before They Do Anything
Social media bots are similar to those found on search engines. But as they can be a vicious and come from places that you have no control of, you can't block their access to your account (pretending to be friends and followers), or even to your computer system (Command and Control bots [C&C or C2])
Since they have become an increasing challenge for social media networks, it's still your responsibility to limit their spread before they can trick you into doing things by their influence.
One of the easiest method is by looking at their profile. On Twitter for example, some bots choose to not upload their image profile, leaving the default "egg" avatar. They may also have less human followers than average. Other things you can seek is their behavior: speed in engagement, posting at regular predicted times, and so forth. Bots also like to use hashtag extensively although not usually. They're also known to post blacklisted URLs and use spam words.
In the end, as users we still need to trust social networks to do what they can in limiting the spread of these bots.
Bots are a reality and they will try their best to influence humans. As the internet grows larger, they have succeeded in many areas. We need to master how to avoid them, just how we tried to manage in limiting spam in our emails. Without the proper knowledge, bots can outsmart us. Since we have less to no control of these bots, we should just be cautious about which prediction systems we believe.