Bots, Bots, Bots.

When I was in fifth grade growing up in South Australia, my friend introduced me to MSN messenger. (Equivalent to AOL messenger in the US, but long live MSN!). It was the first time I encountered social media. In my faint memory I remember there was a chat room full of random MSN-ers and one account that replies only when someone says something inappropriate or rude and threatens to kick that particular user out of the chatroom.

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This was the also the first time I was introduce to a bot. TechTerms.com define Bots as “an automated program that runs over the Internet.” Some bots run automatically, while others only execute commands when they receive specific input.” In specific, I was introduced to a type of bots coined Chat bots. I remember having this bot was constructive to the chatroom because it make sure people are not randomly saying inappropriate things etc. However, as I move along from being a child to a teenager and now as a young adult, bots are becoming more destructive rather than constructive. There seems to be a lot of bots for spamming purposes.

At Social Media Measurement and Monitoring 2013, Lutz Finger from Fisheye Analytics says that 7% of Twitter users are not human. We can only assume that the numbers have gone higher since 2013. MIT Technology Review actually wrote an article about how to spot social bot on Twitter. These spam bots accounts can be commanded to retweet, follow back and favorite a tweet. They can also be purchased if you’re in need for a social or moral boost. This “bot account” culture is not limited to only Twitter, it is across the board on almost every social media outlets you can think of! Facebook in Feb 2014 estimates that around .4-1.2% of accounts are ‘undesirable’ and most likely malicious spam bots. With Facebook passing 1.23 billion monthly active users in last quarter of 2014, that’s quite a lot of spamming bots out there.twitterbot

Does these bots really provide any real business value for the people using them? Nick Bilton of New York Times believes that these bots are. Bilton believes they are creating values for the people who created them (to sell as a product) and also the people that buy them. With the wealth of brands paying individuals thousands of dollars to post something about their product on their Instagram etc, the more followers you have, the more chances brands will decide to ask you to post about their product. This in terms means profit for that particular person. According to Nick Bilton’s article, even A-list Celebrities often buy more followers to increase their influence and ultimately profitability. However, if you’re a company that is trying to increase engagement rate by employing bots to post frequently, it might not work in your favor. In Hutspots’ social media benchmarks 2015, They did not find correlations between posting more frequently and engagement rate, an important metric to evaluate does the customer interact with the initial post after viewing it.results20screen-100016204-orig

It might be possible that these bots are creating some sort of business value, but to many social media users, they are just of sheer nuisance. As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day (I don’t think I am the first one to post about procrastinating through FB) , I came across this news article that I found fascinating and I think it showcase an extremely creative advertisement using a spamming bots. At the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference/festival in Austin, TX, a friend of Tim Nudd, a writer for Adweeks was swiping on Tinder and saw this beautiful girl and decides to swipe right. The writer’s friend got a match with her and they begin conversations.

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Everything seems to be going well and eventually he has passed “her tests” and she invites him to go to her Instagram account @meetava to see if she has also passed his test. Little did he know, he was actually talking to a bot. Ava, the beautiful dreamy girl on Tinder, is actually Swedish actress Alicia Vikander. The Tinder profile is actually the artificial intelligence ava, a character Alicia plays in the upcoming movie – Ex Machina. I thought it was a fantastic advertisement but users may not think so.wBUWcOK

Imagine you’re a user of Tinder and you see this beautiful lady and you decided to swipe right. It’s a match. Not only it’s a match she decides to message you first! (A consistent dialogue in which she seems generally wanting to know more about you so she can’t be a bot right? Apparently they can.) After a few exchanges she gave you her Instagram and you excitingly goes and check it out, only to realize that that girl is only a promotion bot. That manipulation perhaps is too ingenious that it becomes extremely difficult to take in. Some people may laugh it off and think of it as a great promotional technique for a movie about an AI, but it can potentially be extremely devastating to that user and that person may decides to stop using Tinder. Tinder would have lost some business value because of bots. However, the movie may get extra publicity because of this creative use of spamming bots.  rs_560x415-140917143530-1024.Tinder-Logo.ms.091714_copy

To conclude, I think that bots does create some sort of business value but it seems that often it damages one party while simultaneously benefits another. Let me know what you think about bots and whether they do provide any business values or are these spam bots just a nuisance to all users alike and creates no business values.

P.S. the advertising stun makes me dying to watch Ex Machina, I have attached the trailer in this blog for you guys and I think it will be a very interesting movie.

7 comments

  1. Great post, George! I agree that bots are a double-edged sword. From a business point of view they can add a lot of value, if you use them wisely. I think the worst thing you could do is using a bot to retweet all the time or send every follower the same (in those cases often not even creative) message (e.g. “Hey, @XYZ check out our new ABC http://link.com“). But it is more valuable if a software is used that acts human-like (as far as possible). For me as a social media user this case is more (for lack of an other word) scary and unsettling. The reason is that in my opinion people act differently when interacting with other people or with machines. But maybe we have to get used to the idea that we cannot be sure, if a message was written by a person sitting in front of a screen or if it was generated by a virtual code. Maybe it won’t be as extreme, but when reading your blog and (previously) about Ava, the movie “Her” came to my mind. Therein Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with an operating system.

  2. You posed some great questions George. At the bottom of the bot conversation it stands that bots can either be used for good constructive methods such as the chat moderating bot you mentioned in the beginning of your post, or they can be used for malicious reasons. I remember when AOL first introduced its first bot that users could add to their Buddy Lists and chat with. You could ask the bot various questions such as what is the current temperature outside? And what are movie times for a particular theater? It was pretty much an early version os Siri. Such bots are pretty helpful and have evolved over time to a point where a lot of us use them on a daily basis in one way or another. However, the issue as with any form of technology, is that such bots can be used for malicious activities such as spamming and even worse, disseminating computer viruses. There is significant economic gain when they are used for such negative reasons and as a result, more and more people thrive off of causing misery to others. Bots won’t be going away anytime soon and the best we can do at this point is develop measures that aid in combating misuse.

  3. wallacekwan99 · ·

    Great post on how bots are so prevalent in today’s social media platforms. You are right in that
    most of these BOTS are not successful. It is very difficult to create engaging content via automated means. Repetitive/logical functionality is one thing, but that isn’t how the human mind works. To engage a normal human in conversation must THINK!

    However, as you later pointed out, there are still gullible people out there, and when sex is involved, sometimes people stop thinking. I felt it was very ingenious of the movie company to exploit that specific demographic utilizing the current, hot trend of Tindering.

    I don’t feel that this marketing campaign would have any profound negative affects on ticket sales.
    I suspect that they targeted this primarily at teenage males. I envision some of them saying “Oh man, I got played by a bot! Check this out bro!” resulting in a sort of viral marketing affect.

  4. Alyssa Frey · ·

    Your post made me reminisce to the days of SmarterChild on AIM (anyone else? No? Just me..?). I didn’t even realize how prevalent bots remained in our online social culture! I definitely will have to check out more of these campaigns. So funny how we’re continually being tricked.

  5. Really nice post. I actually think we’re headed for the day where we use bots to assist our social media interactions (in a sense, NewsFeed already does this for us). For example, Wikipedia uses bots to take care of all sorts of routine maintenance on the site to help the human users focus on the tasks they are needed for.

  6. I like how you tied in these bots to the SXSW Tinder promotion as I tweeted about that earlier. Personally, I have run into bots when managing my dance crew’s Facebook page and group. Our page receives spam messages from either bot accounts or from hijacked real accounts. These real accounts have actual friends and an online presence until they are compromised and controlled by a bot. Our facebook group actually receives a ton of requests to join by accounts that are clearly fake. I have requests from accounts that have less than a dozen friends but are part of hundreds of groups. I feel that a lot of these bots can be detrimental, but I always wonder why they request to join my group. There is no obvious financial goal to joining a college dance group on facebook. Even the ones that manage to join do not post any spam. I wonder if it is just an error in their programming to join random groups.

  7. Wow I learned a lot from this post, George. Great job! I never knew that bots could be used in such clever advertising-focused ways as you mentioned in your Twitter example. I just wonder where the line will be drawn in future court cases involving bots and there usage for marketing and business purposes. I think the legal implications of bots are really interesting and I definitely want to look more into this. I think we all have experiences with bots in typical when we have that strange message from someone we don’t know on Facebook, etc. But what you are proposing is a much more clever and unique form of using bots to derive business value. Very interesting stuff!

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