If you use or have used Facebook in the past, you have no doubt come across Facebook bots. They come in two forms:
- The most common the random friend request from a beautiful stranger using stolen or stock images
- The second appear on political pages
The first are perhaps a lot less dangerous although we should be no less concerned about them. They exist to promote pages with lots of fake accounts in the belief it will bump their visibility. They will also add random strangers and get them to like those pages too to present the air of legitimacy.
The second is prominent on certain types of political pages. Usually they post right wing views on left wing pages, or as Brexiters on anti-Brexit pages such as Leave Watch, People’s Vote and Scientists for EU. I’m not here to espouse my political view, although anyone who knows me personally know my views on Trump and Brexit. What I want to do is show how to identify them and why you should ignore them.
Not everyone who posts a contrary view (such as a pro-Trump comment on an anti-Trump page) is a fake account, but this type of bot exists solely for this purpose. The idea is to grind people down, to make them fed up with the hostile environment that the bot is creating, that people becoming weary and stop visiting or stop posting. It’s malicious and a way of disrupting the open forum of discussion for any political hot point right now. Some feel that the millions of bots lead to voter apathy and reduce political engagement. All of this has come in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal.
The Language Style
There is always something off about the writing style of the bot. Their English broken, lacking punctuation and sometimes even coherence. It’s not the problems you might typically associate with non-native speakers, dyslexia, or even text speak. If you’ve ever had a comment from a bot on your blog, you’ll know the sort of language we mean. There seems to be little logic to their communication which you will tend to understand in non-native speakers, text speak and in dyslexia. They might comment on a pro-EU page something like “out means out were leave”. “eu is no democrat” and “trump make mercia grate gain” and other terrible examples of grammar or syntax.
But to see if they are truly fake, you need to visit the account.
Look at the Photographs
A bot account will have a small number of public photographs – sometimes only two. This will be the profile picture and the header image. They might be of something random and usually stock images. When there are pictures of real people (rare) they tend to be stolen from genuine accounts. You can do a reverse image search to identify the source of the image. When there are multiple images, they might be of different people or a selection of stock photographs. Real people don’t use stock images for their profile picture or their header image. I know I never have and I’ve never seen a friend or acquaintance do so either.
Nobody has no friends or family. I refuse to believe that any genuine person has nobody who would wish to connect with them on social media – it’s impossible because nobody has no friends or family. If that were the case, they’re unlikely to have an account at all. The bot usually has no friends. When they do, they are either connected with other bots, or with people who haven’t learnt to identify bot accounts – older people who aren’t tech savvy, or people who genuinely think a 25-year-old porn star will reach out and add random people as friends on Facebook. This should be the biggest red flag of all.
What to Do About Bots?
You can take several approaches to Facebook bots. The first is report them to Facebook. In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, they are taking such accounts down but be advised that the problem will never go away. It will be a constant battle of which you might get sick eventually. But you will be doing us all a service. The other is simply to ignore them. Whatever a bot’s reason for being, their intent is the same – to gain attention. As with trolls, don’t feed them.