Attack of the Russian Bots

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More and more people are getting hip to the fact that social media “bot” attacks are increasing and in full effect. Russian bots are once again trying to get us to argue among ourselves.

Do most people really know or understand what a bot is?

I’ll try to explain and use Facebook as an example since there is a huge rise in activity by profiles created by these nasty bots.

face&book

Article by Mike Liebner

While most people only consider these bots as “russian” and trying to influence elections, the fact is that bots are actually rather common and used by many more people than just spies.

The “bots” themselves are automated software programs used to create social media profiles and send out messages on a large scale.

Bots create and then use actual Facebook profiles which they schedule “adding friends” and “auto posting” messages.

The profiles mostly look like real people. It’s often hard to tell if a facebook profile is real or fake.

Of course not all spammers are smart and many of them cut corners and it is obvious they are not profiles for real people. Those fake profiles usually do not last long on Facebook.

I see a lot of comments where people are calling people they disagree with “bots” or “russian trolls”, but in most cases we just don’t know that to be a fact.

I think it would be helpful to explain a little of how bots are used and fake accounts are created and managed and put into service.

The general concept is that AUTOMATED SOFTWARE aka BOTS create real social media profiles. They mass create Facebook Accounts using fake names and pictures from the internet. The profiles are mass created using automation software but if done well they look like real accounts from real people.

Facebook does a great job of catching spam and bots in general.

They’re not perfect, but they do actively catch and delete fake accounts.

troll farm

It’s not alwasy easy to know if a profile is a real user or a fake user. Anyone that has ever seen a dialogue warning box on Facebook will know they can catch you when you are doing something excessively. But they have to be careful because a lot of “real people” act like bots.

Also keep in mind that Facebook has a huge amount of data on how people use Facebook. They can usually tell if someone is doing things in a way that is not normal.

That is one of the ways that Facebook detects “fake profiles”. By the unusual or excessive activity.

Not all mass created “fake profiles” are from Russian bots.

A lot of regular people create second or third FB accounts for a number of reasons even though Facebook only allows one account per person.

These are FAKE ACCOUNTS just like those created by “russian bots”.

Anyone can buy mass generated “Facebook Accounts” for next to nothing on the internet. You can get one or a 100 or a 1,000 or more. And they’re cheap.

Some use them to “troll people” and cause trouble.

Others use them for business purposes so their real accounts don’t look like a business or so they can separate personal and business.

Others use them to advertise stuff to make money from.

Fact is there are a million and one reasons people create and/or buy and use fake accounts on Facebook.

The Russians however have apparently figured out how to cleverly use these accounts on a mass scale to influence elections.

Bots are used to help make posts go viral.

Bots start the activity and give them a push but guess what – real people take the ball and make some of the posts go viral.

So you never really know if it is a real person passing along the garbage.

Republicans were particlularly nasty this past presidential election. They were almost indstinguishable from the russian trolls.

And that is where the problem really lies. You can’t always tell if a message is being shared by a real person or a troll using a fake account. Gullible people believe things and start passing them around to their friends. Coming from a friend the article has more credibility. People believe things they would normally not agree with.

I regularly see people comment that “Facebook needs to do better”. They’re mad at Facebook for one comment or post by an asshole saying something stupid. To me that is not fair.

I’m sure Facebook can do better, but to be honest the trolls are getting so damn good at doing this shit it is almost impossible to catch them all. The real people mix in and it’s just not easy to eradicate the propaganda shit they’re trying to spread.

That is why in the FU Trump Group for example you will occasionally see a post or a comment by a troll. Not often. We do catch most of them, but yes – a few do slip by.

We’re catching and deleting a lot of fake profiles – as a group owner we nail a lot of them. You can tell after a while the obvious ones and stop them from joining. But the fact is the ones that are flying under the radar are not detectable until they post something nasty.

They often look and act just like real people.

My guess is that about 75% of fake profiles if done carefully will not get caught – or at least not caught for a long time. Maybe eventually a lot more will get caught, but it is amazing how automation can do all of this stuff in a stealthy human like way.

If done properly the activity of a bot created fake profile mimics the activity of a real user.

Facebook can spot them if they do things excessively, but if bots are careful they can go undetected for a long time or even forever.

Also keep in mind that if they (trolls) create 1,000’s of the profiles, they don’t need to hammer each one constantly – they carefully schedule and spread out the activity so people and Facebook don’t notice.

So – while we are making progress and catching bots and fake profiles I think it is fair to say they are NOT going to go away any time soon.

Unless Facebook and other social media platforms make it harder to join the fake accounts will be around. After all people would go nuts if a drivers license or social securiy number were required to join. People would not stand for it.

So while I do think we should all pay more attention and try to help stop fake accounts when we can – the reality is that this will be going on in the future.

One of the best things we can do is try to STOP fake shit when we see it. Of course we can’t stop the “other side” from being idiots, but we can call people out when they are passing around garbage.

Individuals can notify group ‘admins” and page owners and or contact Facebook to report stuff. If enough people do they will delete the fake profile.

Other than that – just be vigilant and keep your eyes open. They will be here among us.

Join the FU Trump Group – you’ll find lots of disgusting humor – but also a lot of important news.

Developing Bots with Microsoft Bots Framework: Create Intelligent Bots using MS Bot Framework and Azure Cognitive Services

 

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