What are social media bots and how can I protect myself?

02/03/2020 | by SandStorm IT

What are social media bots

Chances are, if you have used any popular social media platforms recently, you have been exposed to social media bots.  By definition, this is not necessarily a bad thing, since these bots are just accounts on social media which are run automatically by a computer program rather than a human.  However, most benign bots are either run by the platform’s company itself or, at least, approved by it.

The potential issue with social media bots is the same potential issue human-controlled social media accounts have: influence.  Influence, of course, can be a good or bad thing depending on the message and intent.  Unfortunately, many of these social media bots are a form of social engineering used to deceive real human users on the social media platform whether through the spreading of scams or misinformation.  It should come as no surprise that these bots are not approved by the website’s owners and, thus, try to make themselves indistinguishable from the website’s regular human users.

Who is creating these bots and why?

As stated earlier, these bots’ social media accounts are controlled by a computer program.  Ultimately, this program is written by a human, oftentimes with malicious intentions.  For example, someone may create bots to influence people’s opinions on a product, company, politician, or sometimes even an entire nation.  This has been seen countless times on e-commerce sites where the seller of a product will have bots give phony reviews about his or her product to increase its sales.  On social media sites, most bots aim to influence more social topics, such as the character of a person/company or perhaps the ethics of a law.

Another common use for social media bots is to scam the legitimate users of a website.  This is commonly seen on platforms that allow direct messaging between two parties.  An example of this could be if you are logged into your social media account and suddenly get a direct message from someone you don’t recognize asking for “help” with something.  As with other scams, whether conducted on- or off-line, the scammer will typically convince you to “help” him or her by offering you something valuable in return, usually money.

How can I protect myself?

Protecting yourself from bots can certainly be difficult as many of them seem like actual humans at first glance.  The best thing to do is just to take most things on social media with a grain of salt, especially when it comes from someone you don’t personally know.  Ignore solicitations from accounts you’re unsure of and do not be easily swayed by content posted on social media.  If there’s an option to report the account/user to the social media platform, that will expedite the removal of the bot.  Facebook and other platforms do not tolerate bot accounts and users.  The best advice is always to trust your gut instinct.

If you have any questions about social media bots or any other form of social engineering, please contact the cybersecurity experts at SandStorm IT at 901-475-0275.

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