Why You Should Care for Bot Followers?

“Be hole, be dust, be dream, be wind
Be night, be dark, be wish, be mind,
Now slip, now slide, now move unseen
Above, beneath, betwixt, between.”
| Neil Gaiman

In recent years, the number of bots on social media has increased. Bots are software that perform certain repetitive tasks in an automated manner. Instructions are programmed into them as to when they should act and how they should perform something. And they do this without human intervention. Bots on search engines (called crawlers), for example, scan and index the Internet. Bots in customer service support customers in the use of products. Chatbots, for example, serve as the first point of contact to identify a customer problem and point out possible solutions. What is often celebrated as an achievement of the digital transformation unfortunately all too often encounters major problems and threats. In fact, there are also bots that are programmed to search the web for possible addresses to send spam, for credit card information, to penetrate user accounts, to diffuse fake information, or to perform other malicious activities.

Another example is bots that generate followers, likes, or comments on social media accounts for little money. This phenomenon has been known for a long time and one or the other account, which is very successful today, may have started its journey in social media with such “start-up funding”. Such behavior, when people use bots to boost their visibility, is usually very easy to prove. There are even public tools for this, such as Not Just Analytics that analyze and visualize jumps in the temporal developments of activities in social media.

Bots lead to the well-known problem in social media that they increase the number of followers, for example, but engagement does not increase proportionally, or that comments only contain meaningless emojis. For this reason, many users – including myself – have often manually deleted bots when they have been noticed. In the end, it’s a race against windmills, because there is no real protection against this automation by the platform operators. There is no question in my mind that the use of such bots is not only ethically problematic but also illegal because they distort competition.

There are two less discussed problems with bots. First, bots can also be purchased and assigned to another social account. This way, the other account is weakened, and the engagement rate plummets. This is clearly an attack on another account, which is difficult to prove so far today. Second, what happens if someone has control over 3%, 5%, or 10% of all followers of another account because they are in possession of these bots? In this case, the control person could spread fake news and systematically weaken another account. This is considered a threat to a reputation and is also an illegal process.

What can we learn from this? In my view, it doesn’t make sense to build the success of a work based on a large reach on one or more platforms. Platforms can disappear overnight or be controlled by bots. One’s own reputation can also be severely threatened by this. In the past, we could already observe such influences negatively with platforms like 500px.

What remains? The focus on the essential, the substantial contribution that one wants to create through one’s work and art. Documented on one’s own website, through books, articles, exhibitions, or other means through which one comes into honest and real contact with people interested in these topics.

In authenticity.